A deceit of lapwings by Mahmud Jega


BY MAHMUD JEGA, APRIL 18, 2022 | 01:17 PM

The other day I was looking at some weird collective nouns of animals and it occurred to me that the Englishman who concocted them probably had Nigeria in mind. He was thinking of Nigerian institutions, politics, society, laws and political processes when he coined those phrases, allegedly as collective nouns for different groups of animals.

Whoever coined the collective noun a train of echidna had Nigeria Railway Corporation in mind. This rare Australian mammal is one of only two mammals that lay eggs, just as NRC is the only railway company whose tracks are at the mercy of bandits. Was the Englishman thinking of our security agents when he coined the collective noun a troop of baboons, soldiers who arrived at the Kaduna train attack scene long after 60 passengers had been herded into the bush? Government later said that Ansaru terrorists aligned with bandits to attack the train, which reminds me of the collective noun a coalition of cheetahs.

On a good day, beggars, touts and hawkers litter Nigerian streets, probably the reason for the collective noun an intrusion of cockroaches. With equal pestilence but often hidden from view are Nigeria’s army of e-beggars, to which NCC has not found a software solution. They remind me of the collective noun a siege of cranes.

The collective noun a tower of giraffes reminds me of high rise buildings in Lagos, Abuja and other cities from which the business elite and top public officers gaze far beyond the horizon but in reality hardly see beyond their noses. I think the phrase a bank of Komodo dragons was coined with Nigeria’s first, second and third generation banks in mind, pre and post consolidation. They deduct so many hidden charges from customers’ accounts, from stamp duty to alert fee to account maintenance fee, that accounts get depleted without the account owner ever buying anything.

May be our Corporate Affairs Commission never heard of the collective noun a company of moles. Otherwise, it should carefully screen its companies’ register and weed out millions of companies whose offices are located in brief cases. On the other hand, Nigeria’s oligarchs were the target of the collective noun a richness of mink, cornering as they do most national assets and distorting the GDP per capita picture. The Organised Private Sector in Nigeria, which since 1980 spent more dollars to import machinery, spare parts and raw materials than the value of goods it produced, recalls to mind the collective noun a business of ferrets. The recently invented virtual company AGM inspired the collective noun a congregation of eagles.

Every now and then, our Senate goes into an “executive session,” which probably inspired the collective noun a parliament of owls. Many Nigerians align executive sessions with legislative and oversight hanky panky. Maybe things would have been neater if the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution had been actualized. In practice, the relationship between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government recalls to mind the collective noun a conspiracy of lemurs.

This collective noun a court of kangaroos, was it coined with Nigerian customary, shari’a, magistrate, rent, high, appeal and supreme courts in mind? The social scene is hardly neater than the governance scene. In Nigeria, shylock landlords remind me of the collective noun a shiver of sharks. Head of State General Obasanjo had tried to tame them with the Rent edicts in 1977 in order to stop landlords from removing the doors, windows and roofs of tenants. Nothing spoil, because Nigerian landlords think of their tenants as a colony of bats who troop out at dusk, infest trees, eat up the ripe fruits and mess the surroundings with their droppings.

I am sure Nigerian markets were the inspiration for the collective noun a mess of iguanas. Although most state governments tried to build modern markets with wide spaces for rapid response by fire fighting vehicles, stall “attachments” soon took over these corridors and there is hardly enough space to walk around. Nigerian commercial vehicles, on the other hand, inspired the collective noun a prickle of porcupines, each with its sharp quills up and ready to shoot.

Ponzi schemes that flourish in Nigeria, with many young and not-so-young people believing that they could invest money today and it will double by tomorrow, probably inspired the collective noun a shrewdness of apes. Apes are however smarter than Nigerians because no self-respecting ape will believe in money doubling. Elders are supposed to be the repositories of experience and wisdom. I however thought the collective noun a memory of elephants was inspired by Nigerian elders. Segun Adeniyi recently described some elders as belonging to a generation that forgets nothing and forgives nothing, and for whom the past is more important than the present!

Maybe the collective noun a glaring of cats was inspired by Nigerian wives who regard their husbands as perpetual cheats, hence the endless attempts to crack their husbands’ phone passwords. Nigerian husbands however inspired a collective noun of their own, a rhumba of rattlesnakes. It derived from the fight by male rattlesnakes in order to corner a female. This reflects the jealously of Nigerian men who throw in everything, personal, official, material and spiritual in the fight for a woman. Getting married in Nigeria must have inspired the collective noun a risk of lobsters.

Nigerian lawyers sometimes remind me of the collective noun a congregation of alligators. Gators, as they call them in the Florida Everglades, lie in wait and pounce on unsuspecting visitors to the water, just as many lawyers in Nigeria peruse the newspapers every morning, looking for a potentially libelous story, which they rush to point out to a client and advise him to sue. Nigerian NGOs inspired the collective noun a consortium of octopuses. They have their hands dug into every pie, mostly not for altruistic reasons. Nigerian academics, whose trade union ASUU has been on strike for a cumulative four years in the last ten, were the inspiration behind three collective nouns, namely an obstinacy of buffaloes, a thunder of hippos and a crash of rhinos.

That the national scene is infested with insurgents, kidnappers, bandits, communal warriors, secessionists and “race” agitators must have inspired the collective noun a surfeit of skunks. Foul smell from skunks is even better than the smell of tears and blood. Roadside preaching by Nigerian clerics very much sounds like a lamentation of swans. Some religious sects go beyond that and engage in zealous displays, which must have inspired the collective noun a murmuration of starlings.

Nigeria has entered the 2023 political season. Political party leaders who are busy juggling with zoning formulas, primary election time tables, cost of expression of interest and nomination forms remind me of the collective noun a prowl of jaguars, about to pounce on prey. Delegates to party congresses and conventions remind me of the collective noun a cackle of hyenas, intent on making a killing and unmindful of whatever happens afterwards. They don’t have to bother because the nominated candidates’ election campaigns remind me of the collective noun a mischief of rats. If one tenth of the promises made by candidates since 1999 had been fulfilled, Nigeria would have resembled El Dorado by now. Nigerian political conventions inspired the collective noun a celebration of polar bears, all colour and no substance.

Abuja football fans that wrecked the Moshood Abiola Stadium because the Super Eagles failed to edge out Ghana’s Black Stars must have inspired the collective noun a mob of deer. Have you seen a video of deer migration in the Serengeti, millions of them? They are better behaved than Nigerian football fans who never believe that a match is either won or lost.

Federal Government’s recently amended borrowing plan to finance the budget while fuel subsidy consumes a third of it must have inspired the collective noun an implausibility of gnus. This grim looking antelope must have looked askance when it heard that fuel subsidy was removed, then reintroduced so that APC will not lose the next election.

Section 84[12] of the Electoral Act, which National Assembly members smuggled in at the last minute in order to trip their ministerial election opponents, inspired the collective noun an ambush of tigers. One Bengal tiger lying in wait is a lot of danger; imagine if there are many of them. The Council of State agreeing to grant state pardon to the country’s highest profile thieves when thousands of petty thieves languish in jail, what is the inspiring collective noun for it? A deceit of lapwings.

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