Ilorin “Goat-Thief” As Metaphor Of Deepening Backwardness

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“The goat ‘suspect’ is being detained over an alleged attempt to snatch a Mazda car. The mysterious goat according to the Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Tunde Mohammed, while briefing bewildered journalists at the Force Headquarters, is an armed robber who attempted to snatch the said car, Wednesday night, and later transformed into the goat in a bid to escape arrest. He explained that men of a vigilance group in Anifowose/Ipata Oloje areas of the state capital had chased two armed robbery suspects who wanted to demobilise(SIC) the Mazda car with the intention of stealing it, and ‘while one of them escaped, the other was about to be apprehended when he turned his back on the wall and turned to this goat. They quickly grabbed the goat and here it is’, said Mohammed”. VANGUARD newspaper, January 23, 2009.

Never mind that what was paraded by the police was actually a sheep and not a goat, but it is incredible that an event like this will be happening in twenty-first century Nigeria! Given its absurdity and coming from an African destination (able to reinforce prejudices about Africa), it was not a surprise that it became a big story in the international media last week. Of course, the Nigerian media which broke it, also had a fair share of creaming off of the bizarre, culminating in a reporter for the NTA’s flagship newsmagazine, NEWSLINE, actually pushing a microphone in front of  a bewildered sheep, and asking if it could speak or if was truly a human, that transformed into a “goat’! This is the depth to which our country has sunk!


All around us, and every day, we hear or read tales of absurd events happening, just as there are miracles being proclaimed, bonanzas being advertised and lotteries being announced: either the lottery of money or those of Nigerians getting the opportunities to relocate away from their homeland (a homeland that does not care for them anyway!). Banks announce prizes for deposits while television air time now get used for quizzes that promise fabulous wealth for participants, and of course such programs, get a major share of the audience. Television viewing around Nigeria, on Sundays can be the most boring spectacle, because the fare is a broadcast of competing pastors of new generation churches, while NTA’s NETWORK NEWS is turned to the rehash of the same messages from one church to the other. It is as if Nigeria and the world closed down at the weekend, and the only news fit for broadcast happened only within places of worship!


The elevation of mumbo jumbo and mystification has become the order of the day in our country; and amazingly enough, most middle class people have stopped reading literature or other serious books. The books are not even available anyway, and the few bookshops/stalls still standing today, stock mainly American publications about how to get rich quickly; or those that tell about the secrets of the wealthy that we might also unlock, presumably to also become fabulously rich! Otherwise, what most Nigerian middle class elements will read will be gossip magazines or for the religious ones, the glossy publications of the very right wing American Pentecostal preachers or their Nigerian imitations (a domestication of mystification has been in the works for a very long time in our country!).


It is not a surprise to me that the story of the “goat thief” came from my home town, Ilorin. It seemed to be a reflection of a trend that became so frightening that the state government was obliged to even announce on television and radio to allay the fears of the people!  Last year, the city of Ilorin suddenly entered a phase of spontaneous curfew, on the back of rumour which spread like veldt fire, that some people were “collecting” blood from the bodies of unlucky individuals that fell into the hands of these racketeers in human blood. This was not blood that was to be donated to the city’s blood bank, but allegedly to be used in some despicable ritual of one sort or the other. But so potent was the fear that the people felt, that the city spontaneously began to close down from six o’clock every evening! The scare threatened the health of the society sufficiently, for government to eventually intervene.


If the reader can recollect, a few years ago, traditional rulers in Ondo State paid a courtesy visit to the governor of the state; the SSS operatives attached to the governor decided to frisk the KABIYESIs just before their presence with the governor was allowed. The security operatives felt some strange objects under the dresses of a number of them and were told to bring them out. They ranged from chameleons to tortoises which the traditional rulers assured were not to harm His Excellency but to protect them, the traditional rulers! It is in the same country, that a former Ambassador took hundreds of millions of naira of stolen money, meant for development of the Niger Delta communities, handed it over to a herbalist who set the money on fire in a cemetery late in the night, while the same ambassador danced naked in that cemetery. Similarly, in recent weeks, there have been the tragic revelations of the killings and maiming of children in Akwa Ibom State, who some religious freaks said were witches, hampering the development of that state! The public officials who stole money meant for development were not held responsible for underdevelopment, but children labeled as witches!


My very good friend in Ilorin, who is knowledgeable in these matters, assured me that it was the normal thing for many people in politics and government to wear amulets, drink all kinds of portions or consort with prayer warriors, Babalawos or Malamai. Life will just not be complete without these assurances! And with this national mindset, it is no wonder that our development has been locked in a vicious circle of underdevelopment. Our ruling class has presided over the degeneration of the public school system; there is no science and technology or the valorization of the scientific method or rational attitudes; these are the super structural reflections of the deep-seated problems of a crises-ridden political economy. So while others use the achievements of science and technology to solve problems of existential life, we catch humans turned to goats. The Ilorin “goat thief” should give the Nigerian ruling class the pause; they should be worried at the sorry pass they have led a country that has all the potentials for genuine development of its productive forces, but which they have reduced to a land of mumbo jumbo!


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