DOES NIGERIA’S BROKEN BOTTLE HAVE ANY ‘MMEKWATARISM’?

Recently, several of my friends have been calling asking for how to get visa appointments. You do not need to be told that their belief in the future of Nigeria has evaporated. Time was when people who doubted the ability of the government to steer the ship of Nigeria were called wailers. Suddenly, practically every Nigerian has become a wailer. What would have been described as treason not long ago is being openly discussed and disillusioned Nigerians from across the nation ask for that which we know we can never get. Many, in exasperation, are even calling for the break-up of the nation. 

The immortal Zik of Africa was once quoted as saying, “a broken bottle has no mmekwatarism”. You may ask, what is “mmekwatarism?” Mmekwatarism is coined from the word, mmekwata, which in Igbo means ‘to repair’. In other words, what the great Nnamdi Azikiwe seems to have said is that a broken bottle is not repairable. Has Nigeria become a broken bottle? My nephew, ‘Mr. Cash’, insists that the Nigerian bottle is not just broken, it is shattered.

When we used to drive with tires that had tubes inside, if your tire went down, you patched the tube. You would see some tubes with so many patches on them that there is no question that the car is spending more time with the vulcanizer than with the owner. But there comes a time when even the vulcanizer cannot help you – when both the tube and the tire explode in one moment of madness.

I am the eternal optimist, characteristically the last to give up on anything.  I have however recently had to ask myself whether Nigeria has finally got to the state of no return. Are we in the situation where according to W.B. Yeats, “the falcon can no longer hear the falconer, things fall apart, the centre can no longer hold and mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”.

I am writing this from Anambra State where I have been engaged in the funeral of a dear friend and colleague on the COSON Board, John Ewelukwa Udegbunam. There was so much premonition about what ought to have been a simple trip to a part of Nigeria not at war. Who says there is no war? I was warned by many not to go to Anambra State. I was told that it is too dangerous. In fact, I was warned that nobody knows anymore who runs the state, whether it is IPOB which can order a stay at home at will or the federal or state government. 

I had woken up quite early on Thursday and got ready to go to Anambra State. The car was warmed up ready for the trip. My young driver, Abe and I only made it in the car to Ikeja. I have been accused several times of being too stubborn and obstinate. There was however no question in my mind that I had to be at the burial of my friend, Udegbunam even if was held in Sambisa Forest. At the last minute, we decided to park the car and boarded a commercial bus. It seemed to make sense to travel ‘In Cognito’. 

If we did not travel by bus, I have no idea when we would have made it to Anambra on Thursday. Once you get out of Lagos, there is a “check point” almost every kilometer. Sometimes, you can see the next check point from the last and nobody gives you a tag to show to the next check point that you have been checked. Woe betide you if you are driving a car that is not at least twenty years old and not dented. At each, “check point”, you would be flagged down and aggressively ordered to open your boot and produce a long list of documents including custom papers, in the middle of the country, for a car you have been driving for years.

Except you understand the game, there is no way your papers would ever be all correct. You may even be told that the custom duty on your car was wrongly assessed and that you had to go to Akure, about 100 kilometers off the road to go and sort it out! The one paper that answers every question asked is the one that has “Central Bank of Nigeria” printed on it with the signature of the governor. If you don’t have enough of that, then you are not ready to travel. 

It is at these ugly and dirty “check points” made of disused tires, tree branches, bags of sand and disused drums that much of the Nigerian police, some of the army and a lot of the custom men get their true salaries which they share with their ‘ogas’. So, a 400-kilometer journey to Anambra State which anywhere else in the world should take less than four hours takes two times that or even three times, if you don’t end up in Akure! Agents of the government who have not been sufficiently taught that time is money make their money by wasting everyone else’s time. Where in any serious nation do you have this kind of racket openly going on in the name of security. If we must say the truth, this is official banditry.

As I got set to return home recently from the United States, I was admonished by many friends and family not to go back to Nigeria. I was repeatedly told that the contradictions in Nigeria are such that it has not future. And you can see this in some families who have four generations all living outside the country, grand ma and grand pa, great grand ma and great grand pa, goats, dogs, cats and rats all taken away!  

So, you insist and come home and hear one consistently inconsistent guy who calls himself FFK being given so much airtime and space as if he matters. You hear that the President visited my native Imo State and no one, man woman or child, came out to wave a tiny flag at him as they were all locked in their homes commanded by IPOB and scared like hell.

Are the people who told me not to bother any more with Nigeria right? Does Nigeria’s broken bottle have any ‘mmekwatarism’?

See you next week.

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