When you grow up around the old, or perhaps I should say that if you are blessed enough to have “Iya Olu” as your mother’s mother, who had raised seven of her own children, and several from other women’s wombs, and who in her dotage pours the essence of Yoruba culture into your skull, you learnt by the imageries that are planted in your head, with their war stories. They are the older females in the elephant herds: depositories of intelligence and wisdom beyond the grasp of puny minds. I am privileged.
Maami had a favoured proverb amongst the several that would spice any conversation that she might be having with anyone. She would say to anyone telling her a lie, or issuing an exaggeration of their own capacities, or of their inherent capabilities, that “Agbe to gbin ogorun ebu, to pe igba lo’hun gbin: bo ba je eyi to je ooto tan, a si pa’dabo wa je eyi to je iro”.
I would usually offer the translation of our idioms, rather than the interpretations, for I believe that the essence is almost always lost, in the interpretation. This is perhaps one of the few times I shall content myself with merely offering the interpretation. It translates best, in our unique circumstances: The farmer who cultivated a hundred mounds of yams, but declares to the world, that he had planted two hundreds, when he is done eating what he truly planted, he shall be content to quench his hunger with the fictitious hundred, of which he had boasted in his lie.
I am known to casually, and like the indulged but mentally unhinged uncle, say that the common denominating factor of Nigeria and its inhabitants, is to be found in our common insanity. I tend to say words to this effect with deliberate jocularity, in order to avoid angering my victims with the express intention of luring the unwary into the arguments that I have always sought; and that I have always relished.
The unwary would jump headlong into the well-baited trap. They have all the pseudo nationalist noises to back up their umbrage. How dare my unpatriotic idealistic, unrealistic wailing arse, dare to label our great nation as insane! And why do I believe myself better than the goodly and godly, upright citizens, that I had just libeled, by identifying as insane? I have been entertained by quite a few, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the lectures they have allowed me to deliver.
But what does insanity have to do with the harvest of lies? Wait for it. You will understand soon enough.
The Nigerian living abroad is essentially a schizophrenic being. Those of us that live in Nigeria, and travel overseas for different reasons, are even more schizophrenic. We have a duality to our personalities without which we would otherwise be unable to function in other societies; in saner societies. Imagine a Nigerian emigrant or tourist feeling at home in a foreign land, and you will better appreciate the depth of our collective schizophrenia. Let me break it down for you: a Nigerian feeling at home, outside Nigeria, shall inevitably end up in jail. Some of the many things we do reflexively in our country, would assure a man a stay in prison, in any other place in the world.
We have embraced the insanity that reigns supreme in our country. Sanity is a self-inflicted handicap in our country. We have normalized what should be abominations, and we have mostly forgotten what normalcy means. But the world is a global village. And few countries are less prepared for the global pandemic that is upon us. Our rulers have worked in the knowledge that the Nigeria State was being wrecked, but they had cared little, because we have been ruled by strangers: rulers untouched by our afflictions and pains. Be they Muslim or Christian. Untouched by our afflictions.
They have houses in Nigeria, but their homes are everywhere else in the world. They are the true citizens of the world, even as they have denied the ones they rule the rights of citizenship in their own country. Their hospitals are abroad, and their children do not have to attend the schools that they have ruined: ensuring that ignorance is weaponized and unleashed against the ruled. They rule us, but they do so without ever losing their hatred for us. But the perfect storm is here, and we are all in the same ship. Together.
COVID-19. This is the perfect storm that brings in its wake, the harvest of lies. The Nigeria State has thrived on the lies that it has told itself; lies it has perpetuated over the course of its history, and particularly so, in the last 50 years. These lies have demanded more lies in order to preserve the original lies, and these scaffolds of lies have required even more lies, in order to scaffold them. The lies have become unsustainable, and the Nigeria State has never been more imperiled than it is today.
I will allow Epidemiologists to explain the meaning of Herd Immunity to you but let me tell you what it is in layman’s term, before the experts begin to confuse you. When there is an epidemic, or as in the case of COVID-19, a pandemic, the goal would be to vaccinate the herd of animals; in this case, human beings. But when you have no vaccines to deploy, you allow the herd to be infected, working on the assumption that they would eventually develop the required antibodies to fight off the infection.
Boris Johnson was working with the belief that the best way forward for the British people in combatting Coronavirus was the attainment of herd immunity amongst the citizens. This was the culmination of a cold economic calculation, one that had ran scenarios, and accepted the loss of what he had concluded were expendable human lives. The figures emanating out of Italy, led Boris to scrap his experiments with herd immunity, and led to the putative beginnings of the current policies of social distancing and isolation that the British government has embraced today.
The Nigeria State is counting on the intellectual indolence of the average Nigerian to avoid answering the questions that it must address. But it needs to answer these questions, and in doing so, prepare the Nigerian people for what is coming. How many tests have been carried out? How many tests are available? How many hospital beds are available at the epicenter: Lagos? Forget the laudable efforts of Jide Sanwo-Olu; let us even forget the lies of some Lagos Wonder plan, this is not the time for audiovisual governance, the shit is about to get real. How truly prepared are we?
What does tomorrow look like? Are the banks going to suspend interest on credit facilities? Would they be paying interests on the deposits? Would already struggling and beleaguered private sector employers pay staff that are either quarantined or ill?
For how long? What about rent? Would the landlord have to forgo rent? What about the states already struggling to pay basic salaries before this crisis? Seeing as everything is shut down, what happens to the tax regimes, and how does the State intend to plug the chasms in its finances? What does tomorrow look like?
The Americans were at the peak of their biggest economic growth, and then boom! COVID-19 went visiting the most technologically advanced nation in the world, the richest and most powerful. The economy tanked. America wasted no time in passing a 2TR dollars economic stimulus package, and they did so with unusual speed, and even more unusual bipartisan support. The biggest spending bill in American history: yet, they were working on a supplementary bill, even before the ink was dried on this. COVID-19 has practically bankrupted the American economy.
Nigeria is part of the global village. The Nigerian economy is extremely fragile, and the global economy is about to enter the deepest recession it has ever seen. We are the proverbial farmer that is left with the harvest of lies. But the situation is worsened and tragically aggravated by the fact that we are going to have to be eating from our harvest of lies, in a season hallmarked by famine. I am not a prophet and will not call for prayers, but it is time for us to tell ourselves some truths as a people. Or this might truly be where we all die. There is a bountiful harvest of lies awaiting the rulers and the ruled.
Have you pondered, the day after? What does it look like? This is what Buhari and our feudal hegemons need to decide. According to my brother Mohammed Ettu, Nigeria is going to be earning between $6.7bn from our crude sales in 2020, if the world oil prices shall remain at their current levels. Our scheduled debt repayment totals $7.2bn, and the statutory payment is $1.5bn. I have not forgotten to worry about how we would be finding the money to keep our rulers in the lifestyle they are used to, and that is before we paid the workers. We are all in this boat together, and the world as we know it has ended around us. This cannot be the usual business as usual. The time is now; to begin the harvest of lies. Nigeria must be born, in the year of the plague.
Farotimi is author of Do Not Die In Their War: A Political Treatise On Nigeria’s ConTemporary Political Trajectories (Dele Farotimi Publishers, Lagos, 2019)