Once Upon a Country

A short story by Mike Ekunno

 

Baby Mama sashayed into the physical classroom with the tutorial well underway. She was the resident campus recruiter for one of the baby farms in the city. She had just received her commission on the latest deal involving a Psychology sophomore who had been impregnated and whose pregnancy will be harvested in seven months’ time and the baby sold to some wealthy adopter.  Class was  ringed around the graduate assistant who took the History tutorial. Mr Dike half-sat, half-leaned on the arm rest of the theatre seat as he moderated while backing the large screen board. He was few years beyond the average age of his class and Baby Mama’s momentary distraction was taken in his stride. He allowed her full inauguration into a seat before continuing.“Yes, Divine, are you ready with your presentation?”

Divine had come into her own after being shipped back on her parents’ orders from New York where she squatted around SoHo doing the rounds of abandoned galleries and shacks, smoking and slinging a back pack. She had bungled Law at the State University and cozied down, rather, to the regressed gentrification of SoHo. Back home, it happened that Omaliko was responsible for her rolling stone lifestyle for refusing to minister to the dreaded shrine. Now, after being fully installed into the high priestesshood of Omaliko, she had mended and even dared to maintain a stellar performance  in History. Her lifestyle had stabilized except for the times when she muttered gibberish and smiled to nobody. She still wore  trademark dreadlocks and baggy jeans with the rectangular outline of a pack of Heights, the approved brand of marijuana with the legal dose-per-wrap, on the left front pocket. She also did stand up comedy on the side now. She was  ready and the texophone was passed to her. Switching on, the devise docked with the remote-controlled screen board and the class was bathed in its incandescent glow. Dike did 180 degrees  on the cue. Holding her electronic notepad, Divine read out into the texophone: “The Immediate  Causes of the Fall of Welldonia.”

The words of the title splashed on the screen board in sentence case. A click on the texo and its blue light blinked. “Upper case, all,” instructed her, and on the board, all responded. Switching to ‘mic’ mode, Divine  addressed the class. “I have been able to distil four factors that led to the fall and disintegration of that country that offered so much potential. They can be categorized as the immediate causes.  The  remote causes will be dealt with by my Team 3 mate, Adetutu.  Activating the ‘text’ mode, on the texo, she spoke into it and the words splashed on the screen board.

“Immediate Causes:

1.Corruption.

2.The War Over the Northeast Lake.

3.Citizens’ Revolt.

4. The Curse of Innocent Blood. ”

 

Her presentation suffered an interruption from the centre of the semicircle. A female voice disagreed with the last point as an objective historical fact.  Like a courtroom trial, Dike intervened on   Divine’s behalf saying the class should await her treatment of the point. She continued, changing the texo mode from ‘text’ to ‘mic’. The board stayed arrested in its bulleted sub-titles while Divine rattled on.

“Corruption is listed among the immediate causes of Welldonia’s fall because whereas it had been there all the while under the military regimes of that country, it was not democratized. Under the military, a colonel could not embezzle more than a general and a captain should not out-loot a major. It was the unwritten rule. The cancer was therefore inadvertently but effectively checked by the command structure of the military. If a general ate ten million Cowries, for example,….”

“Did they use Cowries like us?” a voice quipped.

“No,” another came to the rescue. “My granny showed me a relic of their currency. It was called the Nara.”

“Thanks, Alusi,” Divine said and continued, “And so if a general ate ten million Nara, it will be unthinkable for a blinking colonel to eat twenty. That will be insubordination and disrespect to the uniform of the general which can earn the junior officer posting to  Resettlement Centre or the Defences Industries Research and Development Company. The latter researched and developed furniture and table salt.” The class roared.

“Seriously?”

“Yes, seriously,” Divine affirmed. “Again, under the military, if you didn’t belong to the North-West Mafia, you dared not loot above your rank.”

