Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Burying The Mountebanks - An occupyNigeria Dispatch

Note: Although mainly a photography organization, The Invisible Borders Trans-African Photography Project is committed to ensuring that art and artists are useful tools in bringing about transformation across Africa. The recent protests in Nigeria provided another opportunity for Invisible Borders' members Ray-Daniels Okeugo and Emmanuel Iduma to use their art as a testimonial to change.

Photo: Ray-Daniels Okeugo

It is similar to what has been written: “For the first time in your life you leave second-person singular and become first-person plural. For the first time in your life you feel whole.” [1] For the first time in my life, I was part of a revolution. I wasn’t told. I saw for myself. You could feel it. You could feel that you weren’t quite just yourself anymore. You had became yourself in the midst of many yourselfs, and when you spoke you weren’t speaking in an unspoken voice. For the first time in my life I felt whole.

To speak about this polyphony that is gradually insinuating itself. Of the many vestiges that cluster around one’s heart after you’ve watched yourself emerge. Of the signs of that emergence, the proof of it, because otherwise there’s no logic. A revolution is always naturally logical. You can’t speak of change in abstract terms. It doesn’t just work. Unless you are afraid of being true to yourself. Unless. But I can’t be. This speaking-to, not merely speaking-about, is the logical follow-up of the sudden shift of consciousness.

May I suggest, dear reader, that if you don’t have the stomach for small things, less fiery, less samizdat-styled things, may I suggest you put these lines down? The writing that follows does not protest, at least in the physical sense. The protest has moved from our heads to our souls. This is not the time to speak from our mouths – these lines that do not protest from the mouth. Consider the necessity of writing this – a collage of bits about the ad hoc Nigerian revolution. Consider.

Channels TV
My Uncle Otu says, “Channels has done well during this protest.” But speaking about the news is tricky, even waiting for it. We sat around the television for hours, watching the change in programmes – Sunrise Daily, Politics Today, Face Off. The Channels people brought in every conceivable analyst. It provoked me and I posted: the fact of life is that we are all political analysts. The Channels people brought in people that spoke for and against. Like a school debate. Since you went to school you’ll remember. A debate is a quest, sort of. Winner/loser. Head/tail. Fluentness/stammer.

The media gives the feeling that rhetoric possesses almighty power. They seem to ascribe too much to saying. For us who have been said to, all our lives, who’ve been promised and promised, saying has an ill-reputation, almost impotent in the face of our hoax. The potency lies elsewhere. Who isn’t tired of what has been said?

There was the feeling of waiting. Last week was a dangerous time to wait. Because while you wait for the news at 10.00pm, or wait for the broadcast of Mr. President you feel too much. And feeling too much, being angry too much, will not solve things.

My Uncle says something like, “I feel so bad now.” He was watching Channels. I think it was Ngozi speaking. And yes, I saw her on the cover of The News. Beside her photograph were the following words: “Ngozi Wahala.” No wonder my Uncle felt so bad.

Don’t you know? You feel so bad when you spend so much time taking in all those stuff they throw at you. All the stuff they want to make you believe, and disbelieve, the propaganda of their right and their wrong. Because a Television is not a mirror. You never see a reflection of yourself.

The Nigerian who lives in America and does not know the President’s name. No Naira to her name. She’s carrying a beautiful boy. The boy is an American citizen. He’s better than all of us. Or is he? Is she?

Her Arik plane bound for New York was without jet-fuel. It’s day 3. (Have I mentioned that naming the days is a killer? It’s like counting the days but not knowing why you’re counting, if your math is right.) There was a friend of my Uncle who could not return to the Island by 12.00am or so. My uncle has to go and pick her at the airport. I am with him. We go and she is not alone. There’s Ogechi and her beautiful boy. Ogechi is friends with my Uncle’s friend.

I’ve asked myself how it feels knowing this is home without wanting to be in it [2]. You speak the language, you don’t look a foreigner, but you’re not here. An elsewhere has been invoked into your subconscious terrain. This is home and not home. So I found a word. Subjoined. And I thought, that must be it. You’re a mishmash. A hyphenated being. Nigerian-American. Or even Nigerianamerican. Or Americannigerian. You live there, and for some reason you want to return to your life, and you’re stuck here. Here. There.

