The Country of Laughter and Forgetting By Okey Ndibe

Okey Ndibe
Columnist: 
Okey Ndibe

Many lovers of contemporary fiction would quickly recognize that my title is a nod to Milan Kundera’s intriguing novel, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. In Kundera’s title I have found something of a perfect handle for what I suggest is a particular Nigerian fact: the tendency to laugh harder as life proves direr, and the haste to forget what most deserves to be remembered. We laugh so easily – and so spiritedly – because we have found the strange magic of forgetting how twisted out of shape our country is. For Nigerians, amnesia (or even willed forgetfulness) is a hope, a shield, a panacea and a disease all rolled into one.

Some years ago, Abdulkareem Adisa, a retired Nigerian general, provided an anecdote that was as fitting an illustration of the matter as any. By way of background: in the days of the Ibrahim Babangida dictatorship, Mr. Adisa presided as a military governor of Oyo State. Then, under the regime of the bespectacled General Sani Abacha, Mr. Adisa’s profile rose, not so much in affect as in notoriety. He became Nigeria’s Minister of Works and a self-aggrandizing member of the powerful inner circle of the Abacha despotism. His ministerial tenure was marked by what some critics regarded as an era of inflated contracts, mediocre work, and abandoned projects. Nobody could fairly accuse him, for example, of rising to the challenge of maintaining the country’s highways much less overseeing the building of new, durable ones.

If Mr. Adisa exhibited mastery in any sector at all, it was in the sheer accumulation of wealth. By the time he left office, swept away by the gale of a disesteeming melodrama, he’d become a preening, self-satisfied man of means. Yet, all that wealth did not spare him the humiliation of a ridiculous fall from grace, if men like him could ever be said to be possessed of grace. He was named in an apparently phantom plot to overthrow Mr. Abacha, his erstwhile pal and benefactor. The regime, which seemingly orchestrated the plot in order to test the loyalty of some insiders, let it be known that Mr. Adisa – once summoned by Mr. Abacha and confronted with evidence of his disloyalty – had buckled, hastened to his knees, and let out a torrent of tears and wails in a ludicrous gesture of contrition.

Had Mr. Abacha not died quite suddenly, as the absurd drama of the so-called coup had yet to reach its finale, many believed that Mr. Adisa and his cast of “disloyal” cohorts, would have been killed. Thanks to the dictator’s death, Mr. Adisa emerged from detention and soon after slipped into the role of kingmaker. In the prelude to the 2003 presidential election, he became one of the most visible ex-generals and government functionaries championing Mr. Babangida’s presidential ambitions. Parlaying his financial fortune into political “muscle,” he was not shy to let it be known that he was a veritable, Nigerian-made stakeholder. He was cross with reporters and Nigerians who brought up the questions of Mr. Babangida’s overwhelming unpopularity. At every turn, he underscored that it was the place of his ilk – and not really up to voters – to decide who was to rule us. In the rare moments when he remembered that there were millions of other Nigerians, it was to remind us that these millions were his – and other stakeholders’ – “people.”

Then, in an interview he gave to a Nigerian publication, Mr. Adisa offered a telling anecdote. Asked if it was true that he, a general, had reduced himself to tears before Mr. Abacha, Mr. Adisa offered no apologies. Who would feed and take care of “my people,” he asked the reporter, if he had allowed himself to get executed. When the interviewer stated that posterity would record that he became a wheedling, spineless caricature at a critical moment, Mr. Adisa reached for an easily translatable metaphor. He reminded the interview that the oyibo – white people – invented both the pencil and the eraser. The implication was clear: that the inscriptions of history were easily erasable.

Mr. Adisa was in an automobile accident in 2005, on a stretch of road he might have maintained in his ministerial days. Gravely injured, he was flown to the UK, one of the locations where Nigerian “stakeholders” go for medical care. His eraser was unable to hold off death.

In the particular context of Nigeria, that Adisaian argument about the eraser often appears irrefutable. It often seems that memory – an abiding awareness of events and experiences – is untenable in Nigeria. A friend of mine even once suggested that Nigerians are, on the whole, allergic to memory, hostile to the human enterprise of remembering. The price of this allergy is, of course, that (Chinua Achebe memorably reminded us), we no longer know when the rain began to beat us. That gap, I suggest, accounts for a great deal of national inertia, our incapacity to do anything to shield ourselves from the buffeting storms.

