“I told you earlier we’re in the same boat, serving our fatherland. You’ve been directed to gather the junk of the land, to collect the good, the bad and the ugly. To rid the land of excess luggage disallowing it free movement. Herculean mission! I am to go to No man’s land, also in the service of our beloved country…”


I met a man at an intersection in one of the towns of Nigeria, as he headed for where he called No man’s land. I didn’t know where the place was. Nor had I heard of an area by that name in our beloved country. I wanted to find out more about his destination and his mission there. He rejected my entreaties. Instead, he pleaded I should follow him, so I could learn more through experience.

I politely turned down his request. “I’m on national assignment”, I told him. “It’s a task not brooking personal distractions or extraneous considerations such as you’re asking me to undertake.”

“We’re both engaged in work for the nation then?”

“What’s the country asking you to do in No man’s land? And again, where is the place in this big nation? Haven’t heard of it. Is it a new creation yet to arrive in public space?”

“We’re kindred spirits. Helping to rebuild the society and give our people hope again. But where is the country sending you, to do what?”

“The people have sent me to visit everywhere in the land and bring back reports of all I see – the good, the bad and the ugly.”

“Are you a reporter?”

foraminifera

“Yes.”

“And you?”

“We are in the same boat.”

“Interesting! But, how come we haven’t met? I write for…”

“No. Not that level. I operate elsewhere in the national interest.”

“You’re shadowy. Where is No man’s land in Nigeria and what is the country asking you to go there for?”

“Why won’t I be shadowy? I hovered in the shadows for years. The shadows haven’t left me, even if I have broken loose from them. Then lately, about four years ago, I escaped. I got into the limelight and began working at tortoise pace to clean up the mess created while I watched from the dark shade.”

“You’re working at snail pace? Why not breakneck speed?”

“No, Mr. Know-it-all reporter. You don’t comprehend the dynamics of administering a country left half-dead after years of misrule. Do you remove someone else’s faecal stuff without taking your time not to mess your apparel or not to spill it for more pollution? Forgive my latrine inflection!”

“My profession permits it. We call it poetic licence. Colourful language tool, if you ask me.”

“Mine doesn’t. We don’t allow it.”

“Why? It’s a universal figure of speech. Besides you’ve just made use of it to dramatise your message. It’s in order. You…”

“It’s not in order in my field. I only used it to explain what we call the ‘doctrine of idle activity in the fast-moving business of reviving a dead society’. In such an enterprise, you are not expected to move fast, even when most people think you ought to work with the speed and unsparing force of a hurricane. They are ignorant. You take your time to study at close quarters, a corpse. Sometimes your watch may last the lifetime of the object itself. No hurry. The longer the observation, the surer the possibility of the restoration to life to the dead. Many don’t understand this theory. They want quick results. Do you blame them? It’s the quick-fix computer age we must blame.”

“Is that what No man’s land will experience under your charge soon? Are its people and businesses dead? Do they need a man from the living to wake their fallen by applying the doctrine of indolent activity? Forgive me. How did you put the theory so attractively?”

“If it took say, 20 years to bring the land to its knees, then, according to the famous principle, it should take another period of 20 years or more of patient waiting and watching to bring it to its feet again.”

“Won’t the world fly past us?”

“Aren’t we already used to watching the world zoom past us?”

“We shouldn’t be used to it. We must be in the league of those running. We need to gain ground on those we started with in the 60s. We must not be left behind again in the new nanotechnology race. We lost too much in the past. Now the future is for the mentally fleet-footed.”

“Now, tell me. Do you not read tortoise stories? Despite lacking the pace of the hare, the creature is always defeating the hare in running competitions. Let’s unlock tortoise from its lore.”

“In your profession are you guided by fables? Ah, you’ve not told me your profession. How do you define yourself?”

“I told you earlier we’re in the same boat, serving our fatherland. You’ve been directed to gather the junk of the land, to collect the good, the bad and the ugly. To rid the land of excess luggage disallowing it free movement. Herculean mission! I am to go to No man’s land, also in the service of our beloved country, armed with the infallible ‘doctrine of idle activity in the fast-moving business of reviving a dead society.”

“Is No man’s land a graveyard? A community of dead bones?”

“Is that another application of poetic licence?”

“No. But you’re in order. So what’s your mission where you’re heading?”

“You’ve been talking of poetic licence. In No man’s land, I will mete out poetic justice to the people. You know, I’m a leveler. My next level is to level No man’s land. That’s poetic justice, sweeter than your poetic licence!”

Banji Ojewale writes from Ota, Ogun State.