The liberation of the downtrodden

Tony Afejuku


I was in Asaba, Delta State where I went to deliver a lecture to owners of private educational institutions when I got a call requesting me to do this lecture. Because the line was not particularly clear, I did not get clearly the topic I was to focus on, but somehow I was able to impress it upon the caller, an old acquaintance, to text me my assigned topic, which he did thus: “Restructuring: A Gateway to Balanced and Strategic National Development.” When I returned to Benin, after thinking of this topic over and over again, I became perfectly conscious of the need for me to dwell on the one I have chosen for this lecture, that is, “The Liberation of the Downtrodden.” I promised myself to dwell on this topic without totally jettisoning the matter pertaining to “Restructuring” which we at the summit have to concern ourselves with primarily. When we eventually met face to face, I told him of my decision, which he and two other gentlemen who accompanied him to be my guests, accepted whole-heartedly with the applause of far-sighted men.

Now, before I go straight to my lecture, I must yield deference to the existing code of this event, with the kind permission of the chairperson and nod of every eminent member of the tall and short tables, to give deserved thanks to the distinguished members of the Neo-Black Movement of Africa and organizers of this event, for requesting me to share my thoughts, as a “worthy and responsible public intellectual”, on “The Liberation of the Downtrodden” of our dear country.

I must state from the outset that I have no appetence or appetencies whatsoever for restructuring, the topical subject of our so-called new democracy that cannot lead us to any “gateway to balanced and strategic national development.” In this democracy that is really akin to an un-democratic democracy there appears to me to be no scheme there is for any change of our present circumstances that will be acceptable to us so long as the current politicians in power or in opposition sway our national destiny in the current political or democratic wind. No scheme for a restructuring of our federation or for a change of our current society can be made to seem urgently or instantly palatable, except by untruthfulness or falsehood, until our federation or society has become utterly reckless that it will consent to any change or any kind of restructuring. Whatever is done, in the face of the current horrifying phenomenon the downtrodden, the flotsam and jetsam of our society and federation are suffering, must not be an exercise in futility, which I surely prophesy it to be on account of the impure motives of both the pro-structuralists and the anti-structuralists whose respective selfish and immoral actions will at best unleash on our land the total effect of smothering futility.

Not long ago, I gave an independence interview to The Guardian (published on Friday, October 6, 2017). In the said interview one of the questions I was asked centred on aspects of my attitude to life. I replied as follows:

I love truth. Ask me to choose between wealth, riches, money, fame, position and truth, I will choose truth. Ask me to choose between love and truth, I will choose truth. Ask me to choose between friendship and truth, I will choose truth. But the world does not like truth. A man of truth is always maligned, vilified and plotted against. Awolowo was a man of truth. He was not a prime minister or president of our country because he was a man of truth. I also strive to live above board. As my father used to say, there comes a time in a person’s life when he must live above board. Yesterday’s sinner can be a saint today. And today’s saint can be a sinner tomorrow. I have my flaws as a human, but, ultimately, I must live above board. I strive always to live above board. You better believe me. And our political leaders must strive to live above board always. It is never too late to do so. This is one lesson they must learn and imbibe on this occasion of our 57 years independence anniversary.

How relevant or pertinent is this to our present enterprise?
I won’t let your thoughts wonder and wander for long. Our current political rulers who want us to see them as political leaders, in or out of government, power and authority, are flawed experts in the practice of “totalitarian democracy.” This is one truth that they must be told. None of them can truthfully be said to grow in his political thoughts what T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), British poet, dramatist and critic, born in the United States, called “the puritanism of a hygienic morality in the interest of efficiency.” All our current political rulers who lack the gem of political leadership share the “uniformity of opinion through propaganda.”