A hand popped from the extreme left periphery. Dike acknowledged. It was Baby Mama. “We’ve heard of the other mafias of the military era: Kaduna Mafia, Langtang Mafia. But never this North-West Mafia.” The combination lock of her loin plate jangled as she made to sit down again.

“Yes, what d’you say to that?” Dike couldn’t wave that on.

Divine picked the gauntlet. “Okay, the Langtang Mafia was only a minor cabal, if it was one at all. The Real McCoy was this North-West Mafia which comprised officers from the North-West zone of the country. If you didn’t belong to that axis, there was a limit to the political or command position you could get. They sat atop the  perking order. So if you belonged to a lower caste and embezzled much beyond your rung on the ladder, you could embezzle yourself into premature retirement.

“So these internal controls and contradictions of the military helped to keep corruption in check. But the civilians came with democracy and corruption was democratized. Any riff-raff who claimed to represent some God-forsaken Nyamiriland could loot billions at the National Assembly. Seeing as the legis-looters were having a field day, the civil servants decided to join the bazaar big time. Again, everything was democratized. The office assistant can out-loot his director if the chance presented itself. And you didn’t need to belong to the ruling caste. ….”

The texo blipped for an incoming image. Divine changed the mode to active and the screen board came alive with the smiling face of Helga beamed from the garden of her family house in Cape Town, South Africa. She had not resumed when the new semester began as she needed to poach a little of the summer before returning to the global warming-altered, tropical November weather on campus. Born and bred in the rainbow nation, her parents wanted her home for tertiary education to know her people.  She didn’t understand ‘bia’ but spoke flawless Xhosa. Pending her return to campus, she took   her lectures from there.“But the ruling party  became the replacement mafia after the military era,” Helga said. Dike nodded his concurrence.

“Yes, you could say that,” Divine continued returning the texo to sleep mode as Helga’s image diffused back to the bulleted points. “You can say they were the national mafia. They were not sectional. The party provided an inclusive platform, ethnically, religiously and …..”

“…. and genderly!”

The class roared.

Divine took it up from there, “Yes, the women were well represented but they didn’t match the men…..”

“Obviously. Since much of the men’s loot went back to them in gold jewelleries, Dubai shopping and SUVs.” It was Dike himself this time. The class roared again.

“Unfair! Unfair!! You cannot compare their female House Speaker’s loot with that of the guy that replaced her.” It was Baby Mama.

“Nor the later-day dollar-denominated bribe of the man who championed her removal,” came another voice above the babble.

“Okay, Okay!!.” Dike tried to quell the rising chatter. “How did you come by all these?” he directed to Baby.

“They’re all online. Google ain’t got enough so just use The Beast,” she chirped referring to the new search engine.

“I see,” Dike accepted with a cue-in nod to Divine.

“….. and so the democratization of corruption weakened the national moral fabric so much so that when the war over the NorthEast Lake broke, the country was in no position to offer a credible resistance. This brings us to the  second point.

“Their francophone neighbours had watched as their next door giant got more and more inebriated by corruption. Oil had earlier been discovered in the lake’s basin on the Republic of Tihad but the proven reserves was to run out in 2030, that’s over 50 years back, if not augmented.  Meanwhile the Tihadian leaders soon got sold on petrodollars like a baby with his rubber nipple. They had over-borrowed on their proven reserves and squandered everything up front when their reserves got exhausted and crude oil prices crashed. World depression came back on its 100-year cycle after the one that came on the heels of the Second World War in the 20th Century. Their French debtors would not hear of debt forgiveness and their intelligence services had access to seismic data showing the Welldonian side of the lake was awash with crude oil. They nudged the Tihadian leaders to make a push. Those ones felt it was suicidal but since the over-fed canary could challenge the gods, why not they? They only hoped to ruffle some Welldonian feathers and retreat but soon found to their pleasant surprise that the Welldonian armed forces were not in a position to fight a  mock battle let alone a war.