What did Ogechi think? I heard her sighs, unspoken regrets. Like, why am I here in the first place? And she said, “I just pity some people. You go back and you lose your job.” Job came up more than once. Job. Those Nigerianamericans have jobs. These Nigeriannigerians are sitting at home. They have prolonged, even protracted weekends. 5 days of doing nothing. Of watching only TV. There are many jobless people at Ojota. They protest for a living.

I left her, on Day 5, at the Departure Hall. You could see her repressed irritation when she joined the long queue. I pulled her bigger box to her side, asked if she was okay. She said she was. I know she guessed I was itching to return to the car. And that was what I wanted to do. She’ll go back to her job and I’ll go back to mine. I protest for a living.

But she called my Uncle when she got to America, thanked him. Maybe she’ll forget the protests? Maybe she won’t.

They are the revolutionary singers. The son, in Ojota, said his father fought for the same things he’s fighting for. No change. This year will be 15 years since his father died. Add that to the number of years he sang, in which his life was indistinguishable from his music, in which he was everything at once, from prot. Add that and you have about 45 years of his music, if you’re counting from mid-1960’s.

It’s been, at least, 45 years of protest music.

And we’re still singing. Because it was his music we danced to, right there on the streets, because a man like him cannot be silenced. You cannot take away a voice. No grave can hold my body down.

Because in my room I played Teacher No Teach Me Nonsense, Follow Follow, and my favourite Sorrow, Tears and Blood.

Because relevance can be measured.

Tunde Bakare
Let’s imagine he isn’t a pastor.

I regard Bakare highly, because he speaks. You see, there are those whose parishes/churches/congregations/assemblies/ministries entertain millions, and they do not speak. Here, a man speaks because he is a Nigerian. So what if he was the CPC flagbearer? The mistake is not that many fail to realize that churches are empires, but that they fail to understand that those empires are powerful. Powerful. You can drive past Lagos-Ibadan expressways on that famous first Friday. Who no know go know.

If we imagine he’s not a pastor, simply the leader of Save Nigeria Group, then we might become lenient, and consider him differently, and his politics relevant. But he’s a pastor, and church and state is church and state; black and white, word and opposite. A pastor has no business in rallies. That’s just it. Take it or leave it. Is that so? I’ve heard that he sold out the church, even betrayed his calling. I’ve heard that he was a prophet but he has joined politics thereby making him a false, opportunistic prophet. And those who are talking are too good for politics, and politics is an unchristian thing, or maybe they haven’t been called.

They say the opposition hijacked the protest. It’s a very suffusing lie, and those who peddle it know how potent the lie is. Opposition is a word for political enragement. It is used for propaganda, to create antagonism. But the real opposition are those who feel threatened by a Pastor’s protest.

So what if he’s the opposition? He speaks the language I am speaking. It’s a different thing if he controls my thinking. He doesn’t. I thought out my protest and his voice reinforced my thoughts, and I listened to him.

But I will not mention any of this to my Uncle, who feels Bakare is selfish and has messed himself up.

Jeffrey Sachs
If you can’t, don’t try to interpret the mood of a people. That’s all we have to say. [3]

Ripe Plantain
Trust me, you won’t get an unripe plantain during the protest days. I went with Uncle Otu to a small market here in Ikeja, and every plantain that was displayed were ripe, some overripe. My uncle wanted unripe plantain, but that was impossible to get, seeing it would have to be transported – not even the buses Mr President released worked during the protests. And what happens to tomatoes, fresh fish? It’s similar to what’s told in The House of The Spirits [4]. The story is told of shortage of food-goods, which was soon to be a collective nightmare. We didn’t get to this point last week, but it was one of my fears.

I believe it is more or less a you can’t eat your cake and have it thing. You can’t stay off work, shut down the country, and expect to eat. My aunty Sokari asked me, on Day 4, what would happen when people’s storage rooms became empty. And I told her the protest might get violent. People might say, what’s there to lose anyway? People might begin to destroy things, a disease of desperateness overcoming their sense of patriotism. More divisiveness and hatred would grow, and the protest chants will go out of tune.

