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Offa and Kabba: Weep not for rebels

On our road to Offa, several themes hit at us. A constant refrain was Wole Soyinka’s lyric: ‘’I love my country, I no go lie;…

On our road to Offa, several themes hit at us. A constant refrain was Wole Soyinka’s lyric: ‘’I love my country, I no go lie; na inside am I go live and die …You push me, I push you, I no go go!’’. Fear of a car crash – as opposed to relative certainty of riding in a train or a big comfortable bus – bashed at our waking moments. A pothole hit or dribbled around rebuked decisions made in the 1970s against developing railway transport. Road lobbyists and car importers had won. Critics curse heavy trucks breaking backs of asphalt roads meant for lighter motor traffic. History’s footprints mocked our fears.
From Adavi village in Kogi State to Ajase-Po in Kwara State – via  Otun-Ekiti-  vast raw untilled lands look on smugly as vehicles race and hobble bye. Trees are thin and frail. Bigger trees were felled for firewood for decades, their dead leaves not available for annually fertilizing soils and calling down heavy rains. In parts, their stems are charred by fires started by livestock nomads wishing to sprout new grasses for grazing. Human intervention had never established eucalyptus tree plantations for masonry and fuel wood.  Vast communal or individual cultivation of land to grow crops or run ranches had never come since independence in 1960. At a road junction in Ekiti State, a campaign billboard read: ‘CONTINUITY ENSURES STABILITY: SUPPORT FAYEMI FOR SECOND TERM’’. It provokes questions about which history must continue – hopefully not these ones.
At Kabba Town in Kogi State; Aiyetoro-Ekiti and Offa town, ancient rust reigns on roofs. I had first met this power of rust in 1998 at Ogun Waterside in Ogun State. Homes there stood on cement and building skills fed by Cocoa booms in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Their flap windows of wood were senile grey from sun and rain. They remained permanently shut like two eyes hiding their pride and aspirations from being desecrated by a new politics of locusts. The unpaved alley ways in Kabba and Offa combine with long memories of their age as urban centres to scream accusations of wilful denial of investment by officialdom; and sons and daughters who have fled into Diasporas.
In Offa, factories of OKIN BISCUITS and OKIN FOAM lie shut. Their stubborn white walls are defended by two derelict buses – one of them stripped of its hind wheels. Blame is put on lack of supply of electricity, forcing costs of fuel for generators to soar while cheap competition from China and Europe seize local markets all across Nigeria. Okin Biscuits had started its industrial run from Kaduna town in Nigeria’s north-west region. It is a familiar narrative.
 A local prestige hotel, AVALON Hotel, struggles to combine sporadic tourist customers with power supplied by a huge generator. Its nearest challenger is ‘’PEACE OF GOD FOOD CANTEEN’’ consisting of a corrugated iron roof over one wall of wood; making it look like a head-cap. It was empty because carpenters, welders and other retailers around it were had retired.
A cement peacock looks out proudly from gates of Olofin Offa’s palace. Its proud and dazzling plumes are calm. It faces a busy food market dominated by pools of red tomatoes and pepper inside large baskets. The palace competes with Sky Bank for architectural flourish; overwhelmed by the audacity and stubbornness of rust and decay in roofs of shacks rolling away from the main street they hug. A television director wondered why Offa had not been designed to grow and manifest the sparkle of its totem bird – the Peacock.
Professor Nzongola-Ntalaja remarked with rage that exploited peoples of the Congo long ago asked the question: ‘WHEN WILL INDEPENDENCE GO AWAY?’’. It is a question fit for Offa, Kabba, Ayedun in Kwara State; Moba in Ekiti State. There are many beggars on the main street in Offa, but the people are not crawling around in self-pity and defeat. There is a palpable pride; a robust energy in carpenters and youths free from drug addiction. They provoke the question: ‘WHY DO AFRICAN RULERS CONTINUE TO FLARE THE POWER AND CREATIVE ENERGIES IN THEIR PEOPLES?’
 Nigeria’s media focus on natural gas being wasted through flaring.  Human body powers fed into building iron-roofed cement homes that, unlike poultry do not multiply, are flared. Roadside hawkers of bananas, donkwai – denied national and global urban markets – are flaring body power. Okada riders flare ambition fuel. There is absence of fresh fruits; vegetables; locally processed beverages made from grains, sweet potatoes, cassava and plantain. Creativity through foods and beverages processed by local community mini-industrialists, have long been denied oil-boom monies.
In Offa and Kabba, development went away with politics of the 1960s. It is aluta continua!

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