Tuesday, December 3, 2019 1:29 pm
By Lasisi Olagunju
“You were given job slots, you gave them to your children. You were given ten forms for jobs, you gave them to your mother’s children. You cannot end well…”
The Muslim cleric who made this statement is the Chief Imam of one of the major towns in Kwara State. He talks straight and tough; video clips of his strong views are there online, trending. Sometimes, his voice hovers around the uncomfortably graphic. There is one clip where he asks men to go and marry “these widows” because “they are too young to be left roaming.” His latest message is a direct naming of politicians as blood-sucking leeches. First he asks his audience: “how many children of the poor smile through you?” That should be a tough question to answer in the forest of wickedness (igbó ìkà) that we call our country. The poor are not supposed to smile here, and they don’t. The rich think it is their luck. Then the cleric looks straight at where politicians sit and charges at them: “All of you, you are wrapping good fortune around yourselves …You are sharing good things among yourselves. Any good thing that is not properly spread will not bring goodness to anyone…”
I see the fat, starched ones among his audience bleeding their hand fans. His words are becoming too searing to absorb but he is not going to allow them to be cool. He says they are horrible sores and he is there to dress them with painful medications. The cleric continues: “Something more terrible is even happening in Nigeria now. Ask what it is. You were given job slots and you sell these slots to the children of the poor. You won’t end well. Even after selling each slot for N1.2 million, you tell such appointees that their first six months salaries belong to you, will be collected by you. You cannot die well, doing this. Children of the poor, trained with peanuts gathered from scavenging on refuse dumps, you sold job slots to them for N1.2 million and then insist that their first six months salaries belong to you. You will die miserably…”
He goes on and on and you wonder why God is speaking through him at this point in our lives and experience. Sadly, he may be right. Unthinkable things are happening – and we are cool about them. There is a game called Fish Eat Fishes. It is a predatory game of domination. A fish uses guile and subterfuge to hunt and eat smaller fishes. It does this repeatedly until it becomes the biggest fish in the sea. And you remember the exchange between two fishermen in Shakespeare’s Pericles: “Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.”
“Why, as men do a-land – the great ones eat up the little ones.”
That is the meaning of our politics – from the deserts of Daura to the waters of Lagos.
The Imam did well. Did you notice the barrel bomb in his “any good thing that is not properly spread will not bring goodness to anyone…”? Barrel bombs are unguided improvised explosive devices. They are powered to deliver trauma in devastating multiples in all directions. Imagine the launch of a salad of “oil drums, fuel tanks and gas cylinders filled with explosives and metal fragments.” A surgeon who witnessed the direct effect of a barrel bomb in Aleppo, Syria, told Amnesty International: “so many amputations, intestines out of the body…it is too horrible.” Words, sometimes, can deliver unpleasantness with the same degree of lethality. That, precisely, is what the Muslim cleric did with his allegations, curses and expletives.
When you wrap every good thing around yourself or around your children or your mother’s children or your clan – excluding the unprivileged, how do you think it will end? I wish someone would forward the words of the cleric to our president who is in his Daura hometown this morning to launch a University of Transportation (whatever that means). Remember that three months ago, the Federal Ministry of Education inaugurated a committee for the takeoff of a brand new Federal Polytechnic for that same Daura. Remember again that four months ago, an Air Force Reference Hospital was inaugurated in Daura by our nationalist president. When a leader sets standards in anything, he gets disciples who are fiercely loyal to his ways. You remember that the Federal Government recently approved N2 billion for the establishment of the Nigerian Army University in Biu, Borno State. The head of our army is from Biu Local Government. I am sure you are also following the news of a Nigerian Air Force University to be sited in Bauchi. Just like the army example, the head of our Air Force is from that lucky Bauchi State that will host the ‘citadel’. I wonder when the Chief of Naval Staff will announce Navy’s own university for his hometown. Or he can just take it to Daura; it shouldn’t be difficult to channel the sea to the campus through the deserts of the North-West. When every good thing in a village goes home with the village head, just sit back and watch how goodness finds a seat in such a place. I wish the cleric’s video clip is given to our men of power to watch. It may give them an idea of the taste of their future.
Photographs of the president hosting the Emir of Daura at the weekend in his Daura home drove some haters crazy. Children of anger are always angry. They said the reception venue shames the Aso Rock Villa in opulence. But just as our Senate President said, anything our president does is for the good of the country. So, in vain our cleric sends coarse warnings to men who have climbed the tree of life to the very top. Falcons who have conquered the earth and its elements hardly hear the falconer. They are birds of prey; they rule the world with armoured confidence. That is why it is said that unchallengeable power corrupts absolutely. You know when sheer luck pushes a laggard to the mountain top, he mocks the humble steps of the past. He tells the struggling others that from his vantage position, he is already seeing the end of the world. And when you can see the farthest end of a perilous journey, there is no more fear. So, tell the cleric to please stop looking at the honey in power. He should stop his cruise-missile curses against the chosen. Gifted leaders fear neither the people nor the future. There is no reason for fear.
The preacher has a colleague in the wife of the president. Aisha Buhari added her own shrill voice at another gathering of Muslim leaders on Friday. She told her husband’s ‘brigade commanders’ that the chickens of injuries repeatedly done to the poor had started coming home to roost: “As a result of a long time of injustice done to others, most of us today cannot go to our villages and sleep with our two eyes closed. We all know that and it is moving forward and forward. My husband has three years to go. We should fasten our seat belts (or) get up and do the needful or we will all regret it very soon, because at the rate which things are going, things are completely out of hand. The vice president is here; ministers are here. They are supposed to do justice to whatever. People cannot afford potable, drinking water in this country. We have ministers, we have governors.”
It is good and cool to have a warning cleric and a speaking First Lady agreeing. But doing the talking has consequences. There was a loud US First Lady who was derided with as many negative names as the public could coin. Eleanor Roosevelt was called ‘Madam President,’ ‘Lenin in skirts,’ ‘Stalin in petticoats,’ ‘Empress Eleanor,’ – even “the most dangerous individual in the United States today” – all because she broke the hymen of silence and stillness around the president’s wife. Even the New York Times would write a whole editorial on her outspokenness with the remonstration that “the very best helpers of a president are those who do all they can for him, but keep still about it.” Before her, there was Abigail, President John Adam’s wife, who saw her husband writing the US Declaration of Independence in 1776 and told him point blank to “remember the ladies.”
So, like that fiery cleric, the president’s wife is not just a trumpeting warner, but also a prophet. Aisha won’t be the first First Lady to repeatedly sense and warn. Shakespeare insistently shows us Julius Caesar’s third (or fourth) wife, Calpurnia, as a worthy seer in the bosom of power.