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on the smoldering keg

By Bisi Lawrence
Ashiwaju Bola Tinubu, the former Governor of Lagos State, used to dismiss the Federal Government’s attempt to stop the State from creating local government area councils by comparing it with efforts to abort a pregnancy from which a woman has already birthed a baby.

It sums up to an irreversible situation. A court ruling has in fact justified the position of the Lagos State Government and, with all the hue and cry about “the rule of law, a swift compliance with that judgement would have been expected from the “high priest”of the that gospel to put the lid on the whole affair – that is, if he were sincere.

What was definitely not expected was the exhumation of this expired dispute by President Umar Yar’Adua at this time. Therefore, in the cause of peace, cooperation, law and order, one may be permitted to wonder why.

It could not really be that President Yar’Adua genuinely hopes for a return to the former local government structure of the State, which bestows the Federal Government with no tangible profit at all, or is in anyway detrimental to the Nigerian project.

It could only serve to stultify the widely acclaimed dynamism of the state’s plans, like a veritable clog in the wheel of progress. That, as an objective would fall into the domains of mean politics, which one might hesitate to associate with the person of Yar’Adua.

But the philosophy of his political suasion may, all the same, indicate otherwise. Throughout this country today, Lagos State bears the palm of the most progressive administration.

The outlines of the etchings made by the government of Tinubu have been accorded a bold relief by the vitality of the Fashola administration.

It is indeed enough to make the Federal Government lose a lot of sleep, especially apparently bewildered, as the Yar’Adua administration is, within the swirl of crises in which it finds itself, and against the express ambition of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to gain control of the State.

The PDP would be in character to needle the Action Congress “showcase” State at every turn, and would feel comfortable with a troubled situation within the State.

The revival of a seemingly settled issue might create that kind of circumstances. So all this may have been inspired by the old ploy of creating a distraction to divert attention from an intractable state of affairs, like the Niger Delta impasse, for instance. This matter seems to be rumbling up to the apogee of a vertical circle from which progress may be downhill to a state of undisguised and undeniable variation of a civil war.

The declaration of the conditions in which the Governors of the affected States would support the terms of the amnesty offered by the Federal Government to the militants of the Delta area, is no less than a statement of disaffection with the Yar’Adua government.

It indicates the paltry measure of confidence that this important segment of the country nurses for the Yar’Adua administration already, and it may also be a pointer to the sentiment of the entire Southern part of this country, towards national affairs.

These are burning issues that will not be doused by a sprinkling of vexatious matters recalled to create a tasteless commotion in the body politic. With strikes, unemployment, lack of security, and the incendiary situation in the Niger Delta, we are sitting on a smoldering keg of gunpowder in this nation today. Aren’t all these enough without dragging Lagos State into it?

For the past three months, the airwaves have been full of developments around the Swine Flu … the airwaves on the satellite transmissions of foreign news, that is. The disease began in Mexico and was quickly picked up in Europe through the US, both as a news item and a pandemic ailment. It is said to have killed nearly a thousand human beings in some 14 countries, and traces of it have been discovered in Asia. Whilst so much is being said about it in several other parts of the world, pretty little creeps out of the media in Nigeria.

Like it happened in the case of the economic meltdown which has now been confirmed to have ruined several businesses in Nigeria, we are still holding ourselves distant from an ailment blowing with the force of a storm around the world. But when it breaks wide open, it is clear that it will not be only livelihoods, but human lives also that will be affected.

First, we have to spread out the information that a pandemic is a worldwide issue – like a world war, for instance. It is a “universal epidemic”… It respects no geographical, racial or ethnic barriers, like AIDS. But influenza has the capacity to develop to this dimension, without even any physical contact unlike AIDS.

The virus that causes it is ubiquitous to a high degree and the treatment is limited only by the severity of the type. Some mild types pass for just a little more than a fever but others develop a lethal effect that could devastate entire communities.

Swine flu is said to have that awful potential. The avian variety, which threatened the world but was contained some two years back, may have left us with an over-bloated confidence in dealing with pandemic onslaughts of influenza. But we should at least equip ourselves with some knowledge of what we are going to face in case of an unexpected situation, since the influenza virus is susceptible to a change in its severity as it develops if it is not quickly stopped.

We need to be made more aware of the potential danger of the Swine flu currently posing a possible threat of worldwide concern. Nothing short of a nation-wide campaign is called for at this time.

