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War, hate, fear: Let’s seek laughter please!

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LAUGHTER is seldom harmful, but have you ever had a good laugh at yourself in a quiet moment for what you deem a goof? It is a painful experience. Such laughters are bitter and deeply peturbing. They come with a conscience that stabs you as if you had been silly or just knots.

 My recent experience of this was not funny though I really had a good laugh at myself. For most times of the four days we stayed in Kano last week during the last convention of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) Kano 2021, the worsening state of security across Nigeria, especially the rising level of violence in South East preoccupied our break-time chats.

 Indeed, the Sunday, May 30 through Wednesday, June 2, Kano 2021 Summit of NGE kicked off at a time that made such discussions inevitable. The well-known politician from northern Nigeria, Ahmed Gulak, was killed in Owerri, capital of Imo State on the eve of the convention. The day the event began and the day after, coincided with the date of 54th anniversary of the proclamation of defunct Republic of Biafra and the date groups like the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB) among others urged and impressed on people in the states of South-East of Nigeria (the Biafra enclave) to stay at home to commemorate the history. The well-reported vast compliance with the commemoration as directed by the activists as well as the reported cases of street actions made the eastern region a frontline topic on many lips. 

In just a couple of days, the South-East evolved from newsbreak item to the issue on front page news and the odd phenom in most discussions, albeit muted. In privacies, chats rumbled silently but loudly on ‘what’s happening in the East’ during the grand meet of Nigerian editors even as the matter never came up in the convention’s agenda.  In the various corners where the chats held, the persisting thrust was how the South-East suddenly turned violent and concerns over the increasing influence of militant activists in the region.

My friend cum chat partner and I, being Igbo and Editors based in South-East, were regularly consulted by others who sought confirmation or corroboration of one information or another. Most of the inquests were magnified developments steeped in fear. Some expressed deep concerns. Some mocked Igbo people. Some prayed for the zone while others were livid in rage over the events in South-East – actually finding it difficult to hide their disgust with “you Ibo people and your Biafra” (their words). Many did not say anything but their silence was heavily pregnant with meanings as scary as standing close to a tiger in a cage. 

The mood was so tense that as newsreels of deserted streets of South-East, bonfires, burnt public facilities like police stations, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) offices, attacked security and law enforcement agents, mob actions among others came up on television, one unconsciously strayed one’s proboscis to sense how the people around reacted.  It was such an edgy consciousness of one’s ‘Igboness’ that one had never experienced.

My colleague and I, like, possibly, most Igbo persons there, and we were many, felt the sharp impact of every news bit from the South-East in the very long four days.

In our corner, my friend (whose name I withhold because I do not have his permission for disclosure) and I would wonder how things are suddenly turning awry in our dear East. None of us has less than three decades of attending such a national forum of journalists, and none is less than a dozen in the NGE fold but that quartet of days was different – not that we curried others’ favour but failed to get or that we felt blighted rather we found ourselves having cause to interrogate Igbo land’s situation with clear, critical assessment while in a setting that made us savour the vibrations and currents of others’ reaction to things about us. Even if we were both the lead character of the hit cartoon film, ‘Despicable Me’, we had direct personal encounter with real people and real moods that made us feel how others react to what we do.

As we sat over our snacks, drinks and meals and pondered, we kept arriving at such questions as: how did things degenerate this much? Is the current situation the best for Igbo land? What kind of society will we have if this trend of violence and siege continues? What kind of leaders can the current development throw up? Where had this kind of development happened and what was the result? Who will rein in the dogs and how? If not this approach to the cause of the region, what is the alternative? How serious, wise or extreme are the calls for a break or nothing? Are there silver linings and hope in near horizon? What happens to the future, with or without us?

The questions came in torrents. None was convincingly answered.

Upon arriving Akanu Ibiam Airport, Enugu, as we made our road trip inland towards home, across states’ borders in South-East, we were made to stop at spots where soldiers mounted checks. At some checkpoints (one of which took us about two lulling hours to cross), all commuters had to alight from the vehicle, walk pass the soldiers with hands raised.

Till we parted ways to our various homes, we kept trying in futility to crack out from our clogged heads, reasonable solutions to the overwhelming headiness, now prevalent in Igbo land.  We kept asking ourselves how to talk to the now high-on-zeal soldiers and cops on the streets; the frenetic but misguided ‘unknown gunmen’; the highly agitated mob all-over Igbo land and the ordinary Igbo person (who hitherto, never allowed the manipulative antics of politicians and activists of whatever cause to sway him or her from her world respected enterprise, even if small-business trading) and make sense.  

Thoughts of these without headway kept me brooding since ‘NGE: Kano 2021’ until a moment ago I burst into laughter at myself.  A mischief voice within me, quizzed: ‘Who do you seek to engage, is it the ones with ears, hearts or minds or the ones without any of these?’

The muse (let me give the agent that name) engaged me further, inquiring if a person whose conscience is so skewed that he does not feel the worth of human life or value society’s order would have the faculty for listening to ‘a person who only writes with pen on paper’. After my encounter with the agent, I laughed myself to sleep. Interestingly, I woke up with a lesser encumbered heart.   

Indeed, as I later found, some expert opinions buttress this.  “Laughter,” as a 2013 research by British scholars discovered, “may not be the best medicine, but it can help.”

The health researchers said, “the benefits of laughter include: reduced anger, anxiety, depression and stress; reduced tension (psychological and cardiovascular)… reduced risk of heart attack…   increased energy expenditure,” among others as the scholars estimated that a day of “genuine laughter” could burn 2,000 calories and reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

The researchers who appraised medical documents 1946 through 2013 even found instances of laughter causing “higher pregnancy rates after in vitro fertilisation when a clown joked with would-be mothers.” They said their search was limited to laughter without exploring related behaviour such as chuckles or grins and summed thusly:  “We infer that laughter in any form carries a low risk of harm and may be beneficial.”

So, why not try the laughter solution since everybody is going crazy. Where are the writers, minstrels and comedians? Hurry up and save the land from this overwhelming siege of hatred, fear and harrowing war calls!

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