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What the lizard said

By Tony Momoh
THE lizard may have grown up amidst ungrateful people when he said that if no one would praise him for the feat of jumping from a high iroko tree and not dying, he would shake his head in self praise. So, when we see the lizard nodding its head in self praise, we look around for a tree it has jumped from or some other feat that needed songs of praise.

But that shaking of the head of the lizard is interpreted differently by some other cultures in Nigeria.

One culture group says the lizard says he pities the world because of what he sees its inhabitants doing, watching, as he does, from his perch atop the iroko tree.

The headshaking in this version of the story, it is obvious, has nothing to do with the lizard himself, but his opinion about what the people he has pity for had been doing and continue to do.

Please do not ask me why I use the masculine gender for the lizard instead of ‘it’ the animal kingdom now qualifies for.

When societies were emerging and people were coming together in groups it was believed that all beings spoke one language and understood themselves. I do not know, (do you?) when all that changed but the truth of the matter is that the story of the lizard lives with us.

I am today in a position to liken myself to the lizard, looking back to 1962 when I started pushing the pen to date when I continue doing so. But my colleagues have shocked me. They say we will celebrate you. And that is what is going to happen in one of the biggest media events in recent history.

You see, I was 70 in April, specifically on April 27.  But on that day, when people thought I ought to be dancing and celebrating with friends, I went to the office as if nothing was happening.

The previous day, however, on April 26 which was a Sunday, I had hosted a meeting of  Etsako Club 81, a socio-cultural group formed in 1981 to help the people of Etsako in Edo North senatorial district. Unknown to me, my children and their friends had laid an ambush.

I knew what was on when two days before the meeting they brought a huge cow to the compound. I told them no one should take me by surprise, and that I was not going to cooperate if they held a party. Of course they ignored me because those they sent text messages to appeared in their hundreds!

I knew what I was waiting for, a biography that had been in the works for seven years. It turned out to be a huge book of 26 chapters and more than 600 pages which the author entitled Prince Tony Momoh, A National Bibliotherapist and Cultural Engineer. I told you before in the column on The Stuff of Biographies (April 12) that I did not know what bibliotherapist meant.

Not that I could not sense the meaning from biblio, meaning book, and therapy, meaning cure. But I did not know that this field is one traced to the Thebes, 5,000 years ago, with a rich history.

The one who anchored the project that now drags me out of the position of the lizard who would shake his head in self praise, has brought in the lizard in another dimension, the one who looks at the world and shakes his head at what is happening, at things going wrong and people being unwilling to right  the wrongs.

But having exposed me as a watcher that history must recognize, providing a world rating that is academically presented and backed by theories that I must confess I do not understand, I thought what is going to happen this week, Thursday, August 20, at the Banquet Hall of the National Theatre, should not be left only to Dr. Andrew Oshiotse Okwilagwe, associate professor of library, archival and IT studies in the faculty of education of the University of Ibadan.

For in his epic poem, for he calls the huge work a poem in which I was an excited, and I dare claim exciting participant, he thoroughly and painstakingly documented the major papers and books I have written since the 70s. He even listed the topics I had dealt with in this column every week for 10 years.

I felt the outing would be incomplete without at the same time and venue formally presenting the two volumes that emerged from the monitoring of governance I have done. In volume 1 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary covering the period 1999-2003, I wrote 172 pieces, pointing always to the Constitution which is our road map and is a documentation of delegated powers.

In dragging public actors to document, I believed and still believe that until that document is amended, we are all bound by its provisions. The second volume was updated to 2008 and contains 131 pieces with two appendices, one on the need for Nigerians to talk so that the political space can be decongested; and the other on the making of great columnists. At 70, there was something extra I wanted on record.

Between 1980 and 2009, some of my presentations had been anchored on the spiritual. No, I did not say the religious. I said the spiritual. But that word is what we dread, even claiming in radio jingles that an armed robber is not a spirit, as if spirits are invisible.

Oh yes, the truth is that because the species determines the form, the human being, whether armed robber or priest, is a spirit. I published Tony Momoh Spiritual Essays, a book of 16 chapters running into 300 pages. I sent copies to most of our religious leaders because they are the ones to tell us of the Above dimension in the Creation Story.

But let us come back to the lizard. If people had celebrated the lizard, he would not have had to sing his own praises. What is going to happen at the National Theatre is a celebration by the media who have accepted that their own, my humble self, had worked hard enough for them to come together and make a statement.

The forum at the National Theatre is one where that statement would be made, not in the loudness of any claim but in the presence of the actors who now know that they are the last institution standing in the struggle to save our democracy.

This may be debatable, but here is not the occasion to argue the claim. But they will all be there as professional hosts. Look at the roll call: the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) – Print Media Owners; the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria (BON), Electronic Media Owners; the National Association of Journalism and Mass Communication Teachers (NAJMAT) – Media Trainers; the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Media Managers; the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Media Professionals; the National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Women in the Media; the National League of Veteran Journalists; and other related bodies, especially in culture, advertising and public relations. All of them will be there, and the chief host will be the president of the NPAN, Chief Ajibola Ogunshola. The chief hostess will be Justice Constance Momoh, chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

Our Royal Fathers of the Day are the Oba of Lagos and the Oba of Benin. And who is there to chair the outing?

No other than General Yakubu Gowon, GCFR, former head of state. You can now guess why other former heads of state, governors, ministers and stakeholders in the Nigerian Project are being invited to come to the occasion as friends of the media. I almost said Friends of the Lizard!


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.