“The division whose immediate responsibility it was to mobilize to the NEL frontier had been bogged down by attrition in its long engagement with internal crises. Its GOC had lost his girlfriend to a Sunday morning   shooting spree in a Northern city. He put all his military intelligence training to work and sniffed out the perpetrators. Since he was eyeing preferment for army chief, oga patapata, when the next vacancy came in six months, he wouldn’t soil his records and dealt with the suspects intra-judicially. He handed them over  to the State. The press celebrated the breakthrough and sang his praises. Not until the day he was in the capital  city and asked to further interrogate the terrorists, sorry, suspects. The three dudes who were brought to him could have been from Mars for all their familiarity. “Where are they?” he persisted. It was the state variant of  Elimination by Substitution  at work. The algebraic technique. For all the GOC knew, the original three could have been spirited away to  anywhere from Farin Gada to The Maghreb. When the NEL front beckoned, the generals at DHQ cornered the 200million Nara vote and only remitted 20million to him for logistics to mobilize and deploy for Operation NET for North East Tradewinds. He summoned his commander on the frontier and that one told him point blank: ‘Oga, this nation slaughtered my grandparents and after my orphaned father struggled to grow up and have us, they slaughtered him too  and now it wants me to put my life on the line for a fucking battle over the North East Lake.’ Anyway, the GOC mobilized the subordinate officer with N5million ‘to settle your boys.’ While the generals kept the rhetoric and battle cries going on in the media, on ground, the fighting unit sputtered like a car engine running on adulterated fuel. Their commanders read the newspaper reports and laughed out loud. When the enemy saw what they thought was only an exploratory expedition meeting no resistance, they decided to go all the way and the rest is the history of the annexation of the NorthEast Lake.

“After the NEL debacle, there was a citizens’ revolt which was the last straw that flattened the mule on all fours. Corruption had been the termite that ate up the entrails of Welldonia’s supporting pillars leaving a hollow shell which the attack from the North East crumbled and the citizens’ revolt carted away the debris. The revolt had been long in coming. For the ordinary citizens, it had simply stopped raining. It gushed. Despondency poured. It poured in the re-incarnated  bombings which kept them indoors where the government inflicted lack of electricity on them. At the height of its corruptive glory, the Welldonia State generated 4500MW of electricity for its over 200million citizens.”

“How does that compare with our nation today?” the question was from Utor. She also wore the loin plate after her roommate was raped by a lesbian.

Divine was ready with an answer.  “For our over  70million people, we have 62,000MW. In Welldonia, you were made to pay for the unsupplied electricity and still fuel your personal generating set.”

Dike pointed to the front seat, “Rasaki, do you know how many megawatts your country generates?”

“About 70,000,” Rasaki responded.

“You, nko, Bassey?” he probed differently.

“Maybe 55,000 or thereabout,” Bassey said. He was in the forefront of the  sex economy trends. He modelled their haute couture and the sexonomy pouch in between the two legs of his trouser  proved quite egregious but his detractors swore it was a length of water hose he had in there.

“How can people pay for unused service?” shouted Ken. His face mask did not disguise his voice. After the fat ransom his parents paid on his latest kidnap, he decided to join the rest of the kidnaphobes who wore face masks. But his mask was becoming familiar again thereby making his disguise the new normal. He was supported by  Utor who asked how every citizen could generate own electricity. Utor didn’t wear the loin plate. The campus grapevine didn’t trust she was free indeed having been cured of AIDS using the latest top line medication. And she was as plump as any nubile African maiden.

“Yeah, that’s crazy. But guess what?” came Divine, “They had these midgets they nicknamed ‘I Pass My Neighbour’ which you can lift with one hand. But to fuel it, you had to queue at the gas station for hours. And because the government had banned  the sale of fuel in cans, you had to bribe the attendant to fill your car tank and put some in the can for the generating set. It was not only electricity that was privatized. Healthcare was privatized too and to get a medical, the elites flew abroad to meet their compatriots working in foreign medical institutions.

