The Entombed: Double Consciousness Nigeriana
By Pius Adesanmi
First, the grim description of someone familiar to most of us:
“Practically, this group imprisonment within a group has various effects upon the prisoner. He becomes provincial and centered upon the problems of his particular group. He tends to neglect the wider aspects of national life and human existence. On the other hand he is unselfish so far as his inner group is concerned. He thinks of himself not as an individual but as a group man, a “race” man. His loyalty to this group idea tends to be almost unending and balks at almost no sacrifice. On the other hand, his attitude toward the environing race congeals into a matter of unreasoning resentment and even hatred, deep disbelief in them and refusal to conceive honesty and rational thought on their part. This attitude adds to the difficulties of conversation, intercourse, understanding between groups”
Next, a name for this racial and ethnic claustrophile. Finding prisoner too generous a name, imprisonment too mild a label for this existential condition, W.E.B. Du Bois calls the archetypal subject of his reflections above “The Entombed”. Our friend, The Entombed, appears as a subject of reflection in Dusk of Dawn, a collection of autobiographical essays that Du Bois published in 1940, twenty full years before Nigeria was born into conditions that predisposed her to become a mass producer of The Entombed. Dusk of Dawn also came some four decades after the publication of Du Bois's most famous book, The Souls of Black Folk, in which he proposed one of the most enduring theses on the black condition in America: double consciousness.
Being Negro. Being American. Two antipodal conditions warring for the soul of a single subject. Striving to be both, Du Bois assures us, leads to existential anguish.
Strife is the keyword. Du Bois uses it frequently. His fecund mind and expansive writings prepared the philosophical basis for a lot of things. Things as disparate as the paths of Martin Luther King Jnr. and Malcolm X.
Things as improbable as giving us a window into double consciousness Nigeriana: the wretched condition of Nigeria's vast tribe of The Entombed. Trust Nigeria: we added maggi, ajinomoto, tatase, and tomapep to Du Bois's original conceptualization of double consciousness in order to make it Nigerian. For Du Bois, double consciousness implies the historical struggle to merge the Negro and the American into one “truer” holistic self in which neither of the selves would disappear. For Du Bois, these two selves may have been historically conditioned to be hostile to each other, they are not mutually exclusive or irreconcilable.
For The Entombed in Nigeria, double consciousness is not a striving to be Nigerian and Yoruba, Nigerian and Igbo, Nigerian and Hausa, Nigerian and Edo, Nigerian and Ogoni. Double consciousness Nigeriana is part affirmation, part negation. It is the perpetual war and strife to be Igbo and not Nigerian, Yoruba and not Nigerian, Ijaw and not Nigerian.
This civil war between affirmation of the ethno and negation of the national defines the life and reality of The Entombed in Nigeria.
The Entombed arrived at his current existential impasse through a tragic misreading of our collective and justified dissatisfaction with and rejection of the nature and character of the Nigerian state and her visionless and corrupt rulers as an end in itself. The truly uplifting, challenging but cerebrally taxing responsibility is to use discontent with project Nigeria as the basis of envisioning and working for an alternative and very possible new Nigeria, shorn of the buffooneries of the buccaneers in charge of our national destiny in Abuja.
Discontent with and uncompromising rejection of the order we have had since independence should be the basis of a sustained struggle to take Nigeria back from the looters and rebuild her on a foundation of fairness and justice. Precisely because this task is mentally demanding, The Entombed takes the lazier route of discontent as an end in itself, avoids vision and the profundity of thought it requires, and locks himself up in the airless urn of misinterpreted or overinterpreted ethnicity.
Why would Du Bois invent a carceral metaphor of death for this character? Why The Entombed? The answer lies in the atrocious psychology of this Nigerian. Within the dynamics of our national experience, The Entombed is dead.
Dead to the humanity of the Others he manufactures prodigiously and robotically in every Nigerian ethnic group that is not his own. Dead to the instrinsic humanism of his own culture. While Du Bois's double consciousness is resolved in favour of life and the overcoming of adversity to embrace the humanity of the Other, double consciousness Nigeriana embraces death as resolution. Its cogito is strange: I am Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Edo, Idoma, Ijaw, therefore you are not human. At this point, we are less than a kilometer away from Wole Soyinka's grim rendition of the final destination of such absolutisms: I am right, therefore you are dead!
