(BACKPAGE) Why a caged bird sings

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LEKAN SOTE

Following is how Wikipedia describes the theme of Maya Angelou’s autobiographical novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: “Those without freedom suffer through imprisonment. Not being able to be one’s true self can result in damaging consequences in a person’s state of mind and success.

“A person who constantly feels the weight of discrimination is often lacking in complete happiness. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou uses narration to effectively achieve her purpose of illustrating that despite being oppressed, one still longs for freedom symbolism and imagery.”

In other words, any human spirit that feels trapped in any way may find expression through the arts, in songs, or dirges, or elegy or “weeping, wailing, mourning and gnashing of teeth,” to borrow a phrase from the song of a pastime reggae musician.

The phrase is not original to him though. He must have gotten it from the Bible Books of Matthew Chapter 25, verse 30, and Luke Chapter 13, verse 28, wherein Jesus foretold of sinners who would be cast outside, in hell, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, is not bashful in his boast that “Nigeria is flooded in the Arts… (to provide more candidates to win the coveted Nobel Prize, at least, in literature, if nothing else).”

Herbert Wigwe, former Group CEO of Access Bank Holding Plc, who died in a recent helicopter crash in the United States of America, observed that “Nigeria is beginning to pay attention to young creative people.”

And he adds, of Access Bank’s intervention in the arts, “We felt… that the best way to (tell the narrative of Nigeria) is through the creative arts: to use the creative arts, to use music… to use Nollywood…”

But Adetoun, the ferocious gadfly civil society activist, is not about art for art’s sake. She must think arts in Nigeria must be about existential issues.

When Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila, former Speaker of the House of Representatives chamber of Nigeria’s National Assembly, suggested that the government should censor social media, she gave him a hurtful earful.

Adetoun, who never fails to disclose that her husband is a member of the Lagos State political establishment, asked Gbajabiamila not to instigate actions that can prevent young, unemployed, but educated Nigerians, from earning their livelihood from the online space, the only platform that is available to express themselves while also making a living.

While Prof. Soyinka is a performer in the arts and the late Wigwe was a supporter and financier of the arts, Adetoun is an advocate for the economic survival of the artists – skit makers, movie makers, and influencers – who ply their trade online.

Adetoun is probably making the point that the incompetence of the political elite has crippled the brick-and-mortar sector of the economy to the extent that young educated Nigerians, who cannot find jobs in the corporate world, end up as players on social media.

There they create jobs for themselves as skit makers, influencers, “pajawiri,” or emergency, analysts, and journalists. This reminds one of the mid-1980s, after President Shehu Shagari and his reactionary National Party of Nigeria ruined the economy to the extent that young educated Nigerians couldn’t get jobs in the corporate world.

Major General Muhammadu Buhari, who inherited the collapsed economy, could hardly help the youths. He came with the horse-whip and other “physical policies,” instead of the fiscal and macroeconomic policies that could have addressed the infrastructure deficit to set industries on the productivity path.

Everyone knows that Nigeria has a huge infrastructure deficit and, unfortunately, the political elite would rather spend money on Big Government and other wasteful ventures, like a new accommodation or car garage for the Vice President.

General Buhari’s obvious failure to right the economic wrongs led young educated Nigerians to end up as fashion designers, vendors of all manner of items, consultants with indescribable portfolios, and, of course, continue as drug couriers and advance fee fraudsters.

These days, unemployed youths have become musicians, interior decorators, bloggers, vloggers, and online influencers doing the weirdest things to garner traffic that they can offer to advertisers who are looking for an audience for their products and services.

Proof that the brick-and-mortar sector of Africa, nay Nigeria, has failed, is the programme that CNN International TV Network calls “The African Voices: Change Makers.” It seems to always prefer to highlight young Africans in any aspect of the arts, especially music.

When the host, Larry Madowo, observed, while recently interviewing Eddy Kenzo, Ugandan musician, that “You make music for joy, from the place of pain,” he hardly realised that he was painting the reality of today’s Nigerians who have to live on their wits to survive the economic hardships caused by the incompetent political elite.

When people drop the statistics that more than 60 percent of Nigerians living in America have a university degree, they fail to add that a high number of those Nigerians never return to Nigeria. Why? Because, unlike America, they will hardly get a job that pays them well in Nigeria; they might not even get a job!

And if they choose to start up some productive enterprise, the infrastructure deficit and confusing government policies will make them lose their shirts. Has anyone wondered why Banky W, who studied Industrial Engineering in America and Tiwa Savage who studied Business Administration in the United Kingdom are back home as musicians?

Has anyone wondered why reality shows, like “Big Brother Naija,” give millions in pay-off whereas winners at academic competitions, like quizzes and debates, go away with insignificant prizes?

The reason is not farfetched: The Nigerian system can only support hustles, and solo efforts, like the arts. Many diaspora Nigerians who returned home to set up any brick-and-mortar enterprise have gotten their fingers burnt.

So, when probably overpaid and underworked politicians stray into unfamiliar territory and threaten to wield the usual Big Stick of the authoritarian regime, someone should caution them not to cause social disruptions of #EndSARS proportions.

Recall that when former President Buhari blocked the livelihoods of a significant number of Nigerians, by banning Twitter, now known as X, it had a significant negative impact of N546.56 billion on the Gross Domestic Product of the telecommunications sector.

See, when Nigeria’s electricity sector could not provide regular supply of electricity, and Nigerians could not use generators because of the exorbitant cost of petrol and diesel, they resorted to self-help solar inverters.

Gbajabiamila should not put himself and his government, which some still considers being the most progressive yet in Nigeria, in harm’s way: He will be pitting the government against aggressive online netizens and into an unwitting confrontation with battle-ready Nigerian press.

He may not be happy with the fake news that went online claiming that he had an official residence in Abuja and that the residence was renovated with a huge sum of money from the coffers of Nigeria’s taxpayers.

But he shouldn’t translate his private war into public policy. It won’t help him and his government. Let him find out how it ended for those who thought their personal security was the same as Nigeria’s national security.

No knees should be on the necks of Nigeria’s struggling youths.