By Osa Amadi, Arts Editor
In South-East of Nigeria, among the Igbos, as may be found in some other cultures, Ala, literally meaning ‘The Land’, is revered so much that it is deified. Ala as a deity is also feared. Before the world ‘turned upside down’ and eroded important cultural values that regulated the society, Igbos were careful, (many still do till this day) not to incur the wrath of the land by committing one crime or the other, or by engaging in any socio-economic and political activity considered to be injurious to the land.
The axiom, “Bless the land, and the land will bless you”, deriving from the same reverence to land, is a universal truth which plays out in diverse ways, not just in the lives of humans, but also in the existence of all objects and phenomena in both the physical and spiritual universe.
Broadly speaking, “The Land” encompasses the earth and everything in and on it – the people, animals, trees, etc., which sustain life. In modern times, the concept of land extends to our workplaces – the companies, ministries, factories, workshops, etc. – from where we earn our livelihoods.
Bless the land, and the land will bless you. Perhaps there are no better grounds for the physical manifestations of the truth of this saying than in farming activities. The idea of shifting cultivation in rural agriculture is aimed at blessing the land, so that the land will also bless the farmer.
In shifting cultivation, the land is left to lie fallow for up to five years, after one season of cultivation, in order for quality botanical and zoological activities to take place again on the land. That way, the soil regains nutrients and becomes fertile. The land has been blessed. By the time crops are cultivated on the land again, it gives its increase; the land blesses the farmer who had first blessed it by allowing it to rest and revegetate.
Conversely, communities which cultivate their lands yearly without modern methods of applying fertilizer on the soil, practically go home empty-handed during harvests.
Apart from farming, we often witness the truth of this axiom in other human endeavors. When I was living in Igbo-elerin, Okokomaiko, a suburb of Lagos, the road leading to that community was so bad before the former governor of Lagos, Babatunde Fashola, turned it to one of the best expressways in Lagos.
During rainy season the Igbo-elerin road was always flooded. At some points where people walking on foot could not pass without dipping their feet into floodwater, some school children laid either stones or woods where they could step on to avoid the floodwater. Unfortunately, when such makeshift step encroached on the part of the land belonging to some house or shop owners, they would remove the stones, forcing the children to dip their feet into the flood.
I used to take my two kids to NOWA Nursery & Primary School which was inside Navy Compound across the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. At the height of the rainy season, no vehicles dared to ply that road. So, we all had to trek.
Whenever my kids and I got to those points where the wicked landlords and shop owners had removed the makeshift steps we put there, I would carry my older kid on my back and the younger one on my chest with their school bags hung on my shoulders. And then wade through the deep and dirty flood.
The most painful part of it all was that those wicked landlords would sit in front of their houses watching us as we struggled through the dirty flood. They always stood guard early in the morning when the children were going to school, and in the afternoon when the kids were returning from school – all to ensure that the school children and their parents did not return the stones they (the landlords) had thrown away.
The man who blessed the land
But there was an exception. He was an elderly motorcycle mechanic whose workshop was at one of the bad spots on the road. The man bought planks and built a fairly strong footbridge across the bad spot and allowed the school children to pass through the footbridge. In fact, people said he built the footbridge because he couldn’t stand seeing school children removing their shoes and white socks to wade through the dirty flood.
And the elderly motorcycle mechanic was always smiling as he worked and watched school kids crossing on his footbridge. I could see love and goodness radiating from his heart and spreading to the land and the people.
I never failed to be fascinated watching him each morning as I crossed his footbridge with my two boys. And I always greeted him. At such greeting, a smile as big and bright as the morning sun would break forth from his lips. I feel in love with the man, as I supposed everyone did. I prayed for him too each time we passed there: “God will surely bless this man,” I would whisper. And everybody that passed that bridge prayed for the motorcycle mechanic. “He is a good man,” I told my kids.
And the Land blessed the man
After a while I did not see the elderly motorcycle mechanic any longer. When I asked some people around there of his whereabouts, they said to me: “God has blessed the man o! He has built a very big mansion at Oko-afor and his business has expanded.” Here was a man who blessed the land and was blessed in return by the land.
