Culture Shocks Foretold

16
DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN, Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

I have always dreaded the prospect of being compelled to live abroad. If you have noticed a certain strindency in the manner I write to criticise those mismanaging Nigeria (thereby increasing the odds of rendering this recourse inevitable) this personal dread is a big part of the motivation. The immediate overriding problem is the social life and how it is severely constrained by terrible weather conditions. Right now in Oxford, darkness falls as early as 3p.m. in the afternoon. This disorientation is then reinforced by a winter freeze of the proportions of being locked up in a deep freezer and have the keys thrown away. The result is alienation and a heightened consciousness of being an African- who should very well accept whatever is dished out- as due penance for the self-inflicted failures of his own society. I’m quite sensitive about my dignity. Strip a man bare of dignity and he is left with nothing is my philosophy.

I went to take a passport photograph the other day at Boots self-serve facility. The cubicle is partitioned into four applicable sit ins of equal light effect. Somehow the ambience of the snaps I took came back dark and blurry. I sighted the outcome of the other user next to me and it came out appropriately bright. What then was the matter with my own end product? The guy suggested it might have to do with the colour of my skin!
As a student in the United Kingdom, Chief Obafemi Awolowo narrated the experience of his first and last visit to a nightclub. At the instance of Chief Toye Coker, they went nightclubbing. After a few minutes settling in, he courtesied and said hello to the guy next to him. He was studiously ignored. To confirm how much of this behaviour is nightclub culture, he extended similar courtesies to two other nightclubbers lolling nearby and was equally snubbed. He concluded that anywhere you go and people are habitually discourteous and nasty cannot be a good place.

It is hyperbolic to say so but I see a potential racist in all white people, more so the male and the fans of Donald Trump. According to all opinion polls, the majority of white American male are of one accord with Trump (the President who would rather all potential American immigrants come from Norway). The argument is eloquently marshalled by Charles Blow in the New York Times under the caption ‘White Male Victimisation Anxiety’… ‘ ‘an outright and increasing amplification of a reactionary white male victimisation syndrome that has consumed modern American conservatism… the unleashing of white male backlash….Trump’s entire obsession with Barack Obama springs from this… Obama, the candidate that a coalition of America’s diversity elevated, must be brought low by the candidate that the right homogeneity has ordained. White scion outperforms black striver. This is America, after all. Basic legends must be buttressed…..

I said earlier, I cannot be persuaded by any American supporter of Trump that he is not a real or potential racist- regardless of political correctness induced protestations to the contrary. Increasingly though, I’m less judgemental about racism and allied degeneration. There is however a difference between abstract intellectual tolerance and physically living the reality on a day to day basis. The history of the white world is afterall replete with the exhibition of horrendous capacity for beastly intra racial cruelty that beggars belief. If they can treat one another with animal hatred, maybe I shouldn’t expect a higher standard of behaviour from them in other circumstances. In contemporary history, recall the oceans of pure Aryan caste blood that wetted the killing fields of Europe in the second world war. Yet this was Adolf Hitler’s beloved rarefied racial community on whose account he thinks nothing of sending the luftwaffe to pulverise the unpersuaded millions among the same pure bred who live across the channels.

The widespread iconic status of Trump amongst tens of millions of Americans shows how little has changed since Hitler. Did Governor Rick Perry not call Donald Trump the chosen one a few weeks ago? How about the holocaust? For that matter, recall the supreme irony of the American civil war-where multitudes of whites slaughtered one another over the emancipation of the Blacks- a standing rebuke against any tendency to view America as Donald Trump writ large. According to that American gift to mankind, Abraham Lincoln, “if God wills that the war should continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
Haven been nurtured on such noble Lincolnial diet for months at the Michaelmas term at Oxford university, it was time to return to Nigeria for the Xmas break. And therein ensued another psychological crisis with the contemplation of the transportation mode of getting to Nigeria. By the way, (in the relentless morbidity of phobia for flying) I’m in the non flattering company of the former life President of Cote d’Ivoire, Houphouet-Boigny. If it became absolutely necessary for him to travel to Europe, he goes by sea, three weeks of seasickness notwithstanding. In diabolical humour, he left us with the most concise justification of life Presidency I have ever heard- a Baole chief does not see his successor.

