LOUDWHISPERS: Pythons Do Not Dance

When my son was young, if I returned from a work trip, he would pester me for details of where I had been and what happened there. There was one story in particular that became his absolute favourite. Anytime he wanted to amuse himself, or get himself out of trouble, he would say, ‘Mummy, please tell me that story about Sierra Leone again’. So what happened in Sierra Leone? I went to Sierra Leone in October 2001 to run a women’s leadership workshop. The war had just come to an end, and civil society organisations were organizing to play a key role in governance. The program took place in Bo, in the Southern part of Sierra Leone. I landed in Freetown and was taken to Bo in a World Food Program (WFP) helicopter. It was a short ride of no more than 30 minutes. The workshop lasted for a week, and I was due to leave Bo on a Saturday morning so that I could spend the night in Freetown then catch my flight back to Accra on Sunday. The WFP helicopter was not available on Saturdays, so I was booked on a local airline, the kind with aircraft so tiny, you say a prayer as you board. My flight was scheduled for 11am. My friend and colleague Jeannette Eno, who had been my host responsible for convening the workshop and all the logistics, told me that they would need to send someone to check at the air strip if there would be a plane available. I asked what of course was a foolish question, ‘Isn’t it a scheduled flight’? Jeannette gave me an odd look. When the person she sent to check came back, lo and behold, the flight had been cancelled. Why? The plane did not come from Freetown. Why not? The Pilot died. This is the point where my little boy asked, ‘Was there no other pilot’? to which I answered, ‘Well, apparently no one else was available’. My son howled with laughter and rolled on the floor, asking me to repeat the story over and over again. I watched him laughing and started laughing myself, but my own laughter was not derision. There is a Yoruba proverb, ‘When a situation is beyond tears you laugh’.

After receiving the news that the flight to Freetown was not going to happen, Jeannette bundled me into a battered Peugeot 504 station wagon (around this time, this vehicle was almost extinct in Nigeria) so that I could get to Freetown in time before it got too late. The driving distance from Bo-Freetown should not be more than three and a half hours. The journey lasted seven hours. The road was virtually non-existent in many places. And there was no seat-belt. I was tossed from left to right as the vehicle huffed and puffed its way past hundreds of peace-keeping troops marching on both sides of the road. Just as the vehicle got to the outskirts of Freetown, the fan belt gave way. The driver parked the vehicle and called a Taxi which took me to my guest house. What if the vehicle had broken down on the road from Bo? There is a God.

While my son amused himself, I thought about the consequences of violent conflict. My experience in Sierra Leone was not the first time that I would find myself in a place that was just emerging from conflict that had claimed thousands of lives, displaced families, tortured and abused women and children and left devastation that would take another couple of generations to recover from. And it would not be my last. When Liberia’s civil war broke out in 1989, the population of the country was approximately 2.1m, which is roughly the size of Ekiti State in Nigeria. The refugee crisis of Liberia affected neighbouring countries, with places such as Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria playing host to thousands of refugees. In Ghana alone, the Buduburam Refugee camp which only had facilities for 12,000 people had over 75,000 refugees at one point, making it one of the largest refugee camps in Africa. I visited the Buduburam camp many times and at a point, at the African Women’s Development Fund, we had up to five grantee organisations in the camp. Thankfully, when peace returned to Liberia, we were able to support some of them as they returned home.

If the thought of what happened in Liberia and Sierra Leone in those years sounds scary, how does the thought of a possible full blown civil war in Nigeria sound? It should be unthinkable. If the civil war in two small West African countries who are no more than the size of Ikeja Local Government in Lagos State could destabilize the region, what would be the implications of a war in Nigeria? The total number of Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria right now due to the Boko Haram insurgency, community clashes and ecological disasters is up to 2.1m. The population of Liberia when their civil war started. These are ominous figures circulating in perilous times. Our leaders should not sleep with fire on the roof. The flames will consume the dwellers of mansions and the habitants of the slums. No one will be safe and no amount of money will buy immunity. If our country is set ablaze, some might flee abroad. Many Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, Rwandese, Somalians are still in the Diaspora. But how many will leave? Not everyone can go, and we are talking about a population of at least 180 million.

