Thursday, 6 March 2014
Critics, Commentators, and Gadflies
I do what I do on this and other sites only as a leisure pursuit. But considering what I have gone through in the last couple of months, and more so in the last couple of days, I have come to have greater respect and admiration for writers, critics, gadflies, and social commentators. How do they do it? How did they survive all the barrages? How did they survive all the stress that comes with being the nation’s conscience? I bow and doff my hat to them many times over! But really, it must have been some sort of calling to do what they do day after day, month after month, and year after year.
As a boy growing up in all the regions of the country, I was fortunate to have known and admire some of our nation’s consciences. In all those years, I followed their activities, their pronouncements and tribulations. For me, theirs was the life every Nigerian ought to emulate. There were institutions and gadflies like Bala Usman, Bala Mohammed, the Ransome-Kuti family, Tai Solarin, MCK Ajukuchukwu, Wole Soyinka, Ayodele Awojobi, Gani Fawehinmi and many others. Theirs was the type of life I yearned for: to question and to make life better for others. Somehow, things happened -- things that hindered my dreams.
I am fond of telling friends that my life in Nigeria was a joy. From Lagos to Ibadan, from Jos to Port Harcourt, and from Oshogbo to all spots in between, it was, for the most part, a delight. I grew up in a Nigeria where I did not imbibe the misery and the poverty that was common to so many. Mine was not a wealthy and sheltered life, but a life that was reasonably safe and secured and happy and rich in so many other ways. It was a life that allowed me to see and feel and dream life’s possibilities. It was a life that allowed me to see far beyond my locality -- making religion and ethnicity and other primal emotions extraneous. I was unfettered by a lot of the baggage some people carried around.
In the last couple of months, I have been thinking, wondering what these men and their female counterparts must have gone through; how they must have suffered in the hands of the government and its sympathizers. Their lives must have been difficult considering what they endured: the aspersions, the abuses, the blackmail, the detentions, the harmful insinuations and false rumors, and the entrapments and the cajoling. What a hard and difficult life it must have been. Thinking about it now, we may never truly know what these men and women went through in their valiant attempt to make life better for us all.
Some of them made the ultimate sacrifice: they gave their lives so we may live and prosper. Whether we truly appreciate such men and women, is hard for me to tell. After all, we do not have monuments for our heroes; we do not have befitting landmarks; and in fact, we do not formally celebrate heroes’ day. At least not in a befitting manner. Ironically, we recognize and celebrate mediocrity; we applaud the third-rate, the leeches and the vagabonds. We hail and prostrate before and after thieves and cheats.
Left to the sycophants and their masters, our society will be filled with thieves, toadies and their proxies. Excellence, transparency and accountability would become illegal. No one will be allowed to question government, their policies and their intentions. For these classes of people, politicians and government officials can do no wrong, and all those who criticize them or raise objections to their policies should be considered enemies of the state (who must be extralegally dealt with).
Several societies around the world are either stagnant or regressing. In most of such societies, there is an illusion of progress and modernity. Backward societies -- as James Baldwin have said -- wants an obedient citizenry “which will simply obey the rules of society.” However, “if a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it -- at no matter what risk.” And really, the cost can be high and taxing. Consider what happened to Fela Anikilapo-Kuti.
What happened to Fela was a crime of the highest order. Nigeria should apologize and compensate his heirs. Beyond what was done to Fela, consider also what the entire Ransome-Kuti family went through: the harassments, the detentions, the inhumane and dehumanizing treatments. I cannot think of a single family, anywhere in Africa, whence so much humanity, sacrifice and loyalty to the nation and the state oozed. And to think that we folded our arms in spite of the family’s sacrifices?
Segue… I Digress…Sort of…
In a series of discussions with one of our intellectuals/gadflies, I was told of communist-style blackmails, assassination attempts, direct and indirect financial enticements, and assurance of political appointments for friends and family members. And then there are the complicated entrapments. “If you are not vigilant and prayerful,” he said, “your name and reputation will be rubbished, your career ruined, your public standing compromised. Imagine what they did to Tai Solarin: four decades of excellence was almost soiled…”
Either as a result of my arrogance or my naïveté, I have always said I can never be trapped, enticed, or bought; or willingly cheapen my name or reputation. After all, I am who I am and who I am does not lend itself to meaningless crimes. I am also the kind of fellow that does not make it easy for my opponents to have a leg up on me or make it easy for others to stick it to me. Oh, was I confident or what? Whatever it was, five years after I started criticizing thieves, fools, vagabonds and street urchins, it almost happened to me: my opponents almost got me. What happened?
What happened? Well, stay tuned. Until then let me ask you: how do you secure political appointments in Nigeria? Say you wanted the position of a commissioner, what do you do? How do you go about doing it? How much does a position cost? Would a sixty-five dollar apparel do the trick? Assuming I gave the chief-of-state and his underling a combined sixty-five dollars apparel, would that be enough to secure a commissionership? Until then, here are some of the lessons I have learnt:
• If you are a social commentator of any sort, learn to sleep with one eye opened;
• Outside of best friends and trusted family members, you must assume that your phone conversations are being recorded;
• You must assume/know that your emails and letters are being saved and may be used against you at the opportune time;
• You must assume that your opponents and their proxies are watching your ever move wherever you may reside;
• You must be careful at whose home you eat and drink and get playful;
• You must assume that one or two people around you is a paid informant;
• You must know that once you engage in the art of criticism, you will offend dozens of people, most of whom will be gunning for you;
• Whatever you say or do in private with others can never remain private;
• Be ready for you father, mother, sisters, brothers and other family members to be abused, called names and ridiculed;
• Be ready for rumors and made-up stories to be told about you and your lifestyle;
• And if you must travel, travel in “secrecy” and thread softly once you arrive in your “opponents” territory. Nigeria has too many “unknown soldiers.”