Irony is one of the veritable literary devices that help spice thoughts and garnish expressions. Apart from the potency irony derives from literary creativity across the genres, it has been transmuted to relate to concrete and pedestal conversations in varying contexts. While one may see irony as an instance of the ‘literature of oppositionality’, it represents, ordinarily, and fundamentally speaking, the quality of a statement that may mean something different from what is written, literally, when taken in context and contradiction between circumstances and expectations. Irony could be made gradable as what we have in Socratic irony, which is ignorance feigned for the purpose of confounding or provoking an antagonist. A statement like ‘I will give you my food’ could sarcastically mean I will not give you my food, depending on the tone of the speaker.
Deliberate falsehood is also an aspect of communication, particularly when politicians dissemble to sway would-be voters and supporters. This is as the imperative of saying the ordinarily ‘unsayable’ could be dangerously ridiculous, but at least excuses writers from hurts in a beleaguered environment. In Nigeria, there are different realities of irony of reasons, consequences and conditions. For instance, the rich could be plenteous in human and material resources, but endemically palpably poor; the nation is resourceful but is said to have been ruled by misfits; the people are heavily religious, but at the same time morally bankrupt. At another level, irony could be reversed to make current shortcomings a plus for the future. Nigeria is, indeed, a nation of ironies!
Platitudes are often indicative of attitudes that tend to gloss over vicissitudes. As a result, very serious and grave circumstances are made less hurting, and sharp threats are devaluated to the level of tolerability. Nonetheless, the existential principles that govern human aspirations are inevitable lows in human propositions. Yakubu Gowon, the former Nigeria Head of State, got popular for certain things when he was in power, central to which was his aphorism of ‘No Victor; No Vanquished’ that he used at the end of the Nigeria Civil War, after the Aburi Accord, which was an apparent assurance that the Nigeria side, that evidently pummelled the Biafran side, would not gloat over the losses incurred by the latter.
Gloating by individuals and groups, particularly ethno-religiously and politically inclined ones, makes old wounds to fester, and adds salt to injuries. The ongoing Gaza hostilities remind the world how concessions could be desirable, making conciliation attainable. Unfortunately, America and Europe, on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia and members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), on the other, are already uniting along religious identity on the renewed contestations between Israel and Palestine. We hope that dogmatic supporters of Islam and Christianity across the world, mostly in Nigeria, would avoid provocative utterances that could precipitate conflagrations outside Gaza, as we collectively get the current combustions quenched, in the interest of all of us.
However, contrary to the win-win posturing of Gowon, present realities are contradictory to the extent that the country is hugely divided along ethno-religious lines, even as claims of marginalisation, mistrust, ethnic profiling, and secession plan, etc., continue to vitiate the British amalgamation that was devoid of conversations needed to determine the bases for the existence of the nation. For the umpteenth time, J. P. Clark-Bekederemo’s “The Casualties” succinctly details the different levels of victimhood and casualties of the Civil War, both entrapped and others far removed from the scenes of the war.
‘The drums overwhelm the guns…’ has been read by scholars to mean the celebrations of the marriage ceremonies of the then Head of State, Gowon, who got married while the war was raging. The oil boom earnings during the regime of Gowon were also believed to have been under-utilised for infrastructural emplacement, so much that the profligacy of the period is still believed to have been responsible for the backwardness of Nigeria. Today, we do not require a prophet to tell us that we are all casualties!
The recent rumoured death of Gowon was blamed on the accident of identity, at a time the presidential candidates of the PDP, ‘Sadiq’ Atiku Abubakar and the Labour Party, Peter Obi, in the 2023 presidential election are still interrogating the known identity of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in spite of the strong commitments Chicago State University, USA, made to cast out all doubts about the studentship of Tinubu. Soyinka’s ‘The Document of Identity’ may be effective for transnational movements, just like BTO has enliven the hope of Nigerians to procure the travelling passport, but the unidentifiable impression given about bandits and kidnappers, who are maiming and caging innocent Nigerians, is most unfortunate and condemnable.
The misleading news reportage about Gowon’s demise represents an instance of laziness and regurgitation in the media profession, like many others where quackery is reigning, promoted by internet publishing and un-gated social media. Curiously, Gowon’s dictum of ‘No Victor; No Vanquished’ was one of the many things used to narrate his existence, and complement his faked departure. Over the years, the ‘Nigeria Prays’ project of Yakubu Gowon, as well as his reconciliatory leadership style when in the saddle, has pigeonholed him as a conciliatory elder statesman that would get commendation, when contrasted with the controversial and cantankerous nature of Obasanjo in the estimation of some Nigerians.
False obituary in contemporary life is one of the many ways manipulations and extortions are achieved for economic reasons by people who have the characteristics of both the Yoruba (Ijapa) tortoise and Akan (Anansi) spider. However, fake announcement of somebody’s death is seen in Yoruba cosmology as Ăìkú, a spiritual enterprise used to cancel imminent death, and secure elongation of life through substitution. This vicarious liability is built on the principle of scapegoat, which in religious and literary parlances sees someone or something else bearing the consequential guilt of an offender. The popularity of the practice in Jewish culture culminated in the sacrificial and redemptive death of Jesus Christ. Greek mythology similarly used this notion to sustain religious engineering, as purgation and restitution could be achieved through an alter ego listed for substitution. John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo also parodied the idea of scapegoat through the killing of a goat by the major character, Zifa, in Song of a Goat, and the spilling of the blood in a cleansing rite to avert the calamity that would befall his family.
However, for Yakubu Gowon, his false obituary was not an intentional guess at elongation, but the conflation of identity through names. Samuel Edoumiekumo Gowon’s, the immediate past Vice Chancellor of Niger Delta University (NDU), death was misconstrued by some impatient bloggers and social media disruptive elements as that of the former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon. In a statement issued by an aid to the former Head of State, Adeyeye Ajayi, it was stated that Gowon is “still around and well”, and that “General Gowon is not in a hurry to go anywhere”. The import of the rebuttal statement was reinforced with the use of some words; ‘around and go’. These words are suggestive of movements, as found in transitional rites of passage. This is as Greek myths also talks about the idea of crossing River Styx. Other lovers of Yakubu had also, in a politically-inclined manner, lampooned people they called mischief makers for the fake obituary, even as they wished death away, as if longevity of life is a right.
As things stand, the paradoxical victors and vanquished in Gowon’s Nigeria are; members of old generation Nigerians that eat from the national dish, and hold the hands of younger generation. Ironically, the victors are people that promote and profit from ethnic divisions. They are self-acclaimed activists and bloggers who publish falsehood in the name of freedom of speech and expression, without restitution. The greedy victors are members of the political class that feed on national cake, insulated from the cries of kwashiorkor majority of impoverished Nigerians. The nefarious victors are pugnacious criminals who maim, kill and kidnap at will, as against the vulnerable helpless majority law-abiding Nigerians. In Nigeria, scarce resources continue to service ransom payment for elongation of life amidst disorientation.
Should the vanquished attempt to rise against the victors, they may simply eat up the rich. Massive migrations from the periphery to the centre keep contaminating old exclusivity, hoping that a reversal would benefit the south of the globe, on the long run. Nigeria’s ‘drugged’ and violated spaces are bleeding blood and brimstones, with artificiality and superficiality bringing deaths in quick succession.
Arguably, even though difficult to attain, we need all to win, and be victors, than making victims of others. The vanquished is a threat to the future that remains largely unguided. Privileged Gowon and others are still around, as vanquished members of the younger generation are existing on luck and chance, travelling on a dangerously irredeemable path. Are we not all vanquished?