It would have been a joke if it doesn't ring true. But the tale bearer meant it as a stress reliever, for his medical students, in the middle of his laugh-less lecture, at the once esteemed University College Hospital, UCH, Ibadan. I haven't been able to shake it off my mind since a friend told me. Events in Nigeria always make sure of that.
And the fable has become an aphorism. It must have been a pre-creation story. "God was standing with a few protesting individuals from many nations of the earth. Some were unhappy about their earthquakes, cyclones and tremors, and some about their incessant conflicts and wars. Some were groaning about their lack of mineral and material resources, and some about their arid lands and intemperate geographies. What irked most Africans present was why Nigeria supposedly had it so easy. Good weather conditions, abundant resources, the envy of all nations. God looked around the accusers and smiled. "Yes, Nigeria has all these," He paused to confirm, "but wait until you see what kind of people will populate the country!" And God winked. Since then, the people have been the bane of the bountiful land.
But what is a land without a people? Nigeria is good geography, if we take it merely as a geographical expression. And Nigerians are smart people, if you look at the citizens excelling everywhere outside of national borders. And Nigerians are a resolute and resourceful people, if you observe how they struggle- in the face of reckless and impossible odds- to survive one day at a time, to make ends meet. Yet the land is still full of milk and honey, if you look at the abundant supply of mineral and agricultural resources. But what can we say of its leaders?
It may not be entirely correct to say that a country deserves its leaders. Did we deserve the clowns foisted on us, at independence, by colonizing Britain? Did we deserve the socio-economic sub-structure that, almost unreservedly, serve imperialistic purposes? Did we deserve the skewed political super-structure that always would reward conniving pigmies in the land of non-vigilant giants? Don't we really deserve better? I would think so.
Those who first ruled us were not even ready for independence, talk less of selfless rulership and egalitarian governance. As they degenerated, a so-called "corrective" coup took place, already hijacked by fat-brained neo-conservative generals. A counter-coup resulted, and an aimless, goal-less, rudderless colonel steered the ship of state. He wined and got drunk, they dined and became gloated, until another took his place. That one brimmed with progressive ideas and was quick in action, until a paranoid schizophrenic fool shot him. Another General emerged who relinquished power to a folk teacher who only wanted to be a quiet, smoking senator; and corruption became legendary. That led to more generals , more corruption , and more decadence, as national groups became pawns in illogical political games.
We had the vengeful General and his alter-ego that never cracked a smile. We had the gap-toothed, egocentric General who embraced us in his deathly warmth while erasing the remaining shred of honesty left on the landscape. His' was the Judas kiss, our's the betrayal. (I learnt he's plotting to come back!) Then we had the duck head who masqueraded as a leader, until the goggled, manic-depressive tyrant took over the reins of government. The repercussions still reverberate.
Many of those leaders would have stolen the sun if it was nearer to earth, thus depriving us of the light of day. Thank goodness, that was impossible. Yet despondency filled the land, and those who could afford life elsewhere became voluntary exiles. Many prophets fled with their prophecies and dreamers couldn't interpret their dreams. How sad our collective experiences, how wasted our resources!
The next General handed power to a retired General who became a farmer after ruling once. At that point he was serving a jail term with lesser mortals. It looked like a compromise for the survival of the country, and hope sprung for a better future. But are we mistaken in our expectations? Is it a crime to want the good things of life -food, shelter, clothing, health, education, security of life and property etc- that are taken for granted elsewhere? Why are we so different as a people?
The present administration is tinkling with the so-called "subsidy" on petroleum products. Arguments are made by those who have made them before. But the result will translate to harsher living conditions and loss of life and livelihood for a lot of people. Protests are being organized, as law enforcers polish their pistols, dust their pepper sprays, and practice crowd control. None of these things are new. We have come so far, yet progressed so little. Almost every administration has been worse than the one it replaced. Life in Nigeria is like sitting on a barber's chair; so much motion and rotation, but no movement. What kind of people really populate Nigeria? Do we have a country? The fable makes me wonder.