The Tyranny of Destiny

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DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN

One of my neurotic dispositions is phobia for flying. As bad and increasingly dangerous road travels in Nigeria has become, you still find me frequently travelling by road between Lagos and Abuja. I use the excuse of stop over at home in the Ekiti midway between the two destinations to rationalise the habit. In psychoanalysing myself, I argue that unlike the other mode of transportation (road and waterways), flying is not natural to man. The exception to this logic is what my friend, Jide Adeniji calls the “air force” and are effusively celebrated in Yoruba cosmology as àjé (witch), Ìyàmi òsòrongà (high priestess of the coven), olókìkí òru (grandee of the deep night recesses), ajèdò tútù mó bï (scavenger of human liver)- they are the category of humans to whom transfiguration into birds and night flight is second nature. And so I contend that since flying is not natural to man it is perfectly normal for me to be rendered permanently apprehensive of levitation and defying the law of gravity.

The celebrated Nigerian scholar, the late Pius Adesanmi, was involved in a ghastly car accident about a year ago. In many important respects, he was spared by providence. The accident was so bad that majority of the passengers died on the spot. I doubt Adesanmi was anything nearly as morbidly fearful of flying as I am. In seeking mitigation for my phobia, I specifically feel comforted and relatively reassured by few factors. One is perceived newness of the aircraft. This psychological refuge has now been completely shattered by the fatality that wasted the life of Adesanmi. The consecutive self-impelled crash of the two brand new Boeing 737 Max planes has become the ill-starred poster boy of the dysfunctions of technology. If passengers were to be given the privilege of choosing from a lineup of aircrafts on the tarmac, the probability is that rationality would have driven nearly all the ill-fated travellers to that seductive flying coffin. It is the same tyranny of destiny that has deprived Nigeria and global academia of Adesanmi at the peak of his utility and at such a jarringly premature age. And so to Pius and all the other victims, I say Sayo Nara-Fare Thee well.

Neither Here Nor There

Neither Abuja nor London; Neither Winter chills nor Tropical humidity were the other contenders for the title of this essay. I’m writing it at the beckoning of the blistering heat in Nigeria and the unseasonable cold snap in Europe-both of which have pitched themselves as a choice between the rock and the hard place; the devil and the deep blue sea, in the past few months. It is the kind of Hobson’s choice embedded in the oriki (the cognomen) of my grandmother’s family. I have always been fascinated by its rendition, not the least for the manner in which it foretold and paralleled the articulation of the dialectics principle and method by neo classical European philosophers and thinkers. Here we go:
Ó da àkàrà mejì sí inú agbada
Òkan dún wò mí róró
Òkan dún wò mí rara
Ó gbóná ó jo l’énu
Ó tutù ó rín l’èdò

The English translation can be rendered as follows:
Two dough balls are guided into the frying pan to make bean cakes. The end product (the cake) has the potential to evolve in dangerous and contradictory dimensions. One can manifest as sizzling hot guaranteed to scald your tongue and the other, a cold enough contrary manifestation that is certain to irritate your liver. This, in essence, is the sum of the salutation. Now, what is there to choose between scalding your tongue and irritating your liver? And this is precisely the point-it is intended to confound and confront you with an imponderable choice, a choice with no option. I am ceaselessly entertained by it all-the poetic rhythm, the mocking and playful exhortation to a contrived stupefaction. It is a defining quality that is prevalent in Yoruba traditional chants, invocations, prayers and praise worship. It is calculated to awe, to incite puzzle and bewilderment; to arrest your attention; to tell a story-as we are about to tell.

You will recall (as earlier alluded) that from the antiquity of Okemesi, it is a short distance to the Europe of Hegel, Kant and similarly invested European philosophers and pundits-the notion that every tendency generates or presupposes its contradiction; that to every thesis, there is an antithesis. The authority of Science was stamped on it in the proposition of Sir Isaac Newton that action and reaction are equal and opposite. There is contemporary illustration in the conflicting reaction of the Nigerian political spectrum to my regular commentary-which straddles the apprehension of some on one hand and the satisfaction of others on another. There is cross utilitarian appropriation of the opposing weather conditions (in the culture of the temperate dwellers seeking the golden burnish of suntan corresponding to the craving of the fresh toned complexion imparted by exposure to the infusion of benign temperate cold by the inhabitants of the African tropics). The conversation I had with my son is most certainly replicative of conversations between callers from the different locations of the embodiment of the oppressive heat and the offensive chill.

