“Blessed are the mad, for they shall inherit the future” – a yet-to-be-authored book.
I only recently began learning the mathematics of insanity, that elusive and precious gift of madness. I am now a bit skilled at the art of mental subtraction, chipping away at the remnants of my saneness. I already know the formula for the multiplication of voices in my head. That is an easy one. The hard part is the division, allowing yourself to collapse into a total state of breakdown. And yes, there is a method to this madness.
I do not remember exactly when this weird obsession for the absurd started. Or where it came from. Life begins at zero. You come into the world unmade, unbroken, undefined. But I think I was born differently. There was already something inside of me. Something restless, secretly violent. I would later understand it to be the potential for lunacy.
The craving for this madness started to materialise sometime before I gained admission to the university. It was in 2013, during one of the infamous ASUU strike actions. I was at home, awaiting a call-up letter. I was idle. The kind of idle that could make a person do unmentionable things in the name of curing boredom. But I had no such problem. Books have always been my way of keeping the devil from finding a workspace in me.
My reading had such veracity that it took on a life of its own. I read about ancient and distant cultures, anti-establishment poets, human rights movements, antiquated philosophies and much more. I felt myself become more aware and more depressed. The beauty of soul I found in these works did not match anything in the world I inhabited.
I became even more aware of the world around me. It was perhaps the most productive time for me artistically. Everything caught my attention. Every word. Every laugh. Every sweat. Every song. The world seemed to open up to me in ways I did not know were possible. My father made me watch the news with him every night. I was always browsing the pages of the internet for news and history. I was viewing the world through new eyes. New nerdy eyes. I was wide awake, a newly-conscious being fully cognizant of his socio-political reality; I took it all in. And something broke in me. Something raw. Something metallic. Like an iron cage. It was as though my mind had been imprisoned for too long by degenerative mentalities and I was beginning to actively move away from that reality into that of madness.
My madness was not of the psychiatric nature. It was a wild, volatile thing, yes. But it was also a tender blessing of sorts. It was not the kind of madness which required chains or sedation. It begged for flight and aliveness. I started to realise that I lived in a world where everything had gone to rot. And Nigeria is a perfect representation of that decadence, that slow ruin. What made it worse was that no one around me could really tell. Or perhaps, they had just become too used to it to care. It was as though I was the sole clairvoyant man in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”.
We live in a Nigeria where the viral video of a child, stating that his life’s ambition is to succeed in life even through extra-legal means, makes us laugh at its supposed hilarity. We live in a Nigeria where educated lawmakers can turn down a bill for women empowerment because it is “unreligious”. We live in a Nigeria where vice-chancellors punish students for exhibiting the intellectual radicalism our universities were built to teach. We live in a Nigeria where tribally-motivated killings are becoming the order of the day and our leaders are busy partying and going for check-ups every time they have a cough. We live in a goddamn Nigeria where animals have begun stealing money and all we can do is laugh and make memes out of it. Now, isn’t that madness?
That sort of madness has become normalized. And I could not continue to be part of the charade. I knew there was an urgent need for alternative thinking. When the kind of thought-process which has been normalized in your society is one where a degenerative mind-set is the conventional temperament, you know you need to find new ways of thinking. And divergent thinking is always punished with the term “mad”.
I remember the intellectual conversations I had back in school with a handful of friends I knew to be sound, progressive individuals. In their presence, I felt at home. I was not alone in my conviction that the world was broken and needed fixing. They were the kinds of people who gave me hope and courage to dare to be different. They were my tribe.
But whenever I expressed certain unorthodox thoughts in the presence of other folks, they would look at me with true concern in their eyes, as if I was a once-beloved brother who had lost his mind to dementia. And that is a problem in Nigeria.
We have little tolerance for new, liberal ideas which could help us move forward as a more inclusive and operational society. We shy away from having important conversations because they are rebellious and “depressing”. We then label those few brave enough to do something about it mad men. That is why I have refused to let that stigma remain a stigma. I am accepting it boldly and proclaiming that the future belongs to mad men, those brave enough to be different. To embody difference.
In order to fight injustice, we must be brave enough to take all the attacks coming our way, even from those who are supposed to encourage us. Injustice has become the norm and to go against it, we have to be willing to accept the title of the insane.
It is 2017. Students of the University of Ibadan are enraged over the school’s failure to provide them identity cards after two sessions of payment. They refuse to listen to any excuses and demand that what they paid for be provided to them before their examinations.
Led by the indefatigable Aderemi Ojo, the student-body demands to be treated with respect. But the university is not having any of it. They do not. Then, the students decide to embark on a peaceful protest.
And the school’s response? Well, that is a whole new ball game. Below is a quote from a Commissioner of Police during a phone call to Ojo:
“So go and warn your students – if they like their lives, none of them should come out of that school because I am ready for you o! If they want to waste their lives, let them come out. If any student comes out in protest tomorrow and blocks any road, I will deal with him. Tell them that you spoke to the Commissioner of Police and that is what he told you. I am not joking. And I will be there by myself, not that I will deploy men,” he further stated.
The school management proceeds to suspend schooling activities and send the students home for this reason. The message is loud and clear: youth rebel against authority, they get shut down. And that contributes to the culture of silence. And slow death.
Bemoaning this shameless suppression of divergent voices, a friend notes how this is the order of the day in the society. “I swear, we need a revolution of [madness] in this country.”
We cannot continue this way. Every book I have ever read on a historical revolution has, at its heart, the factor of divergence. Huey Newton, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Anton Lembede all exhibited this trait. They embraced what was seen as madness during their time as a way of birthing change, real change – not the empty slogan draped over billboards for cheap political votes.
We need more mad people in the society. Every society needs those beautifully-weird thinkers who reflect outside the box, beyond the confines of traditional thought. The key is in the youth. Cliché, yes, but that is because no one has really taken efforts to make such statements outdated. The truth is still the same. The youth still need to rise to the occasion. But we all know the beautiful ones are not yet born. Even the youth are problematic. We can however take the time to educate ourselves, open ourselves to newer perspectives, learn about ways we can have meaningful conversations about moving the country forward.
I believe little acts like encouraging conversations about issues relating to social justice in terms of culture, politics, economics and social inclusion of youth and other disadvantaged groups can lead to real growth. I actively support movements and organisations which work hard to promote justice and new ways of development in the society.
We need more mad men and this is the simple trick to being one: unlearn the lessons of tribalism, religious intolerance, patriarchy and classism. Open your mind to the many realities of the world. Realise that there is no singular way of being. Learn to embrace new radical ideas even if they contrast with convention. Stand up for your beliefs when need be.
We need a revolution of madness. And oh boy, I am definitely ready for it.
Kanyinsola Olorunnisola is a poet, essayist and writer of fiction. He is the Founder of the Nation of Madmen (www.nationofmadmen.com), and can be reached at email@example.com.