Those of us who were born in the 1960s did not wake up to the very rich intrusion of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. There was no YouTube, there was no WhatsApp, there was no mobile phone. What was called telephone was some wired device which was declared out of bounds to the poor. There was something called Telegram then but not your today’s encrypted platform for secret data and voice calls. What we lacked in these virtual things, we got in books – great books written by great authors who filled our supple hearts with soundness and nuanced our impressionable minds with thoughts of justice and peace. We did not climb the palm tree from the fronds. We were not started as force-fed toddlers made to read English language texts before we were weaned from our mother’s nipples. In my own Yoruba space, we started with the Taiwo ati Kehinde series – watching (and working) the alphabets grow to become syllables, then phrases become clauses. Then English alphabets and syntactic constructions. Then we moved to the Alawiye series (book one to six) with the unforgettable stories and poems that dreamt for us a future of values.
The system thereafter quietly unlocked for us its library of full-story books. And this is not just about Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer and George Orwell. We filled our social and knowledge world with local and foreign plays and novels – detective, romance, fantasy, science, mystery. Many bought and read all the almost 100 James Hadley Chase’s enthralling thrillers. The very romantic would clutch on to their Barbara Cartland and her Lessons in Love, and her other stories of dreams at night; they would add to those stories Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and then, Sense and Sensibility. There were Mills and Boons books too. The bookish got hooked to Heinemann’s African Writers series. Then at home, we had The Pacesetters series with their varied themes and beauty, cover to cover. Back in Yorubaland, Igbo Irunmole and its siblings ruled the world of magical realism. There was Bashorun Gaa and the horror we felt at the wickedness of an elderly ruler – and the relief of good finally trumping evil. There were detective stories – Ta lo pa omo Oba; Iwo Ni; Owo Eje; Owo te Amookunsika etc. I remember Rere Run and its sober message of society breaking the ones it cannot bribe to criminal cooperation. I remember Aja lo l’eru and its sequel, Agbalagba Akan, with their lessons of crime and comeuppance. The last three here were written by Oladejo Okediji, patriarch of Yoruba crime fiction, who died two weeks ago at almost 90. He was a very successful writer imbued with compelling ability to embed uncommon humour in frightful, fearful, even, tearful situations. He was so successful that he even knew when he would go. “I will be 90 in October this year, if I am still around,” he told a Tribune reporter in February this year.
Writers are prophets. George Orwell saw and foretold the animal farm of today’s primal existence in which many starve and work so that some one percent could eat big and fart loud. Jonathan Swift wrote of lawmakers, law executors and law interpreters colluding to subvert and pervert the law. He should come and see 21st century Nigeria and hail the pin-point accuracy of his crystal ball. Okediji, the writer who died two weeks ago in Oyo Alaafin, wrote Rere Run telling us of the unending war between the devilry of the rich and powerful and the naive single-mindedness of the working class ideologue. It is a story of futility of hope in a world ruled by a cruel combination of blackmail, intimidation and betrayal. Because the tragic hero would not bend and eat with power, because he was told to tread with great care in the midst of thorns and he would not listen, power broke him and all he had. An elder who walks in the rain must not say he won’t soil his feet with mud. If he does, he will fall, soaking his eyes and mouth in that mud. That is a story that tells us that leaders of the poor without tact, who exceeds their limits, are doomed to be shut out of life permanently. Look around you – there are such stories unfolding every day. Stories of darkness coming out of light; stories of double standards in the administration of justice, of blackmail and of betrayals. Stories of the past and the present and the future and the grim repercussions of all we do.
Successful writers don’t die like embers supplanted by ‘cold, impotent ash’. They are like banana trees, perennial and regenerative. They give the key to their room of wisdom to someone somewhere for the message to stay alive. This detective writer has a son who traverses the global space of ancestral knowledge with the ease of conviction. The sucker bridges the past with the future, supplying shoots of warning and knowledge. The young writes books like the old, but he is very loud on the social media, like the youth of today. Rafting not along the rivers of fictional detective narration of his father, he delivers his message raw and moves on to other chores. While some were preparing to kill and die for the last elections, Moyosore Okediji, Professor of Arts at the University of Texas at Austin, United States, was on Facebook foretelling the election results and the coming results of the results. He wrote on February 16, 2019:
“The presidential election in Nigeria is postponed for another week.
Who will win between Buhari and Atiku?
(In all seriousness, all other names are not on the ballot).
The question is not whether Buhari will be reelected into office as the president of Nigeria.
Ifa says Buhari will be reelected, whether you like it or not.
Ọ̀pẹ̀ says it is inevitable that Buhari will be reelected into power by hook or crook.
The question, therefore, is what happens after he returns to office?
Matters will be worse than ever before now.
Things will be harder.
The times will be tougher.
The sea will be stormier.
The clouds will be thicker.
The fog will be foggier
The days will be gloomier
The nights will be longer
The market will be slower
The valleys will be deeper
The hills will be steeper
The rivers will be drier
The winds will he colder
The sun will be hotter
The moon will be duller
The weather will be harsher
The journey will be harder
The struggles will be stiffer
The rich will be richer
The poor, poorer
The pain, the agony, will be worse for the lowly and the humble.
The sick, even sicker
The sad, sadder.
The mad will be madder
The hungry, hungrier.
Blame the messenger all you will.
But whether it is your will, or against your will, Buhari is returning to office to rule for four more full years.”
I went back to read those lines two weeks ago when the days became gloomier for Zamfara and there was a wild noise from principals, principalities and children of the closet of power. I read the lines slowly and deliberately when the powerful Buhari cried out that he was in pains and most unhappy because the killings won’t stop. I read the lines last week again when the president’s Easter Message dripped of lamentation at the gloom of the season. I thought of the sea getting stormier when our government flew the kite of fuel price hike and all hearts beat faster than normal…
Unfortunately, the seer has said there is no remedy for what is unfurling before us – and that there is no escape from what may yet come.
(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, April 22, 2019).