By Muyiwa Adetiba
Superstar Stevie Wonder and I were sitting across the table getting ready for an interview. I in anticipation,he probably as one of the chores he had to endure.
This was during FESTAC 77 when he was at the peak of his incredible musical prowess – his album ‘songs in the key of life’ won multiple awards while he was in Nigeria. His media handlers must have suggested a trip to a leading private newspaper in Nigeria at the time.
They must have urged what was essentially, an impromptu interview with me. We were in the office of my boss, Mr Sam Amuka, the MD of Punch. In the office were late Chief Akin Davies of ROD Publicity, a lady, Ms Miatta Fanbulleh I think, (not sure anymore) and Mr Amuka. They were discussing in low tones while Stevie Wonder and I squared up. I could sense the background conversation was getting into his thoughts.
We were still at the preliminary stage when he heard a soft laughter. Suddenly he raised his voice ‘I can’t go on. I can’t hear myself. I can’t concentrate’. There was an immediate hush. They offered to leave the office but it was too late. Stevie Wonder would not budge. You see Stevie Wonder is blind and the background noise became more of a distraction than it should have been. Although I wrote something about the encounter, in my heart, I knew what I had was not ‘The Interview’ and I will always list Stevie Wonder as one of those – like Arthur Ashe a year before – who ‘got away’.
What brought about this recall was the recent news in the social media of his interview with Oprah Winfrey another black icon, during which he said he was relocating to Ghana. His reasons were touching and in line with his sensitive persona. In reality, and especially in the wake of the ‘black Lives matter’ movement, there are many Americans of colour who would want to come ‘home’ to West Africa if that sub- Continent would receive them. Unfortunately, the backwardness of West Africa is as much a blight on their psyche as the treatment they receive in their country – that backwardness can even be said to be a reason for the treatment. But why Ghana? Forty-three years ago when the interview took place, and in the aftermath of the FESTAC 77 euphoria, Nigeria would have been the preferred destination. Those were the days when the green passport was a thing of pride for those who had it and of envy for those who didn’t.
Our glory unfortunately, was not in our achievements but in a wasting commodity called oil and we failed to seize, let alone transform the moment. But Nigerians are still achieving. Only many do it outside our shores because the country finds it difficult to accommodate, let alone incubate talent. It is also not a rewarder of hard work or entrepreneurship. So it is not surprising that very few people would come into Nigeria to stay without looking for what to exploit. And who would blame them given the direction of leadership and the state of insecurity in the country.
As it is, many Nigerian youths are leaving in droves in search of stability and fulfilment. Even the leaders who are largely responsible for the Hobbesian state of the country have considerable investments outside the country – ask the likes of Saraki. Many have dual citizenships and will take advantage of them at the drop of a hat – ask the likes of Obiano who reportedly left State duties to get vaccinated in the US. The borders are busy all the same. But the people coming in are largely a ‘basket of deplorables’ – apology to Hillary Clinton. Illegal miners and their thugs are coming in; fortune seekers are coming in; cattle herders, bandits, kidnappers are thronging in. They are making life hellish for us.
Another reason I recall the Stevie Wonder encounter is as a reminder of the power of noise as a distraction to those who are sensitive to it. Nigeria is drowning itself in noise and it can’t even hear itself in the din of it. Our leaders – for want of a better word – are making shallow, reckless statements in the wake of the recent spate of violence in parts of the country and are enjoying the cacophony it is creating. We hear comments like ‘bandits are not criminals’; ‘herdsmen have been forced by circumstances to bear arms’; ‘bandits should be given amnesty’; ‘Nigerians are free to stay in any forest reserve’; ‘ the bandits are not Nigerians’ as if it makes a difference.
And in the wake of the recent clash in Oyo State, comments like ‘owners of all burnt houses must be compensated’ as if, unfortunate as this case is, it is the first time people are losing their homes or their lives in communal clashes; ‘South West Governors are inflaming passion’ and last but certainly not the least ‘my brother governor is a terrorist’. I wonder if they ever went back to listen to what they had said.
One would not be surprised if the comments were emotive utterances of hysterical juveniles. But they came from our ‘leaders’ including governors, Senate President and respected Clerics. They came when we needed calm words to soothe frayed nerves. Very few words if any, of compassion let alone compensation came from them to those whose farms were destroyed at the point of harvest; those who were kidnapped, tortured and killed; families who paid ransoms only to find the dead bodies of their loved ones.
We hear comments of how cows are important to herders but none of how farms are important to those who depend on them for sustenance. Besides, narratives that justify an invader over a victim can never be a reasoned narrative.
My plea today is for those who call themselves leaders to calm down and grow up before they finish the job of the bandits in blowing the country up. The problem right now – I am not talking about the cause of the problem- is that bandits have taken over our forests. From there, they come to highways, homes and farms to commit heinous crimes. They need to be taken out. It is a task for Federal and State Governments. One of the ways the States can help is to stop the unhelpful rhetoric which can only worsen inter-communal relationships.
Another is to provide credible intelligence that will separate residents from bandits; the wheat from the chaff. The most important however, is to provide extra fighting boots since the Federal Government does not have enough boots on the ground to secure all the troubled spots. The time for State and Community policing is now if we do not wish to have a failed State. The advantages outweigh the perceived disadvantages.
Until we learn to give value to ourselves, we cannot project value to Blacks in the diaspora who sorely need it. And the likes of Steve Morris (Stevie Wonder)should they decide to come ‘home’ to West Africa, will not settle in Nigeria.