Friday, March 26, 2021 11:48 am
By Chris Anyokwu
My people, the Ika, say Ebe ifenren emeń hian ko jeme ekwa/ The purpose of clothing is the covering of shame/nakedness. Nakedness, man’s primal animal state at birth, connotes shame, a deep feeling of self-revulsion at one’s animalistic wantonness and/or moral putrefaction. We are reliably apprised of what happened between our Primal Pair at Genesis: God had briefly left Adam and Eve to their own devices. Eve, our incomparably beautiful Mother, had succumbed to the Devil’s slimy and serpentine seductions and had thus eaten the Apple – Oh, the many stories of the Apple in Nigeria’s power-boudoir! – the forbidden fruit in disobedience to God’s express command. As a consequence, Eve suddenly came to the grim realization that she and her uxorious hubby, Adam were NAKED! Under these inauspicious circumstances, their nakedness translated into the deepest descent into the asphyxiating slough of moral-cum-spiritual atrophy.
They couldn’t sink any lower into sin’s morass. They had hit rock-bottom of moral reprobation, making them both unfit for the habitation of the Garden of Eden, the earthly Paradise. They lost Paradise! However, as harbinger of God’s salvation plan, He had graciously sewn them some rough-and-ready “dress” of animal skin to cover their shame, their nakedness: In this connection, it is instructive to foreground man’s spiritual affinity with his Maker, who is positively repulsed and revolted by defilement or corruption or any manifestation of evil. That is to say, man is a moral being who is capable of making a distinction between good and evil, right and wrong. Thus it is this universal, pan-human sense of morality which sets human beings apart from animals and plants. It should equally be conceded straightaway that the concept of morality (and not moralism) is culturally, temporally and circumstantially variable. What therefore counts for taboo in one culture or society is customary in another. This notion of ethical/moral relativity, it would appear, undergirds the baffling variety and divergences of cultural norms, mores, traditions, customs and folkways across the world. But regardless of these accustomed socio-cultural and ethical diversities, human beings still remain morally responsible for their actions and inactions depending on the ethical principles and the moral standards of the society in question. Thus, amorality, the non-differentiation between right and wrong or good and evil, is outside the purview of man. It is the defining moral code of animals. Hence, within the homestead, we see domesticated animals such as goats, fowls, dogs and pigs top their siblings and even their parents without feeling a stab of shame or sanctimonious coyness. Humans, contrariwise, cannot and do not practise such an execrable act. It is taboo. Every child in Africa, or, to bring the matter closer home, in Nigeria, is socialized to be able to know what is off-limit: “You can’t do this; you can’t do that”, the parent tells the child. “Why not, Mum/Dad?”, s/he queries. “Because that’s our custom”, the parent replies, authoritatively. And that settles it. That’s why in classical Freudianism, you have two main springs of human action, to wit: (a) the Thanatos (or the reality drive/principle) and (b) the Eros (or the pleasure drive/principle). Whilst the former stands for the moral policeman who wields the big stick (not AK-47, mind you!) against any act of omission and commission regarding the off-limit zones (i.e., slothfulness, lack of time management, misuse of the tongue, unwarranted aggression, inordinate ambition, violence, sexual perversion, etc.), the latter, as the name implies, encourages man’s softer graces and appetites such as love and romance, song and dance, leisure and entertainment. The well-adjusted ego, that is, the healthy, well-bred, socially-responsible individual, is the person who has been able to successfully negotiate the moral booby-traps and ethical minefields between Thanatos and Eros. He is the person who has allowed Duty to trump Desire in his/her life. To be sure, success or achievement in life is measured by the extent to which one works the scales of Duty and Desire in one’s life. On saving for the rainy day, “go to the Ant, ye sluggard and learn wisdom…”. It’s a question of Duty versus Desire.