Hate is the pounded yam of The Entombed in Nigeria. Locked in a tragic misapprehension of his own culture and deaf to everything his ethnicity teaches him about humanism, he clings to robotic, gratuitous hatred of the Other as evidence of his new status as the Praetorian Guard of his ethnic group. Behold the self-appointed champion of puritanical Igboness! Behold the delusional defender of hermetic Yorubaness! Behold the jihadic gatekeeper of fundamentalist Hausa-Fulaniness! All that is now left is to equip his tongue with the most purulent, hate-filled vocabulary ever known to man for woolly-headed deployment in his daily engagements with Nigerian humanity outside of his ethnic group.
I have a name for the language of the Nigerian Entombed. I call it gutterlect. This harebrained character uses such hideous gutterlect in blanket descriptions of Nigerians outside of his ethnic group as would make Eugene Terreblanche cringe at the thought of using such language for the kaffirs who continue to haunt his soul in South Africa. Needless to say, the Nigerian Entombed is strictly monolingual. He speaks only gutterlect. If this character is based in Nigeria, he stops at being just an atrocious member of the human race. If he is based in the Diaspora, especially in the West, he combines what discredited French philosopher, Lucien Levy-Bruhl, calls “prelogical mentality” with the atrociousness of his Nigeria-based cousin.
If you frequent Nigerian e-sites and listervs in search of serious kindred minds committed to channeling their non-negotiable and total rejection of Nigeria as is towards the envisioning of a possible and alternative Nigeria, you have most certainly encountered The Entombed and his gutterlect of hate. No Nigerian ethnic group enjoys a monopoly.
They all contribute their share to the e-pool of The Entombed. The difference lie in the quality of the minds. Hence, The Entombed may be a University Professor from whom much better is expected but who finds time to exchange endless ethnicist taunts, jabs, and trivia with folks below his station; he may be a lawyer, an architect, a medical doctor; or he may be a truculent rabble-rouser who is unable to put together a single grammatical sentence in English.
No matter the difference in intellectual depth, gutterlect and programmatic blindness to the humanity of the Other unite them all. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi? That sounds Hausa-Fulani, isn't it? He is not Igbo? Not Yoruba? Not even a south-southerner? A scholar of Islam to boot! How dare he? And how is it even imaginable that “this Taliban” could possess any modicum of rational thought, let alone head the Central Bank? I must hurry to hate him at once. I must “hurry him down to the grave”, as the poet, Ogaga Ifowodo, would put it. I'll fish for reasons later.
Never mind that this puny hater and gutterlecter cannot hold a candle to Sanusi Lamido Sanusi's considerable achievements in matters cerebral. The important thing is that this lion (The Entombed) must have that antelope (Sanusi Lamido Sanusi) for dinner because, in the nature of things in Nigeria, guilt is always ethnically predetermined. My grandmother's tales by moonlight attest to that. “Ah, you this stupid antelope (iwo agbonrin buruku yi), I have caught you today! You are the one who insulted me yesterday,” roars the lion. “Ah, you must be mistaking me for someone else, sir.
I wasn't even here yesterday. I was out of town,” replies the frightened antelope. “Shut up my friend! That's how you insulted me last year!”, replies the furious lion. “Last year? But I was born this year sir!” “Ehen, are you trying to say that I am lying? Go ahead and kuku call me a liar. That's how your mother insulted me this morning.” “But my mother died last year sir!” “Shut up your fucking mouth! If it wasn't your mother who insulted me it was surely your father or some other relative of yours.” If the lion keeps fishing as he surely will, one reason will eventually stick as justification for hate.
So what exactly is our entombed gutter-mouth missing in his culture as he stands sentinel at the gate of ethnos, keeping the humanity of the Other at bay? He misses the fact that the good Nigerian must begin by being a ferociously good Yoruba or Igbo. The ferociously good Yoruba or Igbo, in turn, understands that his culture is not a blanket manifesto of hate. He has the allegorical evidence of some of the greatest narratives in his culture to lead him to this conclusion about the fate of the absolutist and delusional gatekeeper. If only he knows how to read!