Those who are in opposition at all levels of governance are waiting for their time and turn to take us to a new hell which will disallow us the alternative of purgatory. I say this without qualms. If you don’t believe me, pause for a moment and reflect thus: When the current federal government was not in government, what did its propagandists not tell and promise us? Have they kept faith with their tales and promises? Have they kept faith with their primary and secondary tales and promises to the electorate and especially to the downtrodden that are in absolute majority? And is there in the horizon the likelihood that the members of the current totalitarian democracy that has no respect for the needs of minorities and of the least individual being, will ever live above board? Clearly, all our political people in and out of the helms of affairs are artless masters of the art of deceit and flattery that encourages and flatters only their own official doctrines. Those of us who are not of them, and who are committed to the prospects of realizing our pan-Nigerian dream must continue to dream and create activities such as the Neo-Black Movement is creating now.

This must be the case if our downtrodden must be liberated from the strangle-hold of their sufferers and tormentors everywhere and at all levels of governance in our country. This prospect involves discipline, inconvenience and discomfort of different hues, grades and categories. But there can be no better alternative to a Nigeria of exemplary statesmen and quality political leaders who will give us in theory and in practice a democratic regime that is not inimical to any process of change or restructuring – if we must do so, but only in a manner that will enable us to continue our moral and creative activities in the culture, arts and science of civilization.

Let me offer here an enchanting story, an enchanting encounter. Recently, I strayed into a local market in Benin City. And there was this male Hausa seller of yams: he was selling a pretty, precious tuber of his inviting yams five hundred naira. Each tuber was really a good sell, and I considered five hundred naira per tuber very good. Now I hailed him in smattering Hausa. His eyes dilated in the bright afternoon sun. He offered me a tuber for three hundred naira. And then a female Benin buyer appeared. She spoke fluent, impeccable Hausa to him. He reduced the price to two hundred and sixty naira per tuber.

Soon he confided in us. At source he bought at two hundred naira per tuber, as every seller-buyer did – but the Marketing Union he and others belong to compelled, mandated them to sell at five hundred naira per tuber. Thus his selling a tuber to us at his reduced price would not affect him in any drastic way. He would still make his profit even if he continued selling to others at the drastically reduced price he was offering us, but which he would not give to other prospective buyers. But the bewitching gem of this story is this: our language power gave us economic advantage and economic power. Yet I must make this observation: any kind of discrimination bordering on linguistic or merely a symbolic one must not be our nemesis in a new, liberated Nigeria. Our economic strength, political power and cultural identity must never be eroded on the grounds of the nationalities – weak, strong, small or big – that we belong to.

One more thing: why is it that in our present Nigeria we exploit one another the way we do – as illustrated in the recounted encounter? A buyer-seller gets at source a tuber of yam for two hundred naira and sells at five hundred naira – is it not as a result of our pauperized economy that compels those who have to rob and pauperize those who do not have? We need a liberated country that will give economic balance to every region, every geo-political zone and every citizen. Our dispositions and accents must change as we anticipate new values to be ushered into our country by new leaders with liberated heads, hearts and hands – the three “Hs” – we need to give us the new traits to give effect to the progress and development in our liberated peoples’, our liberated downtrodden’s opinions, attitudes, principles, standards, dispositions, visions and values that must be in our new world and new country. We must not be or remain what we are these fifty-seven years and more years to come. Or are we a cursed country of well endowed men and women? This is not a mere rhetorical question, so I must say a capital NO to it in order to affirm my undiluted faith in this magnificent country peopled by the largest collection of blacks in the world.

We must liberate our minds in order to be what we are destined to be. Nigeria, I must always hail thee beautifully and patriotically. Never will I disavow my country that we must liberate for our generations to come, generations that must enjoy the fruits of liberation. To get to the gateway to balanced and strategic national development, we must first of all restructure our sentiments, dispositions, accents, conscience, morality, religions, righteousness and fervor for democracy in line with our pan-Nigerian dream in which we see political leaders of exemplary statesmanship and quality leadership. This is not a mere illusion. We must de-populate the pseudo-nationalists and scoundrels who wish us to see them as patriots. Swine! We never will call them patriots. Swine! We never will call them heroes. Swine!