This is the season during which several Nigerians travel abroad – not minding the economic squeeze – to the areas of the world where the Swine flu has made its presence felt in a tragic manner. Other nationals from all over the world are also pouring into the country from day to day.

There is no vaccine yet accepted as effective against the virus, though a variety has been produced but is still undergoing clinical tests. And then there is also the danger of mutation, where the virus changes its character and a formerly efficacious medication ceases to be useful. The frightening truth is that we are right now wide open to this vicious visit of a “pigs’ disease”.

This is a situation that calls for urgent action. Perhaps the authorities would awaken to their duty at last when some millions of naira are thrown into the field. That normally stirs us up. Meanwhile, make a little room more on that keg of gunpowder.

I remember the Kano riots of 1953. The Hausa residents of Sabon Gari suddenly turned against the strangers from the South in their midst. It was said that this was caused by an ugly incident when some people booed the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, in Lagos because he had rejected immediate self-government for the North.

Sir Ahmadu was the Premier of the Northern Region and leader of the Northern Peoples Congress, the NPC, which was in power both in the Region and in the Central legislature in Lagos.

A prince and scion of the house of Uthman dan Fodio, the Sardauna was not in any way affected by the carryings-on of politicians in other parts of the country, finding enough contentment in concentrating on the development of the North.

History has since vindicated his sagacious foresight. He had felt humiliated by the booing he received in Lagos, but then came the “second round”.
Chief S.L. Akintola, Deputy Leader of the Action Group – the party in opposition in the Central Legislature – was on a rallying visit to the North and arrived in Kano amidst a raucous publicity. He was met by a riotous crowd that was supposed to do no more than heckle him in the same measure meted out to the Sardauna during his own earlier visit to Lagos.

It might all have ended in hot air lasting a few hours, but things took an unfortunate turn beyond the wildest expectations of the residents in Sabon Gari, the quarters of strangers who were out to celebrate the visit of one of their leaders.

Though they comprised mostly elements from the Western part of the country, the conflagration that ensued enveloped people from all the sections of the South – Ibos as well as Ibibios, Efiks as well as Edos, Yorubas as well as Ibaribas.

Anyone from the South was fair game to the rampaging Northerners. Akintola and his entourage were rushed out of Kano very quickly, and the riot was quelled in the evening.

It was politically motivated, you might say. But others were to follow of even a more virulent nature, and then associated with religion. However, it was that Kano riot, I believe, that started that culture of violence in the North. It pointed the direction to the effective manner of making a point irrespective of whether it was outside the law, especially if it was expressive of religious sentiments.

The current (recent?) unrest is, howbeit, unusual in some respects. It has no ethnic overtones nor is it directed at the promotion of a purely religious issue. Because the main protagonists happen to belong to the Islamic faith, the first reaction could have been that it was for the Muslim cause. But it was soon clear that it was for a distorted mindset that can find no currency in a sane social order. How can any “revolutionary”thinking be established against education in a world sustained by an upswing in technological advancement?

Unfortunately, reports in the foreign media lifted the news stories out of context in the naked attempt to enhance the sensation of the issue. Some comments even verged on “human rights abuse” and such poppycock when people were faced with the rampage of de-humanised hordes of savages.

Our own reports too, unfortunately, sidetracked the necessary background which could have positioned the incident where it really belongs in the over-all social content of our daily lives. The series of violence seems unprecedented in scope, and does pose some concern with regard to human safety, though it is limited to the areas yet affected.

President Yar’Adua, all the same, might have considered that his duty-post at this time was here at home, rather than in a jaunt to Brazil – and while the “keg” was still smoldering at that.

I wonder if you remember Hotel Bobby or Caban Bamboo. That was the “hospitality” spot created by Bobby Benson years ago. I wonder if you even remember Bobby Benson himself. He was the maestro whose career as a musician breathed life into the Highlife in Nigeria.

Not many Nigerians remember people like Bobby Benson, for this is a land with few monuments and even fewer heroes. I remember him. He was my friend whom I should have appreciated more when he was around. But he was so lively that one did not associate the thought of death with him until the very end. And then it was too late to show adequate appreciation.

I have received a write-up about Bobby over the past week, from a younger friend, Yinka Alakija. It has inspired me to start welcoming guest writers to this page. I shall publish that letter here next week. It has also encouraged me to begin to show more appreciation of my friends and, believe me, I have more than a handful of them.
Time out.


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