The Pulse

The real conversations about our country do not take place on Facebook and twitter and other social platforms. Yes, these platforms help us talk, and express ourselves, and to a degree, an observer would glean a lot about our country by just reading our updates. However, social media conversation has the tendency to be tinged and coloured by individual idiosyncrasies, and the ego even.

The real conversations, and commentaries about our nation, take place at the Newspaper stands at Oshodi, and Ikeja under-bridge and CMS and thousands others spread across the nation. There, the fiercest arguments about the state of our nation occur. There, you’d hear the most prolific lamentations of our woes. Even Merci and Fabregas come to life in this micro newspaper-nation, they make the wonderful passes again, the dribbles, the free kicks and the corners, there. They score the goals again!

cn1I recall now, with a hint of nostalgia, an incident during the subsidy protests. It was a habit of me, in those few days of national lockdown, to visit one of these stands in the mornings, and listen to the conversations going on. I did find that it connected me with the pulse, the heart beat of the nation at that critical time, in a way that the media couldn’t. On this occasion, the National dailies bore one message on their front pages. It was a message sponsored by Neighbour to Neighbour – you’d remember them from Jonathan’s campaign period. They sponsored most of his ads. Their message on this day was simple. It read: “Why The Removal Of Subsidy Is Good for You”. Accompanying this message was the photograph of a smiling beauty, and those pictures of road construction projects that you and I see in all their propaganda media. They keep recycling them, those pictures.

A man, middle aged, bore down on the papers, squinting at the headlines. He did not move, he did not speak. The only perceivable movement from my vantage point was the constant twitching of his lips. His forehead creased into an arrow-frown, the kind that oft reveals intense concentration. My initial impression was that of an unhinging. I did sense, as I would confirm later on, that the man had reached a breaking point.

He paid no attention to the arguments going on around him, no. He just stood there, transfixed, twitching his lips.

Then it happened.

He tore at the newspapers, and let out a scream that got everyone on their heels, including me. The man, perhaps energized by our flight, lurched at the table, upturned it, and kept on screaming. He lashed out at everything around him, the umbrella, the chair, everything.

Then he collapsed and broke down in tears. ‘Nigeria why? Nigeria why? Why Nigeria? Wetin we do youuuuuu? Eh? Wetiiiiiin? Jonathan why?’ He continued, on and on, questioning and getting no answers, and questioning some more.

We watched from a distance. Bamboozled.

They pacified him, the onlookers, when it became apparent that the man was no threat. What we had just witnessed, was not isolated. It was our collective madness and frustration, expressed by one man. I thought later that day, that it would have taken just two more people at that newspaper stand to spark a violent revolution. Just two more eruptions, to add to the existing one, two more voices, and all hell would have broken loose. The voices, they’d find their way to other newspaper stands in Lagos, then to the rest of the country. The newspapers themselves would herald the voices, carrying them in their reports the next day. At those little harmless gatherings of people peering at headlines, arguing, the flames of unrest would be fanned into an inferno.

But we can listen in, now, today. We can listen to the pulse, the nation’s heartbeat, there, at the newspaper stand. We can gauge our health, and respond accordingly. We must not wait for a break down. Our leaders can listen in too, and hear what our people are saying. Today, our students at home are speaking. Thousands of Jobless graduates are speaking. On our broken-down roads, Nigerians are groaning, and groaning is a kind of speech too. I just hope our leaders are listening, because there is a breaking point – that moment when the oppressed ceases to murmur, when they apply the instrument of violence and militancy to make their voices heard. We do not want our nation to degenerate into this anarchical state, but we cannot avoid it if we continue in this trajectory, for the greatest threat to democracy and peace, as has been proven, from Syria to Egypt, from Libya to Somalia and Mali, is the neglect of the voice – The voice of the people.

Written by Chidi Ugbe

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7 Comments

  1. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel can’t come any faster.

    Reply
  2. Adeline Kasper

     /  October 25, 2013

    Hmm.. God help Nigeria

    Reply
  3. Nigeria is in our hands. It’s up to us.

    Nice.

    Reply
  4. I used to pass a newspaper stand on my way to work through CMS, and I was often intrigued with the colorful debates that took place there.

    The people at the local newspaper stands are a definition of a community, and their views, although varied, often had a middle ground – common interest – and I was oft impressed with the intelligence with which arguments were carried out. I do not know whether to say this if unfortunate, but I never saw such a dramatic and convicting burst of outrage at the stands 😦

    Yesterday, I wrote a piece about Keyboard Warriors and the harmful effect it can have on nationwide revolution. With much social media debate comes complacency. After venting online, there is very little done, and the flame dies. Like you, Chidi, have said, the voice of the people must not be neglected.

    Similarly, the voice must not suffer the doppler effect; the more distance from the intended hearer, the less effective our voices get.

    (I am trying to be subtle)

    Reply
  5. kachi

     /  October 25, 2013

    God help us to help this country

    Reply
  6. MztaPaul

     /  October 28, 2013

    Apparently, the writer is not ‘a football person’. Which football person spells Messi as Merci? LOL

    Reply

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