The umbrella; it could be colourful. It has different names; the British call it brolly or umbrolly. The Spaniards and the French share in calling it like names: parasol or parapluie. The Americans call it the bumbershoot. Here, in Nigeria, virtually all our indigenous languages and dialects have corrupted the word umbrella and expanded its etymology. It is an invention with very rich history across civilizations. The Latin root of umbrella is umbra, which translates to shade or shadow that is cast for protection against the elements, notably the rain and the sun. Beyond warding off the elements, the umbrella is also part of dressing paraphernalia or fashion adjunct and even a symbolism of some ancient myth, a compliment of some cultural and aesthetic ramification. In more sophisticated contexts, the idea of an umbrella has expanded to include canopy, tent or such camping outdoor or patio devices that magnify the concept of hand-held devices for warding off temporary inconvenient infractions of the weather to more rugged forms of protection or for fleeting outdoor comfort. In Nigeria and elsewhere, however, canopies, customized awnings, tents and such like devices are clearly distinct from the more fragile umbrella.
Despite its attractions, the umbrella could be ominous. Not because it forebodes inclement weather. No, that is given. The genius behind the umbrella seems to have derived inspiration from that dreaded nocturnal blood-sucking hybrid bird-mammal called bat, which is a stuff of myths and legends. The idea of a blood sucking parasite in the league of a bat as an imagery for a nation’s life under political hostage is certainly ominous. Within a blood-sucking, national cake-grabbing cult of an umbrella, people are derailing people; indeed, derailing the destiny of an entire nation. Aside from this ominous association of the umbrella with the blood sucking bat, the problem with this historic tool is that it is essentially an opportunistic device. It is a temporary or transient improvisation for inclement weather.
It is hardly a panacea to real whether challenges, not to even mention national challenges for a nation whose people one of the godfathers of the umbrella recently declared to be cursed. The umbrella-wielding godfather forgot that the symbolism of his umbrella cult is quite ominous and may have contributed to the curse. As indicated, an umbrella is quite distinct from being a tent or a canopy. The umbrella is not durable. It is not meant to be. The device is not a stuff concerning which there is any significant effort at structural strength both in design and in purpose. It is simply, at its best, a dispensable water resistant contraption.
No one, no matter how frugal, uses the umbrella for too long, let alone a country! A nation that is politically anchored on an umbrella reminds me of once an airline that was symbolized by an elephant! It has since been interred. Even when one gets a roadside cobbler or like artisan that claims expertise in umbrella repair to fix or, as we say in Nigeria, to patch a broken umbrella, that intervention does not last. Let alone when it is done on behalf of a country! The umbrella must always and easily, eerily pack up. It is not a repairable device, practically speaking. I do not know of any artisan, including those that play in the league of Mr. Fix-it that confidently specializes in umbrella repair. The latter is not a venture that is accompanied by any warranty or guarantee. Why wouldn’t that be the case? After all, to make a mess of its fragility, the umbrella is easily taunted by the wind, rain and, where applicable, by the snow.
It is hardly surprising how much more would an umbrella be taunted by political winds of some form or another; often of volcanic proportion; as in Nigeria, presently. No one invests a fortune in an umbrella; the decision to buy or acquire or jump under the cover of an umbrella can be impromptu. With no thought, let alone a pensive sense of ideology. One may be caught up at the mall or open market place by a flash rain, especially in climes such as ours where there is no much of a deal about weather forecast. In such situation, one can spare a change to grab an umbrella in order to hop into one’s vehicle and otherwise brave the rain and continue with the business of the moment. That way, the umbrella serves as an opportunistic objective, one which does not endure. Any wonder some umbrellas are forgotten in the cars for too long. Similarly, umbrellas are the more likely to be abandoned or forgotten of all handy devices for the conduct of our day-to-day affairs. Have you noticed how easily they fade away – all the umbrellas used by re-charge card vendors, orange/fruit hawkers and all other hardworking street Nigerians in need of respite from the sun and other elements of the weather as they eke out their living suffering and smiling?