It was this ubiquitous invocation of contraries that was prompted in the conversation-a dialogue on the extreme and divergent weather conditions we both are grappling with. If you are in Lagos (or Abuja) and you are addicted to warm water baths then look no further for water heater. You only need to turn on the water taps to discover that the bathroom water heater has been rendered redundant. It gets so warm that you may actually need considerable dilution with ice cubes to avoid turning your bath into unsolicited sauna bath. It is a season in which rainfall attains to larger than life physiological therapy and socio-economic utility. It is a season in which ritual supplication for rain is routine and regular in the rural redoubts. The reason I will never forget Kagara (in Kaduna State) is that it was impossible to get down to sleep without drenching the torn and threadbare mattress with purchased ice blocks from the village fish cold storage. In tamped down benevolence, the nature wonder at Ikogosi, Ekiti State (in whose bowels mutually dwell cool and warm water spurts) dispenses this duality all year long.

This is a season in which you find it difficult to contest Fela Anikulapo’s fashion sense. Next to the cool air appurtenances (fan, air conditioners), stripping down to your briefs and sleeping in your birthday suit is just what the doctors prescribed. And the general impression I gathered is that this prescription has attained to the popularity status of Vitamin C. My idea of hell on earth right now is Nigeria’s congested unventilated detention yards. And I am not pleased to confess this but if the price for avoiding that hell hole is to be momentarily Buhari compliant, it is a price I may be willing to pay. And I have caught myself pondering on the suitability of the influence of oppressive weather condition on the Nigerian voter behaviour as a fit and proper social science seminar topic. With or without rigging, there is the likelihood-that were the last elections to coincide with the searing segment of this provocative heat, political incumbents would have paid a heavier price than they did. This is a weather that thoroughly schools in the art of intolerance and transferred aggression. You are predisposed to unloading your frustrations at the slightest or no offence at all not to talk of being called to pass judgement on those you hold responsible for your existential miseries.

These are also the kind of occasions that enrich your perspectives on life. How are those,(who are in no standard of living position to get the relief you are able to afford and secure- (electric power generation from sundry sources-diesel or petrol powered generators, inverters, solar power and Eko electric power company) faring? You are, often than not, required a combination of at least three of these sources to adequately power the house cooling appliances 24/7. How about the ordeal of those dwelling in the extreme of the extreme weather conditions in places like Maiduguri, Sokoto and Gwagwalada? In these circumstances, possession of these life-saving items can hardly be deemed optional luxury items. You really have little or no choice in the ensemble of survival mechanism of coping with the prevailing physical ordeal and emerging therefrom in one piece.

In our mutual weather victimhood we (father and son) were compulsively wishing to swap abode. Each was claiming the more tormenting scenario and wanting to relocate accordingly-I, running from the heat and coveting the cold, he, seeking escape from the cold snap and hankering after a warm sanctuary. Until you are better schooled by experience aren’t we all prone to sulking that our plight is worse than any other? The irony of ever contemplating such a swap was not lost on me. From experience I know that winter is a menace to physical and mental health. The exaction is of such proportions that I can easily rationalize the smoking of cigarettes and dabbling in the stronger stuff as pardonable coping mechanism. It is physically and mentally severe in the restrictions and limitations it imposes on social life.

Anyone who is prone to depression, as I am, would need to think twice before voluntarily committing to semi-permanent relocation to the winter hemisphere. It was one of the critical considerations that aided my decision to turn down an ambassadorial offer years ago. Long and dreary winter nights leaving residents with brief daylight interlude is certainly not my cup of tea. This is when you feel like cursing climate change deniers. More so, those who have done the most damage and have chosen to undermine universal responsibility for the mitigation of the damage that imperils the survival of planet earth. The American President (more like the American nemesis), Donald Trump is a personification of this toxic brand and has done enough to earn Fareed Zakaris’s designation of him as a cancer on American democracy. May his tribe diminish and his reign cut short.