Crying With Laughter At Christmas

By Lasisi Olagunju

“GRIDLOCK in Lagos. Seven hours in traffic from Ikoyi to Ogba,” one girl cried out on Facebook on Friday. And so what? Was she the only one in that traffic? What about the one who was stranded in the middle of nowhere on Lagos – Ibadan Expressway? Or the one who (also on Facebook) sobbed Friday night: “I’m just boarding for my 6.30pm Abuja – Lagos flight at 11pm.” And the one who queued from morning till midnight only to go home with “it is finished, we are sorry” when it was his turn at the fuel pump. Or the hungry one whose last ‘card’ could neither buy fuel nor pay for okada, yet had work to go. And the one who said in exasperation that he was “stunned and stupefied” by the odious inaction from the government.

They are all victims but they will soon become like drunkards, forgetful of their penury. We are a country of hope and denial. We solve problems by shouting and smiling at them. A BBC correspondent once described Nigerians as a people with “remarkable patience but for the wrong things.” The same journalist said Nigeria “can make you want to cry with laughter or with tears…” Who is that person that will say the description does not fit us? ‘Playing penalty to throwing’ is very routine in our engagements. We have been long married to disappointments that we no longer feel the agony of opportunities lost.

It did not start today. The cause of fuel crises in Nigeria has the endurance of the curse of Alaafin Aole. It is potent and generational. Aole was that Alaafin whose destiny was to suffer betrayal and bury the glorious empire his ancestors bequeathed to him. Aole’s top general betrayed him and asked him to die, but he wouldn’t go quietly because none of his valiant ancestors had done so. The king who would die left an implacable curse for the betrayer and his generations. Death-bound Alaafin Aole stepped out to his palace forecourt, an earthenware dish, a bow and three arrows in his hands.

He then shot the arrows, one to the north, one to the south and the third to the west. Then he unleashed the spirits against his nemesis: “May curse be on you for your disloyalty and disobedience. May your children disobey you. If you send them on an errand, let them never come back to bring you word again. To all these points I shot my arrows you will be carried as slaves! My curse will carry you to the sea and beyond the seas; slaves will become your master.” Then, for maximum effect and permanence, Aole smashed the dish to the ground, stepped on the pieces with his right foot and yelled: “A broken calabash can be mended but not a broken dish, so let my curse be irrevocable.”

Some political historians would insist that the curse appears truly permanent, irrevocable. The victims are helpless; they only talk of it whenever it strikes like a serpent. That is the parallel I draw with the serial suffering of the Nigerian at the hands of Nigeria and its governments. But what exactly is our sin to suffer rotational ineffectual buffoonery in leadership? We have not betrayed any cursing spirit! We, are, indeed, the betrayed. But we have been carried as victims, north, west, south, east, PDP, APC.

Everywhere we go, it is scarcity of goodness. Don’t just look at your suffering at petrol stations. Look at telltale signs of failure in leadership – without borders, everywhere. Look at the curse called Apapa-Oshodi expressway in Lagos. It does not matter whether the president is Olusegun Obasanjo or Umaru Yar’Adua or Goodluck Jonathan or Muhammadu Buhari. It is of no consequence that a Babatunde Fashola is the current minister in charge of that road. Forget it. He was on that road many times as governor exasperated at the incompetence or the insensitivity of the Abuja people. Now, he has been there for more than two years. Has there been any difference between now and what that road enjoyed under Tony Anenih and Adeseye Ogunlewe? The gods themselves appear stuck in the gridlock of Nigeria.

Governments fail us with glee, and with bliss we romance them. We invest in presidents and governors who wantonly fail and block us and we respond by doing self-help, creating bypasses. Problems run their full courses here and go away on their own and we resume our normal lives – waiting for the next problem. This creepy petrol problem will go as it came. We will shout ‘ope o’ and continue flashing our stupid smiles. Nothing will happen to the creators of this crisis and their salesmen and women. We won’t press any social or political charges against the culprits who promised change but delivered continuity of suffering. We are used to suffering and sheepish smiling. When pipe-borne water became gold, what did we do? We whined and cursed and moved on. Each household then became a local government creating its own family waterworks. And that has not stopped the water boards from writing and spending budgets. It has not stopped them from trying you – their victims – with monthly water bills.

Today is Christmas and you must be one of “them” if you can’t predict that the day’s trending words would be petrol and NEPA. Before you say Merry Christmas, check properly for what ‘merry’ means. This Christmas cannot be merry when whether you are in church, mosque or home, the custodians of electricity join fuel suppliers to complete the circle of wreckers of celebrations. They dance ‘disco’ with power and take light and give darkness and heat. They fail Nigeria and get compensated by their patrons, the big men in government. The big men in government betray us and still insist they are our faithful servants. But Aole was also master to Afonja, the one who betrayed him. The one who betrayed Aole was also master to the Jamma who killed and publicly burnt his (Afonja’s) corpse in Ilorin. Our universe is cyclical in betrayals and consequences. The structure of Nigeria itself is built to betray its poor. That is why every effort to change the tragic course of the country has taken it back to business as usual.

Two years ago, we were tired of excuses and failures. We fought friends and family and queued to topple the old order. We changed the ruling party and the president and then went for thanksgiving. Today, we are back to the past, stranded in filling stations, airports and bus parks and we ask: why again? Can you sincerely blame anyone if the system has failed you today and you are stranded? Governments serve tea without sugar; soup without salt and we drink and eat and clap for the incompetent cook. There is no fuel from Buhari and you are looking for some helpless marketer to hang. The culprit is in the mirror, check him out. You clapped away your comfort and welfare when you applauded derelict Nigeria and idiocy of persons in government. This journey to the past is the punishment for the complicit citizen who sees saints among whores.

The way to redemption is to first stop making excuses for Nigeria and its government. They cannot be helped. The solution is not in replacing Peter with Paul every election cycle. We have seen how futile that is. This old, defective structure is the curse. It throws stones already. It demands a fresh start.

Meanwhile, Nigeria and its fuel and power issues won’t make me forget to shout out to my Christian friends: Merry Christmas!