There is no ideology in the umbrella. If you happen to have a large enough umbrella, you can freely count on all stranded folks in the middle of nowhere: the bus stops, market places, recreation grounds, at open wedding, funeral and other outdoor sites to hunker down with you under your umbrella. Strangers, pickpockets, old soldiers, sidekicks, corrupt police recruits, and custom officers, mini-godfathers, areas boys, even charge-and-bail lawyers coming out from the courts and motley strange bed follows may find a unity of opportunism under a godfather’s umbrella. There is nothing that can draw these folks together other than the chance or opportunity to enjoy temporal respite from the elements or, at our national level, to congregate around the national cake in a dog-eat-dog struggle for its slices. But yet majority of the folks under one umbrella are professional fortune seekers of a different kind. Such directionless people are, ironically, ones that have direct agenda – to turn against one another, to pick-pocket, rob and take the chance to plunder. Both the genuinely stranded and the fortune seekers are quick to recognize that the entire nation is vulnerable and can easily be victimized under the umbrella. Do-or-die is the strategy of survival under the umbrella.
At the slightest improvement of the weather or at the smell of an opportunity for a better fortune, all who congregated under the godfather’s umbrella stagger out, each to their different directions. There is no community or bond forged under an umbrella. But why should there be? An umbrella is not a house; it cannot sustain a family, let alone family values or discipline. It is neither designed for habitation nor for value development, not to mention national orientation. It has no structural elasticity for adjustment, expansion or improvement in order to accommodate a growing demand or, more importantly, to withstand the most turbulent of weather challenges. A casual look at the logo of the African National Congress (ANC), and one is fully drawn to reflection that makes one fully appreciative of the struggles; the weapons and the battles that liberated a people and birthed the rainbow nation.
It tells stories of the past and points to a future. But in my country, how can an umbrella build a nation? Nations are built upon the Rock; they are designed on the ideology of collective good whereof the national strength is as strong as its weakest link. Hence the need to strengthen the children, the youth, the elderly and the most vulnerable is the priority of nation-building beyond the vision of an umbrella. Nations are built on the ideology of service, justice, accountability and trans-generational equity and sustainable development and not on the umbrella of greed and opportunism that readily outlives its usefulness even at the slightest gentle creeping of an unpredictable national hurricane. All who have hidden for too long under the umbrella need to disrobe themselves from its ominous blood sucking greed and begin a genuine salvage mission of our fatherland. I have no doubt that there are very good people under the umbrella who, like the rest of the nation, have been politically kidnapped and held hostage by opportunists who now demand a collective ransom from us which we must all resist to pay anymore.
This country is too complex, too sophisticated and in serious need of direction that it craves for the opportunity to consider more enduring and structurally designed even if competing ideological options to anchor its direction – far from the ominous symbolism of an umbrella. But the urgency of the present moment is at worst trivialized by the recent pattern in the mutation of the umbrella by way of ad-hoc prefixes that play on the intelligence of the rest of us. This kind of mutation is a negotiation strategy. The mutants and their parent stock are of one soul and spirit, as festering creatures of greed and opportunism. They have yet to recognize that there can be no ideology under the umbrella and there can hardly be an end to this mutation until the umbrella self-destructs or gets sacked by Nigerians. We, the people, indeed need a clean break and a new opportunity at nation building. It is better the people secure their freedom from this political kidnap on their own terms than to have the umbrella self-destruct first. That way, hopefully, there will be lessons learned by the godfathers of the umbrella and the members of their fraternity of greed. But frankly, I am not sure if the blustering alternatives out there are not just mere substitute pretenders whose only motivation is to get rid of the umbrella by hook or crook. And after that, what next? There is urgency for citizen vigilantism in this land at this time. We must keep the umbrella people and all other pretenders on the political stage on their toes.
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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters