I was an undergraduate visiting Lagos in the 1980s when I experienced my first culture shock. That time, Oshodi was still a seat of bedlam where crime and grime walked on two legs.
Just across the rail line, I asked a molue driver the way to Nestlé Nigeria plc in Ilupeju. In order to practise my phonetics and speak English like the company’s late chairman, Ambassador Dove Edwin, I pronounced the word Nestlé. However, the driver whom I approached thought he knew better.
“That word is pronounced Nestu,” he corrected me, grinning, his kolanut and cigarette-stained dentition showing a gap which gave him a piratical appearanache. He looked around in a come-and-see-this-ignoramus, Johnny-just-come fashion. As if on cue, his colleagues and bus mates bent double with alcohol-reeking guffaws.
“Ok sir, how do I get to Nestu?” I asked again. He volunteered the description at the end of the day.
As I made to jump over the rail line, squadrons of flies flew from an object spread-eagled on the ground, as if protesting against my approach. For bad measure, my nostrils were assailed by a gut-wrenching stench.
How could a corpse lie in public and people move about unconcerned, some smoking, others calling for alms, while even many women were sucking oranges and eating corn or mouth organ? I asked myself, my jaw still hanging slack as I made my way to Nestlé or Nestu.
This scene flashed on my mind when I read a report in one of the Nigerian dailies that on Eld-el-Filtri day, an unidentified teenager drowned at the Bar Beach in Lagos. That day, there was a throng of humanity at the beach. Although two volunteers tried to rescue the boy, they could not, as billows of waves threw him up and down, his hands flailing as he was disappearing in the distance where the sky and the sea appeared to join. The boy was gone, never to be seen again.
What worried me and, I believe, many Nigerians with human feeling was this portion of the report: “Other fun seekers continued with their fun as if nothing had happened.”
There was another newspaper story last week about a 25-year old Aminu Jimoh who was arrested in Ibadan for burying his brother’s son alive for money making ritual. His herbalist, John Joseph and another accomplice, 27-year old Maliki Aderounmu, were docked at an Ibadan Chief Magistrates’ Court, after which they were remanded in prison custody.
Trouble started when the herbalist who holds court at the Osunrara village, Igangan, told the wealth seekers to bring a child for money ritual. Then something sinister took place in Jimoh’s delicate brain matter; he took away the son of his own brother. Jimoh and his brother live on the same premises, a situation that heightened the sense of this betrayal or crime.
Also in Adamawa State, the police paraded Bappa Alti, 24, of Gamji village in Gombi Local Government Area. His alleged offence: He beheaded his own five-year old son, Buba, for N1 million. What did he want to use the money for? To buy cows!
It was when he went to the farm with the boy and failed to return with him that Alhaji Guja Alti, his grandfather, became suspicious. He reported to the police which arrested the culprit.
Add these to the Boko Haram insurgents who, like the Mongol hordes carrying out the orders of Attila the Hun, leave corpses everywhere they visit. Students of tertiary institutions, who belong to one cult group or the other, snuff life out of their fellow undergraduates with no more effort than plucking a twig.
Let us leave President Goodluck Jonathan, Muhammadu Buhari, Governor Rotimi Amaechi or Jonah Jang for a moment and reflect on our psychological make-up as contemporary Nigerians. What exactly is wrong that people no longer respect human life? How come many do not show sympathy, let alone, empathy?
What exactly is the difference between us, humans, who lay claim to reason, and beasts that roam the jungle?
I join John Wilmot, the poet who, in his, “Satire Against Mankind,” compares man and beast:
Which is the basest creature, man or beast?
Birds feed on birds, beasts on each other prey,
But savage man alone does man betray.
Pressed by necessity, they kill for food;
Man undoes man to do himself no good.
With teeth and claws by nature armed, they hunt
Nature’s allowance, to supply their want.
But man, with smiles, embraces, friendship, praise,
Inhumanly his fellow’s life betrays;
With voluntary pains works his distress,
Not through necessity, but wantonness.
The first problem is our erosion of values, so much so that wealth has become an end itself, notwithstanding the means of getting it. In the past, parents, villagers and traditional rulers asked questions about the origin of the riches of an upstart.
Not any longer. Once criminals can spread money like confetti, they will be honoured with chieftaincy titles, honorary degrees and can find their ways to governor’s offices and National Assembly.
Then the question remains: why do city dwellers behave as if they have no feeling?
My thesis: Perhaps, modernity has eroded the humanity in civilised man and he behaves like a machine.
My advice to village and city dwellers is this. In your solitude, ask the question: why am I here? Is there an Unmoved Mover behind creation to whom I will make explanations one day?
Lastly, parents should not shirk their responsibility in introducing their wards to correct religious precepts, folklore, moral literature and other concepts.
These can help build the inner man, a process that will make them different from ravaging beasts or ordinary automatons.
End of sermon!