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Touching base with Osahon Obahiagbon

Published by The Nation on Tue, 23 Feb 2021


By Olatunji DareMy dear Osahon:Fraternal greetings.It has been a long intermission. The hiatus that this epistle is designed to interrupt has far exceeded in duration any we had known previously. But need I assure you that out of sight has not been out of mind'Whether contemplating developments at home or abroad, it is almost as if the world we once inhabited has passed on irretrievably, and we have been thrust into a strange new one without the wonted delineations of the old one, and almost without anything that can be called a compass. The concatenation, I find, grows more unfathomable and more stultifying with each passing day.Incidentally, it is one year to the day that the first Covid death was reported in the United States. Since then, 500,000 lives have succumbed to the virus that the disgraced and discredited former American strongman Donald Trump dismissed as a minor irritation that would soon expend itself, failing which it could be eviscerated with a judicious ingestion of any off-the shelf disinfectant.This figure is more than the combined American death from Word War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War.Worldwide, the virus has consumed some 1.5 million lives, blighting the prospects of those who survived its infernal visitation. This latter figure does not include fatalities from the so-called Third World, where testing for the virus is sparse at best, and vital records are notoriously unreliable. To take a familiar case: No more than 10 per cent of births and deaths ever enter into Nigerias official records, according to the best authorities.Can you imagine for a moment, Osahon, how many vacancies this cumulative toll has created in the hearts and hearths and homes and beds and dining tables of individuals and places of work worldwide; how much misery and agony and despair the virus has loosed on the world'But that is only a partial measure of the devastation the pandemic has wrought in the short term. It has changed the meaning of work and worship and learning. It has constrained living, leisure, commerce, travel and social interaction in ways few could have imagined. And it may well be that, when it is all over, everything will have changed so profoundly that the way we now calibrate time will amount to a distortion and a denial of the present discontinuities.The calendar will have to be recast in pre-Covid and post-Covid terms.But despite the cataclysm, millions are still in denial, not merely of a virus they cannot see but whose depredations are nevertheless all over the place; they deny science itself, armed with their private arsenals of alternative facts and trapped in the most inane conspiracy theories.Do you know, Osahon, that despite the lush television coverage and copious documentation of the event and the moon samples ferried home by the visiting earthlings, 10 per cent of Americans still believe that the moon landings were faked' To them, astronaut Neil Armstrongs one giant step was nothing but one giant hoax.They will most likely refract through the same distorting mirror last weeks landing with pinpoint accuracy on a predetermined spot on the planet Mars by the spacecraft Perseverance with its payload of a robotic rover and a helicopter, in the most sophisticated exploration of the red planet yet. The news that China and the United Arab Emirates also landed separate probes on the red plant that very week can only lead the usual suspects to gin up new conspiracy theories.But enough about America, Osahon. Being a pertinacious but discriminating consumer of international news, of which there is always a superfluity, thanks to the plethora of media outlets, you probably can tell me more about America than I can tell you.Shifting gears, I will now advert my mind to the homeland.From what I read daily, it has been bad news, bad news and more bad news over there, despite recent intimations of what officials are trumpeting as the end of the recession.Do you believe them, Osahon' Especially given the serial lockdowns to mitigate the propagation of the coronavirus and the attendant contraction in economic activity, to say nothing of the closure of the nations land borders, the policy somersaults, and the mixed fortunes of oil in the international market'To those who have enjoyed no respite over the years from the deprivations that have been their constant companions, the news must seem a cruel joke. Have they not always lived in a recession'But their deprivations, I gather, are nothing compared to the security situation. I am told that farming, the countrys lifeblood, has become the most dangerous and least rewarding occupation. Farmers have been forced to abandon their farmlands to pastoralists, for fear of being killed or kidnapped for hefty ransoms. Their holdings have become free grazing grounds for cattle and homesteads for their herders.Just last week, women in the Esan country of your great Edo State took to the streets in protest against the insecurity that now governs their lives. They can no longer work their farms because of well-founded fears of being raped by armed pastoralists. Marauders have set up camps not only in the ungoverned spaces that perfuse the country; they have also forcibly taken over forest reserves, ecological treasures controlled and maintained by state and government and local authorities for posterity.The herders and their enablers are asserting a constitutional right, without any corresponding obligations, to graze their cattle wherever they please, and the rights and privileges and economic interests of those who own the land be damned.To travel outside ones immediate locale is to court danger, as hundreds of motorists and passengers have found to their grief. Inter-city and inter-state vehicles are seized at gunpoint and diverted to God-forsaken forests where their occupants are stripped of their possessions and subjected to horrific abuse, before being freed on payment of ransom.These occurrences, plus the unending barbarities of Boko Haram, and the countrys shambolic response to the coronavirus pandemic interspersed with stories of actual or looming hardship and compounded by continuing and new instances of brazen inequities in the allocation of federal resources, I find, are the narratives that dominate the headlines and the front pages and discussion programmes on radio and television.The civility and restraint that should undergird the national policy dialogue, especially at times like these, have been supplanted by demagogic posturing and opportunist vigilantism. Wherever you turn there is seething discontent, and even from this remove, you get the sinking feeling that this path can only lead to national tragedy.Where are the statesmen'The bonds of nationhood, tenuous at the best of times, are fracturing with each passing day. But the response at the highest level has been much talk and very little consequential action that does not invite charges of appeasement, if not complicity. They are carrying on in the belief that the country will muddle through as usual. But that very belief is what landed us in our present predicament.Can that be the way forward, Osahon' Can continuing yesterdays failed policies with half-hearted adjustments here and there conduce to building a country whose unity is rooted in justice, equity, empathy, and brotherhood'It is less than reassuring that the same old faces and their predilections are astir again and regrouping to perpetuate the status quo, content to have Nigeria remain a land of great potential. There is little fresh thinking up there, only how to keep an utterly dysfunctional system going.The foregoing, Osahon, represent my fears and prejudices. I thought I should share them with you. Being of a younger generation, engaged, and withal on ground, you will probably have sharper insights and consequently a more nuanced perspective.Your friends and admirers nationwide, among whom I am glad to number myself, will be greatly enriched by your cogitations on these momentous issues and others I have not raised in this epistle.Until then, Osahon, stay engaged, stay well, and stay safe.FraternallyOlatunji Dare
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