But this lecture’s exhilarating journey is yet to terminate itself. On Sunday, October 15, 2017 The Guardian on pages 34 and 35 published a marvellously interesting and interestingly marvellous interview, Tony Ede, a sincere, forthright, non-partisan Chief of Warri Kingdom, granted it. The interview is very beneficial to our enterprise, this enterprise. I must quote with enthusiasm one pertinent extract from it thus:

Why has the Federal Government not queried NDDC over the enormous money it has pushed through this agency to the people of this region? Why has the Federal Government not queried the Delta State Oil Producing Development Programme set up? The oil companies operating in this region are daily pumping money into this region. What has happened to all this money? Some people just end up pocketing this money and walking away freely. This is not good, and this attitude is also not helping the development of this region. It has to change for the better, if we must see the light at the end of the day.

Do you know that some individuals have private aircrafts in this region, and most of these people are all illiterates? The educated and polished people are not an example to anybody in the Niger Delta Region. They would say Mr. A went to school, and so what? Who is he and what does he have? These guys that did not finish primary school in these areas have the whole world. People gather in their houses every morning and they dole out money. When most people in these communities have medical problems they take care of them, and take care of their children’s school fees. They claim to be in charge of pipeline surveillance, and they make big money through this process.

Young boys are driving all manner of SUVs and living in palatial buildings around. When you come around and see all this nonsense, you will end up crying for the ordinary people of this region.

To those who can imagine and can therefore not but have a feeling of aversion for the prospects of restructuring that the champions of restructuring assert and wish to control, the above passage must be revealing indeed. The denizens of the Niger Delta are the ones crushing fellow denizens of the Niger Delta.

The various oil and development commissions set up by different governments, federal and states, to effect the strategic economic, social, physical and infrastructural development of the Niger Delta region are in the hands of an unholy cabal of Niger Delta denizens who don’t want the region to “see the light at the end of the day.” These controllers of the fate of the people and the downtrodden of the region are not the much maligned and vilified Northerners who control the central government. They are not the Yorubas of Western Nigeria who have the discipline and wherewithal to give real values of living to their people. They are also not the Igbos of Eastern Nigeria, who have the capacity for thinking about the objects of faith to realize wholly what they want in our strenuous federation.

Now, will the Niger Delta Region not be grounded by the greed of the illiterate and uneducated few who selfishly control the wealth of the region if autonomy or devolution of power request is granted the Niger Delta Region in line with the demands of the champions of restructuring? Clearly, the demand of restructuring is not only an abuse of term, but it is also meant to deceive and stupefy us regionally and centrally. I may be wrong, but the experience of my people in Warri and the Niger Delta Region as a whole does not leave us with an alternative conclusion. No matter how we eulogise the term, the professional clamourers for restructuring are out to imprison us perpetually in the region(s). Again, I may be wrong, but blame my pessimism on our current political lords, who are really no lords, who lack the integrity to lead us a-right, politically, economically, morally and justly speaking.

What we need are new leaders, real heroes who will weep, at the plight of our masses, the downtrodden, they must liberate and emancipate fully from thralldom. The present pathetic condition of the great mass of humanity here in our country must be halted – NOW.

Many persons there are who will call me an idealist, but mine is forthright idealism, whose effort foresight would not weaken. But I must close this lecture with an extract from the illustrious poet, Niyi Osundare’s poem entitled “The Politician’s Two Mouths:”
Whoever believes what the politician says
His ear is blocked by the carcass of truth
A politician tells you to wait
And you heed his words…
Your sole will tell you
The biting pains of folly.

These lines from the pen of our illustrious pro-people poet say it all. There is nothing more for me to add save for this: the time is ripe to mobilize the downtrodden to pluck their destiny from the clutches of the bears of our politics. A beautiful Nigeria must be born.Thank you for your patience.

Professor Afejuku, of the University of Benin, Benin City, is a
scholar-poet, Justice of the Peace, intellectual, activist and columnist.

In this article:
Tony E. Afejuku


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