By Olugu Olugu Orji
Every tribe in Nigeria has a reputation for modifying and simplifying words and phrases from English and other languages to suit peculiar vernacular diction. In this art, Hausas are best. Doctor becomes ‘likita’, electric transmutes into ‘lantarki’ and Port-Harcourt is re-christened ‘fatakwal.’ In Funtua, in the then North Central state, was a residential neighbourhood established by the British Cotton Growing Association (BCGA). The natives took one look at this convoluted, serpentine nomenclature and came up with ‘Bisije.’ Can you beat that?
I lived in this neighbourhood with my father in the early 70s; the rest of the family having temporarily relocated to Ohafia to await the birth of one of my kid sisters. When I was neither plotting nor executing mischief, one of the saner habits I indulged in was to sit in the front of the house and observe the endless human traffic. I never ceased to be fascinated by the sight of little boys riding on asses laden with sundry goods headed to and from the market. In my mind, I was already conjuring up images of my inaugural ass ride.
That opportunity presented itself sooner than I had imagined. My father had gone off to work and it was holiday time. I chanced on a lone ass gingerly munching away at a breakfast of dry grass; and the Harmattan was in full swing. I approached eagerly but with measured caution. When I got close enough, I immediately identified a challenge: my diminutive stature. But what I lacked in size, I more than made up with raw determination and courage. I clawed and clambered my way up and was finally ensconced triumphantly on the beast. All this while, it didn’t move an inch. I hastily concluded that no animal could be dumber.
The next task was to get the beast to move. I employed my hands, legs and voice to no avail. Just when I was contemplating my next line of action, the ass executed a deft manoeuvre that I can’t explain to this day. But its effect, I can recall all too vividly. I found myself flat on my back, about two metres removed from the ass that now faced me.When the searing pain in my back subsided and I managed to regain visual focus, I think I saw a smirk on its face just before it spoke to me. Now, don’t ask me to explain because if you’re not an ass, you’ll never understand. Here’s what the ass told me: “Pal, I know you’re pretty shaken at the moment but please, listen carefully to what I have to say. Don’t go attempting what you don’t fully understand. You only wind up hurting yourself. And by all means, avoid the sin of underestimation. I know I look dumb but as you can see, I’m not as dumb as I look.” Over the din of the howling Harmattan winds, I think I also heard the distinct bellow of my father, “stupidas!” And my unravelling and humiliation was near complete. I managed to pick myself up, brushed off as mush dirt as I could and limped away to rue my ignominious defeat. In my newfound sobriety, the ‘ass lesson’ stayed with me for a few days but only just. As is usually the pattern, I ‘recovered’ and then promptly forgot.
A few weeks later, I cast my gaze on my father’s bicycle and the direction of my next adventure was suddenly clear. Unfortunately, the bicycle wasn’t as humane and merciful as the ass. The resultant fall left me with a severely dislocated right knee. It took four years, three extended periods of hospitalization, two major surgeries and one valuable term off my academic calendar to rid me of the effects of that ill-fated but avoidable fall. If only I had listened to the ass..Despite these interventions, I still wound up with a permanent limp to remind me of the huge price that ignoring wise and timely counsel can sometimes exact. Even those emanating from an unlikely a source as an ass!
I’m negotiating the last ‘sharp bend’ before fifty, so I’ve seen and experienced quite a lot. I’ve seen Nigeria up there and I was with her when she was flat on her back. I’ve seen promising careers and relationships crash in spite of being founded on the wisdom of so-called experts. Nigeria, for as long as she has existed, has always sought out these gurus; albeit, at a huge cost. Yet, in spite of the patronage, she’s none the better.
Take a look at the banking sector. It has always been run by award-winning experts, eggheads and finance wonks. Yet, this bunch has always managed to bring this critical sector to the brink of collapse. I’m not disparaging fine expertise or those who traffic in it. I’m only suggesting that we take another look at what we’ve so long sidestepped and undervalued. That minority judgement, that lone dissenting opinion, that dumb input might contain what we urgently require to exit the quagmire.
One day, I saw a Fulani man roundly outwit a bus conductor who thought himself smart. And the Fulani pulled off this feat without shedding one bit of the outward mien of being a dumbass. From that day, I vowed never to underrate and take undue advantage of anyody: least the Fulani.
Our world is crawling with gurus, geniuses and experts offering wide-ranging products and opinions. For the most part, we’re blessed having them. But judging from our precarious state of affairs, we are obligated to begin to listen to those less-flamboyant and less-articulate voices. There’s a Biblical account of God communicating through an ass. I’ve never had any difficulty believing this story. If the Almighty can afford to speak through an ass, I don’t see why we can’t stoop to listen to one. Who knows? Maybe, just maybe…
Olugu Olugu Orji via email@example.com