I realised, on my way back from the coronation of the Ọọ̀ni of Ifẹ, last Sunday, that I’ve never attended a properly-planned public event in this country as an adult. Be it a wedding, a naming, or an engagement ceremony, or even an official governmental or artistic event, the evidence from my trip down memory lane has left plenty to be desired, particularly as regards planning and implementation. True a few have come very close to proper organisation, but they have been too far in-between to be the norm. Either we Nigerians are terrible event planners in general or we are just terrible audiences of otherwise well-planned events, both leading to undesirable consequences.
First, the invitation card to the coronation of the spiritual head of the Yorùbá people had shamefully incorrect diacritics on the names of the new king – an unforgivable faux pas tolerable only because of our erstwhile collective tolerance of that kind of cultural laxity and mediocrity. Heck, we are numb already to books and newspapers printing Yorùbá (or Igbo) names without appropriate tone-marks, even when the editor of such publication claims to be an educated Nigerian individual. In an alternate universe, whoever was in charge of this royal invitation would be fired, pilloried, and barred from any future participation in any cultural events relating to the king. But our “educated” newspaper and book editors still collect salaries while putting their stamp of authority on the idea that this kind of (cultural and linguistic) certitude counts for nothing. Shame on us.
And secondly, an event slated to host royal dignitaries from around the world started almost as a free-for-all as royalty and “common” men jostled together in a crowd to make their way through a narrow gate into the hall. At one point, I spotted the king’s own father himself being pushed and shoved with the crowd, and having to prove himself to be who he is. It was the same situation for the mother of the princess and other numerous otherwise dignified guests who had to fight through what seemed like the eye of a needle, even while holding a VVIP invitation card. At one point in the crowd, one spots the staff of office of the Olúbàdàn of Ibàdàn – an otherwise important instrument of office that should pave way for its bearer without questions. For almost an hour, the staff and its carrier remained nestled within the throng (pictured).
By the time the Ọọ̀ni made his way into the hall, not only was his path blocked by indecorous photographers, well-wishers and other media practitioners wishing to take his photos, the whole hall seemed, at once, to have turned into a barbarous throng, with everyone standing on their seats with phones and devices at the ready to take photographs. Our modern interpretation of this phenomenon might excuse it as a sign of the king’s importance in our imagination, or our celebration of his ascendance -Fair point? – rather than a more unflattering suggestion: that it is a display of our lack of decorum at such events. One wrong footing and one of these amateur photographers would fall, deservedly, and land either on the king’s head or by his feet. And even without that, the walk from the entrance which should have taken less than a minute took over fifteen minutes: a newly crowned king pacing himself through an artificially-constructed hedge of human nuisance.
A while ago, on a flight back from the United States, I found myself in Paris, at the Charles De Gaulle airport, on the last leg of the trip. And for one moment, something that hadn’t occurred to me on any other part of the trip suddenly came to embarrassing prominence. The airline announcer had taken the microphone to announce that boarding would now commence to Lagos. But before the first few words had landed out of her mouth, a loud and cacophonous shuffle began, seemingly out of nowhere, involving only the Nigerians who a few seconds earlier were sitting quietly and minding their businesses. As if a shortage of airline seats had just been declared and an order placed that only the first at the gate would be flown to Lagos, my countrymen hustled and shoved themselves into what eventually became the queue. It has happened in other instances too, like two seconds after touching down, even before the seatbelt signs are turned off. My countrymen jump out of their seats and immediately proceed towards their luggage, as if they were going to disappear after just a few seconds of waiting.
Those who have cared about the matter have blamed much of this on our cultural conditioning. But I’ve been to Kenya and the situation is way different, from private comportment to general orderliness in public spaces, proving that it certainly isn’t an “African” conditioning. It’s a Nigerian issue, celebrated in other instances as our unbound boisterousness. In instances like this however, and in many others where acculturation should otherwise show itself as decorum, we have terribly failed, and we need to find our way back.