My second favourite Nigerian used to be Honorable Patrick Obahiagbon, Edo State’s eloquent politician and chief of staff to the Governor. When Nigeria turned 52, my outspoken friend spoke words that would have dazzled the great Shakespeare himself: “As we celebrate our flag and shambolic autarky at 52, we must realise that Nigeria is still more of a geographic contrivance as has been rightly posited by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Not with our centrifugal excrescences preponderating over our centripetal proclivities. It’s a matter for mental pabulum that we are daily drifting into our ethnic cocoons. We still remain one country with disparate ethnic agendas and I can say it for the umpteenth time again that we must sit down in a sovereign national colloquy to discuss the basis for our nationhood. Anything short of this is just vacuous scahiamachy.”
When my honorable friend said those nicely put together words, I imagine he must have just read William Faulkner’s The Sound And The fury. The first time I laid my eye on the gem of literature, I remember I stopped at the ninth page, downed some cold Coke, shook my head and went out for a jog. Some books tend to undermine human intelligence. It shook me!
However, in all his eloquence, the learned man from Edo State lost his spot in my ladder of favourite living Nigerians to another brilliant mind of simpler diction. A friend of mine, as he went through the trials of New Gambia shared a video with me which got me thinking. Hours later, the Googler in me was quoting some of his lines that I may know who this amazing son of the soil was. He turned out to be Ben Murray-Bruce and I’ve been following him since (to follow someone in the 21st century is not considered stalking).
My new second favourite Nigerian which would make him my second favourite African spoke at the Great Lakes Trade Summit about free trade. However, it wasn’t his free trade angle that caught my attention. It wasn’t his talk about corruption in the civil service or the fact that African governments are the cause of African problems that got him up my ladder. It was when he said: “I say to African leaders, the first thing you do is to appoint a Minister of Common Sense in your cabinet. It’s the first thing you do because the mistakes we make, make no sense…”
It wasn’t just what he said, but also how he said it. He said it with such frustration that can only be seen on our highways when an innocent driver is pulled over by traffic police just so they can grab a chat (by chat you definitely know what I mean). In Jollof, it is always a competition of the most stupid mistakes to make. However, our brothers and sisters in sub-Saharan Africa aren’t much better either.
So I had this conversation with my mother when I learned of the mudslide in Freetown which claimed over 400 lives this week. This ongoing debate about the catastrophic occurrence in Mama Salone on who is to blame is one which cannot be avoided. We must begin to blame someone for Africa’s problems. We cannot continue to use the Ya’Allah moye dogal phrase. Someone, somewhere is making stupid decisions on our behalf and these people must certainly be held accountable.
So Freetown has been overly congested for over a decade now. A congestion which can be attributed to long instability but also to the African promise of a better life in our capital cities. Our governments, due to political reasons, forget that their primary function is to ensure the protection of the lives of the citizenry. When I mentioned this to my mother, she was strong in her belief that the citizenry must protect themselves. This is a truth that must be acknowledged and a truth which I am sure is shared by many others. However, we must begin to understand that the African continent is unique in a lot of things. Our most unique feature is our stubbornness even in the face of risk… a feature common in rural communities around the world. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, there were videos of old couples refusing to be evacuated simply because they couldn’t say goodbye to their homes. Now if that isn’t a reflection of the African spirit, I wonder what is.
So when our people decide to build homes in illegal locations right in the hearts of our cities, who is to blame? Isn’t it easier to walk around blindfolded pretending these problems do not exist just so we can tell ourselves that all is well? Doesn’t it feel even better when the Minister of Environment decides to cut trees and build his three-storey mansion right amidst the multitude that have decided to put up homes in illegal, hazardous environments? Bilai African mistakes make no bloody sense.
Again, we will mourn our dead. We will mourn helpless, blameless children who are yet to even understand the way the world works simply because Africa continues to be Africa; a land where the guardians of our people still do not understand their unique responsibilities.
In Jollof, heading through Foni a while ago, I came across a community market beautifully built for the people (I assume by some NGO). At the top of the market entrance, an intelligent painter had decided to scribe “soMita”. I cringed when I saw it. I believe Honorable Patrick Obahiagbon would have hung himself. It didn’t make any sense to me. Whether for artistic effect or not, I couldn’t understand how someone would spend his time putting a capital “M” in the middle of a word. But that is certainly not the stupidest idea!
From the Nawec-Senelec deal to the initial location of our major dumping site in the heart of Bakoteh, to the traffic policeman standing 10 meters away from the roundabout with his STOP sign, to the woman who walked into my wife’s restaurant selling bananas, we definitely encourage stupidity. There’s no way around it. Kham naa neh am na njuye wakh neh dama hamadi wai daal….suma yorn.
I can assure you, if anyone was tasked to come up with ten stupid things done by people in authority in this country, he or she could come up with twenty. That is not to say we do not come up with smart things…oh we do! But smart ideas are not welcome in this land. There is a deliberate attack on everything smart in this country. This isn’t a New Gambia issue. It is simply a Gambian issue. It is a part of our culture…a part of our being…a part of our identity.
A friend of mine once spoke to me after I tried to correct a wrong in a certain institution. In all honesty, he turned to me and whispered, “Boy deka bi fokk nga stupid purr nga make kor”. It didn’t make sense to me… until I got home. So since then, I have my stupid moments. I have met a lot of smart people in my Gambian adventures. However, the older they get, the more I see them adjust to the ignorance. Meet an intelligent older gentleman or lady outside for a drink and they sound almost like my new second favourite Nigerian. Meet the same person in his office and you just might want to kill him. This place infects you. It sucks you dry and then finally it kills you. If it doesn’t kill you, it certainly doesn’t make you stronger… more like dumber.
So I advise people to read a book. I advise young people to avoid reading articles like Red Black Nonsense. Try reading some Shakespeare or watching motivational videos… those things were made for us. If you don’t run away from the madness, my people will stupefy you and water you down.
I met a much older gentleman once who told me the system would tame me. He said it like I was a wild beast who was yet to understand the rules of domestic dwelling. I could sense he had no ill intentions when he said it but I felt sad for him. Perhaps when he was my age he was like me… a believer. Somewhere down the line, he had drunk too much of that Kanifing water and had lost it. So like my new friend Ben Murray-Bruce said, we have too many leaders who should be in mental institutions leading our countries… and our institutions. We have too many crazies that have drunk too much of that Gambian water leading us through the wilderness. Poor leadership has cost this country too much for too long and it shall continue to drag us down.
I have a bit of time to make it through the pack. The struggle to not be stupefied by the system is a real one. It requires dedication, sacrifice and a lot of Woozaas. It requires a simple ritual in front of the mirror every morning…
I shall help you with this. Every morning, before you head out to work, look into the mirror and say to yourself, “I shall never allow myself to be the donkey I met yesterday”. We can laugh at the donkeys but we should never allow ourselves to be them. The Gambia is our home and Africa is the Mamaland. Too many generations have failed this space we were born in and we cannot afford to fail the many who are yet to come. We must outlaw all forms of stupidity and if leading by example is synonymous to leading stupidly, then perhaps we should all walk around like headless chickens and just let sleeping dogs lie.