In the midst of the confusion called Nigeria, laughter is the best medicine, writes Charles Dickson

In 2017, Issa Shivji delivered the Harold Wolpe Memorial Lecture at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Issa, who taught at the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) for decades, reflected on the idea of revolutionary intellectuals. He remembered a lecture given by Ali Mazrui 50 years previously, where Mazrui defined an intellectual as someone who is fascinated by ideas. ‘Even a clown is fascinated by ideas’, yelled out one of the students.

That’s true.

In the early years of the Soviet Republic, Anatoly V. Lunacharsky – the Bolshevik Soviet People’s Commissar of Education – wrote an essay called ‘We Will Laugh’ (1920). The people had overthrown the Tsar and his empire, ‘a gigantic enemy’. This great victory had to be celebrated, but – Lunacharsky warned – ‘we are entangled by the miasmas of the old culture that poison all our air, when that enemy still triumphs all around us, waiting for the moment to inflict a new blow, in this time, without dropping our swords from one hand, we take in our other a weapon that is already sharp: laughter’. Lunacharsky made two important points here: one, that the tentacles of the old culture pushed past the revolutionary current and continued to try and suffocate human progress, and two, that the people had to respond with their new-found power but also with joy, the energy that gives people confidence.

One of Lunacharsky’s great insights is that it is in the domain of culture that revolutionary movements flounder, for it is the rigidities of old cultural hierarchies that resist revolutionary change; it is important for revolutionaries to sharpen their understanding of these rigidities and learn to overcome them, to laugh our way to a new world.

As I reflected on clowns being intelligent, the battle of the governed and those that govern, those that are laughing and those crying, the clash of cultures, ethno-tribal and faith based wars that simply saturate our spaces in Nigeria, couldn’t help notice the young lad sitting on the barber’s rolling chair as he sang…

This life I can’t kill myself

I can’t kill myself o

I can’t kill myself

Allow me to flex o

This life I can’t kill myself

I can’t kill myself o

I can’t kill myself

Allow me to flex o

So here I was at the barbershop and eavesdropping as the young lads chattered away. It was their time, their season, the age…the song playing in the background was a true reflection. As the young man and his friends sang along, I realized that they really couldn’t kill themselves. Davido popular pop musician was going to be in the city of Jos, December 1st and here the dudes were planning, how they were going to deck out to the groove.

Which of the babes was accompanying whom. Logistics were being straightened out. And I simply shook my big head. This is the future, these are the lads that don’t just care, and they are not exactly perturbed that a bill is taken to Mr. Buhari in London to sign. For them everything was laughter!

We cannot come and kill ourselves because people that should be responsible to us would steal us dry and then when dragged to court they suddenly are on wheel chair or sick beyond Nigerian hospitals and treatment. The lads who are representation of a youth that is a time bomb can’t kill themselves any more than they have been killed.

Our young generations are largely clowns, fascinated by ideas’; I am sure that these young lads like many in their season do not care that 200 alleged corrupt public officials have about N40b of their wealth, health and wellbeing stashed in accounts being investigated.

They are not fascinated by their government’s 11:59 closure of land borders and the implications; there is no robust debate on pros and cons on the way forward. While this clownish generation of social media and netizens had proudly produced some notable hope, it is scary that the revolutionary spirit of change for the better isn’t there.

A crass sense of entitlement, without accountability from ‘them’ or those that lead them; Yes, government should do this, and do that, but what are they, what are we doing to hold government accountable to what they should be doing, in fact a good starting point may be to identify who ‘them’ is, or else we all may continue to laugh; laugh at the fact that nothing is working, nothing wants to work, despite the best efforts of government, we all should just laugh.

Laugh at the fact, we are a people that pay for darkness, we laugh as we birth children of poverty, children of injustice, and crime, we refuse to make substantial investment to grow new ideas in education and health. We laugh at the Devil in Anambra State Government House, we are clowns because witches and wizards are responsible for our power problems; we are treated with comic relief as we go spiritual with Boko Haram.

Budgets are being presented across federating states with sweet sounding clichés but a year from now, there will be no fascinating idea as by-products because nobody wants to kill himself or herself for this beautiful contraption called Nigeria. We do not have an agreeable concept, philosophy, ideology that defines patriotism, so no one is willing to die for a nation that kills her own citizens through bad and un-motorable roads, deadbeat hospitals, heavy-handed security agents, un-thought government policies. Till our leaders show beyond reasonable doubt that they are willing to die for Nigeria, the ideas that clowns will have will continue to evoke only laughter, and please before you die for Nigeria, ask who has died for Nigeria, and where is that person now.

As long as Ali Mazrui’s definition of an intellectual is someone who is fascinated by ideas, the current crop of clowns will remain fascinated by the lack of ideas. For how long—only time will tell.

— Dr. Dickson is a

Development & Media Practitioner|

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