Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Saturday, March 22, 2008


(Zack and Max are whiling away time in the Junction when a flustered Nat bursts through the door.)

Nat (apologetically): Sorry, guys! I was held up by our Security Manager. Apparently, the bank is worried about the recent upsurge of armed robberies and they want to educate us on what actions to take to prevent this from happening, as well as informing us on what to do when a robbery is in progress.

Max (amused): What else can you do when a robbery is in progress other than do what the robbers tell you to do?

Nat: Well, the manager said that we should not try to do anything dramatic in order not to endanger our lives. However, his focus was more on how we could prevent such robberies from being successful.

Zack: What did he say you could do?

Nat (smiling and shaking his head): Sorry - they only thing I can tell you of what he said is that we shouldn't divulge the bank's security policies.

Max: Aha! But since the non-divulgence of bank security policy is also part of bank security policy, then you've already divulged bank security policy by divulging that you cannot divulge bank security policy! (Grinning) So you might as well tell us the rest...

Nat (still smiling and shaking his head): I didn't understand a word of what you just said there, so I shall hold to my policy of silence.

Zack: The bank would be better off petitioning the government to beef up the police force so that it would be more effective in tackling armed robbers.

Max (contemptuously): The police force? (Gives a long hiss.) Spending money on the police force to fix armed robbery is like pouring water into a leaky bucket, followed by a stream of acid to make the bucket even more leaky. The only way armed robbery will be stamped out in Nigeria is when people are given the right to defend themselves.

Zack (rolling his eyes): You've come again with this your mad idea of arming every single Nigerian. I thought we had already discussed this and decided it was unworkable?

Max (shaking his head vigorously): Uh-uh. You decided it was unworkable - I still think it's a great idea. Right now, when armed robbers approach your house, you have two options - bail out through the back window and hope they don't spot you, or wait and receive your punishment like an emasculated victim. Either way, your stuff is going to be stolen. However, if the government followed my suggestion and allowed everyone to own a gun, armed robbers would think twice before storming into people's houses.

Nat (sceptically): And you don't think that will escalate the problem? Before, when armed robbers came visiting, they would come with machetes. Now that they know to expect an armed response, they will come with rocket launchers!

Max (patiently): You need to understand the psychology of the armed robber. He is opportunistic in nature; he will only target the areas where he knows he will encounter least resistance. How many armed robbers do you find going to Aso Rock to try and rob the President? So when they see you fire back at them, they'll go and look elsewhere.

Nat: Well, the only reason armed robbers don't go to Aso Rock is because they know in advance that it will be too difficult for them. But they believe that Mr. Okon of Ubot Road will not have the resources or firepower to give them the same problem, so they will target that area.

Max: Eh, so after Mr. Okon and neighbours have welcomed them with several rounds of gunfire, the armed robbers will add Ubot Road to their list of areas to avoid, alongside Aso Rock and the Nigerian Army Headquarters.

Zack: I still don't agree. Nigerians are simply not used to fighting off criminals with guns. I'm sure there are many people who don't even know how to hold a gun - if they had to do battle with robbers, they would probably hold the gun with the barrel pointing towards themselves.

Nat: Plus the fact that guns are waaaay too dangerous to be left in houses where children can get ahold of them and treat them like playthings. Imagine the outcry if a young child was to be shot dead from such an accident!

Max (wagging an admonitory finger at Nat): Hey! I've warned you against using that cheap trick of using the image of dead or injured small children to win an argument. Progress cannot be halted just because a child will die. Instead, let natural selection take its course. Then eventually, the only children left alive will be the ones that are smart enough not to fool around with a gun and get their heads blown off - or better still, those who are smart enough to fool around with a gun without getting their heads blown off. These are the children that will grow up so comfortable with a gun that armed robbers will have to think twice about attacking their neighbourhoods.

Zack (vehemently): You're not serious at all! If we were to go by your natural selection idea, then there's no need to do anything at all! After all, armed robbers are the superior group - they deserve to remain the last people standing, since they are powerful enough to finish off all of us weaklings!

Max: No, they're not powerful - it's just that the government is stopping us from fighting back with our own guns, that's all.

Zack (sarcastically): Of course they're powerful! Imagine - even a whole government cannot stop them from getting guns. I say that we deserve to be exterminated by these superior beings! (Raising his voice) Come armed robbers, and kill all of us!

