Scaling the fences and gates all around us

Symbolism with Simbo Olorunfemi

Email: Twitter: @simboolorunfemi

Simbo QEDAbuja is a city of gates. It is a city of fences. The fences ring in the rich and mighty, the gates keep the poor and down-trodden out. While the privileged few luxuriantly snore the early morning rush away, majority of Nigerians, forced to live outside the city gates, begin to make their ways in, in different forms, as the world around Abuja empty their bowels into the waiting hands of the capital city. The masses come in hope that the daily commute would deliver enough from which they can eke a living.

The masses come, heavy with dreams, scaling the many barricades placed on the ever-expanding 10-lane expressway by the men in uniform, barely making it to their places of work, on time. The people congregate at Nyanya, defying the threats on their way to scale the fence erected between them and the overlords at Maitama. They come from the slums to cater to the needs of the kings in the inner chambers of Abuja, for next to nothing.

In the evening, they wade through the sea of weary feet to make it to the buses and cars which ferry them home. They leave the manicured zones behind to embrace the unplanned and neglected communities outside the city gates. They leave behind unfulfilled dreams for the warm embrace of the tired but ever-welcoming hands of Mararaba and her friends. A few hours into sinking the teeth of their tears into weary pillows, they rise again to scale the gates, back into the same city. It is a life of back-breaking drudgery.

It is the story of many Nigerians who dared to take on Abuja, in the hope that the capital city will help them scale over the fence of poverty. It is the story of a city that forgot to plan for those who should service it, thinking the fence between the city and the other world will be enough to keep away the shame. It is the story of Abuja. It is the story of many of our cities. We erect our fence around the other fences. We build more gates around gates to keep the unwanted out. We keep the West busy selling us padlocks, in our mistaken assumption that segregation will separate our dreams from that of the community in which we live.

Too late, we are now beginning to see that the day has come upon us when even the legislators would have to scale over the gates and barricades erected by years of our listlessness in the face of naked impunity, to be able to access their own chambers. Yet, we have only just begun to see those determined to maintain the status quo baring their fangs. As the elections draw near, it is expected that shadows will emerge from behind and take on form. It should not come as a surprise if those employed to enforce the law, are seen stamping on the same law, in a bid to arrest the birth of democracy in our land.

Abuja is not the only city drunk on its own mix. Abuja only takes it many rocks higher. Many a city can be punishing in its anonymity and frenetic pace. It takes out the soul, places the shoes in a basket, and forces the basket on the head of the weak, to be ferried in and out of the city centre every day. The city empties us of our humanity. It forces one to dream, when it fully knows that such dreams are not of the stuff that oils the wheel of the late night meetings in the circles that matter. The city forces us to dare, forgetting to remind us of the fences, gates and barricades planted all around us. Abuja is no different.

But as it is with our cities so is it with our politics. Our cities are, largely, monuments in celebration of the prebendial politics that govern our land. Our politics showcases itself in the cities we build, and the way we run them. Our impatience, disorderliness and lawlessness are most advertised in the cities. Our obsession with vanity at the price of that which will endure is evident in the choices we make.  The cities are littered with gates and fences in salute to who we have become. We box ourselves in and fence the world out. We erect gates as monuments to nothing. We are told we need a second Abuja City gate to be built for all of N64 billion. The Centenary city will come at the cost of $180.6 bn (sourced privately, they say). We deserve it – ours is the largest economy in Africa.

Abuja is a lamp-post through which we are able to see clearly the fragile underpinning of our polity. Never-ending construction works on our show-piece road, a stadium that embarrasses your welcome with its obscenity, edifices that remind us where we lost our way, waste that speak to the vacuousness of those that govern our land. They pull at you, asking pointed questions. At the heart of the concrete jungle, it is another world – mansions, fences, gates and barbed wire, all daring those hearts to scale the divide to see what has become of the commonwealth.

As it is with the city, so is it with the politics. In a nation under siege, politics after all is a game of thrones, mansions, fences and gates. It is a zero-sum game of high stakes, with mouth-watering rewards wholly appropriated by winners, with the price of failure often grim for the opposition. Those who understand the game have held on to permanent seats in AGIP (Any Government in Power). Those who go to Abuja never truly return, we are told. But do you blame them? Power is not a commodity to be hawked like sachet water. You have to strive for it to get it. Power is neither dished in plates of ‘nkwobi’, nor served in ‘take-away’ packs.

The price for attaining power is high – it involves scaling many gates and fences. It is not for the self-centred who cannot see through one day of protest. Only those who dare are able to scale the fence into the Three Arms Zone, to mingle with the anointed. We are too laid back and easily content with crumbs that come in form of stomach infrastructure. The power to effect change has been traded away, with fences erected to keep the people out.

The situation is dire. It will take a scaling of gates and fences to make things right. With a group of seven palm-wine tappers, drunk on fresh wine, locking out the majority to legislate their rights to the pot of soup in the official abode of the Speaker of the House of Assembly, it would have been naive on the part of the members of the House of Representatives to simply watch and pray while a repeat of the process played itself out. In a land where might is increasingly dictating what is right, watching usurpers at work, while drafting court papers, is tantamount to sleeping on one’s rights. In a situation where the objective for which the fence is scaled is justified by the mission accomplished, the indecorous nature of act loses its relevance. Scaling the fence to ensure that the majority is not torpedoed from power by the carefully-orchestrated shenanigans of a powerful minority can only be in the interest of democracy.

Here we are – marooned outside the city gates, yelling at ourselves, while usurpers erect more mansions and fences, planting barricades and setting up gates with barbed wire to keep us out. The Legislators have laid the mark- it makes no sense to continue to watch while those who have hijacked the nation rape the rest. It is time to stand up to the fence of bigotry all around us, bring down the gates of ethnic and religious divides in our minds and come together as one. We need to gently bring down the cynics from their positions on the fence – it is no longer safe sitting on the fence. The greatest threat to this democracy might yet be the undecided army of cynics who claim not to be able to tell the parties apart. Such cynicism, not backed by action, is a luxury we can no longer afford. The time has come to scale the fence and bring down the gates on our way so we can usher in democracy, in its true form.