“Brain Drain.” It was Utor again. Unlocked, bare Utor.

“Thanks, dear. Those who couldn’t fly out went to exorbitant private clinics in the country or died at home. Education was privatized the same way. ……”

“Here too. If not, we all won’t be here,” somebody said.

Dike intervened. “Probably what she means is that the service was privatized and you had no credible alternatives if you couldn’t patronize the private service.”

“Exactly, sir. Privatized and regimentalized. The public alternative was dysfunctional  whether it was power, healthcare, education or air travel.”

“Was air travel privatized, too?”

“For air travel, because of the prohibitive cost of owning a private aircraft by every politician and moneyed elite, they had to make do with flying business class on the airliners. But the pervasive corruption couldn’t allow them run the airlines well and  the aircrafts were falling off the outdoors like denuded leaves in the harmattan. When the commercial carriers wouldn’t stop crashing, the top government officials approved money for the enlargement of the presidential fleet. The president had six : one Boeing 777, two 757s,  two Bombardiers and one Phoenix.  Another customized 777 was dedicated to  her First Ladyship. Because of the separation of powers, the legislators had two of the  latest version of the Phoenix, the  Chinese competition, and a Jumbo for the party bigwigs. Rich states also procured Bombardiers for the governors. But what sparked the citizens’ revolt was the LAFT. LAFT stands for Legedis And Footwagen Tax. It was a tax introduced by their legislature for walking.”

Murmurs of incredulity spread through the class. “Yes, for walking on foot,” Divine emphasized. “Though the country was OPEC’s sixth largest producer ….”

“What’s that?”

“Okay, short for Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The former global oil industry cartel. It was the discovery of oil in East Africa and the centennial global crises of the 2040s  that sounded its death knell.”

“Alright, go on,” urged Dike.

“So despite drowning in so much oil, Welldonia was a major importer of petroleum products. It exported crude and imported the finished products. Because of that, it was prone to frequent price increases and product scarcities in accordance with the vagaries of the international market and exchange rate differentials. The government therefore kept a regime of subsidies which were abused. As the abuses increased, government increased pump prices to offset them. It came to a time when the citizens abandoned their cars and chose mules and bicycles as means of moving around. But the donkeys and camels were being slaughtered for meat since beef, beef from cow was in short supply. Bicycles were being taxed by the local governments and were required to have number plates so that the government agency making number plates can rake in more money for the executives’ welfare. Having serially increased the cost of driver’s license, number plate, taxi cab registration, car stereo permit, car air conditioner license, jeep and SUV license, tokunbo tire levy and VAT on bus seats, the government drove the people to walking and trekking. But the people woke up one day to meet the legislature discussing the Legedis And Footwagen Tax. The day the law was passed was the day it snapped. The people stormed the legislative building ……”

“On foot!”

