I contemplated a Nobel prize-winning novel titled One Hundred Years of solitude while I watched the centenary awards to a motley crowd of honourees. The novel told the story of a family that destroyed itself systematically over a century. Garcia Marquez’s opus, acclaimed as one of the best-written novels of all time in any language, unfolded in a mock-heroic tone of tragi-comedy. It seemed he knew of Nigerian awards because, in spite of the destructions, the family heroes thought they were noble people. That chimes in with the award night and its list. Here is what the guests did that night unseen to many viewers. It is dramatised in the following report.
The queen of England attends the centenary awards night and gives an acknowledgement speech, and what sort of words does she unfurl? “Thank you Nigeria and President Goodluck Jonathan for this award. I thank you for acknowledging the role we played in enslaving your people, unleashing soldiers to suppress your resistance, for teaching you how to make laws, for exploiting your resources for the wealth of England, for suppressing your nationalists, like the upstart Macaulay, flamboyant Azikiwe and the subversive Awolowo.” And the audience, seeing the splendor of the queen in her aged and sluggish dignity, gets up and applauds.
What would Abacha have said, if he were alive, with his trademark goggle and relentless scowl? “Thank you my countrymen, I did not want to give you democracy, but I was trying to stay in power for life. I survived the poison of the mistresses, and on my watch the great MKO, Abiola died of poison. After all, even though I stole a lot of money and this government is chasing my loot everywhere, I am happy you acknowledge that I increased our revenue, even if it came freely from oil. I did not have to work. The oil was there and the market ready. I take the credit. That was part of my legacy of vision 2010, which actually was not methodical. It was just a way to deceive all that I had a plan to hand over power. Thank you for the honour.” The hall comes down with applause.
IBB would also mount the podium, with President Jonathan draping him with a medal. He says, “I knew you would recognise at last that it was an act of great patriotism that I denied my friend M.K.O. Abiola the mandate. Democracy was going to come today in spite of the annulment. If I did not annul, we would not have had Sani or Ernest and I wonder how different the award list would look today. I have not apologised for the annulment, and the honour today not only vindicates me, it has been proved right in all of history.” Kaboom!
Ken Saro Wiwa, pipe in mouth, swaggers in. Once he sees Abacha’s ghost, he takes out his pipe from his mouth and bellows, “what am I doing here?” He disappears as if in chase of Abacha.
MKO Abiola’s family rejected the award, but imagine the man came from the grave and accepted. Hear him: “I am here to reject the award. Please don’t put that thing on my neck. Why are you awarding me that gift, for dying and not becoming president? When you won your pan-Nigerian mandate, would you have loved it if they did not allow you mount the throne? By the way, I won the first and real pan-Nigerian mandate.” As the audience wonders how to react, the man, like Hamlet’s father’s ghost, disappears, saying in a voice of stuttering, tremulous plea, “Remember me.”
Lord Lugard, if he had an opportunity to materialise on stage before President Jonathan, would also have his say. “Thank you for acknowledging my time in government. I was the first, and I was known as governor general. Thanks for praising me for all the good things I did. I suppressed your bloody natives for trying to resist my will that the HMG had assigned me. For your information, HMG means his majesty’s government. I presided over the amalgamation of north and south. I know you said God was behind the amalgamation. I know you are a religious man and do a lot of internal and external pilgrimages. But the amalgamation had nothing to do with love of your people. It was pure convenience. It was very costly to administer the north but the people were calm. It was profitable to administer the south, but your people were troublesome. So it paid us both economically and philosophically to bring you under one umbrella. I thank you for this acknowledgement. If I had any moral doubts in the grave, now I am at peace.” Before the medal reaches him, he saunters backwards and vanishes.
If Buhari were asked, he would simply say, “I know I deserve it, but why are you giving it to IBB who removed me. Were you justifying his coup?” a murmur in the crowd responds: “He was a tyrant and he worked with Tunde Idiagbon to make life hell for Nigerians.” It was IBB amidst several disembodied heckles.
Imoudu, the labour stallion, who fought for the underclass all his life, notes as he walks the stage. “Look,” he says as if addressing the President, but he is looking at the television camera. “I want to say the fate of the workers are as bad as any era in my days. All the heads of state did nothing for the workers. Why are you blessing me? Are you mocking me? Are you giving me a medal of failure since the workers’ fate has remained poor?” He also spirits away.
The audience is now worried over some of the responses of the crowd. D.O. Fagunwa, also on the honours list, explains the spectacle of appearances and disappearances. He blares out: “Don’t worry, my people. You know in my stories I created the canvas of spirits. So I am the one who has enabled all of the men to come and go. Don’t be troubled. I am Fagunwa. I created the passageway. Where is Wole? I am told he is not attending. He should have told you about Abiku. He knows a lot about those who come and go and come again. Also Okigbo knows about the cycle. He receives his award but he spirits away and the award drops from midair.
Flora Shaw emerges. “Why am I honoured,” she asks, “for giving you an anthem you rejected?” but before she acknowledges the name Nigeria, the abami eda, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, emerges.
“Wetin una dey do for here,” he says in his mock-hectoring voice. “You are giving award. You are giving award to all the enemies of Nigeria. You gave to the queen? All hail the queen whose government made my people slaves for over a hundred years, colonised us. Na so una dey do am? Then una put Gani and IBB for the same podium. You want them to embrace or what. And the man wey kill my mama, influential mama, original mama, etc, una want make I take award with am, for this Nigeria where everything don tear to pieces like second tier…” a mixture of embarrassed acclamation and boos, just like a night in the shrine.
Historians Dike and Ade Ajayi receive awards with reservations: “remember that the local peoples of Nigeria were in the throes of nation-building and we did not need the queen and Lugard to give us a country if we wanted it. The Yoruba were fighting a war of nationhood, and the same had happened in the Niger Delta and sameness already existed in the east. The Sokoto Caliphate and Borno Empire had formed with special dynamics. All of them could have come together in a conference from outside and without rancour rather than what we have today with national conference with internal rancour. The British did us no favours.” They depart in peace. Achebe makes a cameo appearance: “I agree,” he says, “there was a country before things fell apart.”
Soyinka walks in and says, “According generalised but false attributes to known killers and treasury looters is a disservice to history and a desecration of memory. It also compromises the future.” The curtain closes.