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Now comes the ghetto

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ACCORDING  to a features item on NTA Int’l recently, the Federal Government is constructing a set of high rise apartments for our returning diasporans in various zones of the country. A good policy an observer would conclude, but one that is most likely to end up with an unexpected result – the creation of ghettoes. It is a development though many Nigerians have long unwittingly awaited. Accommodation is, in fact, a number one priority for returning Nigerians who had lived abroad for some years. For the Federal Government to embark on such a policy is indeed commendable but equally some unintended side effects should be considered. One possible side effect is the appearance on our social psyche of separate and not too equal residential areas.

The long overdue internal yearning, especially among our musicians, will become a reality unless the Federal Government makes conscious effort to curb the social ills often associated with ghetto dwelling. The lyrics of our musicians are replete with imaginative ghetto experiences. But for the American musician for whom ghetto experience is real sings: “I was born and raised in the ghetto.Talking to you and you know it.” Fact of life. How about the Nigerian rapper who sings: “Omo, I don hustle…..I don sleep for gutter…..I don dae for ghetto” is wrong. Or “I am a ghetto boy. I have been in the ghetto since birth. I love the ghetto life. The ghetto is harsh and beautiful”. Wrong: We should be able to differentiate between slum dwelling and ghetto. If you ask any of those who talk of ghetto to show you one, the tendency is to say Ajegunle. Wrong.

Let us look at the meaning of ghetto. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary of English Language defines ghetto thus: One, a quarter of a city in which Jews were formerly acquired to live, two  quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure. My closest experience of a ghetto life or rather near it was in Munich Germany as I sat at lunch with a German couple. I was a Johnny Just Come (J J C) I went on to praise the Germans for good behaviours, manner and a clean mode of dressing. But the wife of my guest said: “Just wait a little when you begin to speak German, you will know the difference the moment they open their mouths.Talking to you and you know it.” Many of them belong to the ghetto but fortunately we do not have it officially here like in the United State of America,USA.

When the idea of the construction of council flats came up in Britain in the 1960s, the Labour Party government demonstrated a human face to the discomfort of other conservative politicians like Eunoch Powell (the rivers of blood prophet) who wanted multiple condominium  to be designated as ghettos for Blacks (who were arriving Britain from Africa and the Caribbean) like in the US. In spite of the rejection of those flats as ghetto dwellings the class system and subtle discrimination reigns there. It is a social phenomenon mitigated by their good laws. But implementing laws is a function of the heart and mind. Suffice to illustrate the ghetto revolution or stigmatisation with a live narrative. “Talking to you and you know it”. Susan was an Irish student on summer vacation from Dublin in London in the 1970s. She was introduced to me by a friend. Then I was resident in West Norwood, SE. London. After a light entertainment, we decided to go to Crystal Palace, just in my backyard to watch a football match. Susan was staying at a bedsitter in Seven Sisters area of North London where visitors only sleep and a breakfast. During the day, they were expected to vacate the hostel until the evening. After the match we decided to go holiday job search the next day.

As a joke, I said to her, “you will not have any problem because of your colour”. It was then that the bubble burst when she said “you see me as a white person but those Britons see me worse than a black person because by the time I open my mouth they would see a ghetto dweller.  But as  a Nigerian you are better placed in London job market.”

The scenario she built really played out the next day. Any where we went, she was called first but always did not get the job. The moment she opened her mouth she lost the job. At the end of the Job  search I succeeded first but she complimented with. ”What did I tell you yesterday? The moment I opened my mouth, they saw an Irish lady fit only to work in the potato farm in lreland.” Though she later got fixed up in a company owned by her compatriot. She did not believe strictly in the classification of human beings in the black and white definition. To her those white people with brown hair or black deep brown eyes are black people.

Another country where the ghetto revolution is rife is Israel. In the 1980s, in search of the so – called lost 12th tribe of the Jews sneaked into Ethiopia to smuggle some Felujans until it developed into an open negotiation with the Ethiopean authorities to evacuate the entire race  to Israel where they are today located in a secluded environment lamenting the loss of self esteem and total freedom. Today Benjamin Netayahu is in agreement with Donald Trump, the US president, a fellow Jew in total support to propagate the selfish policies of late Menachin Begin who ruled Israel in the 1970s. He surrounded himself with his kind. So also Donald Trump is doing in the US with a colony of Jews, in-laws, children playing a prominent role in his administration. His daughter received a gift of $100m from the Chinese government, running the US like a Third World country. These are the rulers with the ghetto enthusiasm.

What about the US of A, the originator of the ghetto idea where the segregated black people built their president’s official residence yet it took over 200 years before a black leader could occupy it. The ghetto policy has eaten too deep into their national psyche, they do not see it either as a burden or misfit but they operate it with relish. And it has bequeathed a culture of fear and distrust to the way they live.

For example, in 1982 our graduate class visited Harriet Taubman Museum. Harriet Taubman worked so hard to free slaves from the south through her underground railway system. That was the day I saw a corn field stretching over two kilometers owned by one farmer. Phil explained to me with glee as we watched workers harvesting maize.

On our return we took a shorter route through the Syracuse New York ghetto. Half way through that side of the city was a  gathering of people arguing rather harshly. So I slowed down to observe but Phil will not take it. “Why are you slowing down?” he howled. My response was I wanted to understand what the gathering was all about.” He was frightened and said, “slowing down and if it snowballs to this vehicle I will be lynched.”

“For what?

“You don’t know them.

“I come here to wash my car every week end

“Because you’re one of them.’’

This is a synopsis of the culture of ghetto separateness in the US. And inside the ghetto there some strange developments over attitude, dress mode and language. Most of the black Americans had various masters who were English, Spanish, German, French et al with their variations (accents) of the English language. When they came to the ghetto they blended the language to form what is today known as Black American English. I met an American lady who told me in 1982 that she was compiling the Black American English dictionary.

I have gone through this maze to decipler the new culture the federal government is unwittingly courting. Most of these  diosporans are scattered all over the world with variations of the English language. When they are settled in one place, a different Nigerian personality, culture, speech pattern et al will emerge. In fact, after many years of abode abroad, accommodation remains a basic problem on return but to build a village for them mainly creates more problems.

This  writer  was one of the diosporans who responded to the call of the then federal government to return home. On my return nothing was done for me. I was even forced to do the NYSC programme (at Ibadan). It was only Owei Lakemfa then a journalist with the Vanguard who commended my effort to respond to the federal government’s call with a filler in his  then page.

Though my resettlement was made effortlessly lighter by my late elder brother, Scott who left me a few years later. But some I left behind who are still there, in Munich, London, New York are ever posthumously grateful to him for the role he played in assisting me to return with comfort.

Ben Odjegba is a supervisor/reader with The Bulletin


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