Saturday, August 10, 2019 9:37 pm
By Festus Adedayo
There is this folk song sang mostly by women and children on the streets of Yorubaland since 1789. It runs thus: During the reign of King Abiodun, plenty abound in the land, so much that we measured our wealth with calabash; We were able to afford the good things of life, from Kijipa cloth to its matching headscarf, the gele, in comfort; Similarly but comparatively, during the reign of Alaafin Aole, life became excruciating and miserable for us that we nicknamed him King of Misery. Under the reign of Alaafin Arogangan, we were visited by the plague of toads and at his passing, the plague persisted. Alaafin Abiodun, can’t you come back from the land of the dead to administer this accursed land once again?
The song became a code of conduct for emerging traditional rulers in the Oyo Empire. It was so popular that it acted as a conscious validation of good governance and a comparative renunciation of oppressive ones. More fundamentally, it kept successive Alaafin in check.
Events of the last few years in Nigeria, especially the ones of the last few months, prodded me to rummage for the above song. You can count on finger tips Nigerian leaders whose reigns have been enveloped by violence, chaos and gross disaffection of the three regions of the country as one under Muhammadu Buhari. Friends have become foes, unbeknown to them; erstwhile foes who merely demarcated their territories from each other have hunted each other’s blood with baffling anxiety. Mutual suspicions, needless divisions and rank hatred of immense proportion have increased. They are festered by the general impression that President Buhari doesn’t bother or cannot be bothered. Even when he seems to be bothered, his bother is steeped in seeming mockery of the people he governs. It provokes the question, do rulers of the world know that the past will never be past but it will forever be in the present? Nigeria is today a replica of the town of Jogbo in Tunde Kelani’s reproduction of Prof Akinwumi Isola’s Saworoide where rats no longer squeak as they are wont to and birds don’t tweeter in their traditionally known voices.
Take as an example the murder last week of three policemen by soldiers who opened fire on them along Ibi-Wukari Road in Taraba State. The troops attached to 93 Battalion, Takum, were said to have had a hot pursuit of a white bus conveying persons who they thought were kidnappers, according to them. Inside the bus, however, were police officers from the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) from Abuja. In the process, Inspector Mark Ediale, Sergeants Usman Danzumi, Dahiru Musa and a civilian were killed by the soldiers’ volley of gunshots. Others sustained varying degrees of wounds.
Government apologetics who denounce the tendency in critics to demonize violence as if they were locale-specific are right after all. Since the beginning of this year, the United States has been a serial victim of mass firearm-related violence. As at the end of last month, there had been 28 shootings, with 246 killed, 979 wounded, two occurring in a school and one in a place of worship. So, Nigeria cannot but take her own acrid slice in a world that is inching towards Malian controversial writer, Yambo Ouoloduem’s Bound to Violence-like hate and penchant for bloodshed. However, the difference between Nigeria under Buhari and western democracies is that, not only is the US establishment bothered about this blood spillage, it is working strenuously to stop it. Not in Nigeria. Not only are perpetrators of these dastardly acts never found, government regales itself in sending condolences after each sadistic plunge into the theatre reserved exclusively for animals. It is so bad that a cartoon in a newspaper recently had a pastor praying for a family that a top government official “will not visit your family this week!”
It is not possible for human beings not to, once in a while, descend down the slopes and go give their ape ancestors a handshake. What forward-looking governments do is block their illicit passage. In Nigeria, government watches this handshake helplessly. The Taraba killing is an example of how government and its agencies have descended so abysmally. It is either the soldiers who allegedly shot those policemen were acting according to the ape mentality rumoured to be resident in the genes of soldiers or they were just off-the-cuff irritants every organization witnesses. Granted that the latter may be the subsisting theory to explain the killing, why would the Nigerian Army now give the killers institutional shield by seeking to shroud their unprovoked killing? The Army spokesman, Sagir Musa’s response to the murder attempted to do just that and Nigerians have been asking germane questions since then. Force spokesman, DCP Frank Mba fired the most damaging salvo that will ultimately unknot the riddle: Granted that the soldiers indeed responded to a distress call, where is the man at the centre of it all, Hamisu Wadume, said to be a notorious kidnapper? Second, if the soldiers were actually in pursuit of kidnappers, as we were made to believe, are kidnappers guilty as charged and do they deserve summary execution? In other words, couldn’t the soldiers first seek to immobilize the vehicle conveying the “kidnappers,” immobilize them by aiming at their legs if they attempted to escape, rather than killing them in one fell swoop?