Against the foregoing discourse, it is pretty easy to divine why social miscreants, thieves, armed robbers and all the anti-social lot – all of them, denizens of crimeland – turn out the way they do. They have allowed Desire rather than Duty to shape their biographies. Yet this anomalous scenario is tolerable when these subcultural entities operate largely on the lunatic fringes of polite society, shunted as they are out of relevance. Whether they are enemy nationals such as Yahoo-Yahoo scammers, con artists, ritual killers, killer bandits, armed insurgents on rampage in their deranged campaigns of territorial expansionism and irredentism, high as they are on the opium of messianism, what is critically vital is that this motley crowd of quislings and ne’er-do-wells is not invited to the table; they are not part of the interlocutors in the Big Conversation. But, on the other hand, if this Satan’s party, these spawn of Hades who stare at us, not with the eyes of the dead but of Death, are the ones running the show, then we have had it! Make no mistake, dear reader, Nigeria at present is a Hobbesian maelstrom frothing with ethical grotesquerie. The creep of evil starts slowly, imperceptibly, like the drip, drip of water, persistent, annoyingly so. Yes, no thunder- clap heralding the advent of anomy. To instantiate, rape, for example, was unheard-of in these parts until recently. Now, it’s a daily occurrence. An epidemic. Same as paedophilia. Also, kidnappings were few and far between in years gone by. When they happened, they were greeted with universal ululations. Human trafficking, ritual killings for wealth or career advancement were formerly absolutely rare, maybe they occurred now and then in one or two southern parts of the country, but now…. Lord, have mercy! Keep an eye on that neighbour of yours, your child isn’t safe in their company. Furthermore, the sight of a corpse could make you retch all week and be admitted to the hospital, just to get over the trauma induced by an offensive sight of human decay. How about now? People would throw a party on the bleeding graves of young dreams – flowers of our land mangled before noon. The seventy-three Benue souls butchered on New Year’s Day recently still on our mind. And many such massacres that take place daily in Nigeria today. Are we moved when such horrid and horrendous news trends on traditional and social media? Don’t we go about our business as though murders and assassinations were perfectly normal? Did you use to see a gun except in Whodunit films in days of yore?
But now, in Nigeria today, area boys, road transport workers, cultists, traffic spivs and sundry criminals brandish AK-47 guns and other deadly weapons in broad daylight causing mayhem with no help in sight for innocent people. Now people carry with them firearms for self-help purposes and in some cases, criminal activities. As far as sexual matters go, years back, harlotry was a taboo profession and those who practised it, did so behind the veil, in the red-light district of town, patronised only by drug addicts, armed robbers and assorted malefactors. But now, prostitution is the biggest money-spinner in town and nearly everyone is involved one way or another. One can, indeed, deploy prostitution as organising principle or a central trope for Nigeria’s final descent into self-destruct. Fact is, prostitution is, by far, a milder manifestation of our utter loss of shame. People now sleep with animals such as goats, cows, dogs and snakes, yes, snakes! (visit YouTube!). Some even impregnate these amoral animals in their custody! Just days ago, a young man was pictured sitting next to his nanny-goat he has put in the family way! What do we say about Baby boom business in Nigeria? Able-bodied young men are now used as studs and beautiful young girls as womb-men, to spawn piccaninnies for sale. This perverted surrogacy is big business in town just as the sale of human flesh as meat in some restaurants.
The sordid list goes on and on. Nigeria, as the whole world knows, is officially a killing-field. ISWAP and Boko Haram insurgents are decimating our troops and killing our compatriots in the northeastern part of our country, endless kidnap sprees and brazen abductions in homes, schools, bush and forests, farm-steads and, of course roads are going on apace across Nigeria. Human life is utterly useless and meaningless now and death is so cheap and common. Corpses are a telling metaphor for our decaying land. Nothing, absolutely nothing shocks us any longer. News of mass murders is trite and does not jerk a tear from our insensate eyes, calcified into bright crystals of unfeeling, of moral numbness. Whether people are killed in ambushes, military operations, police-criminal shootouts, mass killings, by killer bandits, etc., etc., however the manner of killing – the use of machete, dagger, knife, gun or through smothering/strangulation, the dismemberment of body-parts, etc., – we are inured, utterly impervious to it all. Let the dead bury the dead, we seem to say to ourselves. Life must go on … Stranded on the way to perdition, lost between Sodom and Armageddon, the people, their life completely emptied of meaning, merely wake up every morning and go to bed at night, chasing myriad chimeras and desert illusions of hope. Neither work nor play now gives them that salvific ballast. All watering-holes have run dry.
Welcome to the Apocalypse. Now, all the people can do, a nation of no-hopers, is kick the can down the road, hoping against hope that, somehow, somewhere, some day, salvation will come. The superstitious lot. Talk about the drowning catching at straws …. Well, as the country careens along the slippery slope of insentience, the question on every lip is: How shall we escape so great a disaster looming over us? How shall we escape?
Chris Anyokwu, PhD.
Associate Professor of English,
University of Lagos.