The arms of karma are inescapable. More like a retribution for his shadiness, Ali, in another episode, soon hit a rough patch as his house was razed by fire.
It’s a classic tale of profound dishonesty. It’s the legend of a man who turned his ruins to riches, his loss to gain, his setback to bounce-back – riding on the hunchback of deceit.
It’s the folktale called ‘Ali and the Angel’; a fable that points to the earliest origin of modern-day ‘419’. I accosted ‘Ali and the Angel’ on the pages of a primary school textbook – New Oxford English Course – as a pupil of St Paul’s Primary School, Idi-Oro, Lagos. Over 40 years after, the story of Ali is as indelible to the memory as it is relevant to Nigeria’s calamitous governance and self-inflicted underdevelopment.
Ali was a compelling demagogue: when he spoke, ears cocked. Ali was also a crook who baited and hooked people with their greed. He ensnared them in the cobweb of their ignorance. One day, Ali told the people about a dream he had. He said he dreamt that an angel was coming to visit him in his hut. According to Ali, only people with pure hearts will be able to see the angel, who will be invisible to impure hearts. However, it wasn’t only purity of heart that qualified sinless men and women to see the angel; an undisclosed gate fee collected by Ali was the vehicle that transported them to the room the angel occupied.
The news of Ali’s visitor caught on like wildfire in harmattan. Inside a neat but empty room, Ali placed a pair of slippers in front of a wooden chair. He hung a coat on the backrest of the chair. Soon, an endless queue sprung at the frontage of his hut, meandering through the length and breadth of the land as royalty, political leaders, captains of industry, clergy, celebrities etc all paid to see Ali’s angel. The king of the land was the first to go into Ali’s room after paying the gate fee. He saw the empty chair and the slippers. “Ha! The angel is on the seat, but I can’t see him because I’m sinful,” he thought sadly. When the king came out, he shouted, “I’ve seen the angel! It’s wonderful to have a pure heart!” So, one after the other, everyone in the queue went into the room, came out and spoke glowingly about the angel. Everyone saw the angel; everyone had a pure, sinless heart. Ali watched his bag balloon with shekels, grinning that sinless people were lying and paying to see a non-existent angel.
The arms of karma are inescapable. More like a retribution for his shadiness, Ali, in another episode, soon hit a rough patch as his house was razed by fire. He, who tricks his fellow man by selling sand as merchandise, must be ready to receive stones for money, goes a Yoruba proverb. But Bob Marley surely didn’t have Nigerians in mind when he sang, “You can fool some people sometimes, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Ali fooled the people again and again. He sold the ashes of his burnt house to them as sugar!
After his house got burnt, he bought sacks and filled them with the ashes. Ali then travelled to a far country, where he was warmly received and served a cup of tea. He tasted the tea and discovered it had no sugar. Ali took a teaspoon of ash from one of his sacks and put it in his tea. He stirred and tasted it, smacking his lips. The people were curious to know what he put into his tea that made him lick his lips. He told them he never drank tea without sugar. Everybody became anxious to have sugar in their tea, falling over themselves to get Ali’s sugar. Ali sold all his ashes and left for his country with bags of money.
A smart Alec is someone who is irritating because they act as if they know everything. Last week, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said Nigerian roads weren’t as bad as they were being portrayed. Just as Ali saw his imaginary angel, only the eyes of Fashola could see the smooth, endless highways constructed across the country in the last four years. Nigerians are a sinful lot; they cannot see the thousands of kilometres of sheen-black roads with white tattoos denoting the lanes on federal roads. Only Fashola and the powerful leaders of the All Progressives Congress patriotically stirring the national broth can see the dazzling roads. In their log-free eyes, they can see Nigerians enjoying marvelous time travelling on the roads, sipping tea with sugar. In the eyes of Fashola, there’s nothing scandalous in his two-term failure to complete a mere reconstruction of the 128-km Lagos-Ibadan Expressway started by the clueless Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2013. I’m sure that in the self-righteous eyes of Fashola, neither India’s 1,368,000,000MW of electricity generation nor the USA’s 4,324,000,000MW of electricity generation is superior to Nigeria’s 4,000MW power generation.
The unsuccessful and globally unprecedented merging of the ministries of works, power and housing by the lame-duck Muhammadu Buhari administration confirms the supreme confusion and total impotence of the APC-led Federal Government. No nation, extinct or existing, has ever been so thoughtless. Instead of the Buhari administration to regret not fulfilling its promises on adequate power supply, security, education, health and road infrastructure; economic prosperity etc, Fashola insensitively tells Nigerians that their tragedies and tears on federal roads are a mole and not a mountain. Why won’t he when he flies in helicopters while Nigerians are locked in horrendous traffic snarls in which they are killed by wanton robbers and kidnappers?
In what’s gradually becoming a characteristic verbal diarrhoea, Fashola, last year, shocked Nigerians when he told them, “If you don’t have power (electricity), it’s not the government’s problem…” Personally, I don’t know what Fashola would say next, but I hope he won’t challenge the US, China and Russia to a nuclear war in order to proclaim Nigeria’s military ‘supremacy’ – like Ali proclaimed the sweetness of ashes in tea.
As a two-term governor of Lagos State, Fashola was an achiever. Like Ali, Fashola effectively used words to a hilt, inscribing signs along horrible federal roads, saying, “This is a Federal Government road, please, bear with us,” in order to mock the then Peoples Democratic Party-led Federal Government as his administration rehabilitated some federal roads in the state. I wonder what has happened to Fashola’s sight that he can’t see the shameful state of federal roads now.
I also wonder why political crises won’t leave Lagos alone despite being the nerve centre of the APC. Happenings within the party in Lagos bring the evergreen lyrics of King Sunny Ade to mind, “Adiye y’ogun, adiye p’ogun, won l’adiye o p’omo ire…” The immediate past governor of the state, Akinwunmi Ambode, appears to be a giant in terms of achievements if his first six months in power are compared with incumbent Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s. Sanwo-Olu’s recent distractive showiness over his dropping of the title, “Your Excellency,” suggests executive idleness and unpreparedness for governance. A serious government would’ve effected the title change in an internal memo among its ministries while the infrastructural challenges confronting the state are kept on the front burner. I wonder why the Lagos APC kingmakers, who called for Ambode’s head for allegedly not working to actualise the promises of the party, have kept silent as Sanwo-Olu snores. Or is it a case of jeun soke?
Someone said Fashola didn’t build a kiosk as housing minister. Na lie! I see thousands of housing units littering the landscape.
I see President Buhari relishing his tea with sugar in London, signing the offshore bill and gleefully watching the cabalistic power struggle unravelling inside Aso Rock. I see a bowed head. It’s Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s. I see…Doom.