Forgive me, I imagine irreverently. The manner in which things returned to normal, the swiftness of that return, suggests to me that unless and until every protester crosses the border of self-gratification, stomach-filling, and normalcy, the revolution will stop where hunger begins. The fact is that it’s only natural to want food, good food. But when one becomes conscious of the sacrifice that s/he needs to make, bodily matters become less cogent.

I can’t say I have crossed that border. There are few people who ever will.

Such large crowd. The anger is everywhere.

“…is a poem…a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.”[5]

Photo: Ray-Daniels Okeugo

It’s on Facebook that you join the conversation.  

I am thinking of Gimba Kakanda specifically, who uses the network as a tool. Let me tell his story, the one he told on Facebook: Gimba says he and his friends surrounded a church, waiting for the Boko Haram people to show their faces. Then he posted a picture of himself beside a policeman, on Day 1, at Minna. And sometime later, he says he received a call from an SSS man, calling him in for a chat.

I have made a mental note to check his profile again to read what came out of his chat with the SSS man. Gimba never fails to update his status. But he puts his mouth where his actions are. That’s why I think he is a hero.

I am inclined to trust Facebook news better. Every night, Day 1 to Day 5, I religiously read the news feed, scarcely commenting, but reading. In that way, I was exposed to hope and spite in almost equal measure. There was arrogance, disrespect, insults, yes, and I have no regard for persons who post unpublishable things on their pages. But there was more humanity, more laughter, and more ingenuity, than I had seen in the traditional media.

That’s why I predict that SSS men will soon begin to hunt Facebook protesters. Facebook is a protest, but it is a pre-protest, a rallying point, and it must not replace action.

T Y Bello
Goodbye yesterday, tomorrow is now for the taking. [6] It reminds me of “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” [7] I can’t say ‘gutter’ or ‘tomorrow’ without thinking of the past. T Y Bello is right, then. We’ve had a past. And we have a future. It is true that “the past isn’t just another country, it’s another universe. The mystery is how we get from there to here.”[8] At the heart of the nation, changing history.

There were about 3 YouTube videos with this song as their soundtrack. And it’s playing in my ears now, on repeat while I write. To listen to the future. To sing about the future. To be that future. That’s our calling now. The future has come.

How can they say we are finished, we have just begun? It’s a work of unburial. “…this refusal to give in to a passivity which would play the game of death.”[9]

Burying the Mountebanks
I think everyone is agreed to the fact that there are deceivers lurking in government positions. Mountebank is derived from a late sixteenth century Italian word montambanco, which was used in reference to quacks who sold goods (fake medicines, predominantly) on a platform. Do you see the direct correlation? Here are the incisive words: quack, medicine, sell, platform.

Quacks: aren’t they quacks? They are prescribing (selling) medicine/palliatives without knowing the sickness. They’re right there on the supposedly democratic platform, and yet they deploy soldiers to the street. I am not very surprised, “oppression looks like a lack of imagination.”[10]

I spoke of an unburial, the means through which we will take our future, the process of standing from the mire. But I must also speak of a burying. We have begun an operation, unseating them from their platforms, because we can no longer tolerate mountebanks. It’s that simple.

There’s a final thing: A revolution never ends. It only begins. [11]

[1] Jonas Khemiri, Alt. Ctrl Delete, Five Dials 21
[2] I had a conversation with my friend Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, and she said “I love home without wanting to be in it.” She is from Zimbabwe, and she lives/schools in South Africa.
[3] I use ‘we’ because there have been various responses to Sacs, especially on Facebook. Richard Ali, for instance, wrote a rejoinder on his page.
[4] The House of The Spirits is Isabel Allende’s most famous book. She wrote about the Chilean revolution.
[5] When thinking of Ojota's crowd on the days of the rally, I recalled the first sentence of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.
[6] Italicized sentences are parts of the lyrics of The Future by T Y Bello. I implore you to listen. I believe it's available for free download on her website. View the video here
[7] Attributed to Oscar Wilde.
[8] Peregrine Hodson, A Circle Round the Sun: A Foreigner in Japan, Heinemann: London, 1992, p. 2
[9] Attributed to Pierre Salesne
[10] Alexandra Fuller in this conversation.
[11] I ended a series of short essays on Black Looks with those words. Find them here, here and here.

By Emmanuel Iduma
(Emmanuel Iduma’s first novel, Farad, will be published in April 2012 by Parresia.)


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