Freedom and Human Rights
Ibadan is a mega-village with about 5 million inhabitants of the Yoruba people, wonderful people without a doubt. If you haven't heard the name yet, then this huge village serves as the capital of Oyo State in Nigeria.
Recreation Club at Onireke is a famous gathering place throughout and across Ibadan and very popular among the 'who's who' of this mega-village and also popular with the Oyinbo (the peeled people), which is obviously a strange situation, because not even one 'who's who' is known in this mega-village.
At least not until the evening I'm telling you about, when Chief Balogun Ajanlakoko and I arrive at the 'Recreation Club' and Johnny "extra Large", the owner of the place, welcomes us with a typical huge Lebanese smile.
Chief Ajanlakoko orders, without hesitation, I must say, his usual Black Label, in a large glass with plenty of ice. I take Chapman with a green cucumber, when some VIP-style who's rolls up to our table and asks if he can join. He drags a chair and settles down, before anyone manages to formulate a reasonable response like for example – no.
There is no time for embarrassment as Mister 'Who's Who' immediately leads the discussion. He is one of those who have no objection to hearing themselves talking and in fact you can see that he quite enjoys listening to what he has to say.
He tells the Chief that the "Black Label" is at his expense and orders a Black Label for himself. He looks at me. I'm with Chapman with green cucumber. I hate whiskey.
The gentleman introduces himself as Mr. Vincentius Bonaccorso - call me Din - and he does various businesses as well as contracting and he originally comes from Sicily. He calls himself Din, because Din is shorter, and he likes the sound.
Din's grandfather started the construction business in Sicily about eighty years ago and became one of the biggest contractors on the island. But - he said - I have different and diverse businesses around the world, and in a particular, Din is always on the look for good illegal businesses.
Because of the smoke I wasn't sure if I heard right, so I asked him exactly what kind of business does he refer to.
I have never met a gentleman looking for a "good illegal business," although I am well aware, mostly from American movies, that wise and intelligent guys are very successful ... sometimes ... in running good illegal businesses. Provided, of course, that there is public demand for those illegal products and services. Because as soon as there is demand, it's good business. Legal or illegal.
He has a house here in Ibadan, around the Ring Road. In addition, he also has a house in Sicily and New York. With a strong emphasis on the house in New York. It's very important to Din to mention the New York home, to make sure we understand and maybe even are willing to provide him with the level of respect he entitled to. According to his opinion of course.
Clearly, every time Din hits a successful transaction, his social ranking increases, and more friends seek his company and this is very important to him.
The entire Lebanese community knows all about the businesses that Din is involved in, such as the Mokola lottery games and Dugbe (the G is not pronounced) Market too, and many items around Nigeria were imported by Din. He even sells some items in Okitipupa, because many items are prohibited for import into Nigeria.
The Nigerian government bans the importation of many items because they must protect local industry, just as the British do to protect British industries.
Of course, there is almost no local industry in Nigeria at that time, so in fact the importation of various items is prohibited mainly to give the customs officials enough authority at the port to negotiate with the importers.
Such authority in the hands of customs officials is easily translated into naira and the naira is translated into dollars, and everyone is very happy with this arrangement. Especially the customs officials and Din.
Some of the prohibited items are food items from Europe. Of course, Oyinbo's food.
The young Yoruba, especially the ladies, believe that if they eat the food of the Oyinbo they will slowly look a Oyinbo too and if not, then they will use body cream to look like Oyinbo.
Chief Balogun Ajanlakoko points out that although most Nigerians like alcoholic beverages, such as beer or cognac, they do not like to smoke cigarettes and do not like to use Oyinbo's weeds.
He says - we have our own herbs for our rituals and traditions and no peeler will tell us, Nigerians, what to use, or why to use, our herbs. This is our tradition.
We, Nigerians are free in our free land, the Land of freedom – he says – Plus, Nigerians are afraid of needles or sniffing anyway.
Din takes a vocal 'schlook' from the Black Label and looks at Chief Ajanlakoko and says - around 1920 a decent American couldn't legally drink Black Label. The US Congress preferred that good Americans only drink alcohol illegally. By law! Imagine! The land of freedom! They called it the "Prohibition Law".
Such prohibition laws, which prohibit good and decent people from enjoying something, are very important laws for the business of intelligent businessmen.
These intelligent gentlemen are simply people with a good understanding of reality and they are trying to help decent American citizens enjoy what the American Congress defines as 'immoral' pleasures or unhealthy pleasures.
Prohibition laws, such as those laws that prohibit the use of alcohol, drugs, cigarettes or gambling, are very important laws for the business of the intelligent gentlemen, as these laws provide with a handsome income.
Of course, it is a big responsibility to run such big industries. But there is no choice, because the American Congress has decided that it does not want the government to manage or supervise these industries, and they prefer that intelligent and prudent people manage these industries independently.
