I did my teaching practice/internship at Uromi Technical College in Bendel (now Edo) State, Nigeria, in 1982 – 40 years ago! I was 20 years old. From my father’s house located off Convent Road to the school was a distance of about ten kilometres. Most of the time, we (myself and my childhood friend, Chris Iyoha, with whom I previously taught at St John Bosco’s College Ubiaja as teenagers) trekked to and from the school. There were no okadas (motorbike taxis) then. Even if there were, we could not have afforded to use them every day. Besides, it was not really a big deal trekking that distance. We took it in our strides – literally – albeit, sometimes, we got a ride in Mr Aliu’s car.
Mr Aliu, an Etsako man, was a permanent staff at the college. He lived in a rented flat opposite our family house. He had a small olive-coloured Datsun car with a partly shattered front windscreen, a couple of doors held together with bolts and nuts, and an annoying habit of refusing to start in the morning. So, we had a symbiotic relationship. Chris would come early to our house. We would help Mr Aliu push-start the car and zoom off together to the school. But the car was off the road most times because of other mechanical faults.
Today, children have a sense of entitlement that makes them complain if their parents are late in coming to fetch them from school to their homes that are not up to two kilometres away. Who taught them that attitude? Their parents? The society? Both? Anyway, finding answers to these questions is not the purpose of this essay, but the answers might be connected to the outcome in a way.
Uromi Technical College, now Federal Science and Technical College, with the status of a federal polytechnic, had as its motto then, ‘Either the Best or Nothing’. School mottos are like names. Almost every school has a motto intended to inspire its students to attain excellence in their studies. In the same way, it is strongly believed that the name a child is given can shape the destiny of that child for good or bad. Take Goodluck Jonathan, for instance. The rise of President Goodluck Jonathan from a humble beginning to the highest office in Nigeria is a classic example any day! Nothing but good luck could have propelled him from the dingy creeks of Bayelsa to the klieg lights of Abuja and the international stage that he enjoys even today. Nothing but good luck could have helped him navigate unscathed the landmines and booby traps strewn on the path to his desired journey to a second term in Aso Rock. Did he deserve the two-term trophy he desired? Only history will tell. Some might say history is already shouting the answer on rooftops.
Now, take the name Jagaban. Sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? If you used that name in elementary poetry, it would rhyme nicely with bullion van, both in rhythm and in the sound of the final syllable. So, it should not be surprising that any man bearing that name would have bullion vans at his beck and call. That is the power of names. Forget that Old School Englishman, William Shakespeare, who said in his Elizabethan play, ‘Romeo and Juliet’: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” Na lie! That is a fairy tale, like the story of Romeo and Juliet itself. Which Nigerian bae or boo would drink poison because the lover drank poison? Call a rose Kirikiri and see if anybody would go near it, not to talk of smelling it! I am very sure deliverance pastors would agree with me on this. The first thing they ask you to do is to change your name if it has a ‘negative’ or ‘demonic’ connotation. Hence, you would be required to change the name Inegbenebor (An idol is protecting me) to Inegbenose (God is my protector). It does not matter whether people bearing Inegbenebor have prospered with the name. To them, that is an exception rather than the rule.
Pardon me. I digressed!
On March 23, 2022, the news broke of former Nigerian vice president and serial presidential aspirant/candidate Atiku Abubakar’s declaration to contest the 2023 presidential election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). At the same time, there was a discussion in the high-voltage virtual political group I belong to on the suitability of politicians obtaining nomination forms for various political offices in Nigeria. A very active brother, fondly called Gabby, who is resident in Canada, submitted that voters should look out for ‘Either the best or Nothing’. That rang a bell. I recalled that there was a secondary school in Esanland, Edo State, with that very motto but did not remember exactly which school. That was when Gabby reminded me that it was Uromi Technical College right in the middle of Onewa, his village!
In the run-up to the 2015 presidential election, there were projections, permutations and raw propaganda on who was best suited to drive the vehicle expected to take the country tethering on the edge of frustration arising from unfulfilled expectations to the Eldorado that many presumed should be fait accompli for a country so blest. Integrity became a buzzword. War against corruption was touted as the antidote to the ‘economic stagnation’, despite Nigeria being designated as the biggest economy in Africa, ahead of Egypt and South Africa. I wrote a piece then on my perception of the fallacy in that assumption, captioned ‘Who needs a president that can fight corruption?’ In it, I said inter alia:
“I find it ridiculous (I don’t know about you) when I come across posts on Facebook saying that CHANGE is coming and all corrupt people should buy mattresses with which to sleep in jail. My question is, where are the jailhouses, and where will they get enough mattresses to buy? If that is the priority of the incoming government, then we should all be ready to suffer because the government will be so busy building prison yards that there will be no time or money left to do any other thing.
“Besides, this is a democracy. What I think we should be clamouring for is for whichever government comes in to strengthen the democratic institutions; the legislature, the judiciary, the civil service. Pay workers living wages and stop treating them as civil SERVANTS. Servants are compelled to steal from their masters to assuage their ill-treatment. Educate the youth to know their left from their right, teach them skills that would make them employers and not employees and when their hands are not idle, the devil (the godfather of corruption) will be out of business.”
Perhaps I chose the wrong profession. Perhaps I should have been a prophet. Today, the prognostic value of those words stands in bold relief without significant relief to the exigencies that necessitated strange bedfellows building a multi-purpose vehicle for change. Today, we are no longer talking about corruption but about what veteran essayist, Managing Director and Editor in Chief of the frontline Guardian Newspapers, Martins Oloja, calls “the ‘national greed‘, whose effects have continued to destroy our national grid.” Hear him:
“As I also noted, Greed is an uncontrolled longing for increase in the acquisition or use of material gain; or social value, such as status, or power. Greed has been identified as undesirable throughout known human history because it creates behaviour-conflict between personal and social goals… An example of greed is when you are obsessed with getting more and more money. A selfish or excessive desire for more than is needed or deserved, especially of money, wealth, food, or other possessions. It sometimes drives inordinate ambition and so that is where we find people’s greed for power.
And so aspirants on different platforms who are gathering around political people to produce the next set of leaders should know that they should work out a national creed that can be used to galvanise a movement to embarrass the current political class that is still being driven by this deadly virus called national greed that has destroyed our sickly national grid, which can’t deliver development to us.”
The rallying cry pre-May 2015 was that the Zion train to the Promised land was moving too slowly. Today, not a few Nigerians feel that the nation is going nowhere slowly. Thus, Nigerians find themselves once again on the threshold of another general election with a revival of the postulations and permutations on who the new messiah will be. Among active and armchair pundits are those who contributed to the current morass. They have been ventilating their vegetative minds on those they consider qualified to wrest the nation from the jaws of total collapse. So have other Nigerians who have an equal stake in the fate of the Nigerian state.
In the course of conversations on the topic, I have been asked who, in my opinion, is the most suitable among the contenders and pretenders to the Aso Rock diadem. My response has been consistent. I do not know who is the most suitable, but I do know the unsuitable.
From Random Thoughts: A Collection of Essays and Poems by Tony Ekata
To be continued in Part 2.