Two weeks to my return flight to Nigeria, the alarm bell jarred my drinking lobes (apologies to Wole Soyinka). Until about a month ago, I cannot recall any report of ‘incident’ on British Airways flights to Nigeria yet here was I, booked to travel the same flight in another fortnight-confronted with a media report that ‘Abuja-bound, British Airways flight BA083, yesterday, made an air return to London Heathrow Airport, after its aircraft lost an engine en route. The aircraft took off from Heathrow Airport late Tuesday, and was airborne when pilot announced that the aircraft would be returning to its port of departure. According to British airways “For your information, the aircraft experienced a minor technical issue, and our pilots elected to return to Heathrow. In terms of the emergency services meeting the aircraft, this is standard practice.

In furtherance of what looks like a choreographed effort to totally unnerve me, right at the departure hall of Heathrow airport a week ago, few hours to take off was the news flash “A military plane with 38 people on board has disappeared en route to Antarctica, Chile’s air force says. The C-130 Hercules transport aircraft took off from Punta Arenas at 16:55 local time (19:55 GMT), and operators lost contact at 18:13”. To forestall a creeping panic I recalled the law of averages theory propounded by my gone AWOL brother, Wole Omoboriowo, on the probability of plane crash around the world. According to Wole’s law of averages and probabilistic theory of air accident, if there occurs a plane crash disaster today, it is quite unlikely that it will be immediately followed by another one. I remember him comforting me years ago.

These are moments my mind strays towards the contemplation of the subject of witchcraft- specifically in respect of the possibility of developing spiritual wings to levitate from London to Nigeria, solo and steady all the way and in a fraction of seconds. Beyond witchcraft, there is also the similar metaphysics of egbé (spiritual/physical disappearance enabler)-very popular with Yoruba warlords in the Kiriji war and the African magic cable channels, the science of disappearing and materialising at a desired destination. I have not seen the communique of the recent Witches conference at the university of Nsukka but the conference should have been preoccupied with the potential revolutionary impact of doing away with aircraft in mass air travel.

The unusual delay in taking off didn’t help matters. Finally, the dice was cast and we bade goodbye to the terra firma at Heathrow, I strained to hear what the captain had to say about weather enroute Lagos. Rather disappointingly, the announcement was muffle. In the event, it turned out a smooth pleasant journey until we arrived at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos- where the gain in the rehabilitation of the air-conditioning was completely blown away by the prison standard stench of fresh and decomposing urine.

Before I left UK, I had a realistic expectations of the country I was returning to, I could literarily plot and predict how minor and big challenges would pan out. Yet after making generous allowance for all that could go wrong, disappointment still managed to squeeze itself in. As expected and against the background of ten weeks of sparkling airports, weird experience of uninterrupted power supply, clean water, sanitary environment, the near superfluity of owning a car.., all standard of living measures in Nigeria were uniformly bleak.

The shakedown began, commensurately with the most notorious. On electricity, I thought I had all the angles covered. Though exorbitant-with inverter and power generator plant, I had the capacity to generate light independent of PHCN-but not indefinitely. I got home and was informed that the neighbourhood transformer chose that morning to implode. Still I was left with the inverter and generator but they are connected in a manner that one cannot work without the other. The generator cable passes through the inverter (as modulation and conduit) and the batteries of the latter are charged in return by the current passing through it. Unused for months, the inverter batteries had gone kaput and unable to transmit the currents supplied by the generator.
Recall I was coming from a temperate weather zone of sub zero temperatures to the suffocating humidity of Lagos and needed to sleep. The only way out was to get the generator disentangled from the inverter and run it directly to the house. This was going on 9pm and you needed the handyman’s expertise to perform the magic. My providential Sagittarius luck has a way of kicking in hazardous situations. And so it did and we got the handyman. All is well that ends well? Not so fast. As it was with electricity, so it became with water and so it became with bills left, right and centre.