The event I’m about to relate happened in what used to be Nigeria’s Garden City: Port Harcourt. It must have been in 2006: mid 2006.
My friend Ben lived with his family in a four bedroom house in a fairly expansive compound. The nature of what I was doing in Port Harcourt meant I had to stay for stretches of up to three weeks before returning to Abuja to be with my family.
Most households in Nigeria are conversant with the pestilential matter of cockroaches and rats. Ben’s house was no exception. The cockroaches were easier to manage but the rats were something else. By the time I arrived, these rodents were getting more robust and annoyingly daring. They didn’t bother anymore to wait for the family to retire for the night before resuming their foraging antics. They’d choose the most inauspicious of times (in the presence of visitors) to make their ‘runs’ right across the sitting room.
My friend and his wife had tried all manner of prescriptions to end this embarrassing state of affairs to no avail. Mrs. Ben was even beginning to suspect a spiritual dimension to the worsening infestation. After living in the house for about a month, I confess I also began warming up to the possibility of the esoteric in the whole saga.
In a final fit of frustration and desperation, Ben and I elected to go for the ‘final solution’ (apologies to Zionists and anti-Semitic crusaders). Anyone who has lived in a rural setting will be conversant with the small, iron trap specifically designed for rats. We took it upon ourselves to go to the market and procure a number of them.
Being the one who almost always went to bed last, the lot fell on me to set and position the traps with tantalizing baits reluctantly provided by the thoroughly flummoxed Mrs. Ben.
A week into our so-called final solution, even I, the biggest enthusiast was on the verge of giving up. As dutifully as I set the traps each night, so also did the rats (or whatever else they were) pick off the baits without even setting off the traps.
Goaded by necessity, I took a closer look at the traps in a last ditch effort to redeem myself. I did one or two things on them in the hope of enhancing their sensitivity. That night, my effort paid off. Barely an hour after positioning the traps, one of them was triggered off. Though it did not arrest any of the pests, it provided a huge encouragement for me to persevere.
The defining event was to happen two nights after the watershed experience I related earlier. And it happened in a manner I could never have imagined.
It must have about midnight when I began to hear the characteristic metal-on-metal grating sound emanating from the sitting room. The guest room where I was could be accessed through a door on one side of the sitting room and an intervening three metre long corridor. The master bedroom which was located at the other end of the house was also connected to the sitting room by a corridor twice as long. The advantage of approaching the sitting room from the master bedroom end was a clear view of the external part of the main entrance door.
Unknown to me, Ben had also been roused by the ominous sound. Having seen nothing amiss with the entrance door, he was already fearfully tip-toeing towards the sitting room. His thinking, among other things, was that a marauder had already gained access into the house and was in the process of loosening something.
I had a shorter distance to cover but without the benefit of a view, my approach ordeal was more excruciating. This period of uncertainty seemed to have lasted half a lifetime but eventually, we both overcame our fears and lethargy and burst into the dark sitting room. Throwing the lights on, we were confronted with a spectacle that evoked as much sympathy as anger.
Here was this fattened, mother rat caught in one of the hind legs by a trap. In an attempt to escape, it had dragged the trap to the metal barricade on the main entrance door. It was its futile attempt to wangle through the barricade while dragging the trap that had generated the rhythmic, metal noise that had earlier confounded and affrighted us.
Without any shadow of doubt, we realized that before us was the kingpin (or more appropriately, queenpin) responsible for setting up and running a parallel government in the house. For me, one word aptly summarized that scenario: unraveling.
But to unravel is only, at best, half the solution. Ben and I had to quickly decide the next line of action. Being the one more likely to squirm and sympathize, I could already discern from how he was looking at the trapped rat that, left to him, it should be set loose. But I would have none of that. I was for instant and summary execution; after all that’s what the trap was meant to achieve in the first place.
Predictably, my proposition won the day, and naturally, the lot fell on me once more to execute the judgment. Now, don’t get the impression I’m the bloodthirsty type. I baulked at the prospect of killing the rat as much as my friend. But recalling all the harm these creatures had inflicted and could yet inflict on the household was enough incentive to drive the spike into its body. And from then moving forward, we progressively gained mastery over them.
Every year-end comes with the burden of, not only critically reviewing the outgoing year, but also postulating what the one ahead might hold in store.
On the balance, 2012 is what I’ll call a ‘bad’ year. What with the harvest of disasters, calamities and incongruities. Naturally, I would wish 2013 to be every good thing 2012 was not. But each time I think of 2013, that Garden City experience keeps popping up; compelling me to dub 2103 the year of unraveling.
Incidentally, 2012 came with its generous share of stark revelations: fuel subsidy criminality, judicial corruption, executive financial impropriety, legislative larceny, among other evils. I have a hunch 2013 will yield a more bountiful harvest of mind-boggling and heart-wrenching realities.
Already, signals from around the world but especially the Middle East indicate oil prices will be quite volatile in a manner that will severely challenge our national and state budgets’ implementation in the coming year. We will be faced with the reality of the non-sustainability of a mono-cultural economy.
A political structure that is leveraged on an unworkable economic model can never engender real growth and development. That’s why Vision 2010 simply fizzled out. It is why we may not meet any of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals. So if Vision 20-2020 goes the way of the rest, no one should blame evil spirits!
When the politics and economics are not right, there’s no basis for a harmonious social environment. Mindless violence and pervasive corruption are merely symptoms of a failing body politic desperately in need of rebirth and reformation.
I envision 2013 as the year all the false facades we’ve erected over time will fall flat and reveal what and who we truly are. I see our pious pretensions coming unglued. I foresee all the hurriedly stitched wounds bursting open with the attendant pain and odium.
If that happens and we as a people and nation can freely admit our dire condition, then we would have crossed a critical bridge on our wobbly path to redemption.
What we do after the unravelment is as important as acknowledging the very disconcerting facts the unravelment throws up. We can then contend with, and slay the demons or we can choose to continue to co-habit with them.
But let this point be clear: in the end only one survives. If we don’t slay the leviathan, it will consume us. If we don’t cage the monster, we will remain a nation of economic and political vagabonds driven endlessly by our inability to confront truth and reality.
Will leadership muster the strength and courage to do the needful? I hope so: even if there’s nothing in the current leadership that inspires hope. I’m much more optimistic about the rest of us: the wretched, the hungry and angry. From what transpired in January 2012, I’m certain we won’t trifle with the call of destiny. We are all keenly aware we have little choice.
Welcome to 2013, hard-bitten Nigerians!
OLUGU OLUGU ORJI mnia