By Mahmud Jega.
Please, these new rail lines that the government said it is building with Chinese loans, which one of them can I enter and ride back to the Year of Our Lord 1980?
We read a story in one of our secondary school English textbooks about a time machine. One customer went to it, paid the fare and asked to be taken 60 million years back because he wanted to see the dinosaurs. He asked the operator whether he will guarantee his safety. The operator replied that he could only guarantee the dinosaurs, so the man must run really fast if he saw a T. rex ambling along the jungle highway. The customer entered the machine; there was a whizzing sound; after a while the machine stopped; the door opened and the conductor said, “Here is the North American jungle, 60 million years ago. Take a walk around and see some dinos.”
I am not going to 1980 to see a T. rex, a wooly mammoth or even a passenger pigeon, because they were not there then. I just want out from bandits. People are saying it was the fault of the Niger State government that bandits carted away 27 students and teachers from a Kagara school because it had no fences. My boarding school’s wire fences had also largely fallen apart in the 1970s but the principal’s only worry was that students will sneak out at night and go to the cinema, only to outwit the guards and sneak back in long after lights out.
Boko Haram? We never heard of it in 1980. Although many parents in the North were still skeptical of Western education in the 1970s, the worst they did was to refuse to send their wards to school until the Native Authorities cajoled them. There was no resistance to UPE when it debuted in 1976. Government only began to open day secondary schools in 1980. That was because millions of UPE pupils were about to finish primary school and it did not have enough money to accommodate them in boarding schools. Whoever heard of boarding schools being shut down in many states because they are deemed too vulnerable?
In 1980, the most heavily armed pastoralist was the one who carried a cane. Although as children we feared that they could deploy the canes in a fight, I never actually saw anyone of them doing so. The canes were strictly for herding cattle. They seldom whipped the cattle; it was enough to whisper to the alpha ox in Fulfulde, which it appeared to “speak” because it instantly obeyed the herder’s command and the whole herd followed suit.
AK47? Sure I knew about that in 1980, from newspaper stories of PLO guerillas, Italian Red Brigades, Germany’s Baeder-Meinhof gang and the Japanese Red Army, all of which variously used it to spray enemy camps and city streets. We even read about the wounded Russian soldier Mikhail Kalashnikov, who designed it on his sick bed. But AK47 in the hands of a Nigerian bandit?
In 1980, most Nigerian policemen only had batons, which was why in the North they are called Yan Sanda [sons of stick]. Even our soldiers used the Belgian FN rifle, and whenever they bought new ones, they handed over the old ones to the police. The cops were so poorly trained in handling firearms that they killed many people from “accidental discharge.” Later on, the IG decreed that only corporals and sergeants should be issued with guns. Today’s bandits have no IG, so who is there to order that only their best trained hands should carry an AK?
There was some kidnapping in 1980. Not for ransom, but for ritual murder. There was no mobile phone in 1980 for a kidnapper to contact a victim’s family, demand for ransom and arrange a pick up point. In 1980 all calls went through P&T and the operator could cut you off in the middle of ransom negotiations. The most feared criminals in 1980 were armed robbers, and for ten years the military government executed them at the Lagos bar beach and other sites. With the onset of bandits, the armed robbers of that era suddenly look like gentlemen.
Sure, when I go back to 1980, I will stay clear of Yan Awaki Quarters in Kano, headquarters of Maitatsine sect. What the sect did that year was dreadful but it lasted only two weeks. Mopol made no headway against the sect in two weeks, to our surprise, because we thought everyone ran away from “Kill and Go.” Shagari then sent the army; the team led by Major Haliru Akilu entered Yan Awaki at dawn and were back in their barracks by sunset. Is it the same army that has been fighting Boko Haram for 12 years now, repelling attacks from technically defeated terrorists?
In 1980 there was no IPOB, no MASSOB, no Niger Delta militants, no Igboho, no campaign for Oduduwa Republic, no Arewa Consultative Forum, no Arewa Elders Forum, no Afenifere, no Ohanaeze, no Middle Belt Forum, no Supreme Council for Shari’a, not to mention a Southern-Middle Belt Leadership Assembly. The five registered political parties in 1980 so over-mobilised Nigerians, according to political scientists at the time, that there was no space left for regional or tribal groups, not to mention secessionist groups. Which PRP member will sit with an NPN member in the name of a mosque committee, not to mention a tribal association?
In 1980 there was no recession, no retrenchment, no depreciation of the naira, no bank failures, no Yahoo Boys, no internet scams, no post-UME interviews and no intentional bomb explosions. A bag of rice cost N3.50, a tin of Turkey vegetable oil cost N1, a university student meal ticket cost 50 kobo, and a plane ticket from Sokoto to Lagos with stop overs in Kano and Kaduna cost N90. Where is that time machine station? I am paying for a one-way ticket to 1980, even if it costs ten million.
VIEW FROM THE GALLERY in 21st Century Chronicle today Monday, March 1, 2021