By Isidore Emeka Uzoatu
There is a sign that’ll confront an African hunter setting off for the night’s job in a distant forest and he’ll call off the hunt ‘instanta’. Like his left toe hitting an object as he saunters out, for instance; or, perhaps, either of his eyes sighting either of his ears in a flash.
If in doubt, ask Kenyan poet Jared Angira.
Same too for a woke writer set on sunning their vocabulary in a weekly column. If, for instance, they wake and are confronted by something greater than their farms. Truly I say unto you, unless a fortuitous circumstance supervenes, it may lead to them selling off their barns.
You know, like when something greater than nte the Igbo cricket enters its hole.
Well, with yours truly yet bestriding that tenuous periphery between wake and sleep, my own predicament was different.
If anything, it was comparable to that between Prophet Jero and his apprentice Brother Chume in Wole Soyinka’s The Trials of Brother Jero. If you can recollect, it had the latter wishing he exchanged crosses with his master.
Welcome to a day in my life. For starters, it’s quite unlike Paul McCartney’s back when he was still a Beatle. Or I’d have opened like him with, ‘Have you heard the news today o boy?’
Or that of Ivan Denisovich, as told by Alexander Solzhenitsyn either.
Yes, being no beetle a la Albert Camus and needing no reveille to rise, the morning in question broke with my eyes in a suspended reverie. Coincidentally, they had dozed off yesternight admiring one of Olu Oguibe’s ‘intimate labour’ public sculptures. The billboard in question made a short and sharp statement: Sex Work is Honest Work.
As the tide of contemplation ebbed, I could not but wind up contemplating the honesty or otherwise of my countrymen and women engaged in various occupations.
Of course, Nigerians are used to such pithy sayings. It’s a historical thing, I figure. In fact, it’s been rumoured that it goes right back to the clay with which we were moulded on creation day. As manifested in the country’s doings from day one.
The question that remains unanswered however is: How many of us are engaged in honest work?
For instance, as you make to enter Abuja, you’d be harassed by billboards of welcome at the perennially under-lock city gate. Not so with good, old Lagos. As you roll in, perhaps on the ageless Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the three white-painted wise men on a pedestal at the city’s always-open gates will spare you only a thinly-veiled warning: This is Lagos.
It stops short of telling you that you are on your own in the racy town. And for no other reason other than that anything more than those three words would term you a fool.
Yes, in Lagos you don’t get a second chance. Much like in modern-day athletics. Beat the gun once and a straight red card confronts you. No yellow, like in Association Football a.k.a. soccer, perhaps to differentiate it from the ones played with helmets and shoulder pads. Or green, like in Field Hockey, so differentiated from the one played on rinks.
Which recalls how the American boxer James ‘Quick’ Tillis compared boxing and tennis. According to the fast-footed pugilist, if you mess up in tennis all you lose is ‘five love’. In boxing, by him, it’ll amount to you losing ‘your arse, baby’.
So, in Lagos, nay Nigeria, it’s either you are wise or you are dead. And wise men are seldom honest.
It’s for this selfsame reason that you’ll often hear that there is no gentleman in Lagos. Never mind the whole lot of the male species dressed out in designers’ clothes and accessories parading its high and low places. If the hood does not make the monk anywhere, it’s in that damn city.
But don’t be carried away just yet as it concerns the new FCT. As we soon found out as we set sail thence in search of a living patriot. The reason for this change was simple. No sooner did we start the same search in Lagos than we found that patriotism had long left the city. As soon as Babangida hurriedly relocated to you know where after the Gideon Orkar coup, we were informed.
And this is where the issue of honesty pops up anew. Like once debated off a podium, honesty is often touted as the best policy in every sphere of life. Whether as a corporate entity or a mere employee, we are often expected to play with open cards.
In turn, this raised ethical questions that ended up bouncing off one another. Not unlike the age-old one about the persistence of evil in a world beholden to an omnipotent and all-loving creator.
Yes, many companies currently riding the waves are also often known for undercutting government taxes. Others still comply with their taxes and other corporate social responsibilities but deal in contraband and other obnoxious transactions.
And like we were to discover, while the ungentlemanly Lagosian is ubiquitous, finding a patriot in Abuja proved most daunting.
In Lagos, for instance, all the researcher needed to do was take a trip to a bus stop – any one, at all. (One only hopes that the new terminals will not get rid of them, sha.)
Conversely, in Abuja the abounding politicians appear so overly patriotic that to think them otherwise appears an unthinkable anomaly. Dressed as though to kill in their three-piece agbadas, they strut the town like angels. Till patriotism takes centre stage. Only then will you find why we are in the state we are.
Though many would demure to this, we left Abuja with no patriot to cite. Thus we concluded that only the cenotaph to the unknown soldier remains the archetypal patriot in the town. At least for no other reason than the epitaph that emblazons their unmarked graves worldwide: for our today, they gave their yesterday.
On this count, I cannot but ask: What, by Ogun, shall be written on the tombstones of our modern-day ‘known soldiers’?
*Uzoatu, the author of the novel Vision Impossible wrote in from Onitsha, Anambra State.