By Bisi Lawrence
*The signing into law of the symbols of nationhood by the Bayelsa State Government, this past week, adds a warning note to the anxiety expressed about the crumbling unity of Nigeria—but who is listening? The subsidy “robbery” raised a bit of noise in the recent past, but did the indictment stop where it should? More about that in the future.
How prepared were the Kuramo Islanders when the ocean waves came calling? And, in another direction, how prepared are the young people now for the onerous tasks of growing up while they are growing old? The past brought up these among other questions which crave for answers this past week.
At the time we broke into a Federation, there were three main regions. Each part had its own coat-of-arms, and it was beautiful. The Mid-West also came in to join the others later —no problem. However, the country had only one national flag, and one national anthem.
But the nation was divided into twelve later, thanks to the confusion of the civil war when Yakubu Gowon, the Head of State, first decided that the basis for a united Nigeria had disappeared; but which seemed to have emerged later, ironically, in an initial structure of twelve units, which have now proliferated to thrice that number — and the counting continues.
There is no way of knowing how the idea of fostering unity became streamlined with the establishment of lesser states within a federation of unequal parts and potentials, but it could not be because it would make the peoples of different traditions, insufficiencies and aspirations automatically, instantaneously, move nearer one to another. Indeed, the dismemberment of the country had all but done away with any further elaborate pressure for national unity, beyond the office of mere lip. The raucous promotion of “One Nigeria” had gradually lost its appeal down the years as events imbued it with a glaring insincerity. “Statism” boldly stepped forward to win and hold the field.
The move of Bayelsa State to adopt a flag and coat-of-arms of its own is thus in keeping with the spirit of the times. The monthly division of the national “cake” now seems to be the only cause to make us look towards Abuja as the national core of our existence. Some other states have already shown similar inclinations with Bayelsa. Oshun State already has its brand new coat-of-arms, as well as Lagos State which has always retained its own from the early days, and each State has its own colours. The issue of flags, however, may have needed to be further examined, likewise the case of an anthem.
A flag speaks of wide connotations of nationalism. It is understandable when nationalities come together and merge their flags, or adopt a principal one like Britain, in the Union Jack in which are represented the banners of Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
There are other examples like that of The United States of America which has not totally lost the Texan flag but limits its appearance and is made to observe a severe protocol of relative importance. It is never permitted to rub shoulders, as it were, with “Old Glory”.
Indeed, no American would dream of such a situation where a clash of importance would ever exist between his national flag and the flag of any other nation on earth, let alone the flag of a state. So highly do the Yankees venerate “The Stars and Stripes”, to mention its other pet name, that they have a protocol designated as the “Etiquette of the Flag” for the proper way of treating it with dignity and honour. .
Each nation’s flag also really means no less to her citizens. Not for nothing was the flag identified as the “standard”, centuries ago. It has been the symbol of the national spirit of nations, embodying their national pride and extolling their achievements for eons. It is thus raised high in their moments of triumph, as we witness at the Olympic Games, for instance, when the contingents of each nation also march into the arena under it. There is no greater pride for any athlete as the one he feels standing on the winner’s rostrum under the fluttering banner of his nation. That is the moment in which your love for your nation sometimes comes welling down in tears of affection and patriotism. It is the kind of feeling that is genuinely unalloyed.
There was once that kind of feeling in this country too, during the immediate period after independence. Some people even suggested then that we should give our flag a name, a loving or “ rousing name, at that time, but somehow it never happened. The flag has remained “the green-white- green”, like a forbidding snake in the grass. We should love our flag enough to accord it a befitting title. There were complaints, even in those early years, that it needed an icon of its own which would help in giving it that name – like the “Stars and Stripes” of the USA, or the “Black Star” of Ghana, or the “Lone Star” of Liberia, or even the “Rising Sun” of Japan. There would have been a clash between that Japanese idea and the defunct Biafran flag which was a well designed flag bearing a rising sun.
Sincerely, when I first saw that flag of Biafra, rebellion or no secession, I almost tripped. There is something about a flag that can fracture you, no matter the age you are, no matter the stage you are. I have often thought about it: why don’t we indeed do something about our flag – something that would give it more meaning, more flesh? Something, for instance, like the inclusion of the sun—not the half rising sun like the Biafran insignia, but a full blazing sun in all its golden glory! Would that not be just right for us who are “The Giant in the Sun”? That could even be the name of the flag.
If a state could appreciate the value of a symbol to represent the worth of their essence like Bayelsa State we should, as a nation, give it as much attention.