“Yes, on foot, of course. They chased away the law makers and occupied the chambers. Before you could say mace, they appointed the People’s Senate President and the People’s Speaker of the House and introduced a motion to impeach the President and Commander in Chief. Sensing danger, the President asked the police to move in and shoot at sight. The people lay on all the approaches to the complex. They ate, slept, woke up and shat there. The police arrived the scene but refused to shoot. Not even tear gas was fired. In a rage, the President fired the police IG since he wouldn’t fire at the protesters. The IG’s successor came, saw the stand-off with his mother and aunties swearing by their flapping  breasts on the streets and did an Ademulegun by deciding to take his premature retirement. His application was converted to dismissal by the president who brought in a retired officer as IG. In protest, the police top echelon resigned. As the stand-off continued, the state legislatures started dissociating themselves from what was going on in the capital city. The oil-producing states each passed a law mandating the oil companies operating in their territories to warehouse the proceeds of their crude oil in escrow accounts. Since they were not recognized as sovereign states, the oil majors sought legal advice. Legal opinion asked them to maintain the status quo ante and disregard the errant, precocious states. But their home countries quietly told them they have to be with the people drawing from intelligence and the wisdom of the Arab Spring uprisings earlier in the  first decade of this century. With the oil revenues hanging in escrow accounts, the ruling cabal had no cow to milk and soon started applying for European visas in droves with their families. The Western embassies took their time with cherry-picking the applications. With time running out, the rest sought any country at all, Arab, Asian or African to elope to. Their northern neighbours were ready for the Northerners who were willing to come. Anglophone West Africa was also ready but placed an under-the-counter conditionality on the minimum loot in US dollars one must import for acceptance. Jaga-Jaga Boys,  a nation-wide re-incarnation of the former Lagos Area Boys staged road blocks across the country’s highways commandeering every SUV at sight. The SUV was the preferred mode of land transport by the  elite making the country the world’s largest concentration of four wheel drives.  With their exodus and activities of the JJB, the Hummers and Toyota Prados and Samurais and Honda Last Borns were up for sale and their second hand values hit rock bottom causing a worldwide glut. People sold their bicycles and bought the fairly-used SUVs. The purchasers were not running to anywhere. They were preparing to replace the decadent runaway cabals in the New Welldonia. Hoping that the crises will be settled like all others before it from the 1963 Census Crises to the Western Region’s Operation Wetie and the Civil War and the June 12 Election and the Delta militancy and the Boko Haram, but they were mistaken. The country remained in the throes of the crises when the war over the NEL which l had earlier referred to came.” Divine paused as the texo bleeped again. Activating it, Ezenwata came on screen. His right shoulder blade and upper arm were still cased in Plaster of Paris from his power bike crash. He was down-linking the class from the nurses’ station of the orthopaedic ward where he was admitted. Before he spoke, the class hailed, “Da Prince! Da Prince!!”

“Hey, ma people!” he responded.

Then followed a babble: “How’re you recovering?” “When are we seeing you back?” “Who planted that red kiss on your cast?” “Baby, I’ll be around to spoon feed you for dinner.” “Did they do POP on your local government headquarter, too?”

He took in the comments laughing. “I’m okay, people. One love everybody. One love, one love.” The babble died and he continued, “I just wanted to observe that the country had been through worse things before. It survived a civil war and had lost an oil-rich  Peninsula to its eastern neighbour. None of these led to its break-up. Why did it not come back from the brink like it had done on previous occasions?”

The class buzzed with approval. Dike restored order before Divine continued and Ezenwata’s image faded from the screen. “Talking about why the country couldn’t come back from the brink brings to mind a saying which used to be popular in that country before animal rights campaigners forced them to stop using it or lose all the aid related to wide life conservation. And that is the saying that one day the monkey would go to the market and would not return. The Welldonian monkey was able to return from the market with the previous crises because the iniquity of the Amorites was not full then.”

Seeing the queries brewing in the countenances of the class already, Divine pre-empted the next question. “I’ll explain. And that’s taking us to the last point on our list, The Curse of Innocent Blood. But first, let me address the question as to whether this point is historical or …………..”

“Or religious.”

“No, not religious but spiritual,” countered Divine.

“What’s the diff?”

“Spiritual encompasses much more than the religious. In other words, religion is only a hand maiden of the spiritual but does not represent its only handmaid. In African cosmology, our forbears could make meaning of the spiritual without the agency of religion. And that constituted the major mental block the colonialists had with nomenclature for the early African belief system. They called them animists, pagans or atheists. …”

“Well, this is a history class,” intervened Dike.

“Sorry about that, but an emerging school in historical exegesis believes we cannot escape the investigation of spiritual origins of historical events. This is because spiritualism and history are both concerned with causes and effects. In spiritualism, the over-arching principle is that you reap in the present what you sowed in the past while history records how the past influences the present.”

