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Embezzling Meaning: Friendly Conversations With A Compatriot By Pius Adesanmi

December 7, 2017

A well-meaning Facebook follower criticized me the other day. He appreciates my transcendent, pan-Nigerian optic of critique, he says, but the result is a constant focus on urban Nigeria at the expense of rural Nigeria. "Prof, zoom in on our villages and rural areas from time to time. You'll encounter surprising development strides."

I thought his criticism of me had considerable merit and thanked him for it. I also told him to keep me abreast of developmental strides in his community. We have maintained a very constructive relationship since his first contact from rural Nigeria, deep in the bush.

Yesterday, he wanted to tell me about an "ultramodern" civic center that the Chairman (or is it Sole Admin?) of his LGA has just constructed. He said he was sure I would not call it a "17th-century" structure as is my won't when describing standards in Nigeria. We laughed and joked.

I asked for pictures (you will understand why I am not posting the pictures presently). He sent me pictures of a breathtaking four-storey building.

I said, ok, I am going with you. This is the 21st century. However, I am going to stop at modern. I will withdraw the "ultra" in your description because there is no such thing anywhere in Nigeria - not even the Kano Hospital commissioned yesterday by the President that is making his supporters go gaga.


Ah, Prof, you are stingy. How can you look at this building and still say you are withdrawing "ultra"?

Well, no matter how modern and futuristic a construction is in Nigeria, it is still going to run on generators. That, by definition, knocks out the "ultra". Water is still going to come by the borehole. That also knocks out "ultra".

Eko Atlantic is the frontier of Nigerian genius and imagination. It is Nigeria's most ambitious, most futuristic project yet. Many Nigerians will beat their chest over it and describe it as ultra-ultra-modern. Yet, we do not know if it is going to rely on giant soundproof Mikanos and private boreholes. Until we know that, I can't even describe it as ultramodern. Their website is Nigerianly silent on these critical details.

All I am saying is that I cannot allow Nigeria to embezzle the meaning of ultramodern in broad daylight in the 21st-century. When our social history is written a hundred years from now, it shall not be said that we all agreed that buildings running on generators and boreholes were "ultramodern" in the 21st century. The historians writing about us in the 22nd-century must find archival evidence that not all of us slept with our heads facing that ridiculous direction of the definition of ultramodern.

We turned our conversation into play, trying to see if there were other things he could tell me about the structure that would make me restore the "ultra" I was withholding.

Then, God help me catch am as I remembered something. So, I told my friend to go and take pictures of the interior of the building with emphasis on the elevators.

Ah, Prof, there is no lift o.

Bingo! I told my friend that he was now in real danger of my having to withdraw even the "modern" I had so grudgingly conceded to him initially.

Whether in rural or urban Nigeria, you cannot describe a four-storey building without elevators as "ultra-modern".

I then gave my friend a lecture on what that building says about us and our aspirations as a people. The designers and the executors of that project have now brought us - God bless their souls - to the level where we can have glossy, shining, and mall-like 21st-century structures.

Getting to a point where elevators should become routine in the conceptualization of such projects is still another half a century away. Those of us insisting on such standards now are "alaseju". Our own too much. We do not see good or positive in anything - to borrow a few charming expressions from the Ambassadors of Nigerian Mediocrity.

That is why you have all those three-storey and four-storey faculty buildings at the University of Ibadan and nobody is even thinking about knocking off some walls and redesigning them for elevators in a University that has Architecture, Engineering and the Arts.

That is why I arrived at the French Department of the University of Ilorin last year, exhausted and panting, having taken the stairs because there are no elevators in such an "ultramodern" new building funded by TETFUND.

I told my friend: go back to your LGA Chairman or whoever funded this building. Tell them to find more funds. Invest in solar panels on the roof of the building. Redesign the building for accessibility so that disabled members of the community can partake of the commonwealth. Tell them to fit the building with elevators.

The photos you sent are not yet worthy of publicity on my wall. When these things have been done, send me new photos and I will post them and scream on your behalf. I will also return the "ultra" that I am keeping safely for you. Remember to also send me photos of the public bathrooms in the building. I need to inspect them too for 21st-century purposes.

And, oh, if anybody tells you that these standards are unrealistic Oyinbo standards; if anyone tells you that you should manage it like that because your chairman has even tried; if anybody tells you that you do not deserve any of the standards that I have described NOW, RIGHT NOW, NOW NOW, please refer such mediocrity-rationalizing citizens to me. I have enough coconuts to crack on their coconut heads.