by Wale Adebanwi

Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished – “Endgame” (Samuel Beckett)

It wasn’t that I didn’t notice this girl too. She is one of those people you encounter that puts you to shame in your ingratitude to the Creator. She is physically challenged, as is more acceptable to describe the disabled. We first saw her sculptured face and for a moment she distracted us, and then when we saw the whole body, I couldn’t help but say, “Life. Such a beautiful face and a deformed body”. For a brief moment my friend just looked at her, and then quipped, “Like your country”….

My friend – who came visiting me along the week – and I decided to hitch a ride to East Anglia region of UK to, again, behold the sheer scenic beauty of the English countryside. In the coach, he decided to take our troubles along with us as he got talking about Nigeria. This was after we had spent a little while talking about British politics, Tony Blair’s troubles over Iraq and David Beckham’s troubles with his Loos(e) women. He had said he had no pity whatsoever for Beckham in spite of the fact that he admired his skills as a footballer. The guy and his wife have for so long cultivated an almost unprecedented media attention, with Beckham presenting himself as the archetypal devoted and honourable English family man who would neither seek nor be led into temptation. Beckham – as the iconoclast writer had wished – was not led into temptation; he was just shown where it was and he went there himself!

After this, my friend got talking about his years in Nigeria. He was moving from episode to episode. “You see, that blighted country ….” He would break off, and then get back to the matter. “Remember you used to remind me that Sully Abu wrote that Nigeria exists to annoy? More than that, I think Nigeria exists to humiliate.” He went into the details of how in Lagos someday, he had packed his car somewhere in central Lagos and he was asked to pay for a packing ticket which he did. He got back and his car was gone. “Cold sweat broke over me! Ol’ boy, you know how I suffer before I fit buy that car for that yeye university system wey I dey teach.” After about thirty minutes search for the car, even below other cars (!), and asking from everyone if they saw the car to no avail, one old woman came forward and said the “council (indeed, cancel!) people” towed the car. So, he got the address and headed for the place. The remaining details are irritating. I asked if the car’s types had been deflated (like the Nigerian economy) by the time he got it back, he said yes. “Uncivilized idiocy of the worst kind!” And then I told him my experience with LASMA or whatever it is called in Lagos too. Why is it, we asked, that they deflate tyres, and make the process of payment of the fees so cumbersome and humiliating? Is it not enough that they clamp the car and fine the owner? Why is it that an otherwise laudable initiative like the LASMA initiative could not do but include degrading and inhuman processes?

We sought the answer in the nature of the way we are as a people. “It is the post-colonial condition, the condition of the Nigerian state”, said my analytical scholar-friend. “Nigeria can be very humiliating. From the policeman you meet on the street, to the council official, to the other institutions you deal with, every social process is saturated with humiliation”. Official, legal punishment is never enough. Humiliation and torture have to be folded into punishment. We reminded ourselves of the way those accused of planning or executing coups are treated in Nigeria, as a pointer to the brutality and inhumanity of the Nigerian condition. Oladipo Diya recently said in an interview that the day he said at the coup tribunal that Bamaiyi was the “masterminded” (sic) of the planned coup and that the whole case was a case of “setting up” (sic), he was mercilessly man-handled in the cell. Not for the bag grammar (which is understandable given that Diya is a lawyer and a soldier!), but for ‘exposure’ of a conspiracy that was planned ‘right from the top’. Also, recently, another soldier who was jailed for his involvement in the Orkah coup revealed how the accused were mercilessly tortured. If these people were found guilty, they would have been executed by a firing squad anyway, so why humiliate and torture a man you were going to kill, as the brutes who ruled us recently did? What kind of atavistic throw-back to medieval Europe conditioned this type of acts?

As we discussed this, my mind drifted to some of the lines from Samuel Beckett’s (long published) play, “Endgame”, which I was going to see on stage at the Albery Theatre in central London later that day:

The character, Nell, states, as if in response to what we were discussing, “Yes, yes, it’s the most comical thing in the world. And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning. But it’s always the same thing. Yes, it’s like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don’t laugh any more.” My country, I thought, is a funny story that has been heard many times; but, we laugh no more.

“Ah the police!” My friend remembered other incidents. I added mine. “Generally”, I said, “I don’t stop when stopped routinely by policemen who ought not to be blocking the road in the first instance. Just because these guys are carrying guns, they just stop you, delay you and ask the most stupid questions in the world.”