Still, I have the sneaking feeling that Nigerians are not altogether as bereft of memory as it is fashionable to suggest. Instead, it is more the case that our lives have become such a relentless cascade of absurd events that the psyche would simply come apart if it did not find a mechanism for deflecting the incessant, stormy shock. Think about the parade of horrors that’s become part and parcel of Nigerians’ everyday experience: gruesome road accidents; police shootings of innocent people, sometimes on account of disputes over N20 bribes; death by Boko Haram explosives; lecturers who demand sex or cash in exchange for good grades; students who offer sex or cash in lieu of hard work; civil servants who pocket billions in public funds entrusted in their care; National Assembly members who won’t give a straight answer about their entitlements (for the reason that these payments are both excessive and bear no relationship to output); local government officials, governors and the president who stow away hundreds of millions each month in “security votes” – and then pocket huge contract sums as well; highways daubed with a thin film of tar and declared “constructed”; neighborhoods swallowed by flood water; civil servants and private sector employees who go for months without pay; civil servants and private sector employers who go for months without putting in a decent day’s job; daily traffic jams that seem choreographed from hell; hospitals stripped of equipment; hospitals where high bills and death are the only guarantees; school buildings in such dismal shape that class conscious rodents abandon them for classless cockroaches; urban shanties surrounded by clogged, brackish gutters; visitations by armed robbers and kidnappers – and so on.

The mind is capacious, sure. Yet, the sheer challenge of processing and holding in the traumas of daily life in Nigeria is a recipe for disaster. It may well be the case, then, that Nigerians remember and remember sharply those who misshape their lives. Even so, they must feign forgetfulness and laughter in order to go from one day to the next. The question that should trouble the Adisas of Nigeria – with their pencil and eraser metaphor – is this: what happens when the people realize that laughter and (seeming) forgetting have not served them? What happens when, inevitably, there’s fire on the mountain?

 

Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

Email me: (okeyndibe@gmail.com)

Comments
23 comment(s)
Post a comment

4mRtL

Video clip Publisher Ursulina Youmon really loves ルイヴィトン 財布 barbecuing cave diving. And lastly she is inspired by watching a Ottawa senators hockey match in real life.

I believe u akpos

I love this fellow akpos. Mehn your statistics is the bomb.lol

@Comrade Akpors1 I align with

@Comrade Akpors1

I align with your comment. Let the useless contraption be split into manageable countries. The wazos are a complete liabilities to Biafra. Let them have Nigeria and leave us alone. Every region must be allowed to develop at her own pace. Idiotic Luggard committed the world greatest fraud by amalgamating us together. I advocate that his decomposed body be tried posthumously at the Hague for his crimes against humanity. Any contradictions?

Amalgamation expires midnight 1st January, 2014!

I am ashamed at the quality

I am ashamed at the quality of commentry on this beautiful piece of food-for-thought.
All I see, apart from a few sane posts, are imbeciles ranting incoherently about SS, SW, NC, Ibo people, Yoruba people, etc etc.
This is reminiscent of the quality of humans that make up the statistics in Mr Ndibe's article.
The mediocrity of our collective psyche coupled with the rot in our educational system have all combined to make these comments possible.

May evil never triumph over good.

Secession is d answer. The SS&SE cannot continue to feed others

Let freedom reign. From the oily creeks of the mangrove swamps of Warri Kingdom to the clement and mineral rich mountains of Obudu Ranch in Calabar,Let freedom reign. From the rich Benin river basins in Edo to d palm olive haven & crude oil reserves of the Abia red earth, Let freedom reign. From the great Onitsha bridge-the land flowing with oil, inventors & entrepreneurs, to the rich Royal waters of Bonny land & its priceless natural gas, let freedom reign. From the oil laden land & water of the Ogoni peoples to oil rich plains of Eket in Akwa Ibom, Let freedom reign. From Enugu coal & bitumen reserves to the tranquility of the rich oil deposits of River Ethiope. Let freedon reign.
How long more do we have to wait? Nigeria destroys our lands.
1. Norway = 4.7 million peoples
2. Austria = 8 million
But the oily SS is 37m peoples. The SE is over 60m. What are we waiting for b4 we break away? Long live United SS&SE

@Jo a.k.a Oluwole Omotosho Olumide...think b4 u criticize me

@Jo
Why cry more than the bereaved? Why not concentrate on how you will continuously buckle under the 'Mastership' of your Hausa fulani boss than worry about the homogeneity of the United Republic of the SS&SE?

I know how futile educating you can be on this issue. It is a genetic disorder in the veins of the people of the Oduduwastani head-cutting Republic. Diya & Adisa were not the first & certainly not the last.

