Ezenwa-Ohaeto' s death has prompted an essay, "Civic and Corporate Responsibility : Romancing Terror and Tragedy" by
Professor of English
North Carolina A&T State University
(Last book : The Womb in the Heart and Other Poems, African Heritage Press,2002)
It is probably inappropriate to raise issues of this nature at a time of throbbing pain and anguish across the land. But perhaps stilled by that pain and anguish, and halted temporarily in our familiar tracks by the inappropriate, whatever is left of the deep things in all of us could probably compel us to be more contemplative, more critical of what we do to each other by way of routine. We all know that it is only our fragility and our transience which compel, at least, periodic fear of the probable consequences of our habitual bestialities.
I write from a basement of pain from which it is likely to take a while to rise. Ezenwa-Ohaeto has just died on the crest of a stellar academic career after a long battle with cancer. The wife of the Nigerian head of state has also just died from some really elementary surgical procedure, at the same time that our hearts are being rudely greeted by a tragic plane crash involving the lives of Nigerians and some foreign nationals.
If you are like me, and shared a close friendship with Ezenwa-Ohaeto, a most humble, and unassuming and worthy gentleman, you would understand this moment. If you are like me also, and discovered at the same time the name of an under-graduate school best friend, and the names of two other close friends from the manifest of those doomed airline passengers, the title of this posting should begin to make more sense. Add all that then to the latest news on the web : a Niger Delta group is claiming responsibility for downing that plane. Naturally, the group by now, must have garnered this century's queasy honor of "terrorists" by the rest of us who hold the proverbial yam and knife, the power of definition.
In this season of global epochal evil, how we love to point fingers at vendors of terror. We are hesitant and Prufrockian when it comes to finding the courage with which to point at those who vend or proverbially bring into the house the tinders which attract the termites. The fact is that responsible leadership reciprocates individual or civic responsibility in all nations or polities. Peaceful policies and principles beget peaceful relationships between the powerful and the powerless. If we do not accept that, I suggest that we are romancing terror and tragedy! We need no Locke or Rousseau to return from the dead to tell us that. Do not ever forget that the strike of terror is aimed at the corporate for its oversights, for its judgments, for its errancies. Because vox populi, vox dei, the miss-steps of the corporate are the miss-steps of you and I who empower the corporate, the god who acts on our behalf. Those we always dub "innocent victims", who could be you or I, are in fact the collaterals of the attack of the corporate !
Nobody wants to face the truth or the question which may eventually lead to what we will before long begin to call "terrorism" in Nigeria. The Niger Delta people are just greedy is what one often hears. They should accept this or that percentage of oil wealth or go to hell. Indeed? Is it not possible that the rest of us are really the greedy and not the people of the Niger Delta? How many federations share or control resources by percentage without a well deliberated consensus ? Is Nigeria not a federation? If it is not, why are Nigerians afraid to either tell everybody what it is or sit down courageously and name or re-name the nation, and re-birth it properly in terms of its character and identity ?
Recently, in place of a genuine gathering of sovereign ethnicities or entities(endorsed by some of Nigeria's best voices : Soyinka, Fawehinmi, Enahoro...) which constitute the Nigerian state, the nation settled for a strange charade orchestrated by Nigeria's perennial master kite fliers. Addicted to political goof and gaff and legerdemain, that nation is also now about to settle for a continuation of an Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves merry-go-round, with the kind of names being touted as the presidential line-up for 2007. Where is the altruism and compunction, the shame or thoughtfulness concomitant with the desire for real nation-building ? Where is courage ? And where are the visionary, those who will not quake before the dazzle and lie of brazen power ?
Let me suggest to you, dear reader, that Nigerians are all collectively responsible for all the tragic irruptions of their world, directly or indirectly, whether they be by "terrorism" or gruesome premature death because of the lack of effective medical infrastructure. Ezenwa-Ohaeto had a couple of surgeries in Nigeria over the last two years or so, purportedly, to take care of what the Nigerian doctors diagnosed as the problem. It was only last year when he came out to the United States for a Fulbright Fellowship that American doctors, now racing against time, figured out what was going on. The Nigerian doctors had been carving up the poor guy repeatedly for nothing. The problem is not their intelligence or expertise but there were obvios infrastructural limitations. They meant well but the problem was the extent of their expertise in peculiar circumstances.
Some time ago, there were intriguing debates all over the place about General Obasanjo's dictatorial profession preferences. The gusto of the debate obviated the real issue. The fact is that, save a few decrepit things found here and there in Nigeria, a robust infrastructure does not really exist for either Sociology or Computer Science, Basket-weaving or Rocket Science. Why does it not exist ? Does Nigeria not have the money or the people to create that infrastructure? You and I know the answer. More than enough money is there but dragon-guarded for the bosses, or criminally laminated from the citizenry by impenetrable plates of kleptocracy and prebendalism. The recent materials circulated on the internet, from gubernatorial money laundering escapades to the loot by past regimes authenticate that. So while we mourn our notables, friends or relatives, who really continue to pay with their lives for our civic irresponsibility, we must think about the millions of Nigerians, inchoate or straggling eminences who will neither have the academic radiance of Ezenwa-Ohaeto nor the regal glamour of Stella Obasanjo ; nor indeed the privilege of the 117 passengers of that doomed 737 Boeing.
And while we mourn or lament or eventually find the strange courage to productively critique our errancies, let us always remember those other Nigerians who die everyday before they are able to see a medicine store or because one simple element of easily affordable infrastructure is not in place for their basic needs ; millions of Nigerians, who like me when I was a kid, can only wave in innocuous fascination and delight at air planes flying over their heads, those who see egg shells and literally wonder who ate them.