Many commentators on the attempted abduction of rights activist, Omoyele Sowore, right inside a courtroom of the Federal High Court, Abuja by men of the State Security Service (SSS), self-styled as the Department of State Services, (DSS) have termed the occurrence tragic. I disagree. I tend to think that the tragedy is not that one person, out of about 200 million Nigerians, was visited with the raw brunt of a Mobutu Sese-Seko in Nigeria. The tragedy, to my mind, is that Nigerians still trivialize and euphemize the gravity of the calamity that is right here with us. The tragedy is reflected in the fact that we do not realize how, with Muhammadu Buhari, we are all in trouble, without a single exception. The tragedy is further compounded by those who, on account of party, ethnicity, politics or religion, have, since Friday, been excusing, legitimizing or rationalizing the calamity that befell Nigeria on that black Friday, right inside that court room. Let us pause a while as I situate the gravity of the tragedy.
A tragedy of similar trope that I can readily recall is the fable of the rat, goat, cow and the landlord that I was told several decades ago. It is a story that is used to graphically paint the tragedy of group failure to confront an impending calamity from its infancy; it is our own version of German Lutheran Pastor, Martin Niemoller’s poetic rendition of post-war cowardice of German intellectuals and some clergymen at the outset of Adolf Hitler’s macabre despotism and gradual massacre of groups in Europe, one after the other. While Hitler and his Aryan race incrementally decimated all the strata of society, there was a deliberate externalization, rationalization and trivialization of the calamity of his Third Reich, just the way some Nigerians have been rationalizing the Sowore tragedy.
Niemoller had captured the tragedy thus in such an engagingly penetrating poetry: First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. This poetry was also engraved on the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston.
Africa had her own attempt to rout collective action against tyranny before Niemoller’s, captured in an ancient fable but which possessed similar imperishable take-away. A Landlord, who reared within his compound rats, goats, cows, and who was living with his wife, once came home with a rat trap. Opportune to sneak into where the trap was kept, the rat alerted the whole Landlord’s community that there was an impending calamity. Fazed by what they perceived as the rat’s attempt to externalize a problem solely his, the rest of the community wondered how the trap could signal an impending calamity to them. Frustrated by repeated attempts to get the community to collectively stave off the doom, the rat eventually gave Late Chief Bola Ige a handshake and embraced his sidon look philosophy. Then one day, when the Landlord had set the trap to catch the notorious rat in the compound, his wife mistakenly stepped into its menacing metal barbs and was critically injured. Believing that the wound could be treated at home, weeks of self-medication worsened the injury and a hospital visit later pronounced that the wound had courted gangrene. Guests from afar who came to sympathize with the family had to be fed, necessitating the killing of the goat. When eventually, the madam of the house died of the injury, the cow was slaughtered for the burial ceremony.
On Friday last week, the world was astounded at the raw despotism visited on Sowore inside the court by Buhari’s DSS. While so many people who have inner eyes to perceive the calamity that lies ahead for Nigeria saw the event as symptomatic of the berth of Hitler on the Nigerian soil, so many people have rationalized the attack. Some even claim that Sowore, having joined forces to unseat former President Goodluck Jonathan while supporting Buhari’s ascension into power, had literally ridden on the back of the tiger and no one should pity him now that he is venison for the notorious tiger.
If the guilt of yesterday were to be used as the crucifix, not many of us can stand the scalding hot iron. We foolishly disobeyed the promptings of some people whose inner eyes saw beyond the façade of a despot-turned-democrat whose visor Buhari wore in 2015. They told us, even from the start, that they could see well ahead the democratic calamity that Buhari would be. Believing that anyone but Goodluck Jonathan would do, we consigned those wise counsels inside the trash receptacle. I had a friend who is a professor in the United Kingdom who warned trenchantly, ab initio, that Buhari’s tiger could never change its stripes and thirst for blood. We told him to shut his trap as the new bride was now a repentant democrat. Gradually, Buhari started to bare his fangs and right now, we are at a very dangerous cusp between full-blown despotism and pseudo democratic credentials of a man whose idea of governance is manacling voices of dissent.
Buhari’s kind of emerging despotism is the most deadly. He is blessed with a taciturnity that is uncommon among men of his ilk. Not many people can claim to know the content of his mind. Those who know him talk of a man who engages mentally nourishing materials seldom. He is fed on old ideas of brute force and even old ideas of governing a people. He possesses the old Uthman Dan Fodio idea of conquest of kingdoms and sparse idea of what to do with the conquered kingdom thereafter. He baits his foes with the same ruthless drive with which the lion baits the impala and when he descends on the victim, he celebrates his conquest by soaking his fluffy mane with its blood.