A spontaneous applause radiated through the class interspersed with,  “Ada-muo! Ada-muo!!”. When it died down, she continued. “Thanks, everybody. In moving forward, by the same token, we cannot end the discussion of the Immediate Causes of the Fall of Welldonia without recourse to the  effects of the curse of innocent blood. The land of Welldonia was watered with blood – not the blood of tyrants but innocents. While other countries sacrificed their nationals in the quest for independence, Welldonia got hers …..”

“On a platter of gold!”

“Well, not quite but through a mainly non-violent route. Many have argued that because of that, they had to make up for it by killing one another all through their chickened nationhood. Before and after the civil war during which more souls perished from hunger and disease than the bullet, there were waves and waves of killing orgies. Under the military, they had religious and ethnic coloration while under civil rule, they came with the elections and to settle political scores. If you had borrowed money from a  non-indigenous settler which you couldn’t repay, you could just come to his shop and after pleading you’d pay back in a week or a month, stand outside and raise a religious chant. As people gather, you inform them that ‘that infidel’ has just uttered  sacrilege against ‘The Great One’ the details of which are unspeakable. Pronto, the mob descends on your creditor and slaughters him like a ram, loots and burns his shop and goes in search of anyone from his ethnic group or faith. The resultant killings could go on for days with only tame exhortations to ‘both sides to lay down their arms’. When the orgy has run its bloody gamut and fizzled, the government sets up a panel of inquiry which sits and arranges tours of the affected areas. Thereafter it arranges overseas tours to other troubled areas in the Middle East ‘to ascertain their similarities and differences with the Welldonian equivalent.’ After the wild goose chase, a report is submitted to government over kleig lights and never sees the light of day thereafter.  This was how innocent blood was poured in Welldonia as libation to the gods of ethno-religious supremacy year in, year out. At a point, their peace time casualty figures were being compared to the Bosnian Crises of the late 20th Century. There were other Welldonian butchers whose yearly targets of innocent blood was less than the ethno-religious variety but no less deadly. They included road accidents, pipeline fires, armed robberies, hired assassinations, ritual murders, abortions,, brief illnesses which are euphemisms for witchcraft-inspired deaths.

Ababa interrupted to say that other nations shed innocent blood too and managed not to split. “If we are to reckon with this point as capable of some scientific merit, you should be able to show its universal application. There was Germany under the Third Reich and South Africa where much innocent blood was shed. Though Germany was broken up, they came together again. South Africa never split.” Ababa also modelled the sexonomic  couture for ladies. Her top had padded pouches for the breasts that dispensed with bras.

That proved to be a curve ball for Divine. Seeing her disorientation, Adetutu asked to come in. Dike recognized her and she was handed the texo.

“Well,” she started, “the German and SA examples by Ababa are quite germane. But they are distinguished from the Welldonian case study by having the killers punished for Germany while SA was legally under apartheid rule and so not much could be done. But they still had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Welldonia pretended to be a member of the civilized community under the Rule of Law. Meanwhile, its laws never caught up with the murderers and arsonists who committed extra-judicial killings and got away with them. This is what made the state complicit in Welldonia’s case. Next week during the class on the Remote Causes, l intend to elaborate how the Rule of Law was substituted with the Rule of Impunity in Welldonia.”

“Thank you for that explanation,” Dike said as Tutu handed back the texo.

Divine returned to the turf. “Let’s give two gbosaa to my tag teammate for that.”

“Gbosaa! Gbosaa!!” the class obliged.

“So going forward, the fraternity…..”

“….. and sorority!”

“Yes, thanks Baby Mama.  The fraternity and sorority of souls who were killed unjustly and often not given a burial of any sort – decent or indecent – exerted  their retribution on  the country that spilled innocent blood so callously. At the height of the stalemate over the LAFT Act (LAFTA) and the war over the NEL, their souls hovered all over the land demanding justice. Since the state was complicit in their unjust deaths, no amount of restitution was found sufficient to appease their cry. Any state with so much blood guilt deserved to die and so Welldonia had to die. And die she did. Thank you, class.”  SLQ 

 

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