Sometimes we think when a war is over that it is over. It is the deception of the senses. The war comes again in new incarnations. There is still hunger. We still hear of murder. We still shrink at loud noises for fear a bomb has gone off, shrapnel is flying and bodies are falling. A crash, a thud, a boom.
With the war against Boko Haram now smouldering, we focus less on the hordes hurling bombs and rolling into town after town with their messianic flags. Yet the news still nestles. Recently, women protested lack of food in the IDP camps. Pictures show images that recall the pangs of Somali tragedy. A little child with shrunken jaws, eyes popping out and legs spindly from kwashiorkor. Their homes are now empty land, if not still smelling of the bonfires of militant vanities.
Most have no homes again. If they return, it is not to what was there. It’s all gone even if the house and the football field or the markets are intact. It is all different now because they have had different lives in the past few years. The meek is now a cynic, the fearful is now fearfully brave, the generous now poor and stingy, the fat is now lean, the athlete now limps. The farmer wants to be a farmer again but in vain. The yam seller has no farm, the teacher wants students, the student has to catch up or has become a mother now, and has to be a new student of something else: motherhood.
So it is for the authority. It is a new society. Post-war societies are new societies. But making those new societies is like going to war. That is what Governor Kashim Shettima is doing these days. We witnessed it in eastern Nigeria and parts of the Niger Delta after the civil war. The society is new again, battered, broken, prostrate, in ruin. It has to rise again. It has to be born again. As Salman Rushdie wrote in the opening paragraph of his controversial novel, Satanic Verses, “to be born again, first you have to die.”
The United States confronted same at the end of the civil war, and reconstructed large swaths of a mammoth continent. We saw it after the Second World War where the big hulk of Germany rose out of its Nazi ruins, or the Balkans after the nightmare of its dictators. Some Iraqi and Syrian towns rescued from ISIS are grappling with that.
The job is a collective one, as Governor Shettima is doing. He is the fulcrum of the rebirth. He knows he cannot do it alone. Gone are the days when Boko Haram was only about 20 kilometres away from the state house. He never squished. Thanks to Buhari and the reinvigorated army, the government house and he will not know oblivion.
The same collaboration is needed to rebuild the town. Maiduguri will have to be reborn in many ways, like Gworza, like Bama, etc., not only in physical infrastructure, but also mental and psychological. As Christ noted, “except a corn of wheat falls to the ground and die, it abides alone. But when it dies, it brings forth much fruit.” Now, the state cannot abide alone.
The task has started. International envoys are coming around. BBC and CNN cameras click at scenes of hope and despair. Bono visited Borno, so did other top world celebrities, including our own Aliko Dangote. The Irish rock star has made quite a few donations, in cash and kind. Dangote is releasing tranches of the N2 billion he pledged. Recently, Governor Shettima and he visited a new estate under construction for the refugees.
The IDP camps, though, are the centres of gravity. We see the remnants of war. We see easy morality, stealing goes on even in the midst of scarcity, especially because of scarcity. A baby boom is upon the north as though the IDPs want to replace the lost souls in a frenzy of casual promiscuity. It is a burden on boys whose virility preys on idleness and women whose fertility beckons procreation. Shettima and the government deal with about 50 births a week. The rich get richer, wrote Scott F. Fitzgerald, the poor get children. The government cares for them and also has to contend with another sort of fertility. Get the men and women to work again. Schools are being rebuilt; citizens are getting animals for farm and other supplies.
The task is heavy. The federal government must have to play a major role. Part of the story behind the food protests was that the federal government is slow to play its part of an agreement with the Borno State government. According to the terms, the Borno State Government is supposed to supply the protein and the Federal Government has to supply the carbohydrates. Both are important, and complement. It reminds me of a story the late Chief Hope Harriman told of his time as a student in Government College, Ibadan. The students had gathered for their lunch. The ebawas ready, and they waited for the soup with the protein inside. The British teacher saw them and wondered why they were standing idle. They replied that they were waiting for the other part of the meal. The teacher replied out of frustration, “why don’t you eat this while you await the other.” The students laughed and educated him that eba was nothing without the soup.
Sources say Treasury Single Account issues have trammelled National Emergency Management Agency efforts to release funds for the food. This has to be sped up. TSA is good but people should not die. It will fulfil Apostle Paul’s words that the letter of the law kills. Let us invoke the spirit.
Heraclitus said the law of life is struggle. One triumph challenges another spirit to triumph. So, post-war is like new war. In his play, Mother Courage, Bertolt Brecht tells a story of a woman who loses her children while she profiteers in the Thirty Years War. When the war ends, it is as though it has not. She learns that “in decent countries, folk don’t have to have virtues.” Virtues are taken for granted. In a place like an IDP camp, virtues collapse under the need to survive. That brings thieves, brigands, rapists, the hungry, the sick, the lonely. After surviving the war, they have to survive the peace like Cyprian Ekwensi’s novel of that title about the civil war. That is the new war, and it is our war. If we let it fester, it will come to us in our halcyon corner. Governor Shettima needs as many helpers around the world as he can get. Happily, they are coming, if not enough.
Kudos to a dramatist
Wole Oguntokun is one of our unsung heroes. In a philistine world, he is fighting for the revival of a crucial part of our lives: the theatre. While governments do little and the corporate world funds flimsy entertainment, Oguntokun has set up Theatre Republic in Lekki, Lagos where Nigerians can watch plays, both Nigerian and foreign, from his plays to Soyinka’s to Greek plays.
“Everything is self-funded,” he told me in a phone conversation. The greatest accolade we ever had in literature came from plays, yet we are not taking advantage of Soyinka’s gift of the Nobel Prize. Oguntokun is a theatre warrior, and he needs to get big-time support. No society thrives without high culture. Hence in Britain and the United States, billions are poured into the high arts by both government and corporate organisations.