The bats in our belfry

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 20 Jul 2008

Bat is a strange mammal. It is ugly, mouse-like and nocturnal. But unlike other mammals, it can fly. Recently, the strangeness of this animal manifested in Norwich, England. Foreign media reports indicated that a 19-year-old lady felt some vibrations in her bra. For about five hours, she endured the thing, thinking it was the mobile phone in her jacket pocket. When the vibration persisted, Abbie Hawkins decided to check her 34FF underwear. Curiously, she found a baby bat taking a nap there. Apparently, this strange lover got to the bra the previous day when the underwear was on the washing line. As Hawkins reportedly put it, “I put my hand down my bra and pulled out a cuddly little bat. That shocked me very much at the time, but it scuttled off under the desk into the dark…It looked quite cosy and comfortable in there so it was quite rude of me to take it out.”

Like Hawkins, Nigeria has some bats in her belfry or bra if you like. To have bats in the belfry means to be crazy, eccentric or mad. There is no better way to describe what life is gradually turning into in this country than this. A few examples will suffice here.

Last Wednesday, some newspapers reported the tragic death of scores of people in Abia State after a deliverance prayer. The Nigerian Tribune headline says, “40 die after deliverance prayer.” The Daily Sun of the same day says, “Mystery fire consumes 30 family members.” Essentially, the story is that these people organised a prayer and deliverance session in their compound to arrest a series of spiritual problems purportedly hindering the progress of members of the family. Apparently, they belonged to the same extended family.

According to the Daily Sun account, after the prayer, came the deliverance session. This involved the exhumation of charms some enemies allegedly buried in the compound. As this was going on, a mysterious fire reportedly came like a wind and consumed everybody in sight. The Nigerian Tribune account says the dead were members of Deeper Life Church. And that a zonal coordinator of the church organised the prayer session in his newly built house, which he had not slept in because of perceived spiritual attacks. The incident occurred at Umuolihe village near Omoba in the Isialangwa South Local Government Area.

Almost the same period, the nation witnessed the demise of some youths, who had gone for immigration and prison service recruitment. Over a dozen applicants reportedly died during the exercise. Tens of thousands of job seekers had applied for these limited vacancies.

I was saddened the more when I read reports that over 64 million Nigerian youths are unemployed. The Minister of Youth Development, Akinlabi Olasunkanmi, who gave this grim report last week, said of the 16 million youths that were engaged, 1.6 million of them were underemployed. This means that more than 80 per cent of the 80 million Nigerian youths are unemployed.

Most of the few who are working go through hell taking care of siblings, relations and hangers-on. Teachers have been on strike because what they receive as salary barely lasts for one week. So far, they have not been able to get what they are asking for. And so, the Nigeria Union of Teachers enjoined its members to embark on a regular prayer session. This is to invoke nemesis to deal with their enemies. Happily, there is no mystery fire yet.

Tanker drivers have just called off their own strike. Even oil workers equally agitate for better conditions of service. Soldiers may not be able to organise themselves to go on strike. But the other day, they went on the rampage in Akure over peacekeeping allowances. Many workers see and read about profligacy in high places. Yet, their conditions keep deteriorating everyday.

This is partly why many of our compatriots will do anything possible to migrate abroad. Recently, scores of Nigerian illegal migrants drowned off the southern coast of Spain. Over 100 of them attempted to enter that country illegally. They had paid thousands of dollars to a syndicate that reportedly promised them safe entry to Spain. At various embassies in the country, thousands of Nigerians queue everyday to obtain visas to foreign countries. Last Wednesday, a middle-aged woman reportedly slumped and died while waiting to procure German visa in Lagos.

Life doesn’t seem to have any meaning here anymore. Millions of children are dying of preventable diseases every year. Some of those who survive have become articles of trade. The majority of the adult population are at the mercy of poverty-related diseases. The Niger Delta is boiling. The power situation is worsening rather than improving. Some major bridges are vibrating. Railways are comatose. The other name for roads here is gullies. Last Wednesday, a trailer truck with two full containers fell at Ijora, crushing a pick-up van. The country is moving dangerously from a failing state to a failed one. And native doctors and prophets are making fortunes from desperate citizens.

Nothing typifies this bedlam called Nigeria better than the confusion over President Umaru Yar’Adua’s birthday. His actual birthday is August 16. But some highly placed public officials thought his birthday was July 9. And so, they were beside themselves with congratulatory adverts. The President himself did not find it necessary to correct the mistake until THE PUNCH broke the story last Tuesday.

The desperate situation in Nigeria is largely a result of an insensitive leadership. The tragedy is that our leaders do not seem to appreciate this fact. Yar’Adua and his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, reportedly spent N655.97m on foreign trips in the first six months of the year. This, according to a report by THE PUNCH, is only N63.49m short of the N719,463,736 allocated for their international travels and transport in the 2008 budget. Perhaps, there will be a supplementary budget to take care of more foreign trips that will likely follow. The legislators, on their part, have taken good care of themselves through probes and capacity-building funds. The judiciary has its problems, as some judges are known to have compromised their position.

Some Nigerians have suggested a revolution. This may not solve the problem. But those in positions of authority should know that they are pushing their citizens to the wall. They should take a cue from what happened in Peru earlier this month. Thousands of protesters embarked on strikes and marches across that country to protest the life of squalor they are subjected to amid an economic boom. They accused President Alan Garcia of betraying his socialist roots.

Every mad situation demands eccentric solutions. This is where I tend to support the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mrs. Farida Waziri, who suggested recently that those who wish to govern this country should be subjected to a psychiatric test before they go for any leadership position.

Before we all run mad, we need that psychiatric test desperately!

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