My experience in Sapele two weeks ago will never be forgotten, and it prompted this write-up. At about 10pm on 31st March 2019, I drove into a frightful cult clash on my way home from hangout with my friends. Young boys, presumably teenagers or in their early twenties, numbering over fifty (50) occupied the road in one of the bloodiest things I had ever seen. Each one armed with dangerous weapons like machetes, axes, broken bottles, and iron poles, went after each other in a faceoff. As I recounted the story to my parents at dawn before my departure, I told them “Na only film I dey see this kind thing”. With a scathing tone, my dad said, “Na normal thing here o. Na everyday them dey fight”.
On my way back to Lagos, I never stopped wondering how a suburb town with predominant low-income earners degenerated into a centre of cultism and pipedreams for fraternal sect domination. Where are the leaders? Where is the value system? Why have the leaders chosen to only focus on the proceeds of political and community looting while several young people become handicapped and amputated? Why have the youths chosen to build their futures around violent and futile confrontations? My people say when the roots of a tree begin to decay; it spreads death to the branches.
Sapele was once was a commercial hub in the colonial era; a town that flourished in a mangrove rainforest. A town renowned for its desirable natural resources like timber, rubber, and palm produce, including the popular “kai-kai” (Sapele water). The home town of very popular and distinguished record breakers – the Dafinones, Festus Okotie-Eboh, Major-General Patrick Aziza, Blessing Okagbare, Endurance Ojokolo, Ola Rotimi, Olusoji Fasuba, etc.
It is now a town fated in the mist of submission to the will of destructive human and abnormal forces; a town rapidly whisking in the wind of dereliction; a town lost in the shadows of its former self; a town of ruined value system; a town relieved of its serenity, comfort and pleasurable remoteness; a town now very difficult to describe as a “home” because the walls of peace, the grace of quality leadership, and the warm ambience is at best imaginary.
It is a wretched situation that most people connected to the town do not wish to talk about or escalate for the fear of repression and the knowledge of the inclination of the complicated handling of serious issues by the “guardians” of the town. But if we still harbour the hope that the consciousness of wholesome and meaningful conditions of progress can be restored, then the truth must be said at all times, regardless of whose Ox is gored or whose reign affected by the truth. You may never return “home” again, but the truth is that you never really leave home – not especially when it is in decay.
We are happiest, whether as Kings or peasants, when we find peace and progress in our homes. However, Sapele have become a town where laughter is shy to appear on the faces of its inhabitants. It has become the town where the heart bleeds more than it beats. A town of bitter experiences where the feet is quick to run away from and the mind wishes to forget. A town roped for strangulation by unappreciable elements of backwardness.
But we must talk about our “home”. We must do all we can to fix it. If we don’t talk about the problems endangering our dear Sapele, we risk being forcefully exiled by the insolence of unruly elements and the carelessness of the traditional and political institutions of the town. You may be unaffected for now, but verily, your turn is near. The brutal cycle of pain eventually affects everyone if a wild plague is not properly contained. As Martin Niemoller said, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me”
Sapele once blossomed with industries like AT&P, Flour Mills, Saw mills and timber processing plants, Shell, Eternit, etc. Today, they have been replaced by hotels, bars, and the entire town is fast becoming a red-light district, full of formerly outlawed activities. Some have argued that the exit of the big companies caused a huge explosion of unemployment. The evidence is that the labour drive is weakened and the enthusiasm for honest aspirations is almost empty. Lots of the young people have resorted to self-help for survival. Many have potently become prostitutes, kidnappers, drug dealers, armed robbers, cultists, internet fraudsters, aimless political aides, beggary miscreants, and thoughtless criminals.
For too long the leadership of Sapele have rested on incompetent shoulders of people who do not have a history of success in prior undertakings – people who cannot think for themselves or marshal affairs of their nuclear families. Sapele cannot boast of any political or traditional leader who can hold their own against their contemporaries in other climes. If there is one, I would be glad to be educated about such personality. The monstrous gap in the quality of leadership across board whether political or traditional is dubious and deliberate so that a few imprudent people can continue to recycle themselves in positions of leadership. From elders, youths, and political office holders, there is too much folly. Too many square pegs in round holes.
The leaders in Sapele have assumed untouchable reputations. For instance, Youth and community leaders continue to occupy positions for years even when they have not been productive. I know of a youth leader in Amukpe Community who have been a youth leader for more than 20 years. There is too much vibrancy and prospect in Sapele for the people to be subjected to such hapless leadership by a pack of hyenas, whose only objective is to loot, booze, and cruise.
There is need for a significant change in the management style of people and resources in Sapele, before the town is consigned to only look back on its former glory, and worse still, begrudge the prosperous undertakings and lose all that is left to be salvaged by neighbouring towns and cities. This necessary change requires alignment of all stakeholders and the consensus retrieved from a mandatory town hall meeting on multiple levels. The engraving problem in the magnitude I imagine cannot be solved in closed-door good-for-nothing secret meetings. It can only be solved when representatives of every sector and union in the town assemble together and lay bare their hearts content for a workable solution.
Sapele is rolling back with a speedy momentum and complete collapse must be avoided with a necessary and timely woodblock. The effective strategy for the reclamation of common sense in Sapele must begin with the assessment of the current leaders with proper outline of their respective failures, before determining the essence and quality of leadership to be put in place. The current socioeconomic and political situation of the town is the handiwork of primed syndicates whose goal is to cause enough “gbege”. They have enjoyed an unmerited occupation of leadership positions and have been too accustomed to sharing the spoils of plunder.
Finding solutions to deep-rooted community issues are protracted but we should not be fazed by the time it will take to get this done. Getting nothing done is the most disastrous. Quick fixes should also be avoided because temporary solutions never really take the problems away. Above all, the right leaders should be enthroned to conclude delicate and important affairs, for the sake of posterity. The task to cleanse Sapele and restore sanity is not insurmountable. But the reality is that there is a shortage of articulate, independent, successful, and dynamic role models for the younger generations to follow. The elders have failed. The current crop of politicians have been self-serving and have recorded too many failed flashes. The youth leadership needs to reorganize itself. The young ones need a new thinking and create new ambitions.
© Lewis Ebode