How To Be Human, By Funmi Iyanda
He was a butcher or was he a farmer or a blacksmith? I no longer remember, it’s been too many moons, but l do remember other things about him rather well. He was a middle aged Muslim Yoruba man, my grandfather’s neighbour in Oyo. I don’t remember his name, we called him Baba “abara bi ara enia” because, well that was how he chastised all the naughty children.
“Abara bi ara eni”. One who’s body is like than of a human. It didn’t matter how bad you’d been, he never swore. To test him, we’d do something very naughty just to see if we could push him enough to curse at us. It never worked. Unfailingly he’d exclaim, “iwo omo yi, abara bi ara enia, oloun ni o f’ire fun o lai!” You child, with body like a human, God bless you forever!
I don’t remember what he looked like but l do remember how he made me feel safe.
We all felt safe as long as Baba Abara was around.
My mother went missing when l was eight, she was thirty-nine and had eight children from three marriages. She was trying to find a male child or rather, the husbands before my father had wanted male children or whatever, it doesn’t matter anymore, in time nothing matters, except perhaps our humanity.
Anyways, as my mother was no more and my father had four children under age ten to care for, he did the logical thing of sending us to his father’s farm in Ida Ogun for the summer school holidays. We usually emerged two months later, brown as the earth, well fed and happy with a regional twang to our deepened Yoruba.
I learnt everything in those summers in rural Yoruba land. I learnt to till the land, harvest food, cook and walk long unreasonable distances but most importantly l leant how to be human.
I know what is it for a person to go missing, not just because my own mother did but because a child once went missing in Ida-Ogun. He was son of a woman that Baba Abara did not care much for, to be fair no one really cared much for her. She was bad tempered and suspected of dabbling in amateur witchcraft, personally l thought she probably had PMS. l had read about it recently in the community library in the poor estate where l grew up in Lagos. Poor estates tended to have libraries in those days so poor people can be people too.
So this particular boy that went missing was troublesome like his witching or PMSing mother. He had the annoying tendency of pushing me too hard when l played “set” ball with the boys, l suspected he didn’t like girls but maybe he just didn’t like me. He also took more than his far share from the cup of palm wine the palm wine tapper gave as treat to the children who ran to relieve him of his gourds when he arrives from the forest.
His mother had no husband, which is to be expected as it was rumoured her witchcraft was so bad it flew in the day. So when she raised the alarm that her son had failed to return from the farm, no one paid her heed especially as she was wailing and rolling on the floor, her wrapper falling off her naked chest. Perhaps her witchcraft had turned her mad. Everyone watched from a distance but then Baba Abara went up to her courtyard and put the buba of her wrapper over her head, dressed her and gave her some water. He then took her to the Baale’s house where he organised all the men of the village into a search party. They searched all the villages, farms and forests from Oyo to Ogbomosho. Everyday, the women would get together, feed the grieving mother’s other children whilst us kids fed her goats and chicken and the men searched for this naughty boy whom l was convinced had taken the bus to the city to join a Fuji band as he was always boasting he would.
They searched for weeks and soon it was time for my brothers and l to return to the city so l asked Baba Abara how much longer they would continue searching. I will never forget what he said. We will search till we find him or his dead body for “one’s child is dead is better than one’s child is missing”. If we don’t find him or his corpse, we ourselves are nothing. It is our care for one another than makes us human.
Earlier this year in April after my talk at the University of Cumbria’s Institute For Leadership And Sustainability (IFLAS) open lecture series, the African MBA students came around to talk to me. The Nigerian students in particular were profuse in their appreciation of the way in which l represented Nigeria. Actually l had not set out to represent Nigeria but l understood and honoured the fact that the brevity of good coming out of our land makes us all overcompensate in many ways. We seek to limit shame thus I too was happy to see so many Nigerian and African students taking the envelope pushing sustainability course as part of their MBA. It was soon after the kidnap of the 276 school girls of Chibok, not too long after the slaughter of the 50 school boys of Buni Yadi.
I had hinged my talk on how to change the initial lacklustre response of the world to this heinous crime, a fall out of tragedy weariness of people to a global news media increasing based on ratings and ego. As my host Professor Jem Bendell drove me to the train station, l was oblivious to the rather stunning lakes district scenery because almost prophetically, the Bring Back Our Girls social media campaign was spontaneously breaking worldwide. l immersed myself in the campaign, dodging countless interview requests from global media outlets without the editorial robustness to do non reductive justice to the issue.
I then flew home soon after to do more. The response l met on ground in Nigeria chilled me. It was full spectrum from disbelief to indifference and calculated self-promotion. Over and again, l heard the refrain, look it’s those “malah” (derogative ethnic slur) in the North killing themselves joor, let them. I heard this across the social strata from taxi drivers to business executives.
Aside from the Chibok community, online campaigners and some committed protesters staging sit outs, it was business as usual.
I left Lagos in June a bit numb and rather ashamed, a shamed deepened daily as the girls remained missing and the circus of denials, lies, counter accusations and indifference continued. It cumulated in mortal, wrapper tearing shame yesterday as l watched a bloated chief of defence staff brandishing a grotesque diamond ring on his index finger whilst running amok on Channels TV.
He was dismissive about the girls and cruel in his response to reports of objections to the fate of soldiers who were condemned for mutiny and desertion over poor service conditions in the battle against Boko Haram.
He said, “…the reactions over the sentencing of the military personnel could force the military to consider holding field court martial in the bush, after which military personnel sentenced would be killed instantly and buried in the bush”
How did we become a country where sensitive, evolved, disciplined men and women; genuine figures of authority and guidance have been reduced to shaft in the rising turd of absurdly unintelligent, tantrum throwing emotional retards?
Where are the Baba Abaras?
It is six months today since the Chibok girls were taken, six months of horror, grief, pain and non-closure of their families, community and our nation.
Some argue that there have been worse crimes committed by Boko Haram since the Kidnap of the girls never mind the daily pantomime of corruption fuelled dystopia, why are the girls more important?
They are important because they are alive, we can do something. It is within our grasp, poignantly, Sambisa was a national forest reserve, surely there are vestiges of the original plan? If they are no longer in Sambisa, the neighbouring countries are our ECOWAS partners; we can coordinate regionally to find them wherever they’ve been taken. To continue demanding this is not an indictment per se of the army or government, it is a chorus of encouragement.
They are important because, if per chance they are no longer alive, we can bring our children’s bodies home to be buried with dignity and honour.
That is how to be human.
Baba Abara was right, a community must bring back it’s missing, dead or alive to remain a community of humans. As long as we cannot find and bring back our missing girls in whatever form, we as a nation are missing our soul, our humanity, a matter of deep unspeakable shame.
Funmi Iyanda, famous television producer, and social entrepreneur, sent in this piece from London where she currently works and lives.