(There is a sudden silence as nearly everyone in the Junction turns and fixes the trio with hostile glares.)

A Patron (loudly and angrily): Zack, if you want to be killed by armed robbers, can you kindly leave this place first and then go to that place under the flyover before announcing your intention? Don't involve the rest of us - as tough as life is, we still want to enjoy it with our friends and families!

Zack (embarrassed): Jerry, abeg no vex. I was just telling a story of a friend who was challenging some armed robbers to a machine gun fight.

Jerry: The next time you tell your stories, please try and keep the volume down. You don't know who is listening these days!

(There are murmurs in agreement, and everyone returns to their business.)

Nat (worriedly): One day, this your loud voice really will put us in trouble! I'm sure you could have made your point in a less dramatic way.

Max (grinning): Zack - sarcasm really doesn't suit you. And you weren't even making a good point. I'm not campaigning for anarchy - all I'm saying is that if the government cannot defend its people, it should allow its people to defend themselves. What's wrong with that?

Nat: Well, first of all, think about this. Guns are rather expensive - so assuming that the government allows us all to have guns, and we are responsible enough to keep them locked away for only serious incidents, then ultimately, only areas with people rich enough to buy guns and ammunition will be able to put up enough of a fight to discourage armed robbers from visiting. But you think the armed robbers will see the futility of their current existence and turn to holy living? No way! They'll just turn to the poorer, less threatening areas to rob. So the problem won't go away - it'll just shift.

Max (dismissively): As long as it's no longer my problem, that's fine by me. At least I will serve as inspiration for the residents of other places that the armed robbers visit - if I could shift armed robbers away from my neighbourhood, they can, too! And to those who are too poor to afford a gun, well if they're too poor to afford a gun, they're probably too poor to have anything worth stealing anyway. Or they can always put up notices saying "Armed Robbers - Beware! We May Look Poor, But One Resident In This Neighbourhood Is a Gunsmith!"

Zack (disgustedly): Typically selfish! Anyway, unfortunately for you, the armed robber is as motivated by greed for money as he is by fear of the gun. In fact, I think that an armed robber is typically so recklessly optimistic that he won't even think about the danger of gunfire - he'll convince himself that he is such a superman that no bullet on earth can touch him. And if he can't convince himself through his self-confidence, then he'll convince himself using igbo or ogogoro. So having a gun is no guarantee that your neighbourhood will be free from armed robbers - the threat has to be so high and the reward so low that the armed robber will simply not consider it worth his while.

Nat (wearily): Why all this focus on firepower as a way of stopping crime? I'm sure that there are many other ways of deterring criminals that are not potentially lethal.

Zack (scornfully): Like what? Pleading with them? Telling them that their mothers will be angry with them? My friend, be serious - the only language these men of the underworld understand is force!

Max: Wait - Nat may have a point. You could warn the robbers that you have surrounded your house with powerful juju - for some reason, Nigerians seem fear juju more than they fear God. Or you could tell them that your house is infected with an incurable illness worse than AIDS that will cause their genitals to shrivel up and drop off. Nothing would terrify a red-blooded armed robber more than the prospect of his fellow robbers mocking him for his lack of 'equipment'.

Nat (smiling): Well, actually I was thinking of equipment like mace canisters which could immobilise robbers without killing them.

Zack (exasperatedly): Immobilise without killing? What's the point of that? How will that prevent future crimes when the robber regains mobility and resumes his robbery? I tell you, armed robbers are like cockroaches - they should be stamped to death and ground under with a heavy studded boot!

Max: Plus mace canisters have a rather limited range, and are no match for the firepower of the robbers. Face it - it's got to be crossfire if you want to engage with them. But I'm not as bloodthirsty as Zack - I don't care whether my gunfire frightens them away or kills them, as long as it keeps them away from my house.

Nat: But still, all this is just dealing with the symptoms rather than the actual root cause. There are few or no academic studies about what drives armed robbers in Nigeria to steal. Even in this discussion, we've been making assumptions about whether the robber is more driven by fear or greed. If we really understood the mind of the robber, we would not only have a better idea about how to respond to his attacks, but we would also know how to rehabilitate him.

Zack (furious): Rehabili-what? Nat, you are unbelievable! These... these vermin storm into a householder's property, steal everything he owns, injure the householder, rape his wife or daughters - and you want to rehabilitate them? (Looks at Nat suspiciously.) Or do you have armed robber confederates?

