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“Reddlemen”, we must now become


Parallels to my expressed view could be obtained without exertion; famous among these was the late Pius Okigbo’s scathing line in his 1992 University of Lagos 30th Anniversary Lecture: Crisis in the Temple.

Deciding what topic to comment on in Nigeria these days is proving to be less and less of an effortless undertaking, what with the breathtaking spate of egregious discoveries within the leadership class, and the brazen indifference of the ranking members of that class to those discoveries.

I dare say that it is inconceivable to think up a more damning script for Project Nigeria than the intensifying “You be thief! I no be thief!” drama among our elected leaders – see my piece in The Guardian of 6th April, 2018.

I had once remarked to a colleague that contemporary Nigeria is likened to a military parade wherein a clumsy ill-trained recruit tragically assumed (read usurped) the drum-major’s position. That of course was not a novel commentary on the Nigerian state.

Parallels to my expressed view could be obtained without exertion; famous among these was the late Pius Okigbo’s scathing line in his 1992 University of Lagos 30th Anniversary Lecture: Crisis in the Temple.

In his clinical analysis of the sources of decay in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions, the renowned economist pointed out that successive investigation panels on the administration of Nigerian universities had observed that most lecturers notoriously fail to update the currency of their qualifications.

Typical of him, he then went on to conjure up the hazardous graphics of drivers with expired licences. Academic qualifications, the anniversary lecturer had asserted, like driving licences, are meant to be renewed periodically.

In his immortal words, “If Faculty members lack the discipline to diligently revalidate the currency of their intellectual contents, these are automatically deemed incapable of learning… Now, would any one be taken aback that our temple of learning is in crisis, when those who are notoriously incapable of learning have taken to teaching therein?”

The unfortunate situation depicted by the great Anambra state born intellectual aptly mirrors the situation in all other sectors of the Nigerian state. And, as the yet unfurling leadership crisis reveals, that ugly situation is rendered ugliest by Nigeria’s primitive political culture, which permits of semi-illiterates and ill-bred persons rising to the pinnacle of power.

Imagine the absurdity of notoriously corrupt officials of one political party vociferously calling for the arrest and prosecution of their fellow notoriously corrupt officials in another party??? (The kettle calling the pot black is apparently the new normal in Nigeria) Therefore, we now can safely say that discounting the few, not unlike the late Aminu Kano; MKO Abiola; Alex Ekwueme, etc, who were unquestionably accomplished prior to seeking political office, a greater part of Nigerian politicians are mindless gold-diggers who spare little or no thoughts for the ordinary people whom they swear under oath to conscientiously serve.

Much to our collective discomfiture, these questionable characters have now leveraged themselves into vantage positions in Nigeria’s political space with ill-gotten wealth.

Simply put, ill-bred persons now predominantly decide the composition of Nigeria’s leadership. This scenario clearly is a state of national emergency calling for massive citizens’ action.

If Nigeria were to keep her glorious appointment with destiny, her committed patriots, be they men or women, party members or not, young or old, religious or not, able-bodied or physically challenged, professionals and non-professionals, must now cultivate the spirit of the “reddleman”, a leading character in one of Thomas Hardy’s classic novels, “The return of the native”.

Hardy’s reddleman could pass as a benevolent masquerade in our setting, because he was not only something of a guardian spirit committed to sniffing out evil plots and persons in his 19th Century Wessex, England, but would go the entire hug to ensure that the ultimate aim of those evil plots came to naught.

Instructively, he did all of these entirely at the expense of his personal resources and risks to his safety.

Diggory Venn was the man literally behind the reddleman’s mask. In pre-industrial England, a reddleman was a person whose vocation it was to supply farmers with redding for their sheep.

On account of their ware, reddlemen were usually red from the crown of their head to their feet – thus disguising their natural features.

Being itinerant, reddlemen have privilege knowledge of their communities. Citizen Diggory Venn had patriotically put that advantage to the peace, unity and progress of his Wessex homestead.

The climax of these instances was when his priceless intelligence gathering culminated in averting the potential elopement of Mr. Damon Wildeve and Mrs. Eustacia Yeobright.

Damon and Eustacia had been lovers; but Damon’s unfaithfulness caused Eustacia to harbour second thoughts about the relationship.

During Christmas, Clement Yeobright, a glamorous native of Wessex who had made good in Paris in the world of finance, returned.

Eustacia, the local beauty who ceaselessly dreamed of living out her life in a more glamorous setting than rural Wessex, was inexorably taken in by the returnee’s reputation.

Ever the resourceful coming lady, she caused her path to cross with the illustrious returnee’s. Against both families’ misgivings Clement and Eustacia struck up a relationship that made a bee-line for marriage.

Eustacia’s estranged lover, Damon, acting with an eye to spiting his former heartthrob, married his casual lover, Thomasin on the rebound. But he no sooner learned of the unending torments of burying one’s love before its death.

Eustacia was still much the love of his life. He desperately, albeit furtively, wanted her back.

Meanwhile, Eustacia, to her disappointment, was similarly circumstanced. She had cleverly schemed to marry Yeobright in the hope that he would return to Paris after his short visit to Wessex. Was she utterly mistaken! The accomplished economist had returned to give back to his fledgling community.

Clement had come back to stay! Eustacia consequently starting toying with unholy ideas about the young marriage, much like a kitten sports dove.

Under such a heavily misty atmosphere, Mr. Damon Wildeve and Mrs. Eustacia Yeobright were able to contrive a most secretive elopement plot. But for the legendary selfless intelligence gathering exploits of the reddleman, most of which were undertaken in the dead of the night and in inclement weather, that evil plot could well have been pulled off, much to the heartbreak of many a Wessex citizen.

Damon and Eustacia died in the misadventure. But it was a happy ending for the reddleman as he earned bounteous returns on his huge investments in sustained selfless community service.

He was the residual legatee of Wessex with his marriage to Wildeve’s widow who recently came into her rich inheritance.

The tale is as engaging as its moral is compelling. The latest shocking revelations in our own land ought to jolt us into massive citizens’ action to exorcise the political class of the ill-bred characters among its ranks. We must now become reddlemen.

Needless to say that I am one already; that is the reason I persist in speaking poignant truths to power, in spite of explicit death threats to my person by government agents.

Needless also, to state that the spirit is slowly but surely finding a foothold in our much abused country, Nigeria.

It is interesting to observe that a number of recent group-protests against the harsh realities in the country readily adopt the reddleman’s colour code: deep red.

One of these has even produced symbolic blood-red cards to express the mood in which its members would approach the 2019 general elections.

I couldn’t agree more; ordinary Nigerians have endured red-eyes for decades due to a succession of grossly incompetent leaderships, it’s time red-cards substituted the weary red-eyes!

Reddlemen, therefore, we must now become to reset Nigeria on the course of true greatness; so help us God.

Afam Nkemdiche is a consulting engineer

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