“Like ‘wetin you carry’?”

“Well, that and more stupid questions that can be very humiliating, if you don’t give it back to them. I usually slow down if they wave me down, calculate the circumstances and zoom off. Why would some semi-literate, hungry guy just hold me up because he is wearing a uniform? One day, I was with a senior professor driving to Ife and this policeman stopped us and asked that we opened the boot of the car. I did. The professor had just bought some flowers that he was going to plant in his new home. The policeman asked what those were, I mean the flowers. I shot back at him that he should go to the front of the car and ask the professor, upon which he asked us to go. I mean, that blighter was just going to humiliate me by asking me to say what flowers were”…

In the “Endgame”, Clov says, “What is it?” Hamm replies, “We’re not beginning to… to… mean something?” Then Clov says, “Mean something! You and I, mean something!….

“People always warned that they could shoot me, and I always thought, that would have solved all my problems and ended all the humiliation of being a Nigerian. At any rate, the family I leave behind, even if they are interested, would not get justice. No one will get punished for killing me, like the case of the INEC chief in Kogi state, whose wife cried out recently. Now the man is gone, saved from what Ngugi calls the ‘living fears and the dying hopes’ of being a Nigerian. For me, it would just be the end of it all, of shame, darkness, humiliation and deaths by instalments. It would save me from having to carry the burden of the Nigerian passport across borders, in the hope that wherever I landed in the cosmic order – where I would be dispatched by police bullets – they would not ask me for my passport. If they did, then it would mean that, more than I had realized, my country is a celestial curse upon her citizens!”

Then again, I remembered the Beckettian Clov: “I say to myself – sometimes, Clov, you must learn to suffer better than that if you want them to weary of punishing you – one day. I say to myself – sometimes, Clov, you must be better than that if you want them to let you go – one day. But I feel too old, and too far, to form new habits. Good, it’ll never end, I’ll never go…Then one day, suddenly, it ends, it changes…”

“It just had to end for me. All that nonsense, and I had to leave“, my friend said.

“So, will you ever go back home?” I asked.

“Home, where is home? Look, now England is home. I will NEVER go back to that hopeless country and be ruled by idiots. Never! Don’t you see the point? Don’t you see the kind of people running that country and the beasts who are getting ready to run it again, after running it aground. You want me to spend my life doing struggles? Have you read the new book by the Economist of London’s former African correspondent entitled, The Shackled Continent? The guy says that the amount Abacha stole would mean that he stole more than $1 million everyday he was in power including weekends! How much of that did the family surrender before that scandalous “agreement” that preceded the scandalous judgement that freed his son? So, when Nigeria experiences another democratic breakdown, as it is likely soon, you want me to go to the barricades again? They have spent the better part of my youth doing transitions already, do you want me to waste the rest fighting animals?”

I cautioned him that his language was too strong. He was too angry, and anger, I said, was not the proper response to the Nigerian tragedy. “These people may be beastly”, I volunteered, “But, they are not animals. That’s too severe”.

“I get your joke”, my friend responded as he pointed to the greenery to our right, shaking his head in obvious regret of the absence or the destruction of such beauty at “home”.

Back to Beckett. Hamm says to Clov, “I’ll give you one biscuit per day…One and a half….Why do you stay with me?”. Clov shoots back at Hamm, “Why do you keep me?” Hamm answers: “There’s no one else”. Clov sniggers, “There’s nowhere else”. Hamm says, “You’re leaving me all the same.” Clov replies, “I’m trying.” Hamm says in half statement, half question, “You don’t love me.” Clov declares, “No.” Then Hamm affirms, “You loved me once.” “Once!” Clov blurts. Hamm confesses, “I’ve made you suffer too much….Haven’t I?”

Our coach was nearing the end of our journey. We will be returning in about two hours after taking some beverage and wondering around the small city that we were visiting. I reminded my friend that it was important not to miss the two p.m. coach so that I would be early enough for the Beckett play I was going to see in London. He has not read that play but he had read other Beckett’s plays, particularly the most popular, “Waiting for Godot”. “That man is wonderful with his allegories. What is he saying in the ‘Endgame’? I get the sense of ‘Waiting for Godot’.”