In all these, what I see as responsible for this slide is failure of leadership under Buhari. Residents, nationals and even institutions in a political system are permitted to go off the handle but shouldn’t government demonstrate firm leadership? Buhari isn’t. Security chiefs under this government have over-spent their welcome, all of them past the 35 years retirement age. One is even about 40 years in service. They are hyper-rich and illicit cash has ostensibly duded their senses of innovation. Allegations of downward morale, perversion of the norm of service, etc. are trending in the barracks, yet Buhari either doesn’t know or seems not to be bothered. Those who are patriotic and deserving are being muzzled off service line and those who know politicians or are from particular parts of the country, are adding undeserved epaulettes to the ones on their shoulders. This is breeding an army, police and security forces in general that espouse the philosophy of everyone for himself and God for us all. In such a situation, we find ourselves in a cannibal island where man eats his fellow man for supper, with nationalism and patriotism finding easy escape into the gutters. Like William Golding’s children trapped on an island in Lord of the flies.
Giving the killings presidential imprimatur, Villa’s reply was to have the Defence Headquarters investigate the murder. The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, after meeting the National Security Council, presided over by President Buhari, said this much. Anyone with the narrowest understanding of the principle of natural justice will acknowledge what in law is termed nemo judex in causal sua – that no one should be a judge in his own matter. Why will Buhari order investigation of a matter involving the army by the army itself? The Chief of Defence Staff, who is to chair the 7-man panel, is a soldier. It is an abetment of the villain against the victim. It is one of the plethora of what is wrong with a Buhari presidency – absence of presence of mind to do substantial justice.
In the early 16th century, the Oyo Empire, like Nigeria under Buhari today, had become a subject of ridicule, even becoming a minor state among empires in its contiguity. To make matters worse, her northern neighbours, Borgu and Nupe, successfully routed her in 1550. However, as the century neared its end, Alaafin Orompoto regained her glory. The empire’s trade had become enlarged through European merchants who came into the coast from Ajase, now Porto Novo. He devised a method of using wealth amassed from trade for territorial expansion. However, violence pockmarked Orompoto’s reign with death of soldiers and launch of rockets of war from enemies. He deployed the empire’s financial derivations from trade into establishing a cavalry force and an army to defend the empire from its northern neighbours. This paid off as Dahomey fell under the empire twice between 1724–30 and 1738–48.
Alaafin Abiodun, who reigned after him, chose to benefit the people from earnings in trade. His policy of economic development, based on coastal trade with Europeans, benefited the people immensely. And from where the above song arose. He neglected everything about governance, except the economy, which weakened the army, thus losing the major instrument of control of the empire. At his death, when Alaafin Aole took over, he inherited fissures of local revolts and sagging administration of a complex public service that had however been thoroughly debased by nil respect for tributary chiefs. Aole also inherited tiffs between the monarchy and chiefs. In the midst of all these, in 1800, the empire was invaded by the Fon of Dahomey and captured by militant Fulani who came from the northeastern flank of the empire.
Truth be told, Nigeria is complex and ostensibly, very difficult to govern. Parents who contend with the political economy of managing their homes will give kudos to those entrusted with the administration of a diverse, complex contraption like Nigeria. Notwithstanding this, leaders still define who they want to be remembered by: Alaafin Orompoto, Abiodun, or Aole? Whichever they choose, history will record their names for generations to come to recall, same way as we explain our today with the benignity or cruelty of rulers in history.