There is much that almost strikes one dumb, numb even, with the murder of Cynthia Osokogu. She was the only daughter of Major-General Frank Osokogu (Rtd). That virtually makes her a heiress. She was an undergraduate who had a boutique of her own and, by all accounts, a successful young businesswoman who had a car. By the looks of her, she had the presence of a film star, a startlingly pretty young woman. In short, here was someone already blessed, and in the path of more blessings, and yet she was lured to her death allegedly by some young students.
They invited her all the way from the North through communications on the internet, promising to obtain merchandise for her at a low price. They then took her to a hotel where they inflicted pain on her body, and then strangled her, after drugging her. The police later obtained a close-circuit television recording of the entry into the hotel room, which they used to detect the perpetrators of the crime and their associates who have been arrested. Commendable police work!
The regrettable plight of this hapless young lady whose life was snuffed out in its prime proffers lessons to every enterprising person, especially the young and the feminine who are usually the most susceptible to such attacks that are launched :from close quarters. It is taking a huge risk to place one’s security in the hands of strangers alone, and without the knowledge of anyone else.
What should be of great concern at this time, however, is the involvement of young people, especially bona fide students, in the commission of violent crime. It is now a wide-spread feature of general student life, stemming from obnoxious cult activities. These nefarious practices should never have been allowed to continue for so long time. They are no longer funny, if ever they were, and should have been seriously dealt with as the crimes that they are, firmly and fully. So many instances seem to have been glossed over in the past when they appeared to have been considered child’s play, but new technology has now brought the muscle of the internet into the scene. We ought to raise an alarm. Our youth have taken a wrong direction and we need to guide them back from their erroneous ways. As two of the arrested boys confessed, it was not their first time. They even operate within the machinery ofa syndicate. May Cynthia’s soul rest in perfect peace.
The reaction of several people to the fatal surge of the lagoon into the Kuramo beach, notwithstanding its distressing dimensions, is what kept it so long? Many people believe that this was a tragedy waiting for a long time to occur. They point to the fact that the water surrounding the village is a stripe of the Atlantic Ocean and liable to over flow its banks at any time. They refer to the considerable area of land on the Victoria Beach that the ocean has eaten up in the not-too distant past, and stress that there is no predicting the ways of a an ocean, or sea sudden overflow.
I too sometimes felt that way, and would wince. I wish something could have been done—that wasn’t done—to have prevented the grievous loss of lives. But the authorities deposed that they gave enough advice to the community who mostly turned deaf ears to the warning. Without prejudice, one would only agree with that as typical. A way must be devised to get people to heed such warnings in order to avert such tragedies in our communities. People simply don’t budge at such official notifications of impending danger. And it is a shame.
KuramoVillage, the scene of the tragedy, occupied a big part of my life as a boy often when I was a Wolf Cub in the First CMS Grammar School Lagos Park. It was a vast stretch of sandy swamp, interspersed by shallow little lakes overwhelmed with clean, glistening tadpoles. The entire area was aptly named Kuramo Waters by the European civil servants, with a passion for the open air, who developed it as a resort of sorts. It had three distinct lovely little beaches, each with a cabin near the lagoon. There was a highly sophisticated atmosphere in a remote lodge at the edge of the lake on the Northern side, with dunes of rolling sands which scalded your feet in the sun. It was reserved for the grown-ups who knew they had to defend their sole rights to the place, especially from prying eyes. We kept away – mostly, that is.
But the swimming was fabulous. Shrimps were twenty for kobo and oysters were kicked in sport around the sand, so plentiful were they. The spirit of adventure hung all over the area, and there were many games to be played. You were inducted into it from the first visit. You had a map which showed the way to the “camp”, and you were encouraged to find your way there the next day by yourself I remember how much trepidation I felt on the way which was somewhat deserted towards the end, but can still recall the feeling of exhilaration when I found myself in the midst of my comrades at the end of the journey.
Apart from the Wolf Cubs and Boy scouts of various schools, other groups like the Bishop Vining Boys Campers also used the facilities of the camp. And in the evenings under the moonlight, we would light camp-fires and sing camp songs, and—very important—listen to words of advice from our elders who were notable people in the society. That last part was indeed very important. We young folks paid a lot of attention to those words and can testify to how well they influenced our lives beneficially later in life. But when “development” came, Kuramo was squeezed dry and reduced to a skeleton of its old self The camp was lost and all its beauty.
But when such facilities existed some seventy years ago, what student was ever diverted to cultism, and crime and all that sort of anti-social behaviour? The authorities ought to bring back Kuramo, in more ways than one. The need is urgent.