A long time ago, a friend’s grandfather was watching television and saw the weather forecast for the very first time. As the forecaster reeled out the possibilities of cloudy and sunny, rainy and dry, the old man asked his grandson what the young lady forecaster was saying. My friend, the grandson, replied that broadcaster had said: “It is likely that it would rain tomorrow.” The old man, who was lying on his side, sat up with a start: “It will rain tomorrow? Who is she? The future is the preserve of God! What is this world turning into? Foretelling the future on television? This is total unbelief!”
At the beginning of this rainy season, many of us in the far North were really scared that, as the rains were late in coming, we were heading for a drought. Coupled, or tripled even, with other calamities (lack of electricity, inflation, Boko Haram), a drought would land us in the most unfortunate situation, and compound our woes. It was not until July that we heaved a collective Northern sigh of relief that the rains had come to stay, and in quantities and frequency desired. Phew! Alhamdu lillah. Cloudy and rainy are fine.
I am therefore mightily miffed when Nigerian and indeed African weather forecasters mimic Western forecasters in the sunny-and-fine mode. Many a weather forecast watcher knows that our forecasters take their cues from news channels such as the BBC and the CNN. Must we copy everything they people do? Can’t we invent an exotic African way to do our own things? Whenever the weather forecasters look up to the Far North (where I live), and find that it would be searing hot the next day, the forecasters would say exactly what a British forecaster would say in London: ‘sunny and fine’. And to me that isn’t fine, or funny, at all.
Nature is good. But it can also be ferocious, devastating, and destructive. The Asian 2004 Tsunami, America’s Katrina, this week’s Taiwan Morakot, the eruptions of volcanoes, Iranian earthquakes, the heat of Maiduguri in May, are all examples of what the weather can and will do.
True, all trades have their language and terminologies, and the Meteorological Services use ‘aviation’ language. To them, a sunny clear sky is fine because aircraft can have fine visibility. Conversely, a cloudy, rainy sky is bad weather because visibility is low. But the big question is: whom are the forecasters for: the pilot or the common people? If weather forecasting is for the aviation industry, I am sure they at aviation have a million and one ways of knowing whether Kano is enveloped by the harmattan dust, or if boiling under the spring sun at thirty seven degrees Celsius. To drive the difference home, our (we Far Northerners’) best weather is a rainy, cloudy (and therefore cool) day during the summer, and our worst is that ‘sunny and fine’ day of the forecasters.
Weather forecasting is supposed to be for the good of the people, so that one would know whether to leave home with a brolly or light clothing. In Britain, where almost everybody looks for a respite from the predominantly wet climate, a sunny day is a fine day. Indeed, to follow the sun, Britons spend billions for the heat and warmth of the Caribbean. But must it be so in the tropics, where the Good Lord has made enough sunshine available? The exception, they say, proves the law. Here, it cannot be the same ‘sunny day fine day’ thing. There isn’t any global thing about fine, sunny day. Each to his own.
Even in the same country such as Nigeria, there are lots of variations in the climate patterns, and therefore different perspectives of viewing the same weather. From an arid, semi-desert ends of the extreme North of Nigeria, the scenery opens to Savannah grassland, then to a temperate and mild climate of the plateaus, then further into a tropical rain forest, with all its swamps. All these component climatic parts of the Nigerian nation-state know the rains; but each part has a different and separate opinion of the “heavenly down-pour”, to borrow Lagosese.
Whenever I am in Lagos, I hear Lagosians complain of too much rain, too much flooding, impassability of roads. I feel for them, poor lot. Not one to annoy my friends, I join in, but always end by suggesting we change places. During one such visit when the people of Lagos were bemoaning flooding, Kano people were right then in their Friday mosques praying to God for more rain, while Lagosians were praying for the exact opposite. So how could any weather forecast be uniform in such a wonderful, weatherful country?
And then the word ‘fine’. P.M. Roger (in his 1852 dictionary) says the word may be interchanged with ‘excellent’, ‘good’, or ‘splendid’. In another place, he says dry (weather) is fine (weather). Now whose perspective is that? A Londoner of course. A Lagosian and a Monrovian would concur, but not a Katsinian. To me in Kano, a dry weather means drought means hunger means death. All the more reason we pray for rain. Therefore, don’t let any Far Northerner friend hear you complaining of the rains, O You Lagosians!
So when the next weather forecast comes up and it is expected to be sunny in the Far North, let that wonderful woman (or the wonderful man) say: “Fine weather is expected for the pilot, terrible one for those on the ground”. Or, when it may likely rain, let them say, for example, “Bad weather from an aviation perspective, but a wonderful one for the peasants, who may go to their fields tomorrow to start sowing their beans”. That’s the African way to do it, and a humane way for that matter.
My friend’s grandfather should know that “foretelling” the future is here to stay. In fact, Yahoo weather says Kano’s weather today shall be 31 degrees Celsius, with 60% possibility of rain and scattered thunderstorms. I hastily add: in sha Allah! Pilot beware!