Our political leaders should listen, engage in the necessary dialogue and seek political solutions in a timely manner. Religious leaders should preach a culture of peace and tolerance and stop the sabre rattling. Ethnic irredentists should get over themselves and channel their energies into building community, solidarity and mutual respect. Our security agencies should exercise as much restraint as they possibly can and avoid acts of impunity. For the elders, traditional rulers, academics, elites and community leaders, now is the time to speak truth to power and call all demagogues to order. Old scores cannot be settled by going to war. Those days are gone. Any nation that goes to war today should be prepared to sacrifice the fortunes of their great-great-grand children – that is how long it will take to recover. In all these conversations we need to address the fate of young people. They are the ones who are being recruited as foot soldiers for the war mongers. The resources and energy currently going into laying the groundwork for a monumental crisis in the country should go into seeking ways in which our children can be gainfully employed and cease to be ready tools in the hands of the devil. There is something inherently masculine about war and conflict. Men have always waged wars to protect and expand their territory. Women fight wars on men’s terms, and when all the dust has settled, they are the ones who are scarred the most. This is why women are more invested in waging peace than fighting men’s wars.

Recently, there was a meeting of some Nigerian women activists to reflect on the rising tensions in the country. This is an excerpt from their communique:

#NGWomen4Peace is a coalition of women representing all parts of Nigeria concerned with the current state of affairs and focused on ensuring that Nigeria remains a country of peace. We demand the following:

 

  • Zero tolerance for hate speech while promoting and protecting freedom of
    expression;

 

  • The engagement of women in governance processes in the public and private sector as well as peace building and conflict resolution platforms;

  • That ethnic, religious and political groups refrain from making blanket statements purporting to represent us without due consultation with us. We want all Nigerians to know that when these provocative statements are being made – these groups are not speaking for Nigerian women;

 

  • That we all work together for a better future for our country by promoting the ideal that we are our brothers and sisters keeper;

 

  • We live in hope for a better Nigeria where every individual has equal opportunities to be the best they can be for themselves and their communities. Nothing good comes without hard work and sacrifice but we, Nigerian women, declare that we can and must build the country of our dreams without sacrificing the lives of innocents.

 

We can all contribute towards a culture of peace by doing something as simple as refusing to forward yet another silly WhatsApp message, old/fake photograph or video clip. Let all the Facebook and Twitter warlords take ten seats back. Let us not get caught up in the vicious cycle of ‘I heard’ or ‘They say’, this is how wars are started. In parts of South East Nigeria, Operation Python Dance 2 is underway. The Python does not dance, it slithers, so there is nothing graceful or charming about it. The Python is a relentless carnivore, can lay ambush from the top of a tree or from the ground, and only a foolish or crazy person would want it for a pet. The Python is not to be messed with. The name of the operation should give us a clue. War is not an option, and this is something we have to be very unsentimental and clear-eyed about.

 

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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18 Responses to LOUDWHISPERS: Pythons Do Not Dance

  1. Gloria Ogunbadejo September 18, 2017 at 8:43 am

    Wise words set out as clear as day for all and anyone to comprehend….May the Divine prevent this call and understanding of this message and similar pleas from falling on deaf ears! AMEN

    Reply
  2. Ogechi September 18, 2017 at 10:49 am

    Great expository piece and real.
    Pythons do not dance indeed.
    They swallow,
    They cause to disappear
    They kill.
    Stay on Alert. This is not a dance.
    Is this still a Democratic rule or ????

    Reply
  3. Olakunle Olajide September 18, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    These are exemplary words from a woman who can relate to the ruins caused by wars. I just pray and hope this won’t get out of hands in my beloved country. The situation of things are not overly palatable at the moment and now, the thought of war is lingering. May the good Lord prevent this from happening.

    Reply
  4. Princess September 18, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    A writer once said women are intelligent creatures, I concur. Ma’am you have just proved that in this write up. We as Nigerians needs to be extra careful, am saying this from the perspective of political black mail and the likes. Some mouth need to be stopped. And we can only do that if and only if we can stop posting and speaking gibberish of those in power. May God help our understanding.