Consider the allegorical adventure of Olowo Aiye, the brave hunter in Fagunwa's Igbo Olodumare who ventures out of the familiar to encounter the Other. He must meet other members of the human species as well as creatures of the chthonic realm in this fascinating enactment of the quest motif. Between Olowo Aiye and the experience of humane and enriching contact with Otherness stands Anjonnu Iberu, literally “the ghomid of fear”.
Anjonnu Iberu stands sentinel at the gates of the forest to purvey hate and keep the Other at bay. He is truly fearful, oozing fire and heavy smoke from a hole at the centre of his head. He singularly and tyrannically determines who belongs in and who belongs out.
He is the father of our modern-day sentinels and defenders of ethnic fundamentalism in Nigeria. He is an absolutist who traffics in gutterlect like his children who now prowl e-Nigeria. In the end, the cosmopolitanism and boundless humanism of Olowo Aiye crushes the absolutism of the entombed Anjoonu Iberu. Alas, our Yoruba gutterlecters do not know how to read Anjoonu Iberu as an allegory of absolutism. Igbo Olodumare was published in 1949.
Nine years later, another absolutist gatekeeper and atrocious misreader of his culture makes a grand allegorical entry into posterity as Africa's most famous narrative character. His name is Okonkwo, the Ogbuefi who has to be more Igbo than every other Igbo in Umuofia and the surrounding villages, defending his culture by breaking every rule of the said culture through brash over-interpretation and perpetual misreading. Like Anjonnu Iberu, his textual brother by nine years, we know where and how Okonkwo ends. Alas, our Igbo gutterlecters do not know how to read Okonkwo as an allegory of absolutism.
Because the members of Nigeria's Entombed Peoples Party have considerable trouble with reading comprehension and it is their wont to misunderstand and disunderstand everything they read, we must remind them that there is something they are missing in the thought and oeuvre of Nigeria's most humanized, most uncompromisable thinkers in the progressive column of history. Take a nuanced look at the thought and praxis of non-entombed progressive thinkers and activists like Wole Soyinka, Gani Fawehinmi, Okey Ndibe, Femi Falana, Bamidele Aturu, Ayo Obe, Omoyele Sowore, the late Chuma Ubani, and Abayomi Ferreira and you will notice a common premiss: a total, uncompromising, and categorical rejection of a certain version of Nigeria.
That version of Nigeria, evidenced by the gluttonous and prebendal instincts of our pernicious rulers, must die in order for a genuine Nigeria to emerge and acquire a salutary space under the sun. Nowhere in the thought and praxis of these men and women would you find the sort of dead-endist ethnic claustrophilia that powers the little world of The Entombed. The double consciousness Nigeriana of a Wole Soyinka or an Okey Ndibe is not one that finds resolution in being dead to the humanity of the Other Nigerian.
To transform our complete rejection of Nigeria as is (that Nigeria that is Polyphemus) to an end in itself – as The Entombed folks rabble-rousing in internet forums are doing - rather than make it the basis of a sustained struggle for a Nigerian renaissance is to concede the last word on Nigeria to President Yar'Adua, Atiku Abubakar, David Mark, Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, James Ibori, Peter Odili, Lucky Igbinedion, Bukola Saraki, Olabode George, Dimeji Bankole, Andy Uba, Vincent Ogbulafor, Ahmadu Alli, Tony Anenih and all other members of this dangerous and unholy tribe who have arrogantly assured us of the perennity of their wicked version of Nigeria for another sixty years.
It is to claim that after these dangerous people, it is smithereens. That isn't even an option we should entertain. In the end, kangun kangun kangun a kangun sibi kan. There are three choices, three Nigerias, and only one will prevail: The Nigeria of the looters listed above, the non-Nigeria of The Entombed that hates and despises robotically on the basis of ethnicity, and the Nigeria of the dreams of our progressive activists and heroes. Come the day of the last version!
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