Nat: It's not about loving armed robbers - it's about viewing human life as sacred. You make a lot of noise about stamping on this and shooting at that, but when push comes to shove, if I gave you a gun and told you to kill an armed robber in cold blood, I'm not sure you would have the guts to do it. (Zack starts to protest, but Nat waves him down.) In addition, I would rather have a reformed armed robber who used his experience to help combat armed robbery than a dead armed robber who was no use to anyone.

Max (mischievously): Nat, you have a point. Perhaps this is a case of giving a dog a bad name. What if we actually showed armed robbers the love we have for them? When they came robbing, instead of barricading ourselves in, we could invite them in for a good meal of pounded yam and bitterleaf soup. We could ask them how the evening's robbing had gone so far, and how they planned to relax after it was all over.

(Zack explodes.)

Show love to armed robbers? Yes - I can see it now. (Loudly) Let's just invite all armed robbers to all our houses, and let's just tell them to take everything! EVERYTHING!!

(There is another cold silence in the Junction as everyone again turns to Zack with hostile glares.)

Max (whispering) Like I said, Zack, sarcasm really doesn't suit you!

Friday, March 07, 2008

I've Got The Power!

(Max, Nat, Zack and Jonah are in the Junction chatting.)

Nat: So Jonah, what's the latest gist around town?

Jonah (with a wry smile): Oh, the usual. Rich men using their power to oppress poor men.

Max (eagerly): Oh? Is there a story you want to share?

Zack (disgustedly): Look at you. You can't even contain your pleasure at the prospect of hearing how poor people suffer.

Max (shrugging): Enough of the party political broadcast already! I'm just waiting for Jonah's gist. If you don't want to hear it, feel free to cover your ears. (To Jonah) Abeg, continue!

Jonah: Well... you guys have heard of Chief Kanganka O. Kanganka, right?

Nat (puzzled): "Chief"? I thought he was a Barrister?

Zack: No - he's a retired Air Vice Marshal.

Max (impatiently): Who cares? Maybe he's all three! Just continue, jo!

Jonah: Anyway, you guys also know Jamiu, right?

Nat (smiling): You mean Jamiu, "the Original Sufferhead"?

Jonah: Yeah. For some reason, he was at Express Bank today to conduct business. Don't ask me what - maybe his usual Demon of Bad Luck had been on holiday recently, and someone had sent him money.

Max (smirking): Given the guy's talent for attracting bad luck, it's more likely he was there to pay a hefty fine.

Jonah: Whatever. Anyway, he had been waiting all day at the bank for someone to attend to him - I think he wanted to process a special transaction and the bank needed the authorisation of some officer or other from another branch, but the officer was not on seat. Anyway, after many fruitless attempts, the teller had finally made contact with the officer to give the authorisation when the Chief entered.

Zack (contemptuously): I suppose he was ushered straight into one of those air-conditioned private rooms they reserve for dealing with big men.

Jonah: I guess he could have chosen that option, but - no. For some reason, he decided that he was going to use the services of the teller. Maybe it had something to do with the fact the teller was very young and very pretty - I don't know. Anyway, he marched to the counter and demanded that she serve him.

Zack (angrily): What!? That's outrageous! I hope the teller refused his request.

(Max lets out a bark of laughter.)

'Refused'? You must be joking! When a lowly teller has to choose between a big chief - who is probably pals with her MD - and a sufferhead like Jamiu, who do you think she will choose? Sometimes, I think that you live in a different continent.

Jonah: Unfortunately, Max is right. The teller curtly asked Jamiu to wait while she attended to the chief.

Nat: Didn't Jamiu complain?

Max (shaking his head): Come on, Nat - do you live in the same fantasy continent as Zack? When confronted with the magnificence, opulence and affluence of the Nigerian Big Man, what do expect the poor man to do? I'm sure he just accepted that as a poor man, it was his fate to be pushed to one side.

Jonah (smiling sadly): And I'm afraid that Max is right again. Jamiu murmured some words of complaint, but it was as though he had never existed. And to add insult to injury, the Chief wasn't even using his time to transact his business - he spent more of the time trying to chat up the teller.

Zack (shaking his head in disgust): Shame on him! Dirty old lecher!

