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solomon arase

Growing Up, Looking Back

I recall that in those days, a thief will wait until the dead of the night before stealing stealthy into the victim’s house.


I long for the good old days whenever I think about the new bad ones. In confronting the ugly scenes of today, my mind instinctively, switches, like some defensive mechanism, to my youth, or even my childhood. They were the periods of innocence. When humanity was a child.

I recall that in those days, a thief will wait until the dead of the night before stealing stealthy into the victim’s house. He needed to operate in dead silence not to awaken his victim. His greatest fear was the victim, or some other person waking up, and raising an alarm. The cry of ‘ole! Ole!! ole!!!’ (thief! thief!! thief!!!) was all that was needed for the thief to outpace Usain Bolt in a hundred metres dash. But in these digital times, robbers put whole areas on notice; sometimes, writing letters or pasting notices of their intention to rob. In some cases, they give the date and time they intend to strike. They are so businesslike that in many instances, they keep to time. There are instances when residents prefer to leave their homes before the appointed day. I have a friend in Abuja, who after three visits in quick succession by robbers abandoned his house to be a tenant somewhere else.

Of course, robbers these days make no distinction between night and daylight; some of them prefer to go to ‘work’ in day time, rather than be some nocturnal animal. Until a few years ago, robbers simply operated and vacated the area, as quickly as possible, leaving no traces. Now, they may end up kidnapping their victims. They raided Steve Nwosu, Deputy Managing Director of SUN Newspapers on September 14. Obviously disappointed that the poor journalist had nothing substantial at home, they abducted his wife, Toyin and asked him to pay a ransom of N100 million. She did not regain her freedom until three days later.

A similar act played out a fortnight earlier when on August 30, my fellow VANGUARD columnist, Donu Kogbara was robbed at home. After stealing money and jewelry, they abducted her. She was only released on September 11.

When I was young, kidnapping was rare, and in most cases, the victims were children. Today, kidnapping is a big industry. Things became so bad in Abia State a few years ago, that people could be kidnapped for recharge card. All categories of people have been kidnapped; traditional rulers, traders, politicians. But the nation was shocked when former Secretary to the Federal Government, Chief Samuel Oluyemisi Falae was kidnapped on September 21; his seventy seventh birthday. His family had to pay a N5 million ransom to secure his release.

As a younger man, journalist, trade unionist and pro-democracy activist, I attended several meetings, workshops and conferences in virtually all parts of the country. Then when the senseless killings in Kaduna went on, it became a no-go-area. Later, the madness spread to Plateau State, and it became a place to avoid. Now with the level of violence spreading, organisations avoid holding events in states like Bornu, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe and Bauchi in the North. Kidnapping and violence has made states like Edo, Rivers and most of the East, areas people avoid, if they can. Many parts of the West are also prone to robbery, and increasing cases of kidnapping.

The safe areas in the country have drastically reduced. Nigerians have been forced to abridge their right to movement.

Education used to be accessible. For both post-primary and tertiary education, the password was passing the required entrance examinations. The best and cheapest secondary schools were the public ones. In my undergraduate days in Ife, indigent students who could not afford the 50 kobo meal ticket increase imposed by the Obasanjo regime were assisted by the university which gave them part time jobs, especially in the cafeteria. Today, such students starve, that is if in the first place, they can afford to be students.

Some people think I can be a fierce fighter; one of the biggest battles I have been engaged in my life, was refusal to go to school. Until six, I was contented watching my elders go to school. When it was my turn, I fought tenaciously; how could anybody think of tearing me from my mother who fed me all day? When my family realized that the battle was not being won, an uncle, Gilbert Fakrogha (GLO) devised a means. He lived two streets away in Obalende, Lagos. On his way to work in the defunct Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, ECN, (later known as NEPA, NEP plc, and PHCN) in Okesuna; he would visit and ask me to go buy some food. After eating together, we left home, parting opposite Lewis Street, in front of the then Police Headquarters (Now, Kam Salem House) He to his office, and I to the nearby Araromi Baptist School. Needless to say, whenever he did not go to work, I refused to go to school. So I assume that during his leave periods, he still came to perform our ritual. Later, I followed Barbarosa, that was his nickname, into the trade unions, but this was not by design. On Tuesday September 1, I received a call. GLO is gone, and on November 14, the family is to gather for his burial.

That was a phase in my life. Another person who influenced my education by firing my love for poetry, and enabled me pass literature in WAEC, is Professor Theo Vincent. His book, A SELECTION OF AFRICAN POEMS which he co-authored with K.E. Senanu was like a bible to me. Today, thirty seven years after I left secondary school, I still read that collection. Sadly, I read that this intellectual, who spent thirty seven years teaching in the University of Lagos, and was Vice Chancellor of UNIPORT, has gone blind and is almost destitute. Can’t we rescue our intellectuals?

General Yakubu Gowon was quoted in the 1970s as saying that our problem was not money, but how to spend it. Yet, major infrastructure like mass transit was not put in place. Those were the good old days. Today, the Nigerian economy runs on one leg.


– Lakemfa

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