“The young shall grow” is the name of one of those transport companies with buses ever present on Nigerian roads. And the old will die. It is simple syllogism that there is nothing permanent on earth, except the air we breathe. As hard as ‘man’ tries to conserve nature, it is tampered with, even in that process. So man modifies nature with every passing age from dreams.
Many young have grown and I am warmed by the literary success of “little” Ben Okri, the novelist and poet. It seems like yesterday when my friend, Chief Silver Okri, a lawyer then with a thriving law firm at the prestigious Banuso House, Broad Street, Lagos, sent his son with a note to me as Editor, Evening Times 37 years ago. My encounter with the young chap registered an impression that he would be a high flier. He spoke good English and I thought he wanted a job as a journalist, armed with his A levels. He told me that he was teaching preparatory to being admitted into a university. We gave him a column to write short stories as he requested. We paid modest honorarium in the Daily Times to contributors. He was marvellous for his age, and that he was one destined for stardom could be read from his unassuming face. I like dreamers, and literature and history. Here was a lad, dreamer, before me who must be supported, I felt then.
But Ben Okri has not in any interview credited that his story telling odyssey in print began in the Evening Times, which was the second largest daily newspaper in circulation in Nigeria, then next to its bigger sister, the Daily Times of the same stable.
Evening Times offered space to many outstanding Africans to hone their art in self-expression, though a city publication.
Well, that is not the mission of this piece, which seeks to ally with Okri’s philosophy about dreams, politics and the world at large. It is heart-warming that he mentioned Winston Churchill, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Abraham Lincoln among dreamers who bestrode the political space one time or the other in his latest BBC’s Hard Talk.
But Okri missed out Africans like Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and a few other non-Caucasians. Mahatma Gandhi was a dreamer by any stretch of imagination. And also Martin Luther King Jnr. Unarmed resistance is a powerful force hard to suppress. The duo dared arms to seek redress. Let us return to dreams, politics, government, development and the world at large. Our discourse here is on dreams in the positive, not in the negative as exemplified by Adolf Hitler, apartheid founder, Daniel Malan and the other miserable abortions of history.
Okri’s view fits the many circumstances of Nigeria’s existence as a nation in search of a dreamer. Why did the young Turks gate-crashed into Nigeria’s history on January 15, 1966? From all accounts, they were dreamers who wanted a better Nigeria than then existed.
Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna and others did not start the carnage that raged unabated in the land at immediate post-independence. Do these half-baked professors, who in their disjointed submissions that the putsch harmed democratic development, know of the Tiv riots of 1961 when soldiers were sent to suppress that insurgency without the knowledge of the Governor-General, who was commander-in-chief of the armed forces? What of the Bornu skirmishes in the North-East, the area now witnessing Boko Haram uprising, against the northern government? Soon after, Western Nigeria became a slaughterhouse following the denial of the people’s right of choice. Those were no democratic events. What of Isaac Boro’s insurgency in the Delta paid for by the NPC to subvert Okpara and Osadebay?