Jonah: Well, the teller didn't look too unhappy at his attentions. Whether it was out of fear of being sacked for not playing ball, or out of the lust for naira, I don't know. Anyway, to crown it all, after wasting thirty minutes doing his business, the Chief left, and the teller announced that the bank was closing for the day - so Jamiu should come back tomorrow.

Nat (sympathetically): Poor Jamiu! It looks like his Demon was only taking a short break today.

Zack (angrily): This is the kind of behaviour that makes me wish that I was ruler of Nigeria. The first thing I would do would be to ban this kind of arrogant behaviour.

Max: Then it's a good thing you're not ruler. How can you start banning arrogance? That's arrogance in itself!

Nat (thoughtfully): Would you really want to use your power like that, Zack? That sounds rather frivolous.

Zack: Come on, you understand my point. What I mean is that I would use my powers for the benefit of the common man. If he was being oppressed, I would stand up for him.

Nat: OK, I'm curious, now. Supposing that your power wasn't just limited to ruling Nigeria. Supposing it was extended to making anyone do whatever you wanted. What would you do?

Max (covering his head as though the ceiling is about to fall in): Ah! If that happens, we're all done for! Zack will make us line up in queues like his hero, Idiagbon. He'll make us sing the National Anthem when we wake up and before we go to bed. He'll ban all foreign goods from the country. He'll outlaw parties and other social gatherings. In short, he'll turn Nigeria into one big, boring graveyard!

Zack: And what is so bad about having order in our lives? You like the disorganised state of affairs where rubbish is left on the streets and people drive anyhow?

Max: Just because you don't like it doesn't mean that other people don't like it. You just want to impose your way on everyone without consulting.

Nat: Come on, Zack. What would you really do if you had the power to make people do what you wanted?

Zack (musing): Well, I would make everyone obey the law for a start. Once people obey the law, ninety-nine percent of our problems would disappear. There would be no corruption, so money would be channelled into the infrastructure projects that it is meant for. And the security situation would improve, because there would be no armed robbers.

Jonah: What about the laws which may not be fair? You're always going on about the law that grants politicians prosecution from immunity - will that be one of the laws that you'll make people obey?

Zack: Er... no. I will go through the entire list of laws and change the ones which I think are unfair. Then I'll make people obey those.

Max (triumphantly): Aha! But how do you know whether a law is unfair or not? How can you decide by yourself? What if the law refers to something you have little knowledge of, like complex accounting procedures?

Zack (getting confused): Well... I will convene a National Conference to discuss all the laws so that the laws that I make people obey will be fair laws.

Max: But you can't say for sure that they will be fair for long. A law that was perfectly reasonable in 1908 would be completely archaic in 2008. What happens when the situation changes and your laws become outdated?

Jonah: Personally, I think you'll end up just making up the laws as you go along. What if they want to pass a law that works against you? I'm sure you'll find it hard to resist the temptation to change their minds. I think you'll just end up being power drunk.

Nat: Not only that - the problem with your approach is that it relies on force. So you would have to use your power all the time, because the temptation to break laws is always present. In the end, they'll just become dependent on you to make them do the right thing - and when you're no longer around, they'll just fall back to doing what they used to do.

Zack: Well, by the time I'm no longer there, they will have grown used to obeying the law.

Nat: Yes, but because they've never really been used to thinking about why they were obeying the law, they won't have the sense to figure out whether they should obey any new laws that are enacted. In other words, they'll just become a population of docile Jamius, ready to be used by the next dictator that comes along to do whatever he wants, instead of independent-minded people who can't be bullied around.

Jonah: What of you, Max? What would you do if you had the power to do what you wanted?

Max (grinning): Me? I don't have any plans to be a Messiah like Zack here. I would just use my powers for personal gain.

Zack (snorting in disgust): Typical!

Max (grinning even wider): Yes. I would play the stock market and make billions. I would then use these billions to live a lifestyle of luxury in which I would relax as my every whim was indulged.

Jonah: I think someone like you who is used to hustling for money would get bored very quickly with that lazy lifestyle.

Max (emphatically): Bored? No way! You'd be amazed at how much fun you can have with limitless wealth. For example, I could hold competitions in which people would compete for fantastic prize money - like Nigeria's Fattest Man, or Nigeria's Biggest Female Backside, or...

Nat (hurriedly): OK, I think we get the picture. What about you, Jonah? Would you get people to do what you wanted? Or would you just get naira to do what you wanted?