Someone told me that in life, helping people is like a quiz. In quiz, if a question comes to you and you fail to answer it, the question goes to your opponent. If your opponent answers it right, he gets the bonus point in addition to points from questions that rightly belong to him. Similarly, when someone in need comes to you for help and you refuse to help him, he takes the problem to another person who solves it and gets the blessings attached to it, plus other blessing rightly belonging to him!
Meanwhile, a number of those other wicked landlords and shop owners who forced the school children to “swim” dirty floodwater lost their houses or parts of them to the road expansion and construction. I was present on the day in 2008 when the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) moved into Igbo-elerin with bulldozers and caterpillars, demolishing buildings that were too close to the road in order to make way for the new expressway. Of course, out of greed, they had obstructed public road with their houses and shops and had the audacity to prevent passersby from having their right of way!
I was so crossed. Some of them fainted from seeing their houses being pulled down – they had no Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) that would have qualified them to get some compensation from government. While people with short memories sympathized with them, I saw it as payday.
Cursing your source of livelihood
Similarly, I have met people who curse, and even go as far as sabotaging and destroying the companies or workplaces from where they earn their living. I know people who through working in a company, built houses, bought cars, married, had children and trained or are training their children with money and resources they earned from the company. But if you see where those same people are ‘cutting that company into pieces with their tongue’, you would be shocked. Meanwhile, many of such employees are people you would, after assessing their level of competence, see that they are not employable elsewhere. In addition, listening to them speak such ill of the company, you wonder why they were still there and have not resigned.
Others go a step further to do all manners of things that help to destroy the company, their source of daily bread. All such people may at face value appear to be prospering with all the money they stole from the company, but it is like the prosperity of a fattened Christmas or Sallah ram – only being prepared for the slaughter.
Well aware of my unflinching belief in this truth of blessing the land, so that the land would bless one, my wife told me the story of a gas company she once worked for before she got married to me. The owner of the gas company had, at some point after many years of operations and regular payment of salaries as and when due, suffered a sever setback due to economic downturn outside his control. After two months of being unable to pay salaries, many of his workers abandoned him. Some even stole his goods and equipment before they left.
But my wife and a few of her friends continued to go to work. The business owner found that strange. One day he summoned them and thanked them for their kindness and also urged them to go and look for job elsewhere.
“No. We have decided to stay by you and help you to bounce back because you are a good man,” they told him.
The man couldn’t hold his tears as he walked away.
After competence, loyalty is the next most prized of all staff attributes. The actions of these loyal staff motivated and buoyed this gas company owner. Together, they hanged on with the man occasionally eking out some transport fare for them.
Hope may not be a strategy, but when it is combined with hard work and forthrightness, it achieves astonishing results. Soon, new orders started trickling in. One day, the man barged into the office with good news: The company has been given an unsolicited contract worth hundreds of millions of naira to supply gas. The storm was over!
The gas company bounced back, far higher than it had ever been. And guess what happened to the loyal staff? You are right. They became management staff with good salary packages. Some very senior staff members who had left returned, only to start from scratch again and to be managed by the loyal workers to whom they had previously been bosses! Bless the land, and the land will bless you!
Covid-19 and Chinese food culture
Over the past few months, I have watched with disgust, the several viral videos of Chinese people eating live mice, raw bat meats, snakes, and the uncooked entrails of animals. Also, we have seen the type of torture to which these people are in the habit of subjecting animals. Although all people are entitled to their own food cultures, eating live baby mice, bats and inflicting unnecessary pains to animals are not anyone’s idea of blessing the land.
Besides China and its grotesque food culture, there is a worldwide abuse of the environment. On the moral front, the world has also crossed the limits of indecency, perversion and vulgarity. We now pass laws to officially encourage men who have sex with one another through the anus. We even not only make laws to allow them to legally marry themselves, but also force other countries to make such obscene laws.
Indeed, Ala has been patient and lenient enough. In those days it would have completely wiped out man from the land, just like God did with flood during the days of Noah.