When Next I Visit the Barber’s Shop, By Banji Ojewale
We’ve stayed too long on the challenges we started with in 1960: poverty, ethnicity, corruption, divisive politics etc. Like bushy heads that require clipping, our leaders could do with an encounter with the barber. They need thorough primping that will result in clean cuts, completely shaved to the skin.
When next I visit the barber’s shop, I won’t be going for a haircut. I will go for tips on how to handle the human head. When next I’m at the barber’s, I won’t be there for gossip; I’ll be reaching him to educate me on how he manages to manipulate the head. When next you see me at the barber’s shop, I won’t be surrendering to the tic-tac of the scissors and clippers; I will be seeking the secrets of the barber’s trade: How does he completely dominate the one under his instruments? So lastly, when next you see me head for the barber’s, I plead you to join me; we shall be returning with sacks full of tricks we must deploy to turn the wilful heads of our leaders and rulers to the truly salutary enterprise of nation building. We shall look for ways to make them submit to the will of the people.
My study of the “absolute” powers of the “lowly” barber over the head of the mighty began years ago when I was the editor of an evening newspaper in Lagos. The editor-in-chief brought me a weather-beaten sheet of paper wherein was some priceless handwritten information about the travails of the then detained MKO Abiola, the undeclared winner of Nigeria’s presidential election in 1993.
Held in Abuja by the military authorities for his insistence to be sworn in as president, Abiola was said to have been visited by a barber provided by his captors. According to the paper given to me, the haircut revealed that MKO’s hair, full of dandruff, was falling off. The document said this condition suggested that the wealthy politician suffered from serious health challenges including anemia. Deep in the anonymously done report was this claim: a man pulled a gun on Abiola as he rested in his ill-ventilated cell.
After my hesitation over whether to publish that piece of information or not, we ran the report with the caption: ‘Gunman Rattles Abiola’. The publication, needless to say, also rattled the military junta of Sani Abacha. It likewise rattled the intractable cat-and-mouse relationship between his government and our titles.
I have since been fascinated by the deceptive dissembling mien of the barber. You’re at their mercy when they handle you. If you sink into their swivel chair or they visit you for a home affair, they take over your life, even if momentarily. Whether it’s a low-cut you want or a mere trimming exercise, they maintain control. They are in total command of your head. Never mind if you’re the head of state or commander-in-chief of your nation’s armed forces, or if you’re a very important prisoner or the richest man in Nigeria or in the world.
The barber’s comb, brush, scissors and clippers make him your boss since he is in charge of your exposed powerhouse. He pushes it as he wishes, not as you wish. If you swing left, he moves it to the right. That’s not where you want it; but at that moment you don’t own your own head; that’s the way it goes when the barber is at work.
We need therefore to turn the heads of our leaders from their fixed gaze on the jejune philosophy that celebrates the so-called development of infrastructure, without a superior emphasis on the superstructure (human development) via mass education, inviolate social welfare programmes for the people, vocational training and support for the weak and vulnerable.
He may sometimes politely suffix his request with “Sir”. But irreverent thoughts about your deciduous hair or yam head may be staging a competition in his own head while his hands are on duty on your pate.
For those of us who fall for the false lullaby of the barber’s instruments, our head carer has several options. If sleep attempts to wrest control of the head from him, he either rocks the chair hard to rouse you or (if he is impish) he drives the scissors into your skin without drawing blood. Others would push the decibel of their music system to the maximum volume. None of these has been known to fail. Either way, the barber would say after snatching you from slumber: sorry sir… ema binu sir! Would you suspect mischief after such a patronisingly unctuous apology by a person going to great lengths to make you look fine for a low fee? Elsewhere in his mind he’d be charging you with the unpardonable offence of indiscipline – sleeping on duty!
Now I think Nigerians need the skills and subtlety of the barber to tame our leaders. Don’t we, seeing these heads (public office holders, politicians and the great army of power wielders in the society) have moved us around aimlessly these scores of years since Independence in 1960?
Those Asian countries with whom we started the race have left us far behind because our leaders (heads) at the centre, states and local governments never seriously thought of a prosperous life for the citizens after Independence. We’ve not outgrown the pangs of war we fought to preserve the country. The battle to dislodge the British colonialists ended alright in 1960. But the decades following have seen us in more bitter conflicts with those who replaced the white lords. As I write, Nigeria is in utter dysphoria. There is distrust among the “federating” constituents. There is unhealthy scheming going on in the hot political atmosphere. The president’s health is “in the hands of God”, according to members of his inner circle, suggesting rather despondently that it has defied what the human mind can attempt to understand. The 2019 poll is the talking point in 2017, when there is little to show for the 2015 mandate. The arranged gyration towards a one-party state or disintegration frighteningly portends bad times. But the drums and the dance steps haven’t stopped. A predictive analysis turns in the verdict that the ordinary citizen is the stuff on the slaughter slab, as he has always been. And our heads’ barren policies are the architects of our woes.
We need therefore to turn the heads of our leaders from their fixed gaze on the jejune philosophy that celebrates the so-called development of infrastructure, without a superior emphasis on the superstructure (human development) via mass education, inviolate social welfare programmes for the people, vocational training and support for the weak and vulnerable. This neglect is a recurring bad penny which has found its way again into the 2017 budget at the centre and in the states, to wit the paltry allocation to the education sector.
We’ve stayed too long on the challenges we started with in 1960: poverty, ethnicity, corruption, divisive politics etc. Like bushy heads that require clipping, our leaders could do with an encounter with the barber. They need thorough primping that will result in clean cuts, completely shaved to the skin. The barber will rouse them from the deadly sleep that has kept us back while less endowed nations are light years ahead of us.
So when next I visit the barber, please follow me, it is a mission to save the nation.
Banji Ojewale writes from Ota, Ogun State.