Buhari didn’t get to this level of ordering DSS to pounce on his victim inside the hallowed ground of the court overnight. His community – Adolf, Mobutu, Papa Doc, etc. don’t too. It was a gradual process. When he ordered the same DSS to storm the homes of judges in a Gestapo manner at the dead of the night, posturing to be fighting corruption, an admixture of political affiliation, religious connotation and belief in the power of an old military mascot, ensured that a panoply of kudos go to him. Anyone who asked that a demarcation be made between corruption and justice was typecast as either a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or one of the relics of the corruption of the past. Lionized by the volley of claps, Buhari moved a step forward. The same DSS was unleashed on the National Assembly as hooded agents stormed the legislature. Again, this tyranny was greeted with claps and rationalizations across board. Emboldened, Buhari visited this same gruff on the former Chief Justice of Nigeria and before you knew it, earlier voices in support of the CJN were drowned when he brought out what he called Walter Onnoghen’s hands dripping with filthy oil from our collective broth. Then, he stomped on the religious Mullah, El Zak Zakky and his wife, threw them into the gulag and turned his challenged ear the other way, away from court orders. Repeatedly, his government has shown that the courts do not matter, even as he defecates on the order papers, while muttering diffidently the swear-word, dan buroba, shege!
Ibrahim Dasuki has been inside the Buhari gulag for years now for an offence that is bail-able and which some claim is an offshoot of a personal vendetta yet, we all look the other way, like those cow and goat, pretending that the tiff was between Gambari and Fulani which concerns us merely tangentially or not a jot at all. A recent investigative report by one of the newspapers said that many Nigerians are today in detention for daring to antagonize the new Fuhrer. Since this list of victims of power contains neither us nor our family members, we choose to externalize its debilitating effect.
Today, the power equation in Nigeria is such that assaults the spirit of equity which our forefathers swore must be etched in our hearts. A Northerner is the President of Nigeria, a Northerner is the President of the Senate and a Northerner is the Chief Justice of Nigeria. We all move about as if nothing is amiss. I cannot readily recall a time in history when this kind of malady ever happened in Nigeria. Even under the military regime, attempts were made to worship this hallowed god of equity in a Nigeria fractured by arcane ethnic configurations, plural culture, languages and all that. At the death of General Murtala Muhammed and the banner fell on a Southerner, Olusegun Obasanjo, to be the Head of State, Musa Yar’Adua had to be given double promotion so that he could assume the 2iC position that would give the power configuration some sense of balance and equitable representation. Not now, not under a man who believes that he was the representative of Fodio in assuring an ascendancy of his kin in the Nigerian equation.
When I see emerging despotism, I remember the example of 19th century famous and powerful Egba migrant to Ibadan called Efunsetan Aniwura. Wealthy, indeed said to be one of the wealthiest Yoruba women that ever lived, Aniwura became a sturdy in unmitigated tyranny. She was reputed to be a wildly authoritarian Iyalode of Ibadan whose weapon of autocracy was to inflict capital punishment on erring slaves. Like her contemporary character, Sani Abacha, Efunsetan Aniwura was murdered one night in 1874 while she was deep asleep. Two of the slaves in her barn had been tasked with the murder plot, woven by Aare Latosa, the Ibadan king who enlisted Aniwura’s adopted son, Kumuyilo, who in turn engaged the slaves.
We all should gird our loins because the gruff manifestation in the court on Friday is a grim projection of what we will face henceforth. Though he has feebly denied having any plan for a Third Term, psycho analysis of power shows that acts like the Friday court crackdown are precursors to a full-blown despotism or a plan to totally cow the populace, penultimate the baring of a Hitleric fangs. While, in the words of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, I see sorrow, tears and blood ahead, I am however comforted that despotism has an expiry.
The 5,000 Clips, 10,000 Bolts
For those who do not have an idea of how bad the Nigerian situation is, they only need to listen to the piece of news item that trended in the media last week. Managing Director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, Fidet Okhiria, had announced to the world that 5,000 clips and 10,000 bolts, as well as knots, were stolen along the rail tracks that government was constructing on the Lagos/Ibadan rail line. “You can’t imagine that between Lagos and Ibadan, we have replaced over 5,000 clips and close to 10,000 bolts and nuts on the track and it is not a good thing at all. Without those things on the tracks, accidents can occur. We know the volume of passengers on a train. So vandalism of rail infrastructure has to stop,” he had said.
That alarm by Okhiria is why it should occur to government that the most basic provision that Nigerians need at the moment is the intangible reorientation of the minds of the people. Right now, the minds of many Nigerians are a cesspit, emitting such a frightening putrid that you may not imagine. Not only do Nigerians not believe in Nigeria, many Nigerians believe that Nigeria can go to hell. Thus, when Nigerians hurt Nigeria, they do not see themselves as hurting a recognizable entity but an alien.
I was with some school youths recently at a function where the singing of the national anthem was called. I saw that many of them still kept on chatting so I looked at them with a scold on my face, as I mouthed the anthem. Their response was a look of “what the hell, old man!” I instantly remembered that this was a people who were not brought up with any indoctrination of patriotism or any belief in Nigeria. Such a community doesn’t have any scruples about hurting Nigeria.
This and many more should make government know that nobody sees those edifices or structures as theirs. They belong to Nigeria, a very vague and non-existing construct. We can get the upcoming youths’ minds to do a U-turn by indoctrinating or orientating them about Nigeria, her rich history and how, no matter how difficult things are, hope lies at the end of the tunnel.
Festus Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist.