When the pressure of trying to survive in our potentially great country tries to suffocate me, I take a leisurely walk down memory lane. It has a therapeutic effect. The peace and the beauty of yesterday act like a balm on the heart sorely troubled by the swirling clouds of uncertainty as our nation contends with critical existential challenges.
As I stroll down the foot path of nostalgia, I am comforted by our pristine existence when honour and integrity mattered and thieving was an isolated indulgence mostly by men who pinched to eat one meal a day. But I am saddened that yesterday would never return.
As I stroll down my memory lane, it occurs to me that we knew nothing about something called corruption and the egregious abuse of public trust by those entrusted with leading the people aright. As I stroll down my memory lane, I take in the whiff of the salubrious air when hatred did not rule our land and we were happy to be the fond keepers and feeders of our brothers and sisters because although tongues and tribes differed, we put high premium on our collective humanity, not on the differences in our tribes and tongues. We did not slaughter one another because life was precious and sacred to us. We preserved it within the limits of human capacity. We rejoiced with those who rejoiced; and we mourned with those who mourned. We felt free and secure in one another’s company. But, alas, all that has changed for the worse in mankind’s greatest century of civilisation – if you judge that by the gleaming private homes and glittering cities celebrated by architects.
I invite you to come with me on the leisurely stroll that begins in my village, Ikpeba, in Agila district in what is now Benue State and thence to Jos, Plateau State. Ikpeba was situated west of the district and was on the border with Eha-Amufu in the Eastern Region. It was a farming community. Men and women farmed different food and cash crops – yams, water yams, sesame, groundnuts, ground peas, cocoyams. We transported these and other produce on foot to Eke market in Eha-Amufu along the distant and winding footpath.
We enjoyed the security and protection of our neighbours. They were as much of our keepers as we were of them when they came to Orie, our market. We had no police men and other security agencies but because we were the keepers of our brothers and sisters from other tribes, we were safe. No thieves way-laid us. There were no armed robbers. We travelled in peace and we carried out our legitimate businesses in peace at considerable personal discomfort in the long trek with the heavy load of yams on our heads.
The foot path to Eha-Amufu still exists but it is no longer what it was. Civilisation has caught up with it and it is no longer safe. Now people are attacked and robbed along the path almost every week. The villagers who are along and on either end of the footpath live in fear of their lives. They could be slaughtered by unknown men with whom they have no quarrels. They could be dispossessed of their property by men wielding AK-47 and other dangerous weapons.
Chalk that up as the irony of civilisation, a period when life is supposed to be less brutish but is more brutish and shorter; a period we are supposedly minded to respect the rights and dignity of our fellow human beings, whatever might be the differences in our tribes, tongues and religious faiths.
Let us leave Ikpeba and continue with our stroll down memory lane. It takes us to Jos, the picturesque city in the Middle Belt geo-political zone. When I first visited Jos in the early sixties, I thought it was the most beautiful city in the world. I think it was. It had a healthy climate described as semi-temperate year-round. Europeans flocked there to enjoy the cool climate. As young men, we rode on bicycles in the GRA with box cameras, taking photographs of exotic flowers in the private homes of the Europeans. We sought no permission and no one prevented us from walking around and admiring the flowering plants. The homes were open and no one had any fears of anyone walking up to their doors and pumping hot lead into them for fun, sadistic fun.
Been to Jos lately? Here again, the times have changed. Civilisation has brought with it the fear of our fellow men and women. Those houses are now protected by nine foot walls topped up with barbed wires to keep out thieves and killers. I am sure Nigerians being who they are, there are no flowering plants in those homes any more. I am sure too that were their previous European owners to return, they would not recognise their former homes. They would not even be allowed to go near them, let alone be admitted into them by the new native owners. Indeed, I doubt that the Europeans would bother to return were the grave to give them up because Jos, once one of the most peaceful and friendly cities in the country, is now a slaughter house. Not of goats and cows but of human beings in the meaninglessness of the current creed of hate that has neither rhyme nor reason.
As I end my stroll down memory lane each time, I am troubled by certain nagging questions about what civilisation has done to us as human beings. Are we not supposed to be better and more accommodating human beings and citizens? Are we not supposed to be more tolerant of other people’s views and beliefs? Are we not supposed to have larger hearts? Are we not supposed to open our arms to embrace others, no matter the differences in tribes, tongues and faiths? Are we, as human beings, really progressing or are well regressing?
I have no answers to these questions. But this I know: civilisation has robbed us of our common humanity. It has made life here and elsewhere in the world violent, brutish and bloody. We are wrapped in the hot blanket of insecurity, personal and groups. It has woven fear and hatred into the fabrics of our common humanity. Fear and hatred rule. We hate, therefore we are. Honour and integrity mean nothing any more. Avarice has taken over and men and women help themselves to our common national purse because they believe that their right to take advantage of their exalted positions to do as they wish is a given.
I admit that these strolls tend to leave me a little more confused each time I sauntered down that boulevard of yesterday. But the good thing is that I return to the present more aware than ever before that a) life does not deliver on its promises, b) that civilisation, characterised by the modern toys and gadgets of modern life and living, has failed to make human beings human beings. Glittering cities do not civilise people; nor does the spread of ivory towers. None can penetrate the density and the darkness of the human mind where evil is hatched, hatred is nursed and both are given effect by the AK-47. Civilisation has not kept its promises to us.