By Dele Sobowale
â€œNever rush on without looking around firstâ€.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russian Nobel Prize Winner.
(VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, p.220).
Last week, I started with Jos and ended with Warri; this week let me reverse the approach. In the end we are looking at the same impending catastrophe from two different ends of a prism.
I didnâ€™t spend so many years reading mountains of books in order to compile the VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS only to fail to learn from them. That line by the Russian novelist, author of CANCER WARD had stayed in my mind ever since I read it. I also recall a passage from the novel RED BADGE OF COURAGE by American writer Stephen Crane, 1871-1900, where soldiers at a war front under sudden attack took to their heels.
On March 15, 2010, at 11.20 a.m. just after the explosion and the deposit of debris on me, the first instinct was to bend down and pick up the element which had fallen on me and to the ground. I thought it would make a great front page picture. But, that was not to be. Halfway down and suddenly I beheld a human stampede; several dozen soldiers, Mobile Police Officers, ordinary police officers and some â€œbloodyâ€ civilians rushing frantically in my direction.
It was clear to me that any attempt to get down and pick the object would have meant the death of me. Never have I seen so many people rushing with panic in my life. Instinctively, I moved to one sideâ€“ between two great Jeeps belonging to a State government whose drivers and security staff had also temporarily vanished. In less than ten seconds, I was alone in that area. Incredible! What has happened to our protectors?
Well, never mind; acting on the assumption that I was safe between those two vehicles, I started to look around and to think of what to do next. First, I saw an off-white old Passat, the sort that is now common in rural areas, loaded with what appeared like produce for the market.
The vehicle had wanted to make a U-turn when it came close to the first car that was exploded and was still making a frantic attempt to turn around when the second one went off on the side of the expressway closer to the Government House Annex. For some inexplicable reason, a jeep-load of soldiers pursued the old jalopy; overtook it and dragged the driver out of his vehicle â€“ which was left on the road unattended. Why? Nobody knew. Was it a possible case of blaming one of the victims for their own ineptitude?
That cleared my head a little bit because now it dawned on me that the Publisher of Vanguard, Uncle Sam, and my colleagues were inside the hall and I must help them out. Two things might have happened. It was either they had heard about the explosions; in which case pandemonium had broken out. Or they were blissfully ignorant of what had happened and the bedlam outside; in which case, it was my duty to raise the alarm as gently as possible without causing chaos.
I called Uncle Samâ€™s number, not expecting a reply, but remembering that â€œit is despair and despair alone that begets heroic hope, absurd hope, mad hopeâ€ according to Miguel de Unamuno (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p.38). Surprisingly, there was an answer. But, it was one of the personal assistants to Uncle Sam. I asked him if they were aware of the bomb blasts outside. He answered in the most serene voice, â€œWe have been toldâ€ and the line went off. If you can keep your head while others around you are losing theirs, then you must be an assistant. There was still more thinking to be done before entering my car and driving heedlessly down the road. I looked again at the two vehicles burning and it was clear that the blasts had been arranged in order to close down the two lanes going to the left of the Government House. So, everybody rushing out would have to go right. That, to me smelt DANGER. Was it possible that another bomb was waiting on the right side for the inevitable mad rush that would occur? If it was, and was well-timed, it would wipe out the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of Niger Delta leadership as well as others not from the region.
This time I sent a text message to Uncle Sam which warned that â€œon getting out, turn right, but do not stay long on the expresswayâ€. I did not elaborate and it was just as well that two things happened. First, the militants either reconsidered setting off the third bomb or it failed to detonate. Second, Uncle Samâ€™s attention was not drawn to the message. So My Oga went blissfully down the road, along with thousands without knowing how close they came to meeting their Creatorâ€¦.
Two days after the Warri episode, a call from Joss foretold of another round of killing that would occur even with the heightened security in place. He was calling me because he reads my column and was aware of my recent visit to Jos. And so it happened. But, that occurrence has resulted in the unintended consequence of the text message above. With this unfortunate convergence of hostilities and hatred, the framework for nationwide spread of mindless mass murder of innocent citizens, north and south, as well as across religious divide had been established at a time when there is a yawning leadership vacuum. If the Devil had intended to give this nation a disastrous 50th birthday celebration; it could not have prepared the groundwork better.
Unless better heads prevail to put a stop to it, our 50th anniversary cards will be signed with human bloodâ€¦â€¦