Continent Nigeria is in this mess today bcos Lagos & the entire West permitted one coup after another & allowed the idiots from the north to be in power for over 30yrs. Could the North hav held on to power that long from Enugu or PH? But for the boys frm mainly SS who smoked IBB out of Obalende in 1990, the North wud have continued to dominate frm Southern territory. Shame!Cowards for life.Why will Bharam nt belive it can use cheap IEDs to scare pple like you? Idiot.

The Country of Laughter...

A topic in Consumer Behavior dealt with how human mind is constantly bombarded with millions of events and objects. The mind needs a filtering mechanism to make sense of some of its perceptions, otherwise it could cave in.

Nigerians are not made lame only by being battered by every day experiences,there is something more to it than being malleable so as not to break down.

@akpos 1

You are picking the right cord and for that jabs are thrown at you. Don't mind them jarrey.

Rather than respond to the worrisome realities presented by Okey, yours attracted the most, and acerbic, responses. This is typical of Nigerians; an indication of what we truly are, and of the direction Nigeria is ultimately headed.

South East...

Tejire,
U kno u be mumu.Am sure am not d first nor d second person to tell u that undisputable fact.In fact,
u sef kno say u be mumu.QUESTION 4 MUMU:1.Who and who constitute south south? When you answer that one,you will qualify 4 mumu question 2....,yeye!

kuntry of laffa

And AGAIN my frienn Ndibe is OKAY!

kuntry of laffa ???

'cos that poster at MMA says it all:

"The happiest pipul on earth live in Naija!"

gerd

PS:

and pipul start laffin' on arrival, even!

SOUTH EAST HAS NOTHING TO OFFER

If Nigeria were to break-up today, the South East will be the biggest losers. The SE will be landlocked just like the NE, NW and NC. The SE will need the help of SS for their imports and exports. SE with only 5 states is very densely populated and to get space they are the most travelled and dispersed Nigerians. All SE presently in the rest of Nigeria will become aliens needing Visa's to remain and paying expatriate tax rates of over 50%. SE will import Garri and Bitter leaf from SS and Yam and Beans from to survive. No Ibo does business with fellow Ibo man due to lack of trust. Its Nigeria that is sustaing SE. Monkey smart, Monkey smart na becos Tree near Tree. Ibo man dey do business, na becos Nigerians gee them free hand. Ibo people them bad. Them be fake people.

@Akpos1. you figures is total

@Akpos1. you figures is total Nonsenses, Without the Southwest(SW)there will be no East or South South as you called it. All the traders are in Southwest, All the major industries are in Southwest. So, What are you talking about?

Akpoa 1 please tell them.

Akpoa 1 please tell them.

WHAT I WILL DO AS A BUSINESSMAN

I am indeed a businessman and the way I would handle the situation is as follows: I clearly will identify a cocentration risk in SBU 1 (SS) whose present position is not sustainable and so diversify other SBU's. SBU 3 (SW) immediately comes to mind for 80% non oil revenue/taxes from the Sea and Air Ports and manufacturing industries located there. On the long run SBU 6 (NC)would be the mainstay of the economy as SBU 1 is a depleteable resource with imminent extinction.I would massively invest in the Tourism industry in NC by opening up Yankari and Jos. Tourism is the mainstay of Kenya, Tanzania etc and 3rd earner in UK. For the conglomerate to be secured, food security is prime and so we develop agriculture in SBU 4 AND 5 (NE and NW. We can develop agric within a year. For SBU 2 (SE) I will build capacity so it can provide better trained manpower to other SBU's. Remember SBU densely populated with neither land for its inhabitants nor for farming.

Nigeria Is No Longer A Major Player In Africa

Nigeria is no longer a major player both in world and African politics as well as at the regional ECOWAS level. The USA does not consider Nigeria as a serious partner in development as examplified by Obama's snub for Nigeria during his ongoing Africa visit. He further underlined this point by his assertions in Tanzania in a speech he delivered. Nigeria is now giant in name only. Paper giant

@Akpos, in response to your

@Akpos, in response to your numbers quoted, why don't you advise all the people of SE origin to leave The SW especially Lagos? If SE contributes 1/3 of the gross GDP of Nigeria, why are the residents of this area going outside the zone. I believe you are a tiny minority crying for the break up f Nigeria. Biafra will be a landlocked unsustainable entity, because as it is today, Rivers State is in contention with Bayelsa over oil wells. The Jonathan's from Bayelsa are attempting to humiliate the sitting governor of Rivers. Gov Akpabio of Akwa Ibom has joined with Jonathan to add insult to injury by trying to harm Gov Amaechi. Uduaghan an Itsekiri man will not join with a proposed Biafra to fight the rest of Nigeria. And forget Edo state joining your warped planned war. Where you around during the civil war of 1967-70? Why not profer solutions to improve the federation, rather than keep spewing hate?

sad

now i know that this akpos is nothing more than a drunken palm wine taper,wonder where he got his stats from!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

How dare you compare a Tiv and Yoruba man?

