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The cockroaches in Nigeria



By Prince Charles Dickson PhD

The Edos say “Ehemwen wÿÿ iren te gua so ihuan, ren te vbe gua ku, sokpan ukpÿ iye-ÿkhÿkhÿ ÿre ÿ ma gie iren ku iku iren vbe avan”.  A cockroach knows how to sing and dance, but it is the hen who prevents it from performing its art during the day. (English)

For this admonition, let me start with the critic’s anthem, one that has repeatedly inspired me. It is by H.G. Wells and he says “we are going to write about it all. We are going to write about business and finance and politics and pretences and pretentiousness, and decorum and indecorum, until a thousand pretences and ten thousand impostors shrivel in the cold, …we are going to write about wasted opportunities and latent beauties, until a thousand new ways of life open to men and women. We are going to appeal to the young, and the hopeful, and the curious against—the established, the dignified and the defensive. Before we are done, we will have all life within this scope of the novel.”

We at most, talk, write and discuss the Nigerian myth with a sense of fatalism, not because all is fatal and all is lost but truth be told, for Nigeria, it is a case of hope being an opium, a well-served breakfast but a dangerous dinner, as seen by the political hallelujah being orchestrated by the political trajectory it is safe to conclude that we have again wasted some seven years. Story for another day!

Well. I believe that if everyone thought as much as I did about justice and fairness, equity, equality and merit, life would be better.

I am a critic, but I am also the critics’ critic, the unrepentant believer that the best way to keep the government on its toes is to keep harping on their flaws so they can improve. However, in Nigeria our leaders and their flaws are now Siamese twins.

Often, I say I believe the things I write on, are important for our nation as they are for other nations, but when it appears to me Nigerians especially those in authority do not react to these issues as people in other lands do, I repeat them in new essays to remind old readers and recruit new ones to participate in the continuing dialogue.

It is in this light that it becomes pertinent that I rehearse my treaty written about almost nine years ago on The Parable of The Cockroach and Nigeria, with renewed vigour like I often do.

Well, this admonition is about us, the Nigerian political class, ruling party (rather than governing party) and the opposition, and the Nigerian society, I don’t know if what I did say is new but kindly indulge me as I share…I have not written this for everybody.

So, what about cockroaches?

• Cockroaches don’t live very long – about a year or 2 depending on the breed

• They eat almost anything (even each other)

• It’s what they eat that makes them filthy

• Their main sense is from their antennae – movement, smell, touch

• They don’t rely much on sight and they can’t hear   

Does the above ring a bell? Do any set of Nigerians come to mind? Are there cockroaches everywhere in Nigeria, filthy, dog eat dog doubled-faced promissory note given scallywags?

Anyway, let me tell you the story.

There once was a man who had two sons whom he loved very much.  In his garden were many fruit trees, but there was a certain one that had certain poisons that would harm his sons.

He warned them against eating from that tree.

Well, like the story would go, one day the younger son, along with his wife, ate of the tree.  And guess what? Lo and behold, they both became cockroaches.


As a cockroach, the son was very aware of the fact that he was once a man! He knew for a fact how much he had lost, transiting from a human to a cockroach.  He tried hard to speak with his father, to get back to being a human again, but alas, it was hard for a cockroach to communicate, let alone enjoy a normal relationship with a human father as you might expect.

For starters, their tastes were very different.  Cockroaches do not naturally go for clean things, and take in anything. How they “saw” things around them also changed dramatically. Instead of using his sense of sight, the cockroach son now relied on other senses, mostly his antennae. The son was also painfully aware of the fact that unless something was done quickly to save him, his life would be a short one year or less. Then there was the spectre of getting squashed or smashed by someone.

Meanwhile, the son turned into a cockroach and his wife started to reproduce. There were many generations of cockroaches in a short period, and as time passed, the fact that their great-granddaddy was once a human became more and more hazy and less significant. Less and less were they able to appreciate in their limited brains what being a human was. To them, being a cockroach was all there was.  They became absorbed with living the best life a cockroach could enjoy in the short span they had. They built cockroach empires, accumulated everything they could in the hope to make their cockroach lives more meaningful. This involved taking in everything they could, clean or unclean, which made them very dirty indeed. In their quest, they had even started to eat one another. They were very unlike the human that their great-granddaddy once was.

Now one of those roaches found its way to a restaurant, suddenly flew and sat on a lady. She started screaming out of fear. With a panic-stricken face and trembling voice, she started jumping, with both her hands desperately trying to get rid of the cockroach. Her reaction was contagious, as everyone in her group also got panicky.

The lady finally managed to push the cockroach away but …it landed on another lady in the group. Now, it was the turn of the other lady in the group to continue the drama.

The waiter rushed forward to their rescue.

In the relay of throwing, the cockroach next fell upon the waiter. The waiter stood firm, composed himself and observed the behaviour of the cockroach on his shirt. When he was confident enough, he grabbed it with his fingers and threw it out of the restaurant. He could have equally killed it but…

Now, here it is!

There are roaches everywhere today in Nigeria, we find ourselves at an edge; a reader of this column recently said…my reflections are subdued. We need leadership that understands the cockroaches and not roaches themselves. We need citizens that understand the cockroaches. The waiter handled the roach to near perfection, without any chaos. It is not the cockroach, but the inability of the ladies to handle the disturbance caused by the cockroach that disturbed the ladies.

Don’t forget these roaches are with us, live with us, know us. Have we taken into cognizance their behaviour so as to handle the disturbances caused?

Have we been observant of the behaviour of our political class in the run up to the General Elections, not that much governance has taken place but that governance has ceased? Reactions are always instinctive whereas responses are always well thought of, just and right to save a situation. Do Nigerians from the show of shame see that these are cockroaches, with a short life span, but cumulatively they are ruining this space called Nigeria.

The roaches have eaten and continue to eat into the societal fabric. Universities everywhere both legal and illegal, but what is the quality of research papers on “how to kill cockroaches”, when more time is spent on strikes, plagiarism, sex/money-for-marks and other ‘pro-cockroachial’ behaviour.

The roach epidemic is upon us…government misadventure in almost all facets and the roaches are having a field day, the Jamaicans say cockroach neber so drunk him walk a fowl yard—in Nigeria, fowl im so drunk e no see cockroach dance. Are we winning or the cockroaches overwhelming us—only time will tell.


Prince Charles Dickson PhD

Team Lead

The Tattaaunawa Roundtable Initiative (TRICentre), Development & Media Practitioner|Researcher|Policy Analyst|Public Intellect|Teacher

Skype ID: princecharlesdickson


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