Photographs evoke metaphors, imageries and diverse interpretations. Remember the award-winning photograph of Kevin Carter, which appeared in The New York Times of March 26, 1993? It was the picture of a famine-struck Sudanese boy, initially thought to be a girl, whose name was later found out to be Kong Nyong. He had collapsed of intense hunger and lying on his face in the hot dessert sun of Sudan, with an empty food bowl hidden beside his face, a beaded necklace of his Sudanese nationality jutting out of his feeble neck. He was said to be on his way to Ayod, the United Nations ration centre in Sudan which was about a half kilometer away when his strength failed him. That picture went mega viral.
Less than a meter from the collapsed boy was the bone-cracking figure of a vulture eyeing the gaunt boy and awaiting his eventual death so that it could suck out his intestines for dinner. Carter, on a UN photography assignment, according to him, took diverse photographs of the “interesting scene” of the collapsed boy and hurriedly left the scene. Though the picture, entitled The Struggling Girl, won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 1994, Carter committed suicide four months after on July 27, 1994, by poisoning himself with carbon monoxide. He was aged 33. Carter had been reportedly taunted by the world and haunted by what the world perceived as his inhuman treatment of a dying boy. A caller on a radio programme, who asked what Carter did to help after taking the “interesting” picture of the young Nyong, was shocked at his reply that “I had a plane to catch.” Carter had earlier confessed to his friend that, “I see all this, and all I can think of is Megan,” his young daughter. The radio caller’s stinging retort was the clincher, an emotional turmoil that eventually led to Carter’s suicide. He had told him pointedly: On that field were two vultures – you and the cadaver-eating bird!
Now, 27 years after, a viral footage of a gaunt lion, with the disturbing gaunt body resemblance of Nyong, appeared last week. The animal had been reduced to bare skeleton by hunger. The footeage was claimed to have been shot at the Gamji Gate Zoo in Kaduna. The lion might not have held a bowl of food like the young Sudanese boy; might not even have collapsed in the sand dune of the Sahara desert, nor a similarly furiously hungry vulture waiting to feast on its carcass, but it evoked similar outrage and concern that Nyong’s picture evoked on a concerned world. Callously starved and in a very bad shape, the picture, apparently taken by a shocked but unnamed tourist who encountered it, has spiked the consternation of a bewildered world.
The hapless animal version of Nyong had been reduced to an effigy of its fiery self. Its hungry ribs, now countable at first glance and its rib cage visibly hammered by starvation, were plastered on the body with furs peeled off by hunger. Obviously, the lion had become bereft of its kingly bravura and hunting prowess. The roar and majesty that made it the most feared animal in the forest had gone. According to the unnamed tourist who encountered the gory image of the starved animal, a number of other equally maltreated animals, also held captive by hunger, donned the zoo.
That lion is a shrunken Nigeria, once wearing the regalia of a luxuriating mane that swung with the wind, menacing teeth gritting at anyone who might attempt to question its might and the majesty of its prowess. Gradually, from a powerful Nigeria that Murtala Mohammed proudly projected, at an Extraordinary meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting on January 11, 1976 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with his “Africa has come of age” speech, Nigeria has become a country whose rulers are seen all over the world in the lamentable visor of zoo minders who have starved their roaring lion almost to its death.
For young Nigerians who were probably in their infancies during this period, weren’t born or who, egged on by the level-playing ground that modernity and its instruments – social media, technologies, transportation and communication, etc – display, narratives of power misusage by past military despots in Nigeria may be too gory for them to access. But the truth is, the muzzling of free speech, Lekki Toll Gate killings by soldiers, arrest of protesters, freezing of their accounts and stoppage of activists’ travels are being recalled wholesale by Muhammadu Buhari from his 1984 patent, his predecessors’ and successors’ as military despots. If these look like the gory sight of a once vibrant lion, contemporary persons can find a connect to the grisly, blood-sucking nature of the Nigerian state. It is a carnivorous tiger that will neither abandon its bloodhound nature nor its tigritude. Wole Soyinka once said of the tiger and its tigritude, that if and when you have the opportunity to walk past a scene in the forest where the tiger had once walked, you would behold skeletons of the duiker, dead grasses and heaps of sand excavated by the tiger’s clawy feet. Saro-Wiwa’s is one of those reminders of blood that was shed by the state and blood that may still be shed by current Nigerian rulers who are a reincarnation of that bloodthirsty agency.
