The idea of a city without people is a poetic misnomer which conjures the image of a vast solitude that is eerie, that is otherworldly, that is unnatural. How on earth can a city exist without people? Depopulation is a picture associated with other planets—Mars, Jupiter, Moon. As for the earth, God created the earth and populated it with people, with human beings, with animals, with plants, with life. From civilization to civilization, people make the world and people make the world go round.
To imagine a world without people is vacuity. Emptiness.Vast, vast emptiness that belongs to the realms of other planets and celestial bodies. Certainly not this earth, our Mother Earth. That is why when man travelsinto space, the first thing astronautslook for is whether there is life, whether there are people. That is why we watch movies with eerie voices shouting out into space: “Is anybody out there?”
In the mystery of the unknown, we fill our imaginations of the other worlds outside us with imaginary sightings of UFOs—Unknown Flying Objects—in the forms of flying saucers blinking mysterious lights.
God made the world. But man built the city. From civilization to civilization, the city is the work of man. God created the jungle and man built the concrete jungle. Look at New York City. The quintessential picture of a concrete jungle. Houses upon houses. Structures upon structures.Edifices reaching out to the sky. That is why they call it skyscrapers. Look at the tallest building in the world in Dubai. Remember when man attempted to build the first skyscraper, a tower aimed at reaching heaven and God was so angry that he created confusion and diversity such that man began to speak in different tongues, different languages. That is what we read in the Bible about the Tower of Babel. Read Genesis 11:1-9. This was after the Great Flood that destroyed the world in the time of Noah.
A city is about people. That is why my good friend Seye Kehinde founded a magazine in 1996 and called it City People. A magazine that has refused to die when other soft-sell magazines of that era had fallen and crumbled like the Tower of Babel.
What is a city without people? People are the soul of the city. People make the city come alive. New York, I keep saying, is my favourite city. It’s the city that never sleeps because there, people never sleep. There is life in the city, any time of the day or night. Restaurants are never closed totally. Night life never ends until day takes over. The subway is never closed. Streets are never empty. Life goes on and on, non-stop, 24 hours. I have never heard of a city without people.
The closest thing to having a deserted city was the picture of Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 when two brothers of terror, of Chechen Kyrgyzstani-American origin made big news when they exploded their home-made bombs at the finishing line of the marathon race that killed and wounded many people. To evade the law, one brother shot the other and even run him down with a stolen car. That’s how Cain killed Abel all over again in this modern day terror horror. Then started a massive manhunt for the runaway Cain called DzhokharTsarnaev. An unprecedented manhunt for this terrorist led to the Boston lockdown, a city completely shut down with people asked to stay home. Eventually, the terrorist, wounded and covered with blood was arrested inside a boat after a shootout with the police.
Today, I am part of a city without people in a world depopulated by the powerful coronavirus that has kept everybody locked inside, not going out for fear of fallen a victim to this hard-hitting virus that has changed the world and changed everything about life. The virus that has no answer.The virus that has killed so many and is still killing.The virus that even atomic bomb and superpowers of the world today are afraid of and dare not challenge.The virus that has brought spiritual revival, leading to everybody calling on God Almighty to intervene. Suddenly, even atheists are now believing and turning to God to redeem us from a sickness beyond the understanding of man.
Here in my room of confinement suffering from malaria, I am struggling to write this column. This is the time when a sneeze, a small cough or a cold fills you with so much apprehension. Today, the fear of coronavirus is the beginning of wisdom.
I don’t feel like writing, yet I must not disappoint my readers. I turn to my friend the poet Niyi Osundare whose book CITY WITHOUT PEOPLE inspired this column.Osundare found himself in the eye of the Katrina hurricane that drowned, devastated and depeopled the city of New Orleans. The poet almost died. He lost his manuscripts, he lost everything, but God saved him from the evil Katrina. And he lived to write these poems as a “thank-you song for the hundreds of people here and around the world who reached out to me and my family with inspiring love, generosity, and compassion. They brought a new resonance and poignancy to that famous Yoruba saying, Enialasoo mi (People are my clothes).”
Bereft of ideas, I asked my readers: What do you want me to write on this week? I got some responses on Facebook. Akinwum Akinnola wrote: “I suggest that you write on the ‘Cluelessness of Leadership’. It will be a masterpiece.” Qasim Adewale Adeyemo also wrote: “Leadership: Why did we get it wrong in Nigeria?” Cynthia Franklin Elendu: “HUNVID20”. Rasheed Destiny Obi: “Write on The danger and effect of COVID-19”. Abolaji Fatiregun: “There is plenty to write. Just think.” Mike Mbiwe: “Saturday is special to you and your fans. Let your thoughts flow unhindered.” Ndidi Nriagu Asika: “Write on the fire incidence at the office of Accountant General of the Federation.” Oladipo Awojobi: “Write on The Saga of Funke Akindele.”
On a final note, I thank you all, for your suggestions. Just like there cannot be a city without people, there cannot be journalism without people. People make the city and people make journalism. The two are intertwined.Keep safe my people. Very soon, the coronavirus terrorist will be arrested and we will be free again to people our deserted streets.