MARQUEE NIGERIA by Nelson Egwoyi

We live in a marquee world!  From time immemorial, history has vested us with epochal individuals, events, inventions and products that had stood the test of time.  Events like the two great wars, the great depression, colonization; individuals like Mahatma Ghandi, Abe Lincoln, JFK, Nelson Mandela and villains like Hitler, Idi Amin amongst many others.

Back home we have had marquee myths:  the late Teslim “Thunder” Balogun was said to have killed a goal keeper with a shot that pierced through the keeper’s tummy and exited the net!

So too was the amusing myth about the Indian football and their talisman. It was told that the Indian talisman was so potent their team scored a hundred goals in a single match. The myth has it that the opponent's goalkeeper repeatedly saw multiple balls and a lion each time he attempted to save a goal. Thus, the Indian team was banned from soccer for life!

Remember the street rumour about a popular Nigerian pop crooner and some pretty lady who bore him a child in their early years? Rumour had it that the military man she eventually got married to had the child murdered.

The street feeds on these tales. Rumour Street is so strong that Wole Soyinka had to recently dispel the long held rumour that he made a Third Class Degree! Unlike the Nobel Laureate, Barkin Zuwo never had the opportunity to disclaim the Mineral Resources rumour that made it seem he never saw the four walls of a school. Little did he know that his convivial nature and propensity for jokes akin to the stand up comics of today will cast him as a man of little or no education. For his memory and the sake of prosperity Barkin Zuwo had some form of tertiary education and was not an illiterate.

We also had the marquee Fast Moving Consumer Goods: Macleans was synonymous with tooth paste; Maggi was a general euphemism for seasonings, OMO was all detergent; Treetop was all juice; Goody-Goody was all candy; Lipton was all tea; Nescafe was all coffee. We also had marquee advert like the Ribena, Multivite, the OMO, Star etc. So too soap operas. Back then television stations open at 4pm-after recitation of the national anthem. We had Sesame Street’s-Mirror in the Sun –New Masquerade- Village Headmaster etc.

We had villainous leaders too- the gap-toothed fellow who sounded good only on paper- the goggled dude whose eyes we never saw- and the hypocritical latter day saint who tried to extend his tenure! And of course our inexplicable fate with leaders who never aspired. And yes a marquee followership-ever ready to sell votes, ever ready to be the rented crowd, ever acquiesced in their engagement with leadership.

So also a marquee of failed institutions- Nigerian Airways, Nigerian Railways Corporations, National Shipping Line etc, feel free to add to the list.

Before Oil- Groundnut was to the North, Cocoa to the West and Palm Oil to the East amongst other secondary products like Coal, Hide & Skin, Kola nut and Cotton.

And of course the Military that we have so demonized; they did not rule without their civilian counterparts-distorted our democratic trajectory and thought us lessons on double speak and tautology-even if for nothing they added to our lexical convenience with humorous-marquee phrases like “automatic alacrity” “bloody civilian” - “Bombastic element” – “fellow Nigerians” etc. you can add to the in  exhaustible list.

Back to institutions, in education – the private schools have always been there, but they were few and served as an alternative. It was a period when public schools had kids from humble backgrounds sitting side by side with kids from privileged backgrounds – we all had telling experiences – we also had marquee teachers – Tai Solarin, Chike Obi, Awojobi , Kenneth Dike, Philip Shea, Abdullahi Smith,Patrick Wilmot and Bala Usman and a host of other...feel welcome to add to the list.

In science, we had the marquee inventors like Ezekiel Izuogu who strived to give us our first indigenous car, the military doctor Oviemo Ovadje that invented the EAT-SET medical device, Professor Makanjuola that invented the pounded yam machine, the list is endless.

So also our literary giants- Soyinka, Achebe, Ekwensi, Tutuola, Fagunwa etc. so too humour merchants John Chukwu, Away-Away, Baba Sala, Giringory, Clarus etc. you can complement the list. What am I trying to say? We are a happy people once! What has happened to us as a people?  

Even with such infamous marquee individuals and events as the Maitatsine civil unrest, the civil war, Anini, Ishola Oyenusi, Babatunde Folorunsho-never mind they were all shot at the stake, we had wonderful and memorable moments, and in those days we were happy. Perhaps not as rich as the politicians of today, but comfortable enough to tell stories in the peaceful confines of our family compound.

Things have changed so fast! All we talk about as a people is laden with hate and bile – a glance at the commentary threads on online blogs would shock any right thinking person to the marrow. Citizens sitting behind computers - with the security their anonymity offers- spewing the vituperative embedded in their minds.  Brothers are no more their brother’s keepers. Where is the love?

How we have so let the viciousness of capitalism overtake our sense of purpose, and how we have turned our eyes away from our divine responsibility of caring for our destitute and unprivileged. How we have become aliens in our own country, judged by our circumstances, and deported like slaves to hurriedly assigned homelands. How did we get here... where the poor must be sacrificed to make an old city look beautiful. The Psalm is here: The rich man's wealth is his strong city, and the destruction of the poor their poverty.

During our time we roamed free and learned from the streets- now thing have changed- kids are locked up these days in the confines of rented homes, school lessons and summer camps. Is it not the rich that are more afraid? As our kids are now weaned on computer games, and cartoons, we must ask ourselves the question: What future do we want to bequeath to our kids?

I know the privileged amongst us procure expensive education as a legacy for their kids but that is selectively exclusive. Am talking about the collective here. How will they cope in a non-oil economy for instance? Will they be able to tackle the many malfeasance in our present template? Will we not churn endlessly in our graves when we see them struggling hopelessly with the many land mines we have strewn in their path? Let us think!

NELSON EGWOYI           
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