The venal story of how General Sani Abacha killed Saro-Wiwa is in the public domain and must not be allowed to detain us here. This was an Abacha who, curiously and until of recent, President Muhammadu Buhari publicly proclaimed as the example of how a ruler must be. On the basis of an allegation which lacked legal connect which he used to ramp up hatred against four Ogoni leaders and which led to their lynching, Abacha got the military tribunal to pronounce a death sentence on Saro-Wiwa, the environmentalist and writer and who he hurriedly ordered to be hanged.
Many other suspected state-ordered deaths signpost that brutal dictatorship of Abacha’s. Pa Alfred Rewane, Kudirat Abiola, Suliat Adedeji and many others were killed in cold blood and till today, no resolution is in sight on who commissioned their deaths. Those suspected to have ordered and carried out the murders are urinating on their graves today. Those gory narratives of blood are the forewords of the shrunken Nigerian lion, narratives of how Nigeria lost its vibrancy, its grits and hold in the hearts of the world. Twenty years down the ladder, the country has worsened, even more than the hunger, anger and hopelessness in the country under the military. The frightening picture of the once roaring Nigerian lion is complete.
Since 1999 when civil rule supplanted military dictatorship, there has been gross and progressive decline in the size of the Nigerian lion. Though it has had four zoo minders in tow, the last has been better than the former in the last 21 years; each exerting pounds of flesh from the King of the Jungle. The addition they made to its size is not only negligible but ignorable. The last five years have been the worst, no doubt. Suddenly, good governance has become rocket science. If Nigeria could kill her own people with reckless abandon, neglect their welfare and turn blind eyes to their future, how much more can she do to a lion? Security of lives of the people, taken for granted a few years back, has become a very major issue. Never in Nigerian history has national consciousness been this totally replaced by ethnic consciousness. Hunger and anger have become a twin affliction on the people which they dejectedly wear on their necks like Nyong’s bead necklace. Yet, the Buhari government waves its hands in the air like a captive in surrender.
Today, Nigerians merely endure the Buhari government, having become that famished lion, starved of hope and life. They however hope that the affliction would soon reach its terminus. At the intersection where incompetence jams a budding manifestation of despotism, as shown recently by government’s baying for blood of harmless youths in the EndSARS protest, the infamy is best imagined. Again, in the security challenges that face Nigeria, there is no doubt that when brazen nepotism, wrapped in the colour of barefaced insouciance to matters of criminality, becomes a major marker of a government, it is nightfall in that country – like the nightfall that knocked the doors of that agony-stricken Kaduna lion.
Never had Nigerians been this burningly angry at their country. Never did they imagine the depth of misery that the Buhari government has plunged them into. Only 48 hours ago, the pump price of PMS was reviewed upwards as usual not minding the spiral effect that the wicked review will visit on the lives of already poverty-ravaged masses of this otherwise great country – a country blessed immensely with vast natural and human resources but whose glory has been sequestered in deep clouds of gracelessness occasioned by grave wickedness in high places.
In the comity of nations, the picture of Nigeria that every other nation has is that of the famished lion in that Kaduna Zoo. Protesting youths are labeled terrorists and felled in cold blood while terrorists are rehabilitated, (who on earth rehabilitates bloodthirsty beasts!) cuddled, sent abroad for – probably refresher courses in terrorism! – and asked to sin no more. If you dig into its roots, you will discover that the philosophy behind this queer policy is ethnic leveling up. Because the Umaru Yar’Adua government gave amnesty to militants in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta, Buhari must have thought up its equivalent for the north in an amnesty for and rehabilitation of insurgents. He must have chosen to forget that while the Niger Delta militants constituted economic impediment to Nigeria, the latter were or are simply blood-sucking vermin in human apparels.
Till date, the Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN) which has not frozen a single account of Boko Haram terrorists and their accomplices in over a decade suddenly found a lush ground in the protesting children’s accounts. A legion of graduates roams the streets hungry and angry at their country, yet helpless to make positive change. Every day they look to the skies with teary eyes beseeching the Omnipotent to re-order the systemic equation that is perpetually skewed against them. The list of the infamy is endless.
Will the struggling but famished lion live or die? Will it roar again?
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