The state just moved in, scraped the existing macadam from the surface of the entire length of the road in the town and left them at the mercy of the extremely heavy traffic to and from Lagos. For three years now, those Nigerians have been dying agonisingly without even knowing it: intense and continuous dust inhalation. Precisely the same way Nigeria has been killing the people of the Niger Delta with gas flaring and ecogenocide for decades.
When the Nigerian wakes up and thinks of basket cases of authoritarianism like North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, and Sudan, where the state can hang you or disappear you just like that, his instinct is to thank God that his own failed and corrupt democracy is slightly better than those places.
You can forgive this Nigerian for thinking that his own life is a little better than that of the North Korean or the Saudi. After all, the Nigerian’s experience and understanding of impunity is nothing more than the fact that his present and future can be raped by his leaders because leader and led have reached a consensus to create a primitive society of crime without punishment. And if a leader is lucky enough to die just after raping this Nigerian’s present and future, the Nigerian victim immediately turns him to a saint and rains curses on anyone who speaks ill of the dead.
Impunity, for the North Korean, means that the Generals can just disappear him on behalf of the state and the maximum ruler without any questions asked. In Saudi Arabia, one-eyed, bearded, lunatic Wahhabis can put the sword to your neck on behalf of the House of Saud just like that – these days they no longer bother with the inconvenience of flimsy charges.
This explains why the Nigerian can be forgiven the delusion of thinking that he suffers a more humane form of impunity than the North Korean or the Saudi. But the Nigerian is deluded. A state whose impunity disappears you or finishes you off once and for all – like North Korea and Saudi Arabia – is far better than a state whose impunity kills you in slow and painful instalments. A state that makes you a corpse and spares you agony is far better than a state whose entire raison d’être is to make you a living-dead and supervise your living-deadness.
Although they are both citizens of two of the world’s most irresponsible states, the dead North Korean escapes the prolonged living-deadness of the Nigerian – which ultimately still ends in death. The Nigerian state exists solely to inflict and supervise the torture that eventually leads the living-dead uncitizen to his or her grave.
That, exactly, is what is going on right now in a town called Mowe, in Ogun State. This town bears much of the traffic back and forth between Lagos and Ogun state. Two years ago, I was en route Lagos with a friend when I noticed that the major road which snakes its way through the entire length of the town (Federal or state road, I don’t know, but it’s a major highway) had been scraped in preparation for repairs. Mowe is a naturally very dusty town. Not sand – just fine yellowish powdery earth, the sort that forms a mushroom cloud of deadly smoky dust when wheels run on it. It settles as cake on everything within sight – houses, food, the human body, etc. If inhaled, it settles as cake on the lungs.
When I saw the length of that road work two years ago, I was pleased – at least they are fixing the road – but I was slightly worried. No, make that alarmed. We drove for over ten kilometres through the very centre of a densely populated city, producing a gigantic yellowish cake dust cloud such as I have never seen in my life. And I saw so many residential houses, businesses, etc, on both sides of the road. I was worried about dust inhalation and wondered how many citizens of Mowe are dying gradually and quietly. I consoled myself that construction would soon be over.
Last year, I had to drive through Mowe again in the company of the columnist and activist, Bamidele Ademola-Olateju. Not a single inch of progress had been made. The citizens of that town had breathed one year of 24/7 dust. You see some of them covering their noses with hospital nose masks. I told Bamidele that I had been on that road the previous year. One year of dust inhalation by the people of Mowe. One year of slow, agonising death that they are not even aware of. Bamidele was driving. We were on our way to Lagos from Ibadan and had diverted to visit her sprawling commercial farm at the border of Oyo and Ogun states. She shot me a glance. The glance of a diasporan returnee who has learned the bitter truth that your battles and wars for Nigeria must be carefully selected because you cannot fight every battle.
This year – make that last week – I was returning from the Ake Arts and Book Festival 2015 in Abeokuta. Fate, again, took me through Mowe on the drive to Lagos. Just as we got to the start of the nightmarish dust-stretch through the town, the air conditioning of the car I was travelling in packed up. At first, I thought I could brave it and I told the driver to wind down the windows. Less than half a kilometre into what should be like a 15-kilometre ordeal, my lungs were threatening to pack up. If you have ever lived in Sokoto and witnessed a sand storm; if you have ever seen any documentary of sand storms in the Sahara desert, you will get a rough idea of what life is in Mowe. Mind you, in Mowe, it is not even sand. It is powdery yellowish cake – that is what the earth looks like in that town.
In Sokoto, in the Sahara Desert, it is nature. In Mowe, it is man-made. Deadly sand inhalation is the handiwork of a state which has a million ways to kill her citizens in instalments. In a 21st century state, a state which understands the meaning of the value of the life of the citizen, it would have been criminal to embark on the project I saw in Mowe without a thorough environmental impact assessment.
Once that is done, you proceed to mitigation. How are we going to carry out this project swiftly and in phases to minimise dust inhalation? Those who live on both sides of the road are going to have uninhabitable habitation throughout the duration of the project, what do we do about them? Where do we provide them temporary accommodation? Continuous exposure to dust cake will discolour and disfigure so many private houses and businesses during construction, how do we make provision for compensation. Above all, what kinds of compensatory medical resources are we going to put at the disposal of the people of Mowe for continuous exposure to dust.
Because this is Nigeria, none of this has happened. The state just moved in, scraped the existing macadam from the surface of the entire length of the road in the town and left them at the mercy of the extremely heavy traffic to and from Lagos. For three years now, those Nigerians have been dying agonisingly without even knowing it: intense and continuous dust inhalation. Precisely the same way Nigeria has been killing the people of the Niger Delta with gas flaring and ecogenocide for decades.
Part of the double tragedy of being a Nigerian is that the state kills you, makes you a living-dead, and preys on your ignorance of your situation. Because the state kills you and preys on your ignorance, many of you, especially some now dying in daily instalments in Mowe, will read this treatise and jump into a programmed defence of that same state that is killing you. Prof, take it easy now. Prof, go and siddon for corner. Prof, you keep comparing Nigeria and Canada. Did Canada get there overnight? Prof, you never see anything good in your country, you are not patriotic.
While you are it, abusing me instead of rejecting your dehumanisation by the state, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, on whose watch the people of Mowe are dying of dust inhalation, is busy adjusting the height of his cap. Every day, his trademark “fila peteesi” (storey building cap) is growing taller, blocking people’s view, blocking the view of progress. Given the rickety condition in which I saw his state last week, I don’t know why he should be blocking the view of Nigerians with fila peteesi. Mowe, of course, is in a Local Government Area. There is somebody in charge. Just as there is somebody in charge in Abuja. All three tiers of government are united in killing you little by little. They have a thousand ways to kill you.
Every time I look at Nigeria, I tell myself that nobody who has been involved in the leadership of that country can make heaven for their wickedness is beyond human imagination. But they also cannot make hell. Imagine if you are Satan and you are the king of hell. Hitler comes and you admit him. But you draw the line with Hitler. You decide that it is not possible to find human leadership specimen in any country more wicked than Hitler. You make a law that Hitler is the absolute worst benchmark of wickedness that hell can admit. Anything worse than Hitler has no space in hell.
Just as you finish signing this into law, the leaders of Nigeria present themselves at the gates of hell…