A recent occurrence in which a lion escaped from the Jos wildlife parkand was subsequently shot dead had mildly entertained Nigerians.
Once upon a time, in a wildlife park in the mountain-belt of WondaWondaLand, lived a Lion. A big, old, statesmanly Lion. One day, bored stiff of living in captivity, it decided to step out and see the outside world. It was the biggest mistake of its life. And the final one.
The Ogas-At-The-Top whose job it was to ensure that the Lion spent its allotted days in its allotted space, put out a “Wanted: Dead or Alive” notice upon the Lion’s head.
It didn’t take too long. The Lion, unfamiliar with freedom, was swiftly cornered. The Lion temporarily forgot that this was WondaWondaLand, where escapee lions are rounded up, not with tranquilizer guns but with rusting Kalashnikovs.
The bullets dropped like oversized full-stops on the open page of the Lion’s life. The end. The rumour mills of WondaWondaLand – the only factories in the land that do not require electricity to function at full capacity – creaked into life. Someone suggested that there was indeed a tranquilizer gun, but it was locked up in the “not-on-seat” Park Director’s Office. Some people swore that no sooner had the Lion fallen than wild-eyed locals descended upon the carcass, determined to turn a fearsome beast into an awesome feast.
Some people had photos to back up this theory, but at the time of going to press no one had confirmed that the photo was not swiped off Google Images’ cache of “20 Weirdest Photos You’ve Never Seen!” Still, other people insisted the Lion had been in captivity since the 1970s, even though experience teaches that Lions like him do not live past fifteen.
It’s sad enough that we might never know the real truth about the Lion. But there’s even sadder stuff. Not once, in all of the news that travelled the land, was the Lion credited with an actual, proper name. Everyone referred to him as “the lion” or “the Jos lion”. Or – shudder! – “the escaped lion”. Sigh. Even in Zimbabwe, the lions have got names.
There are those who say it was the Lion’s fault. Why did he succumb to the temptation of leaving the park? Why did it leave the absolute safety of captivity for the absolute lawlessness of freedom? Perhaps they are right. But let’s remember what happened to the WondaWondaLand Lion who stayed put. It happened in the Wild Wild Western city of Ibadan, many years ago. That Lion stayed put. Behaved sensibly and responsibly. Waited for its food to come to it, day in day out, entertained the guests who strolled past.
And then the Prophet decided to show up. The Prophet was not exactly the most normal of persons. His was one book short of a complete Bible; one vision short of a comprehensible Revelation.
The Prophet entered the Lion’s den, perhaps fancying himself a modern-day Daniel. Perhaps he heard voices. Whatever it was, he climbed the wire-fence and dropped into the den. The perplexed Lion rubbed his eyes to be sure it wasn’t the contact lens messing with him. Long story short, in the scene that followed, Preacher Man lay dead in the dust. He was no Daniel, it turned out. But at least the Lion had helped hasten his reuniting with the original Dan.
It would turn out to be the Lion’s final act. For taking the life of a man who offered it to him, his own was demanded, and taken, even though he had not offered it. The Lion died.
There was a third Lion. Maybe not. We really don’t know. One May Day in 2014, the rumour mills again threw up something about an escaped Lion. This time in the south-eastern WondaWondaLand city of Owerri. Not any ordinary Lion, but a “hungry” one. The town went berserk: offices and shops closed hurriedly, parents fell over one another to whisk their kids out of school. The police swung into action. When they emerged, they had in their dreaded custody someone they called an “alarmist” – the man alleged to have started the rumour.
We don’t know if there was really a Lion, or if it had indeed contemplated fleeing the Zoo (the story doesn’t say). What we do know is that an entire town came to believe that a Hungry Lion had ruined their entire day. You can bet that only a handful of people ever heard the rest of the story – that this was a case of an innocent Lion falsely accused.
Moral of the story: a tragic fate awaits WondaWondaLand’s lions, in or out of captivity. Stay put and you’re damned, get out and you’re still damned. And that’s only half the story. Somewhere in WondaWondaLand it occurred to someone with a philosophical bent that those lions were the perfect metaphor for the lives of WondaWondaLandas.
You see, life, for these harassed masses, is no different than for the hapless manes. Stay put and you’re damned, escape abroad (to Poundland or Trumpland or the Zumalopolis, or anywhere else), and you’re still damned, a second-class exile in the first world, homesick for a country that can’t tell the difference between AK-47s and tranquilizer guns.
In Nigeria, the lion are the masses.