By Chimdi Maduagwu
I started writing a novel in 1987 while I was still a student of English, at the University of Lagos where I teach now. I gave that novel a title I considered and still consider interesting and that title is a simple, gripping and somehow uncomfortable word; just one word: Guilty.
When I shared the idea of that novel with few friends of mine, later in our career as students; albeit, postgraduate students, they agreed with me that it is a profound dream. What surprises me most about that 1987 dream is that I am still dreaming. I can assured you (as if it is an award winning statement), that no one has ever seen that work of fiction on any shelve in any part of the world. But be it known now that that title has been “copyrighted.”
Today, I have decided to open up discussions on that dream and I still call it “My Guilty Dream.” The dream was and is to challenge all my “country people,” soon after the very controversial series of messages which emanated from the stable of Federal Ministry of Information and credited to the Honourable Minister at that time, Prince Tony Momoh. The title of the messages was “Letter to My Countrymen.” After that manner, I decided to write too. I recall a very interesting story of a man who just got converted to Christianity as “born-again.” He was to take his new faith very seriously and the first injunction for that seriousness was that he must read his Bible every day.
Being new and inexperienced, he decided to read portions of the Bible, at random. He opened the Bible and read “…and Judas bought a piece of land with the 30 pieces of silver and hung himself…” he quickly closed the page regrettably because he hated to read that, that was not edifying as he was told the Bible would be. But he was not going to give up. Then he opened the Bible again and his eyes went straight to another portion which simply read “… go and do likewise…” he felt discouraged and went to seek counsel. I was like that man when I conceived the work, “Guilty.” When one does not immediately get an expected satisfaction from a carefully considered action, there is a temptation to give up; however, only the brave can overcome that
My guilty dream was a product of my incapacitation towards what I think I can do, yet I know I cannot do. I want to see this country better than the best countries of the world, so do all of us. I think I can help in doing this and so do all of us, yet I cannot do it. Everybody believes that I cannot do it so nobody thinks I can do it. Please, this is not a dream anymore, it is real. So I am going over to the Guilty equation. Since I think I can make this country better than the best and I am not doing what I think, then I am guilty. Since everybody believes I cannot do it (while indeed, I, who know my abilities, think I can) everybody is guilty.
I am back to the dream. I saw the military in power and the reason they came was because everything had became so decayed that only the gentlemen of strict discipline could salvage the society. We all moped at them like sheep lost in the labyrinth of their thought. Later, it dawned on us that they were the most unlikely set of citizens to undertake the noble task of repossessing the society.
You know, like I do, that we became incapacitated and they stayed on and on and on and at last we were deep inside the quagmire of irresponsibility, then like the dramatic intervention of Deus ex machina, the hand of God literally hacked them out. Though they went, we still did not come out of the quandary that they dragged us into. So, logically, the decayed situation they came to address grew worse. Decadence experienced corruption! The entire society was covered by putrid. The rancid odour would choke and indeed choked many people. We are reexamining the ugly situation now, because it appears as if we have survived and of course, we will always survive.
We survived with blistered noses. We must live with broken lungs. We have breathed the harsh air of oppression. We have been subjugated, deprived, brutalized, exploited, ill-treated and I suppose, castrated. Yet we survive!
They are GUILTY of all that happened to us. The men in khaki and their cohorts! Good, there I become relevant. Those who perpetrated the atrocities include those who prepared the atrocities, those who packaged them, those who delivered them and those who administered them and the final set are those who consumed them. So it is obvious that everybody is involved because all had a part to play.
I listed them in my dream beginning from my constituency; the academia, where many of us helped to script the drama of “the act of violence against the country;” then the lawyers who tailored the thin gloss of legality over the incredible cruelty of the time. I recall the medics, who condoned the installment death decreed on the people of the nation through acquiescence to unacceptable healthcare system.
I mentioned teachers, students and parents who are the stake holders in the educational sector and how they easily and voluntarily killed interest in learning and education thus plunging the nation into a ridiculously low standard on interest in education. I got over to productivity, which I consider crucial, especially in relation to our GDP. Silence prevailed there and as Soyinka once said, “the man dies who keeps silence in the face of tyranny.”
The work force did not only suffer, it died. One cannot exonerate any stakeholder there, from the employers, through the individual employees to the organized labour. I recognized the public and private sectors, as the economists would teach us; then there is “the “preferred sector,” (oil and gas; huge merchandize, essential commodities manufacturers, government top blue positions and later, the religious circle) where people who were grossly incompetent flooded and desecrated. I also went to the markets, our common markets, to unravel fraudsters, cheats, “profiteerers” and many other who decided to take advantage of all others.
I think I have to stop here for now before I cry, but before then, my enquiry found out that all have sinned and fallen short… of the expectation of the nation. I had the great courage to condemn all as GUILTY! In my dream, everybody confessed and accepted guilt so we thought of what next? Since we are so badly brutalized, we need a complete therapy, after which we can organize a summit. I got out of bed here and fellow compatriots; this is the residue of the guilty dream.