By Yemi Akinbamijo
Our streets wail, unlike yesterday! I have seen the clips where women cried and wailed on the streets of Jos as though in delirium. The hope for peace is fleeting and the agony of the unthinkable impending pogrom beckons. The remains of the fallen compatriots – the evidence of the unkept oaths of office taken by the leaders to preserve lives now plague our conscience! My heart bleeds, I ache, and my discomfort is unending. How long is ‘too long’? What started like a finger, became a fist and then an arm, then metamorphosed into the untamed hydra-headed monster. The streets are unhappy, melancholic, the mothers are sleepless and the appetite for life is waning in many homes! Anxiety and palpable fearful anticipation are commonplace! This is apocalypse.
Growing up at No 74 Bamgbose street in downtown Lagos was one of the best things that would happen to a seven-year-old at the time – 1967! School was a 10-minute labyrinth from home crossing Odunlami street into the Central Library (meeting point with the pupils of Auntie Ayo, Corona, St Mary’s Convent schools) that shares a wall with my school on Broad street. On that street, I had stood to wave to visiting Heads of state and dignitaries – Haile Selasie, Harold Wilson and Yakubu Gowon with the serenading retinue of outriders heralding NA1 the pristine State car.
Reclused from the glares and shimmers of the day, was a future in the works. School for me was 1.30pm to 6.30 pm (Standard 3) all other years were regular morning sessions. But the high point of the day was the ‘Mid-Day meal’ offered by the Government for Fifteen Shillings per term!
The curriculum and delivery were great. I learnt Carpentry in my Primary School workshop and the girls learnt homecraft (at the Domestic Science Centre). The Headmaster was officious in his dealings and the school manager was the incumbent provost of the Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina Lagos. Every day started with devotion and Mr Fabanwo skillfully played the school piano to set tunes from the Songs of Praise! I first learnt to sing in descant at a young age in Broad Street! Future, great future was beckoning.
At 6pm, school would close. Apapa bound classmates would rush to Marina traversing the busy one-way Marina to catch ‘Kathleen’ for three pence to cross the lagoon into Apapa. That was ‘my present’ with a future and now is ‘my future’ with a past. The promises of the future were like the buds on the twigs of the fruit tree. We counted the buds for the fruits. What was never factored was the mid-summer night frosts! The harvest is now compromised, and we are left to salvage whatever remains in the nightmarish mirage. The challenge to the audacious beliefs in a Canaan that never was.
On my way home from school, I would seldom detour via Campos Square (Teku Igboro), or Ajele Street just to play and do schoolboys’ things before dad and mum would be home. Then I recall the street chorus – one of many that were echoed from Olusi to Sangrosse to Oke Suna to Freeman street, Strachan street, Race Course etc.
Won ran mo ni’se o (A kid was sent on an errand)
O lo fo keke (high risk high jump)
Bo ba kan lapa, ko si temi ni be (If he fractures an arm, that is not my beef)
Ofe ni Igbobi, Owo ni taxi! (The Orthopedic care is free of charge but you must pay the Taxi driver)
Fifty-four years down the road, in the place of an oasis, is the nightmare of a mirage! Igbobi orthopedic is no longer the rosy premier facility of excellence in medical practice. Now the sons are going into captivity. The doctors are siphoned to the oasis of the Arabian deserts. Health care was free growing up. General hospital, Mercy Street, were all prime medical facilities – even the respected LUTH! In practice, we would expect that like French wines, it will be the case that they mature with age not decay. It should be ‘the older, the sweeter’ – but we have eaten the sour grapes and the teeth are now set on edge! Five decades are now lost! We are suddenly back to the brutish era of carnage, banditry and garrulous disregard for good governance, the abortion of hope. It was 1993 – mid term, Abiola talked about Hope 93. We lost it. In 2015 I heard about Change – we got it! The land has changed. It brings to my mind the lamentations of the late Ghanaian poet from the Anthology of Longer Poems. I had studied them as a high school student. Kofi Awoonor had scripted the following lines:
Dzogbese Lisa has treated me thus.
It has led me among the sharps of the forest
Returning is not possible
And going forward is a great difficulty
The affairs of this world are like the chameleon feces
Into which I have stepped, When I clean it cannot go
The essence of the moment is to be aware that we are living in very treacherous times. The social media is awash with the gory tales of the incessant loss of lives happening in Plateau and Southern Zaria. Yet this cankerous anarchy if untamed will spell doom in the near term. Iku ti o npa ojugba eni, owe lo npa si eni! Whatever is killing your agemates is only giving you a heads-up, be warned! The Bethel Baptist College children are still in captivity seven weeks on. The students are being abducted and sniffed out by all too known ‘Unknown’ Gunmen. Yet we pretend all is well and there is no war! Raw war is a scenario where people are dying daily in a lobsided neo-representation of ethnic carnage and supremacy. If this is not war, I fail to identify what else it can be called. This is unconventional. A make belief that these are isolated occurrences – but the isolation is in itself, the game plan.
Where is the future promised us in the labours of our heroes’ past? The midsummer frosts have smoldered the harvests and the barns remain empty! Who will help this land? Igbobi (a typology of a functional health care delivery system) is no longer free. The short number of physicians is now exacerbated by the export of Nigeria’s medics to the oil-rich deserts of Arabia. Who did we offend?
The headstone shall be brought forth, crying grace, grace yes pardoning grace!
So long. We shall even out the scores in His own time (Ex. 14.14)
May the Lord hear our cries……
Yemi Akinbamijo Ph.D wrote in from Ghana