Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dial 09141 and Die By Abimbola Lagunju

A Nigerian newborn is probably one of the most courageous human beings in the world. He has overcome all the possible odds in his nine months of uterine life to see the light of the day. Even the process of his birth is a major feat that if transposed on any adult-life challenge, will require the most courageous adult to surmount the odds and live to tell the story. The newborn is born with in-built survival mechanisms. Having overcome all the odds of intra-uterine life and the perilous process of his birth, he comes into the world, endowed with an innate ability to overcome fears and to surmount the comparatively less challenging odds of life.

However, his instinct to survive and live well soon becomes captive of the acquired fears of his environment. The family and the society teach him that the fear of fear is the beginning of wisdom. He is immediately constrained by family and community taboos, founded on their fear of the known and the unknown. He inherits, and is soon held captive by internally generated fears which include cultural fears, fear of the environment and the elements, religious fears, institutional fears, distrust and fear of others, and to this list, he learns to develop and  add his own individual fears.

These fears are characterized by their uncanny ability to self-propagate exponentially in a society already weakened by its internally generated fears. As is the case with fear-induced taboos, the “what” and the consequences of these fears are the only considered factors. The people, heavily burdened by their own internally generated fears do not even have the energy to question the “why” and “how” of the externally induced fears. It is impossible to produce a response to overcome any source of fear if the “how” and “why” are not put under scrutiny. The obsession with “what” and a complete disregard of “why” and “how” in the face of adversity can be illustrated with the recent rumour of a killer cell-phone number.

Someone called me not to take any number that starts with 09141 because it had been reported to have killed some people in one local government in Borno. “A number killed a person? How?” I asked. “I do not know, but someone sent me the message,” my friend said, and warned me not to take any calls starting with any unknown code. He said he was going to switch off his phone until the evil blew away. My friend, an intellectual by all standards, was not overly concerned with “why” and “how”, he was satisfied with the “what” that could threaten his existence. He entrapped himself in fear. Fear took control of his freedom.

There cannot be any kind of freedom in the presence of fear. Freedom abhors fear and vice versa. It is no gainsaying that political freedoms, economic freedoms, social freedoms and progress cannot exist in a fear-driven society. In order to have these freedoms, the society must first learn to liberate itself from the clutches of fear. It must seek the courage to conquer fear. This is the most important pillar of human and societal development. If telephone numbers can send our people scampering for safety, then we should understand that Nigeria is far from any freedom. As the most populous congregation of black people in the world, this does not give a good example of the reasoning capacity of the Black Race. Nigeria should be the light, and not a source of darkness. Nigeria should be a pride to the Black race, not a source of shame and ridicule. Telephone number killing people? Excuse me! We really lost it this time.

Fear depletes society’s resourcefulness capacity. Knowledge is limited to the mastery of others’ outputs and the society is unable to generate adequate answers to its own problems. Some of the governments of the most under-developed (fear-incapacitated) societies in the world today are staffed by academics and scientists who have mastered other cultures’ outputs. However, in their own environment, their knowledge and skills crumble under the society weight of “fate”, fear and self-induced helplessness.

Unlike its victim with his accepted “fate” of helplessness, fear is not static; it seeks to gain more grounds and to metamorphose from its overcome-able form into a real unassailable and formidable force. The victim-society inadvertently, through cowering and lack of imagination actively assists the metamorphosis of fear from its unreal state to a palpable, existing, and overwhelming monster.

A society that has chosen to live in fear fears everything and anything. It fears all odds, small and great, real and imaginary; it fears the consequences of even contemplating to tackle the odds, and it is even more frightened of the imaginary costs of challenging the odds. It draws up very vivid images of life-threatening scenarios if it attempts to change the energy dynamics between it and fear.

This lack of collective internal drive to harness whatever little available energy to overcome fear soon translates into intractable debilitating collective illness, “a cultivated case of social schizophrenia”[i] characterised by a fatalistic resignation to what the society conveniently identifies as its “fate”. Concern for shallow and mundane issues that inhibit productivity, vision, creativity and resourcefulness becomes the principal preoccupation of this society. Life becomes a captive of fear and the right to it cannot be fully exercised physically, economically, politically, mentally and spiritually.

In this prostrate condition, the phobic-society seeks to define its identity within the confines of its “fate”. Values are redefined to portray the relationship of the society with fear. Fear induces “a collapse of a system, a collapse of values, a collapse of sensibilities, indeed a collective blunting of sense of obligations…”[ii]

Haba! Telephone number killing people?  Whither Nigeria?

[i] Wole Soyinka – Interventions I – Bookcraft, Nigeria 2005.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The strange telephone number saga is a sad story. Whoever started it played on the weakness of not only the citizens of Nigeria but also on the weak systems. To imagine that the rumour went on unchallenged for over 24 hours makes it more sad and seems to me there there is a likelihood of the conspiracy of telephone networks in Nigeria. After all they are the real beneficiaries of the rumour. I have actual tried to imagine how many millions they made in the 24 hours of people making frantic efforts to reach their loved one across Nigeria. And to think that the digits tally with the date of the rumour! Wither Nigeria!!