By Tunde Odesola
The bypass to hell shouldn’t be Nigeria. It should be Australia because Australia was founded by convicts. Formerly called New South Wales, Australia is just 230 years old. The United States is merely two years older. When Captain Arthur Phillip led a fleet of 11 British ships consisting of 736 male and female convicts from England to Botany Bay, Australia, on January 26, 1788, it wasn’t to found one of the most developed countries on earth.
It was to dump the criminals of England on Australia. Sailing with Philip on the eight-month voyage were 264 marines and other officers. Thirty people lost their lives during the odyssey in which the convicts were chained beneath the deck. The thinking of the ruling class in the 18th Century England was that criminals were incurably defective, and were past rehabilitative redemption. So, they were banished from England in order not to pollute the ‘genetically pure and law-abiding citizens’. Because prisons were too expensive, lawbreakers had to either be killed or exiled.
After Great Britain’s 13 colonies snatched independence to form the United States of America in 1783, colonial Britain could no longer dump her criminals in any of the 13 colonies, thus there grew the need for a new colony to dump criminals. Therefore, Captain Phillip was charged with the setting up of the first penal colony in Australia. The expedition was almost a calamity as poor soil and unfamiliar weather conspired to undo the inexperienced convicts who worked on the agricultural camp set up by Phillip.
Naked starvation threatened to wipe out the contingent even as the marines entrusted with enforcing order were incapable. So, Phillip was forced to appoint convicts to positions of responsibility. He maintained law and order through routine floggings while death hanged those who committed grievous offences. In the following 60 years, about 50,000 criminals were transported from Great Britain to the colony called the ‘Land down under’.
By 1818, January 26 became Australian National Day – marking 30 years of British settlement in the country. Today, the National Day serves as a day of celebration for the founding of the British settlement while it also serves as a day of mourning for the aborigines who were dispossessed of their land.
Britain unyoked the bondage of colonialism off the shoulders of Nigeria on October 1, 1960. But, it’s sad and shameful that a gang of misfit leaders have, since 1976, been plundering the resources of the country, siphoning tonnes of petrodollars abroad and hauling Ghana-Must-Go bags into local bank vaults across the country. While convicts founded and developed Australia, Nigeria’s saintly leaders enchained the nation and re-enslaved the citizenry.
What the President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress and ex-Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan-led Peoples Democratic Party couldn’t do, convicts did much more for Australia. Given the opportunity of a second chance, convicts in Australia rose to the occasion to show the world the true meaning of change. Since the late 1970s, Nigeria’s ancient rogue leaders, in collaboration with a growing band of younger rogue initiates, have directly fed from the national broth, engaging in shady oil deals and turning the national treasury into personal accounts.
Now, there’s war on the Rock of Aso. Baldheads, the owners of the Rock of Aso battle buccaneers, the occupiers of Apo Land. Apo buccaneers, armed with bayonets, bombs, machine guns and missiles, pound the rock of power. The war of attrition has blown open, there’s no fence to sit on. You’re either for Aso or you’re for Apo. Mercenaries are changing camps like cocks take turns on a hen. And the masses, shredded of humanity, take sides and cheer on as reason take flight and stupidity is deified.
Now, death, cheap and common, daily abide with the citizenry, whose faces are burrowed by tears, and mouths curved in wailing like go-to-hell. Terrorised inhabitants of the land weep, begging the warring warlords to stop the war, to stop the hunger in the land devouring its own. Daily, the masses wail to the perforated ears of their leaders, “Our children are dying,” “Depraved herders squirt rape semen into our wives and daughters, killing us to boot,” “Stop the scourge of diseases and lack,” “We want to live like humans.” But the wailings of the inhabitants are like the tears of a desolate mother to the abiku or the melancholy of the groundnut farmer to the squirrel. Aso baldheads are bald in the real sense of the word; none has a strand of hair on their heads. From Lagos to the Rock of Aso and the various states of the federation where they hold power, their bald heads shine like full moon on homeward journey. Bob Marley called the men of iniquity crazy baldheads. Inside their hairless skulls are old but nefarious brains occupied by the devil. Baldheads are the men of power yesterday, today and tomorrow. Like Apo buccaneers, they are dishonest, devious and dishonourable. To hoodwink nature and give the lie to their old age, they clean-shave their pates to hide the grey. Never too old to rule, they recycle and rotate in the roulette of power.
“Blood for blood! No price, no pay!” chorus the high sea robbers. Egged on by their power-mad capon, Apo buccaneers, for the first time since 1999, demand the juiciest petals of the shrinking national nectar, pounding the rock with mortars and bombs.
In their senseless fight and defection flights, Aso and Apo have lost their humanity and forgotten God. They choose vultures instead of eagles; villains instead of heroes. Apo chooses the clownish dancer with an impressive academic failure for governor. Both Aso and Apo failed to acknowledge a superhero, Berepele Joseph Blankson, who rescued 13 souls and lost his own in Port Harcourt sea. Blankson was neither a baldhead nor a buccaneer. He deserves no national honour. They would eye his young and beautiful wife – that is how to repay the ultimate heroics of Blankson (38), who died so others could live. Nigeria is not France that honoured the Malian Spiderman who rescued a dangling child. Heroes die here unsung. Nigeria is not the land of heroes. Wike kept the Blankson wick burning, though, but his widow and two kids could make do with more oil to the lamp to preserve and shine the memory of their breadwinner.
Aso doesn’t fear God though it mouths piety. It terrorised the minority man from the minority tribe into majority defection at 55; not an age to earn a permanent residency at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s newly inaugurated state-of-the-art facility, and be denied the opportunity to lavish hard-earned booty. A mega-bite visit across the Atlantic located the real MB in London and all sins were forgiven without the mandatory Janabah ablution. Can prayers be answered without Janabah after the adherent climaxed in wild coitus? Did the Holy Man of Daura purify the jittery minority man from the sins committed under the umbrella before they hugged? Did the erudite in-house pastor on the rock anoint him with oil to make him whole?
The broom used by the night soil man is being used for the ewedu soup to be served the famished masses. Something is terribly wrong with this Adam’s apple – making useless noise, listening to nobody. Something is wrong with the EFCC being converted into a sanctuary to consecrate defectors and victimise dissenters.
Nigeria, we hail thee.
– Originally published in The Punch, August 13, 2018
By Tunde Odesola