Easter and The Death of Happiness, By Tatalo Alamu

Easter is the season of renewal and regeneration; of rebirth and resurrection. It is spring once again and hope springs eternally in the human breast. Often in human history, the gathering of the forces of transition and forcible change is preceded by great destruction whose leaping flames and fury leave nothing untouched in their wake. Whenever human society drives itself into a historical cul de sac from which there is no escape, creative destruction must follow, leaving in its anarchic trail fearsome portents and unprecedented human suffering and escalating misery.

This is the point at which Nigeria and Nigerians have arrived. Happiness finally died in this land.This is probably the first Easter period in living memory when Nigerians have been most remarkably ill at ease, with despair and despondency etched on the face of living survivors. The old order has finally destroyed itself and with it much of what we know as the old Nigeria with its certainties, its heroic possibilities and buoyant optimism. The biblical children of Lot cannot look back, lest they be turned into a sack of salt.

Yet for the sake of historical therapy we must cast a glancing retrospective look at that past if only to see how we were and the tragedy that has befallen us. Let those who are old enough cast their mind back to the era preceding the civil war. The old Easter celebrations normally opened with great rejoicing and concluded with great dancing and singing at a place designated as Galilee by every town and village worth its salt. Epic meals of beans consumed, everybody went home happy, filled and fulfilled.

By a remarkable happenstance of nature’s bounteous benevolence, the period also coincided with the seasonal arrival of the mango fruit. There were mango fruits everywhere, of all sizes and species, from the native to the foreign washed into maturity by the great rains that had finally arrived cooling everywhere as a serene bliss descended from heaven. There is nothing as invigorating and rejuvenating as the aromatic fragrance of fresh mangoes newly plucked.

To be sure, even at that point in time this was not arich or wealthy nation by any standards. It was a country that had learnt to modify its taste and modulate its palate, eating and consuming only what accrued to it by the fruits of its own labour and the bounty of nature. Wealthy nations are not always the happiest societies on earth, otherwise America would not been perennially lagging behind, Holland, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries in the happiness index.
Historical research has also shown that the journey to the frontiers of modernity and scientific advancement is not always accompanied by the maximum happiness of the maximum populace. It has been suggested that the happiest epoch in the history of England was the Elizabethan period, just as the Industrial Revolution took off and there was an explosion of literary, intellectual and musical genius in addition to the scientific awakening which powered the revolution.

But as a great sage has observed one sure thing about the organic community is that it is always gone. In other words, there has never and will never be a wholly organic society. The whole idea of an organic community is a myth; a whipping device employed by each contemporary society to whip itself into line. In the journey of humanity to self-actualization, wars, strife and stress have always been a constant comrade and companion.

But then, there are human societies and human societies, just as there are inorganic communities and inorganic communities. In July 1957, barely twelve years after a world war that devastated the country, Harold Macmillan proudly proclaimed to his grateful compatriots that they had never had it so good. The temperate, mild-mannered, pipe-smoking High Tory aristocrat knew what he was talking about. Great Britain had made remarkable strides to integrate the British community as a whole and to spread prosperity around, despite the phenomenon of institutionalised racism.

How organic a community is can actually be ascertained by looking at the misery index and the happiness and contentment chart, that is by looking at how far a country has gone in containing and reining in fissiparous tendencies, how the state has mediated and moderated the cultural and religious disharmonies of the nation and the inevitable inter and intra-class hostilities. In other words, just take a look at the chart of how high a country has risen in guaranteeing the contentment and happiness of the people and in securing the maximum good of the maximum number.

Viewed from this perspective, it can be seen why a country like America with its spectacular wealth will continue to lag behind in the happiness chart. For the vast ever swelling continent-country, the thwarted and frustrated presidency of a Barack Obama represents the aborted impulse for racial and cultural harmony as well as economic integration of the multiracial underclass whereas the looming presidency of a Donald Trump, in its senseless and insensate hysteria and rabble-rousing intolerance, harks back to ante-bellum America and unfinished business.

The greatest human society the world has seen may well be on the verge of another civil war, this time to be fought on the streets rather than in trenches. This was precisely why the founding fathers of America scoffed and sniffed at the very notion of untrammelled democracy as an invitation to the waiting mob just about to lay siege on the Capitol Hill. They hedged their bet accordingly.

