It was the Nigerian civil war that was on the mind of Professor John Pepper Clark, when he wrote the poem with the above title. More than fifty years after, the statement is still as valid as it was during the war.
Perhaps more troubling is the fact that today, the exit route from the dire situation we found ourselves is as clumsy as it is precarious.
The worst signal of we having a very long night in the groove of gloom is the near acquiescence of the entire citizenry. Unlike in the past where we had many voices and forces contending with those oppressing us, today, everybody, almost, is filing behind the queue directed by the oppressors, looking languid and beggarly, with their tongues clipped to the roof of their mouths.
The fading voices on the horizon is not so much because the oppressors have all repented or all died, it is because the complacency level in Nigeria has grown to a worrisome point.
The body that used to serve as the social meter of the society, the Civil Society Organisations (CSO) was the first to take a plunge. Suddenly, they all disintegrated. It is perhaps the greatest casualty that befell the nation.
Nobody speaks for the rest of us anymore. The few, like Socio Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), do not, by any means, approximate the status and steam of erstwhile organisations like the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) or Campaign for Democracy (CD). In those days, every cob reporter in town knew No 8 Imara Street, Anthony Village. Both the SSS and the reporters always had uncomfortable rendezvous at the headquarters of CD, which doubled as the home of late Dr Beko Ransome Kuti, at the time.
Today, everywhere has gone quiet. The fire has gone out.
There are no more fiery lawyers who staked their lives and wigs like Aka Bashorun, Gani Fawehinmi, Chima Ubani, Olisa Agbakoba, Ayo Obe, Femi Falana. There are no more such avowed advocates of human rights and good governance.
As it seems, Bashorun, Fawehinmi and Ubani died with the struggle to get Nigeria better and liberated. Today, the rest of them, left in that famished household, are chasing lucre. There is markedly, a great paradigm shift. They are looking to land great briefs from the operators of the despicable system. How shall we expect a man who dines with these political mandarins stand up to them in court? Many of them, whom we looked up to, have become senior fellows of the settlement syndrome. They now know and advise how best the system can be circumvented. They are the big lawyers behind crooks and criminals. They use their legal expertise to throw spanner in the prosecution process. Gosh, cry my beloved country, for we are all casualties.
At over 86, the average Nigerian youths are yet looking up to the likes of Professor Wole Soyinka to initiate and lead street protests against bad government. National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), the erstwhile carburetor of mass protest against anti-people policies and programmes, have themselves, become the very defenders and purveyors of rougish regimes, which in turn rewards them (NANS leaders) with sacrilegious gifts and perks like exotic cars and posh apartments.
NANS and governments used to hold each other in mutual suspicion. They almost always existed on parallel lines. Not anymore. Today, both parties flock together in bonds of warm affinity.
Today, the NANS president rides in a convoy of cars with exclusive plate numbers, surrounded by a plethora of PAs and SAs. That is the depth to which we have sunk, and it re-echoes the fact that we are all casualties.
Not even the media is spared this social vitiation. With the death of magazines, strong and critical political analysis and critique, anchored by burnished media mavens like Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu,. Dan Agbese, Dare Babarinsa, Mohammed Haruna, Waziri Adio, Kingsley Osadolor, Simon Kolawole, Godwin Agbroko, Tunji Dare have all seemingly downed tools, save a few. While many have joined government and thus zipped their voices, others are in chase of appointment and parvenu opportunities. Looking back and seeing how the media of today is parked full of jejune and ‘nothing-spoil’ writers, I cannot agree more that indeed, we are all casualties.
I shall end this lamentation with the narration of a personal experience that tells me clearly that our Uhuru, as a people, is somewhat illusionary.
A young family friend was arrested last week by some policemen from the Alagbon unit, Ikoyi Lagos. The fellow had gone into a business deal that went awry with some other persons. Some huge sums were involved. After detention at the Alagbon cell for two nights, he was charged to Igbosere Magistrate court, last Friday, a week today. I rarely go to courts. But on this day, the entire court premises was full. Different issues and persons were milling around. An emergency lawyer, derisively called charge-and-bail lawyer, was engaged. He had to interface with the officers of the law, while the policemen stood guard watching over the accused in an adjoining room. Before the accused were arraigned, some “settlements” and understanding were secured. To be granted bail, the lawyer had mentioned we have to part with, wait for it, N450,000! He went ahead to analyse how the N450,000 would be shared among the prosecutor, the registrar, the court clerks and some other persons.
As feared, the bail conditions were tough. Made tougher on a day the rains were celebrating a pour.
Unable to raise such amount on our feet, the fellow had to be detained in the holding cell within the premises of the court, awaiting the arrival of the Black Maria which will convey him and the dozens of other suspects to the various prison facilities. I could not believe my ears: that even at the supposed temple of justice, to get a favourable adjournment date, favourable bail condition, fair and human treatment in the prison, to sleep on a mattress, sleep among non-violent offenders/inmates etc., the family has to settle and arrange it all. And the figures are huge! As I write this, the young man is still in prison custody. What a country