WEEKEND ARENA

Nigeria’s Erewhonian standards

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I was a wide-eyed 9 year-old when my father, Emmanuel, told me about a country, Erewhon, captured by Samuel Butler in his book with the same title. The criminal punishment system of that country left me awestruck after Papa told me how the country justified the criminals and criminalized the just. It sounded impossible until he explained that Erewhon, was fictional, just an anagram from ‘No Where’, meaning such a country was not in existence.

Although Butler published his book in 1872, Nigeria as it is, almost 150 years after, seems like a perfect fit for Butler’s imaginary country.  The reasons are not far-fetched; they are everywhere staring at all of us.  How does one explain the action of the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuffs and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria, a group that woke up and decided unilaterally to impose ‘food blockade’ on 3 regions of the country?  I listened to an interview granted by its publicity secretary, Auwal Idris, where he asserted that the Federal Government must compensate them with the sum of N4.7b for all the damages they incurred following the murder, rape and intimidation of their members in the southern part of Nigeria. Boasting about their exploits, he said it was a warning to let people know that Nigerians need one another to survive. In reality, Nigerians need one another, but not the arms-bearing murderous men ravaging our communities. That this food blockade happened before our authorities in a country where unity has always been regarded as sacrosanct, inviolable, nonnegotiable (according to FG) leaves little to be desired. Perhaps this group, which may have been hastily formed to pursue hideous political agenda, did not reckon with the popular proverb that ‘whosoever is holding one down in a wrestling contest is also holding himself’.

In the relationship between the food suppliers and the consumers, there is nothing like ‘doing anybody any favour’, because it is purely transactional. You give them food, they give you money. You withhold your food, I withhold my money. To illustrate how childish the action was, one would need to look at the economic implications. Food items that would have fetched some money, especially for the downtrodden, were allowed to waste in the north while in the south, the poorer segment of the society, already gasping for breath from the pangs of inflation had more pains inflicted on him due to soaring food prices. The two situations created and manipulated by ‘veiled-politicians’, left only one group vulnerable: the poor.

I am sure that the average northern foodstuff dealer is more interested in selling his produce and making gains to look after his family, just like his southern counterparts but the politicians, originated this divisive ploy to score cheap points.

We all know the importance of food on national economy and security but members of this group who should be regarded as economic saboteurs after initiating an action that was injurious to the economy have been spotted holding meetings with the high and mighty in the society. Today they are being applauded instead of being reprimanded for such highhandedness, which came without a warning like a standard pressure group would do to drive home their point.

That is why debates are still ongoing whether arms-bearing killers going under ‘brand names’ such as bandits, gunmen and herdsmen should be granted amnesty or not. Renowned Islamic cleric, Sheikh Gumi, has been selling the idea as the only way we could have peace in the country. But in the midst of all these, the attackers are not relenting as they continue to launch their ruthless attacks.  Although the students of Government Secondary School, Kagara, Niger State were later released, nobody is talking about Benjamin Habila, the boy who lost his life in that operation. When those behind the heinous crime are ‘rewarded’ with amnesty, if Sheikh Gumi’s intention pulls through, how will the parents of Benjamin Habila be rewarded for their ‘crime’ which is sending their son to school?

That is why one would be tempted to believe that Butler saw Nigeria ahead of its emergence indeed. He did before Florence Shaw, Lord Lugard’s babe did her naming. How does one explain that an election would hold and some unexplainable technical reasons would be invoked to swear in the last person in terms of number of votes scored, without regards to decorum and decency? It does not happen anywhere else except here. The effect is rippling after all. While some politicians believe in preparing for elections by performing creditably with projects and infrastructures, others would be busy seeking technicalities that would unseat their fellow contenders. We are living by Erewhonian standards! Simple!