Someone on Twitter last week wanted Buhari lauded as about the only President in Nigerian history who doesn’t smoke, drink or womanize. I found that very idiotic and an unfortunate cross one has to carry by sharing same human space with such uncritical-minded compatriots. Nigeria would have been better off if Buhari indulged in all those but superintended over a country to be proud of. Take for instance again his needless harangue of rights activist, Yele Sowore. What call for Revolution did Sowore make that is not daily traded in markets, offices, shops, mechanics’ workshops and virtually everywhere in Nigeria? Can’t security forces be man enough to tell him that Revolution is a swansong that is today sang in the nooks and crannies of Nigeria?
The tome of materials I read about the dysfunction of Nigeria in Buhari’s hands daily provoke me to wonder how Nigeria would have been if Buhari were not what Rotimi Amaechi says he is – mummified from emotions and feelings expressed in the written word. Because, if Buhari had the internal constitution to access the emotions that gush out from Nigerians on social media daily, he will either resign or lead the Revolution by himself against himself. The tyranny enfolded into the ferocious arrest of Sowore, the frenetic rush by his goons – security service – for a law to justify their Hitlerian tyranny and the ultimate chronicle of this government as one that has a natural hatred and disdain for freedom of expression, are becoming a ubiquitous poster. Rather than agree that something must be wrong with a system where there is this rank disdain for their ruler and seek redemption, Buhari’s followers explain the general disdain for his government as party politics-driven, even when it is a feature you can find in virtually all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria.
Like Alaafin Arogangan and Aole, history’s recording spool is fast putting in a permanent form Buhari’s penchant for hitting his foot against the stone. I sneaked into the spool and found what it etched on the scroll for Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan and Umaru Yar’Adua. Obasanjo is about the most wicked ruler Nigeria has ever had, the spook registered, but no ruler, in the history of Nigeria, possesses his nationalism and patriotism. Yar’Adua was tender, stubborn and thirsty to develop Nigeria; Jonathan was naïve, shouldn’t have been president in the first instance but had a heart of a dove. Buhari, history tells me, is Alaafin Aole personified.
AMCON Chief Priest comes to town
It is no longer news that some fat cows have, lodged in their tummies, depositors’ funds and by that very fact, Nigerian money, monies that should nourish the Nigerian economy. The debt, which the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) has declared to be in the neighbourhood of N5 trillion, is toxic fund. For a Nigeria that is founded on the principle of fat cows comprehensively and increasingly getting fattened by the sweats of the collective, by that announcement, AMCON shouldn’t claim patent to this harassment of the cows; or should it?
I imagine how many times in the last decades we have been inundated with this shibboleth. Even in the days of the military, fat cows, who at that time were sacred cows with green-coloured furs and whose hoofs were jackboots, owed AMCON as well. It is a usual festival that we would be pleasantly shocked if its ghost is finally interred. But, sorry folks, this is just a ritual. Don’t get over-excited; no money will be recovered. How can we imagine that a day would come when same folks who cooked the broth that Nigerian politicians now feast on in government, giving then lean-pursed Maigida supplementary cash outside proceeds from cow dungs, will be made to cough out money in their noble possession?
Last week, Chairman of AMCON, Muiz Banire, visited the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and his charge to him was to help recover the N5 trillion. It has been said that anyone who peeps inside this toxic book would be shocked to the marrows. It contains the names of those who speak and early morning dews dry immediately – the movers and shakers of Nigeria who have inflicted grievous and malicious financial harm on our economy.
“This is the money that belongs to all Nigerians. If N5 trillion can be injected into our economy in Nigeria, particularly infrastructure, hospitals will change, education will change, the roads we use will change and definitely, everything will change positively,” Banire had said.
Call me a pessimist if you can but no money will be recovered. It is a seasonal god which comes out in the open every two years or so. The perennial libation is what Banire is pouring on the groove. And Nigerians will live happily ever after.
-Dr. Festus Adedayo is a journalist and social critic