• Friday, December 01, 2023
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A kidnapping society


Oka Obono

The nation is relieved at the recent rescue of  four journalists from their abductors but modern media analysis tends to situate this kind of event within the rubric of political economy. That analysis does not go far enough. Political economy is a catch-all phrase used, unfortunately, even when the analyst is neither committed ideologically to a leftist agenda nor endorses its revolutionary sentiments.

Kidnapping is then seen as a gross aberration stemming from systemic crises, anomie, the neo-colonial heritage and governance failure, when the truth is that it dwells inside. What is needed is a perspective in political psychology, which indicates that, beyond narrow and technical definitions of the term, we live in a kidnapping society. When a man marries, he effectively holds another man’s daughter in perpetual captivity for the rest of his life, without her consent in many cases. This is particularly true when the bride is an under-aged child from Egypt married to a lawmaker, but I digress.

In every human being is a latent desire to kidnap somebody. Nigeria merely provides fertile grounds for its ultimate expression. How else do you explain why my brother in Abuja feels no compunction at keeping a parrot locked up for years in solitary confinement? Does he not realise that his behaviour lends support to a sinister ring of bird traffickers? He is certainly not an ornithologist, so why does he keep the bird other than this bizarre need to kidnap it?

It is the kidnapping state of mind. None is free from it. The gods themselves are compulsive kidnappers. In the Judaeo-Christian account, Joseph and Jonah were once victims of kidnapping. The Greco-Roman tradition contains the classic case of Zeus and Europa, and of Apollo’s botched attempt at kidnapping Daphne. Among the gods, Hades, god of the underworld, is the most successful kidnapper partly because he was intelligent and very stubborn.

He abducted Persephone, daughter of Demeter, goddess of grain, because he needed a queen for his gloomy kingdom. Her mother –like Rachel – would not be comforted. She was distracted by grief. Harvests suffered. Starvation was imminent. Hades would not budge. The impasse was broken when the gods proposed that he could keep Persephone for several months in a year and return her to the earth for the other half. That arrangement is still in force because, while Persephone is with Hades, the world experiences winter. When she returns, spring comes.

The abduction of Persephone had far-reaching implications for climate change and also served as the prototype for human marriages, which originated in the forced capture of brides. Primordially, a would-be husband would go to a neighbouring village accompanied by a confidante represented in the modern ceremony by his “Best Man”. He would physically kidnap his intended wife and hurl her struggling to a secret place until her vengeful relatives could be pacified. That period is now known as the honeymoon and the tradition of carrying a bride over the threshold of the hideout re-enacts her forced capture.

So, the gods kidnapped men. They kidnapped states and public accounts. They captured treasuries through the temples. They had an inflated sense of their own importance and inflated their personal revenues and incomes accordingly. They were the financial pestilence of the land, enjoying undeserved immunity through worship systems they established. The gods fought over these revenues, tore one another’s togas, even within their own temples. They were a shameless breed of gods.

In Nigeria today, the predatory instinct gives rise to the sort of materialism in which human beings are easily mistaken for tradable commodities. It is a natural progression in a state already held captive by a historical succession of official kleptomaniacs among whom the kidnapping state of mind manifests in an obsession to own everything. Its need to project power over others is shown in the sick flaunting of embezzled wealth, wasted temple resources, and efforts to perpetuate oneself in office regardless of electoral law.

Nigeria’s history constitutes it into a kidnapping society – from trans-Atlantic slavery, urban ritual abductions, “gbomo-gbomo”, to the ordinary feeling of entitlement by middle class families to domestic servants, often procured through child trafficking networks, and the vested interests of a metropolitan cabal. Ours is a captured state.

We do nothing about the well known fact that Togolese children are kept in cocoa camps linked to the Western chocolate industry and that their sweat helps keep our sweet tooth satisfied. Every chocolate bar on a supermarket shelf is a sweetened reminder of the fate of these luckless children. Shall we encourage this obsession with possessions and then decry decadent practices ensuing from it? We are closet kidnappers. If you put a parrot in a cage without an agreement about your obligations and liabilities to it, when that parrot is not a prisoner of war, you have kidnapped it.