Jonah (modestly): Oh, I wouldn't do either. In fact, I wouldn't use the power unless I saw that it was an emergency case.

Nat: But what qualifies as an emergency case? Are we talking about life and death?

Jonah: That's it - just life and death.

Zack: So what about someone who is looting the treasury so that there's no money to build hospitals, and thousands die as a result? Would you intervene, then?

Jonah: Eh... yes, I guess so.

Max: What if someone was helping to rig this looter into office so that he could loot the treasury and cause deaths to thousands? Would you intervene?

Jonah: Er... I'm not sure... how do I know whether he would loot once in office?

Max: Come on! It looks like you've joined Zack and Nat on that fantasy continent. How can someone be rigged into office and not loot - or allow looting - to go on?

Jonah: Well, I don't want to intervene too much in people's affairs. I might end up being a dictator like Zack.

Zack: Well, what is the point of only intervening in one or two cases to save lives when millions more lives are being lost? If you are going to save lives, you might as well deal with the root cause, instead of attacking the symptoms.

Nat: You know, all this discussion has made me think that if I had this power, I would reject it completely. I think it's too dangerous to be in the hands of a single human being. In fact, better than that, I'd use the power just once. I'd use it to make everyone - including myself - incapable of using the power any longer.

(There are howls of protest from the other three.)

Nat: You can protest as much as you like. but I think it's wrong to seek to control your fellow human being. People should do what they do out of their own free will.

Zack (scornfully): I can just picture the scenario now. A man is being beaten up by area boys because he has refused to hand over his wallet. You pass by, and the man begs you to help him. But you respond by saying "I'm sorry, it would be wrong for me to prevent these hoodlums from exercising their free will". Thank heavens you don't run the police force!

Nat: Well, I would rather have a few innocent men beaten up by thugs because I didn't use my power than millions of innocent men enslaved by me after becoming intoxicated with power.

Jonah: You're not being fair. I don't think everyone is liable to become power drunk. In fact, the person who says he doesn't want the power because he fears becoming power drunk is a very good candidate to have the power. That's because they are aware of the terrible effect it could have if they misuse it. It's the same reason why you would rather let a mature adult drive a car than a teenager - the adult is aware that if it is driven badly, the car could kill someone.

Zack: I don't agree with you. Someone who doesn't want power may not know how to use it when he gets it. Look at Shagari - he had no vision, because he never thought that he would ever lead the country.

Jonah (shaking his head): It's not the same thing. You can be a perfectly good leader without having the power to compel people. In fact, you are a better leader if you can convince them to do what you want by persuasion rather than by force.

Max: So Nat, what Jonah is saying is that you should be crowned Emperor Nathaniel the First. But Jonah, don't you think it would be a good idea for Nat to have a Council of Ministers who have to vet his use of this arbitrary power? After all, despite his best intentions, if he becomes intoxicated, then they will be able to reign him in.

Nat (smiling): That's a good idea. I'll then use my power to make myself unable to control people, unless the Council approve. That way, I won't be able to use my power arbitrarily. In fact, this doesn't just apply to me - if anyone is going to be given a great deal of authority, whoever is giving them the authority should also provide a way to ensure that they don't abuse that authority.

Max: And of course, you need to make sure you choose the right people to be on this Council. Allow me to propose the Honourable Jonah Olaleye as the Minister of Gist. (Makes a bow to Jonah.) His responsibility will be to advise you on which sweet stories you should make people spread or not spread.

Jonah (beaming): Thank you, sir!

Max: Then, allow me to nominate the Honourable Zachariah Kwashi as the Minister of Fire and Brimstone. (Grins and makes a bow to Zack, who looks at him disdainfully.) His responsibility will to advise... no sorry, coerce you on which areas to inflict maximum damage through various means - including, but not limited to Fire, Explosives, Lightning, Flood, Napalm, Nuclear Strikes and other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Zack: Well don't expect me to nominate you in return. After all, there can be no room in the Council for a Minister of Shady and Dubious Deals or a Minister of Lookery.

Nat (rolling his eyes in despair): With all this bickering between two of you, I'm probably thinking that it may not be such a bad idea to assume absolute power after all. And you know what? The first thing I would do with it is to bind both of your mouths so that we could have some peace and quiet in the Junction!