The same perspective can be extended to the core countries of Europe, particularly in the aftermath of the Belgian tragedy this past week. When Harold Macmillan spoke, he probably spoke too soon. The inability to envision a rapidly expanded and expanding multiracial and multicultural community in the wake of rampaging globalization has come to haunt Europe in a tragic manner. The barbarians have arrived at the barricades and the barbed wires. The Yeatsian gyre is ever widening and the world is no longer at ease.

By virtue of amalgamation, Nigeria could never claim to be an organic nation. But it worked for some time. The idyllic commune of the sixties was not powered by wealth but by great vision. A nation needs not be stupendously wealthy if its leaders are rich in visionary imagination. Chief ObafemiAwolowo had just completed his five year revolutionary wonder which transformed the old west from an agrarian, backward, strife-ridden society to the first indigenous modern community in Black Africa.

Driven by its fierce republican ethos and the zeal to succeed, the relentlessly competitive Igbo society was in hot pursuit. It must also be said that whatever the internal contradictions,the north, under the able and aristocratic Ahmadu Bello, was becoming even more cohesive and prosperous on a platform which gave premium to regional solidarity before anything else.

Then oil came and distorted everything. The massive injection of oil rents into the Nigerian economy and the incursion of the military into governance marked the beginning of the end. By the turn of the seventies, Nigeria was so much awash with extractive wealth despite a ruinous civil warthat a former military supremo was knownto have noted that the problem of the nation was no longer money but how to spend it. If only a witty patriot had added that the problem of the nation was no longer money but how to misspend it!

In the event, a new propertied class of oil barons, emergency contractors, currency racketeers and sundry speculators emerged on the scene with their own music and musicians. As a historical correlate to the forces at play and the dynamic of unimaginative and spendthrift state policies a vast multi-ethnic class of pauperized Nigerians also became noticeable a fraction of which turned into violent expropriation in order to achieve social, political and economic parity with their tormentors.

Needless to add that as at this moment, many of these social miscreants are already firmly ensconced in the senate, the house, several gubernatorial mansions and even the upper echelons of federal governance. They have even made an inroad into the spiritual realm. It is not by accident that the first set of armed robbers to be publicly executed in Nigeria boasted of many demobilized soldiers. Surely if war was hell, the hell could be extended to the general society. But rather than treating the disease, it was the symptom we went after.

Today and almost half a century after, the problem of corruption, graft, armed robbery, kidnapping, abduction and state banditry has grown so exponentially that the nation is in danger of being overwhelmed by the sheer humongous mess. After a fifty year wandering in the wilderness of self-inflicted pains, we have finally arrived at the end of the beginning in which a nation either moves forward or expires in the hands of merciless adversaries both internal and external.

Surely, it will be absurd and preposterous to place the burden of a fifty- year national misadventure on the slender shoulders of a single individual however visionary or messianic. Since Nigeria is a victim of collective ruination, it will have to be salvaged collectively. We can certainly not go back wholesale to the regionalist past or to the rigidly over-centralized statist mantra of the military mind-set except as a temporary corrective measureto halt and arrest the rot.

But the past can serve as an able guide to the future. Nigeria has not known any peace, real progress and integrated prosperity since 1966. Surely, this must tell us that something is drastically wrong with its current configuration. The country is in dire need of creative re-engineering to bring it at par with the dictates of a true modern nation-state and to liberate the diverse talents of its diverse people.

No amount of fidgeting with the punitive and coercive apparatus of the state can redress this fundamental anomaly. The Daura-born retired general must internalise the lessons of his first coming. This being Easter, the season of charity, those who have stolen Nigeria blind must also show remorse and pay restitution to the nation.

This Easter marks the golden jubilee of the last Easter this writer spent in idyllic Nigeria. Many of our compatriots have even forgotten how to celebrate Easter. Fifty years is a long stretch in the life of an individual but a short span in the life of a nation. But how men and women get wasted and rolled over by this monstrous system, how many have perished without trace!!

It is just as well then that a few weeks back those who rated Nigeria very high among the happiest societies in the world have now reversed themselves. They have sadly concluded that Nigeria must be one of the unhappiest societies on earth. Nothing can be more debilitating and injurious to a nation than unearned happiness and an unmerited feeling of wellbeing. “I hate people being happy when they should be unhappy”, Bernard Shaw famously thundered.

The death of happiness is a good development. Perhaps with the realization that contemporary Nigeria is as close to hell as it is possible and as it has ever been conceived in the darkest spots of the human imagination, we can all roll up our sleeves and set to work. As the Nigerian tragedy has now firmly demonstrated, hard work does not kill a society, it is unearned and unmerited prosperity that does. Do we say happy Easter?

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