History is stirring glare at your comparison of the Tiv man and a Yoruba man. Don't attempt such unimaginable comparison ever!!

JONATHAN AND HIS PEOPLE HATE HAUSA/FULANI MOSLEMS!

Hausa/Fulani Moslems of the north you should vote wisely in 2015. Don't vote people who hate you simply because you ruled Nigeria in the past. Make sure your votes are counted in front of you. Give your votes to those who love you and your country. This is the awareness campaign that we shall carry across all states of the north. Whoever collects money to campaign for Jonathan he is your enemy because he/she is campaigning for a person who hates you. Use your number to escape destruction by this man and his collaborators. Make sure the whole of your votes go to those who love you and your country. Come out in mass and get your votes counted before you. Sleep and eat at polling stations.

RUDOLF OKONKWO: Modern day

RUDOLF OKONKWO: Modern day analysts have opined that the Ojukwu that died in 1970 would have been more powerful than the living Ojukwu of this day. Why didn’t you stay and fight until the end? OJUKWU: Consider committing suicide? I am asking. What I considered was to fight the war to the best of our ability and give a leadership to our people for as long as I could. If you remember, when I left Biafra I went in search of peace. I went trying to get hold of Houphouet-Boigny, the president of the Ivory Coast. He happened to be in Cameroon. By the time he came back and we had a discussion, my number two, General Effiong, had surrendered. That was the way it came about. But all that notwithstanding, I know many people would have loved a dead Ojukwu but I would not oblige them. I intend to live for very, very, much longer and I intend also to be quite vocal in politics for as long as I can.

The country of laughter and forgetting

Sidney poitier said it best,I am paraphasing here: when there's a configuration in which there are the powerful and the powerless, the powerful, by and large, aren't going to feel anything about the imbalance.Frankly after a while the powerful become accustomed to experiencing the power to their benefit in ways that are painless. It becomes the air they breath, the water they swim in.When you are addressing power, don't expect it to crumble willingly. If you say, Hey now, look you guys, please make things right,look at what you are doing and punish yourselves,or atleast try to square this thing, yeah right!"- well, Nigerians will make slower progress in getting the most modest expectations fulfilled. Nigerians will have to change the dynamics either through doings things differently or through violent insurrection. Nigerians cannot stay in denial forever.

"General" Oladipo Diya buckled faster & cried more than Adisa

Hear the truth spoken by Okey himself: "....let it be known that Mr. Adisa – once summoned by Mr. Abacha and confronted with evidence of his disloyalty – had buckled, hastened to his knees, and let out a torrent of tears and wails in a ludicrous gesture of contrition..."

Indeed, Adisa was not alone in the buckling, his blood brother of with sufficient strands of that strange DNA was with him. He buckled faster & cried more...His name? "General" Oladipo Diya. SHAME!

Imagine! "Generals" crying & begging bcos they've been caught planning a coup. How did they get into the army. Didn't you the see Gideon & his men? They were defiant till the end & NEVER remorseful bcos there was nothing wrong in their action. In any case, their formular stares us in the face even right now, as the only veritable option in solving our continental problems. Excision of some states from the present structure. Nonsense.

Nigeria is not a Country but a Continent. Break up NOW!

Look at the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) & Gross National Product (GNP) statistics for Continent Nigeria:

1. South South Country (SS) ---> 62%
2. South East Country (SE) ---> 37.5%
3. South West Country (SW) ---> 0.5 %
4. North East Country (NE) ---> 0%
5. North West Country (NW) ---> 0%
6. North Central Country (NC) -->0%

What is the use of countries 3-6?

Assuming you were a business man & the regions/countries above were branches or business segments of the company called continent Nigeria, which business segments/countries/regions will you close down? The SS&SE cannot continue to feed the West & North. This is the problem. Secession is the way to go. Every region should manage its resources.

Post a comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Comments are limited to a maximum of 1000 characters.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <p> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

More information about formatting options

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.