    Reply
  5. Akpes September 18, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    An ideal hand is the devil’s work shop. Most of our illiterate young chap don’t want to engage in menial jobs, hence that tend to constitute nuisances to the society. If you give a hoodlum little stipend to start up a fight or war now they will do more just for the money. Not until we come together as one, there can never be peace in Nigeria.

    Reply
  6. Ebonychyqui2 September 18, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    This country would only get better if we give it a synergistic approach. We all need to come together to achieve a common goal, which is peace. If not war would be the order of the day.

    Reply
  7. Femi Diipo September 18, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    Python indeed does not dance, the title of this article brilliantly tells it all. War is not an option and we must all do all we can to make sure this doesn’t happen in this country. As well illustrated here, everyone suffers at war, and we’d all be victims if we allow this to happen

    Reply
  8. Dom Dom September 18, 2017 at 7:10 pm

    It’s always sad to realize that no matter how much lessons history offers, some will still always choose to be victim of avoidable events. By now, one would think everyone will be doing all they can to make sure war doesn’t happen again in this country and history doesn’t get to repeat itself. Sadly, we are not all that sane. But we the sane ones must make sure that war doesn’t get to happen this time, and the python is slaughtered even before it takes its first breath

    Reply
  9. Olufunke Baruwa September 18, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    Erelu has penned a very thought provoking and timely piece which calls for action from all of us who believe in peace.. I suggest we all do the needful and let the change indeed begin with us

    Reply
  10. Perpetua Dandeson September 19, 2017 at 3:06 am

    With our country’s population, we should not be thinking about war. An elderly woman who visited a while ago said that she prays that her children will not see what she saw as a child. The people who are gunning for war are oblivious to its lingering effects. We really need to stop sharing pictures and videos that induce fear and hatred. Not many Nigerians will sit to think about the authenticity of the broadcast. God help us.

    Reply
  11. Elaine Nwosu September 19, 2017 at 9:07 am

    Hmmm. please, let us share this.

    Reply
  12. Foluke Adams September 19, 2017 at 9:10 am

    If we will work on ourselves and say the truth. Speak wisdom and not be selfish or proud about the right thing then the python won’t dance again. The python will be killed. God bless you for these words of wisdom.

    Reply
  13. Loreta Williams September 19, 2017 at 9:12 am

    @olufunke. You said it. The change must start with us. Let gather whoever we can gather and educate them. These people don’t even know what war is, they only watched it. If it comes, the man composing the music will leave the singers to die. Let’s be wise.

    Reply
  14. Modupe Sharon September 19, 2017 at 9:13 am

    I am happy I read this here. God bless you ma. #OneNigeria

    Reply
  15. Bruce UGIOMOH September 20, 2017 at 6:54 am

    Very insightful thoughts. Without condescending, women are the ones that will redeem Nigeria in due season.
    We must be prepared to speak the truth to ourselves at all times.
    Soldiers anywhere in the world don’t like to be disrespected especially when they have a statutory duty to perform.
    We must guard our utterances and be mutually respectful to one another.
    This is our country and we owe it a duty to build it. I witnessed the needless civil war, some of my classmates never returned after the war… Please women in these zones, prevail on your men to see reason. The picture of war is ugly and should be avoided. Nuf said.

    Reply
  16. DSEED September 20, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    Python don’t dance indeed. Words for the wise.

    Reply
  17. Oluwatosino September 22, 2017 at 5:13 am

    What a beautiful piece…….
    Indeed, the python does not dance, it slithers. Of what good is war when it’s going to break apart the country and destroy lives and properties. I wonder why some Nigerians are still encouraging war when they know the histories of past wars and the damaged it caused.
    The Python is not to be messed with, So is War not something we should joke with. I hope Nigerians get a solid understanding of what are crying for. May the good Lord help us ijn..

    Reply
  18. Eric Onuoha September 23, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    A brilliant article. No country remains the same after a war. Nigeria is still recovering from the civil war that ended more than 30 years ago. We must do everything possible to avert any war in this country because we may never recover from its devastating effects.
    God bless Nigeria

    Reply

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