Then he added that with what he hears from informed sources (he had also been a political journalist for many years) in Nigeria now, it looks like all the frustrated power blocs and the generality of Nigerians are “just waiting for Godot”, in a manner similar to, and reminiscent of, another era in our political history when both the unpopular regime in power and even the opposition had all lost all initiatives and were both waiting to see what would happen. I found that interesting because I was yet to be informed of any approaching paralysis.

“I don’t believe that”, he said.

“Just remember that for every instance in which people are waiting for Godot, as the scholar wrote in that recent article, ‘Godot is waiting too!'”

And in that instant, I remembered the Ruler on my country, with my mind wandering back to Beckett’s “Endgame”….

Hamm says: “Yes, one day you’ll know what it is, you’ll be like me, except that you won’t have anyone with you, because you won’t have had pity on anyone and because there won’t be anyone left to have pity on you….You CRIED for night; it comes— It FALLS: now cry in darkness. You cried for night; it falls: now cry in darkness…. Since that’s the way we’re playing it… let’s play it that way… and speak no more about it… speak no more…

And the curtail falls on the play. And so, we could not return that night, we had to choose another day….

Adedibu and new “Amala Thesis”

Give it to Chief Lamidi Adedibu, the strong-man of Ibadan politics. The man can be very honest and, as Nigerian journalists are given to stating, “down-to-earth”! You may not agree with his politics – it is difficult to – but you cannot but be amused by his candour.

He has been embroiled in a battle with his erstwhile anointed, Rasheed Adewolu Ladoja – who he helped to become governor of that increasingly unfortunate state of Oyo – over how to share the booty (don’t dare call it loot) of their victory. Sunday Afolabi, another political “kingpin” (in Osun State) had described such, which the PDP typifies, as a festival of “come and chop (eat)” – a veritable “Choppers’ Council“! But according to Adedibu, Ladoja is “chopping” alone and has refused to invite him (Adedibu) “to chop” too. Perhaps relying on the Yoruba adage that frowns on “selfish chopping”, Adedibu is fighting the governor, not for alleged avarice, but for “selfish avarice”. The sidelined politician told Vanguard: “(Ladoja) is a greedy man, he doesn’t want to share a penny with anybody. Let us say it before the Almighty God, a government of a state which God gave me the opportunity to contribute as much I am telling you that I have not spent a penny out of that government…he is a greedy person (emphasis mine).” (This can actually be said before the Almighty God?)

There are fewer better ways to enunciate the new thesis of “Amala politics” which Chief Adedibu pioneered and has championed. Among the comity of “come and chop”, if you ask me, I think it is “immoral” to hold anybody’s hand (to do a pertinent Yoruba-English transliteration) and deny him from “chopping”. Is that not why Ladoja was (s)elected in the first instance?

We need only pray that all these do not end in what Fela called “chop and quench”!

For Godwin Daboh and His Daughter

Godwin Daboh’s alluring daughter, Sharon, a federal lawmaker, could have been fairer to her dad when she granted that interview to Encomium which the Sun culled last week. Sharon says her father warned her as a kid that she would get pregnant if any man touched her! It is understandable that any father would want to protect his daughter, particularly one of such especial beauty as the comely Sharon. But Daboh?

Even the lady confesses that, “My father was a lady’s man. This was a young, handsome and well to do man. So, all the women wanted to be Daboh. And I guess because he was a “bad boy” then, he knew that he had to bring up his daughters in a very strict manner.” You know what they say in my culture? The (Alsatian) dog knows how to breast-feed its own puppies, but it bites other people’s kids!

P.S.: Sharon added that she was so “strict” on morals that she was a virgin until she was 21. In this age, I am told that this kind of “long term abstinence” would qualify Sharon for an “Obafemi Awolowo Award for Ascetic Life”! (By the way, she says she was like Awo in moral chastity!!). But, please tell me, at what point did losing one’s virginity at 21 become the touch-stone of morality? I must have missed much!!!

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1 comment

Lulufa Vongtau April 6, 2005 - 4:14 am

sir, you have been away from ‘home’ too long.in a little while you will be a stranger in two worlds, at home in none not the one you so blithely call home now. i currently live in cairo but i am anxious to be back home and make something out of the mess this generation has spwwned. you sir dont deserve her. the day a red neck slaps you, you’ll remember Lagos with nostalgia. be well.


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