Din continues - individual freedom and human rights also include the freedom of honest and good citizens to enjoy themselves, as long as they do not harm other good citizens. Capiche?
The chief supports the freedom to enjoy, but says - Uh-Uh ... when the pleasure starts to control you, it's already an addiction, isn't it?!
Besides, the people who use drugs, kill themselves. No-be-so?!? Both their health and their souls. Someone has to stop them from destroying themselves, right!?
Din agrees that drugs hurt them. But it's their life, their money, their decisions, their choices, their freedom and their rights.
Chief Balogun says – Na-Wow, we in Nigeria respect the human rights and individual freedom of people more than the democracies of the Oyinbos, with their funny laws.
So, what happened to this Wahala Law? – the chief asked Din.
Well, after Congress decided that the government would not regulate the alcohol industry, because drinking alcohol was 'immoral' or unhealthy or both, the wise gentlemen had no choice. They took responsibility for the supply of alcohol and began to manufacture, distribute and sell alcoholic beverages to the good and decent citizens of America.
Consequently, the wise men accumulated money and power and with this wealth, they also occasionally persuaded some government officials to help from time to time run the alcohol industry.
Din's uncle arrived to New York in 1921 to help his family in business. The workload was too much.
On the one hand, the American Congress representatives left the management of the industry to the intelligent guys, and on the other hand, the officials hindered the management efforts all the time. You can't really understand them - says Din.
The Chief says - we, the Yoruba have a proverb that says - even if the representatives in the Congress are right, it does not mean they are wise.
Because such prohibition laws do not prevent good citizens from using drugs; It just makes drug use illegal. That's all. Uh-Be. You understand?
Chief Balogun quickly jotted down on a napkin some interesting implications of such laws, which prohibit the freedom of good people to enjoy unhealthy habits.
Decent people continue to enjoy themselves, but illegally.
The Quality of the products (drinks or drugs) is worse. The health risk increases.
There are no regulations and supervision from appropriate authorities. More risks.
The cost is higher.
Intelligent guys benefit with dollars and power.
Intelligent guys make the system work for them.
Who are the winners? Who are the losers?
More decent citizens get hurt. for all kinds of reasons.
Smart people don't pay taxes.
Tax money can fund "help centers".
Citizens do not trust Congress to decide wisely.
What about freedom and human rights?!
I asked Din if the law prohibiting Euthanasia was included in the list of strange laws. I heard about Dr. Kevorkian, the hero of humanity. As a doctor, Dr. Kevorkian risked his doctor's license and his freedom, helping others end their terrible suffering and endless pain.
Anyway, who determines what is unhealthy or 'immoral'? the church? the media? The politicians? Corporate economic interests?
The chief asked - do you mean that the elected representatives do not understand what you are telling us here? Na-Lie! E-No-Be-So!
Some of the elected officials may understand - replied Din - but as soon as they get power, their little hidden "Hitler" comes out, and they forget everything about individual freedom and human rights.
There was even one lady minister who proposed to ban the use of salt in restaurants, because salt raises blood pressure. This not a joke.
Uh-uh ... what's up with these congressmen? What about respecting individual freedom? asked the Chief. It's like North Korea and China. When the government wants to, they simply lock good citizens in their homes and forbid them to leave.
Din says - don't worry, one day, even in America they will find a reason to lock good citizens in their homes.
When this hidden little "Hitler" comes out, they forget all about individual freedom and human rights.
Na-Wow ... Chief Balogun says - In our beloved country Nigeria, we allow good people to have fun. Of course, if they don't hurt others. This is our system here. We have freedom in Nigeria. Chief sounds very proud.
The chief says - it seems that most people, including those representatives in Congress, succeed very well even without intelligence and reason, without the ability to understand reality and without data and knowledge. They manage well in their lives with emotions, beliefs and intuitions.
You can understand them, after all, understanding is a very difficult process and learning about data and facts takes too much time.
Since that evening, I wonder to myself - apparently the good guys lose and the bad guys win.
Can't those governments manage unhealthy habits and still allow freedom and basic human rights?
Why once they get to power, their hidden little " Hitler" comes out and they forget all about individual freedom and human rights.
Eventually, that meeting was over and it was the end of the story, except that five months later, Chief Balogun Ajanlakoko tells me that, Din reached out to him for assistance.
Din asked the Chief if he knows someone in UTC - a large supermarket chain in Nigeria.
Din imported eight containers of Oyinbo's chocolate chip cookies from Denmark, mainly because importing chocolate cookies is illegal in Nigeria.
But Din can't sell them. Nigerians hate sweets. Everything must be spicy. There is no demand for sweets in Yoruba land. Especially if it is from Denmark.
Chief Balogun Ajanlakoko told Din - Na-Wowu-You … good business is only when there is demand. Illegal is not enough for the business to succeed.
Anyway, at least, we now have the freedom to chomp excellent chocolate cookies from Denmark.