Our Village People: Urban Myth or Actual People?
This is not some trivial topic for most Nigerians; from the urbane in the chaotic bedlam of Lagos, to the peasants in the hinterland across the length and breadth of Nigeria. We are all familiar with these omnipresent, communal people who seem to be everywhere and quite all-knowing despite their lack of proximity to us, in the rural enclave. Our communal folks as myths have it even trail us to the western world, and sometimes journey as stow-aways- as remote as the oriental world- even surprisingly, travel ambitiously with us to an untamed, spooky wild like Australia.
What makes our village folks, who exist on the fringe of empirical observation more credulous, is the compelling manifestation of their presence, when events that had hitherto been propitious abruptly take a detour down south. So to urban Nigerians, including the detached diasporans- the village people phenomenon is not just some conjecture, or some fables- it’s somewhat an unscientific explanation for a tragic, unforeseen event that’s most times outside our control- while also the outcome of our naivety or irrationality in some cases. Is it possible that our kinfolks and friends in the hamlet are being accorded scientifically impossible mystical powers unduly? Or it’s simply our intellectual laziness at play, that makes us gloss occurrences we can’t explain away with a sleight of hand?
In 2016, during the tedious screening procedures for newly admitted freshers at the university of Lagos(Unilag), there was this freshman who had gone through the most rigorous process of passing the then formidable JAMB exam, and luckily that year there was some sort of moratorium that the dreadful Unilag post-utme would be in abeyance that year- with a grading of O’level and Jamb score aggregated to take its place. This young man, probably trying to get admitted for say, the second or third time- like the travail of most young Nigerians, finally had his academic dream come to life. On the final day of the screening, for some inexplicable reasons, his life suddenly took a different trajectory that’s similar to the anti-climax of Obi Okonkwo, the protagonist in Achebe’s classic, No Longer At Ease. The young man stole the phone of another random guy, like those petty pick-pockets Dickens portrayed in his Victorian novels- he got caught in the process, and his admission got revoked. It was a tragi-comedy for most us, and someone quipped “His village people that has been following him, finally got him". Everyone guffawed. Looking back at this tragic and comical event critically with contemporary hindsight, did his radical choice as an individual agent with free-will culminate in his sad denouement? Or his envious big-brother(village people) with a broad surveillance technology in the hinterland, who didn’t want him to succeed in the urban world, trigger some sequence of events that resulted in that punishable offence?
Many of us have been at the wrong place at the wrong time; we’ve also been at the right place at the wrong time. Most tragedies in the history of the world are the cause and effect of being at the wrong place at the wrong time- add probability to the mix and we have a more complex, uncertain outcome. The outcomes of phenomena when the odds are stacked against us usually end up on a disastrous note when we are not lucky, and when the odds favour us we remark about how our hypothetical village people almost got us.
Historical and Economic Perspective
The creation of mythical theories for sudden and unfortunate events is a universal archetype, but in the case of Nigeria, it’s a metonymy for a historically dysfunctional, plodding society. Perhaps this superstition was just archetypal of feudal societies in pre-colonial and colonial Nigeria, but in post-colonial Nigeria with the emergence of the new Nigerian bourgeoisie, created through the process of colonial education now piloting the affairs of the newly independent neo-colony- the rural myth that was formerly popular in the hinterland evolved, and found it’s way into an urban melting pot of a medley of multi-ethnic groups like Lagos- via rural-urban migration.
The Nigerian state itself embody the comical tale of a country, the schadenfreude loving village people have “gotten" in street parlance. A newly independent state with a promising future in the early 60s, nosedived into a cataclysmic interlude six years after the colonialists left, and lost three million civilians in a gruesome ethnic squabble that left survivors callused. In the 70s, the petro-state had the opportunity to industrialize and develop the productive forces due to an increase in oil price, stoked by the geopolitical conflict between the US and the oil producing countries in the middle-east. The Nigerian soldiers of fortune and the ethnic brigades who emerged victorious in the Biafran war squandered the oil wealth; they resorted to a lifestyle of hedonism and epicureanism, while subsidizing the relatively good micro-economic conditions our parents enjoyed in 70s. General Gowon and his peers turned dollars to confetti; life was pomp and orgy to the extent of bragging smugly that Nigeria had so much money, we just didn’t know what to do with. The effete ruling class frittered the chance to industrialize the Nigerian state, or build infrastructures that would enhance a robust micro-economy. In the 80s, the dystopia that the Nigerian state is today began to unfold as neoliberalism and the faux triumph of the free market inspired optimism among bourgeois economists- with the fall of the USSR at the end of the decade reassuring a mirage of victory of global capitalism. Francis Fukuyama triumphantly penned down The End of History and The Last Man.
The 90s was a decade of unravelling as IBB structural adjustment programs(SAP) launched series of neoliberal attacks on the poor working class, accompanied by a drastic reduction in the standard of living, and educational standards of Nigerians.
The village people phenomenon has not only reduced the erstwhile prodigal and profligate oil-rich state to a fiscally challenged, industrially lagging state; Nigerians were rendered hapless, at the mercy of odds and vagaries that characterize the country.
A Nigerian dies in a car accident while plying a road littered with gullies and craters- his village people finally got him. Chidinma steps on a high-tension wire on campus while sashaying back from church at night- her village people are finally successful in their stealthy sleuth. One heady, trigger happy policeman shoots sporadically into the air needlessly, and a poor kid gets killed by a stray bullet- the work rate of these obscure village people is astounding. We can easily infer that Nigeria itself is the widely dreaded metaphor for our fictitious village people.
Demystification of Our Village Kin
Our age-long urban legends and myths are mere events precipitated by the complexity of probability, or our conscious choices, or circumstances, and historico-social forces that find expressions in un-factored, and unexpected events. Our village people are objectively subject to the ups and downs of historical movement, including economic vicissitudes. The only imagination within the boundaries of logic one can have of our idyllic kith and friends, is one of rural serenity and benign quietude- in contrast to the chaos of the city.