By Festus Adedayo
Sometime in 2015, General Ibrahim Babangida, during a visit to him by General Muhammadu Buhari to seek his support for his dream to become Nigeria’s civilian president, urged Buhari to go ahead. IBB cited the closing remarks of General Douglas MacArthur’s address at the US Congress’ joint session on April 19, 1951. In recognition of his numero uno status as one of America’s greatest living military leaders, having spent 52 years in military service, Congress had demanded that MacArthur made the address. In closing, MacArthur cited the old barracks ballad which proclaimed that old soldiers never die; they just fade away.
Again, I remember one of the songs for which Yusuff Olatunji, alias Baba L’Egba, an Egba, Ogun State-born Sakara musician, remains evergreen due to his evergreen number entitled So’gigun. Olatunji was one of those who sustained the links between Yoruba traditional African society of the pre-colonial and the immediate post-colonial eras, in teaching and spreading the eternal values of Yoruba society latent in entertainment, culture, lore and mores of that society. He taught those who were lucky to have witnessed the two eras the need to keep track with their luscious past and those who were not that lucky, to damn the biblical Lot’s wife’s tragic look at the past, look at their African past for remedy to their existential challenges. Born in 1904, Olatunji died in 1978, ostensibly from acute diabetes which, paradoxically, he and those close to him thought was a spiritual attack from unnamed enemies. His vinyl entitled Yegede, where he thought he had conquered his sore foot arising from this deadly disease, is testimony to this misplaced belief. Olatunji sang his Sakara genre of music with the precision and professional mastery of a surgeon, earning the respects of those who saw beyond his conquest of the dance hall to the loaded cultural nuggets contained in his music.
So’gigun was a number which was directed at emerging despots; indeed, it was a peep into Yoruba African traditional society’s warning to whoever occupied the position of leadership to take heed, lest they fall, something in the neighbourhood of another wise-saying which counseled that when the bata drum’s irritant and ululating strokes become excessive, the bata is on its way to getting torn into pieces. In So’gigun, Olatunji warned the behemothIjimere, chimpanzee/monkey, to jump carefully. Chimpanzee/monkey is the world’s first acrobat, with the mesmerizing gift of jumping, with a baffling precision, across multiple trees, in a twinkle of an eye. Her imposing and commandeering size sends jitters to all occupants of the forest. So’gigun warns that, the day the Ijimere carelessly frolics into a faggot hibernated by a colony of ants, (igi aladi) in its usual acrobatic dangling jump, is the day the she receives her death letter. With their lacerating tongues, ants in their millions could sting the Ijimereto death. So, whenever I mentally collate all the whooshing noise about the government of President Muhammadu Buhari in recent time, especially the baring of its age-long fangs against the people it swore to protect, Yusuff Olatunji and his So’gigun counsel are what I see.
Nigerians who were old enough to witness the General Sani Abacha era would confess that there is a renaissance of that old modus operandi today, a clone of its governmental desperation, the looking-down at the people, the rise in hypocritical adulations of government aide fawners and government’s lowly perception of the rights of the people. Abacha’s fawners too said that his government owed the western world no explanation about the internal affairs of Nigeria. In spite of the blaring of Olatunji’sSo’gigun from juke boxes warning the goggled General to the point of boredom, it was not until its Ijimere acrobatically leapt into a tree full of ants that it realized that So’gigun was more than its blues-like sonorous and rhythmic tune.
Apart from a welter of condemnations of the government from the home front on account of its rights abuses, the international community too has begun to see the image of a rights Dracula in this government. This is not to talk of global bother about the precipice of economic doldrums that the government is pushing the country, even as it seeks to sink Nigeria into the abyss of debt. Already, there is global disdain for the detention of Omowole Sowore, El Zak-Zakky, Ibrahim Dasuki and other unnamed persons under a seeming Decree 4. There is also the growing discourse that the Buhari government is becoming indistinguishable from a military dictatorship.
In the thick of this, the Punch, one of Nigeria’s few cubicles where good journalism is warehoused, did a leader entitled Buhari’s lawlessness: Our stand which adequately and effectively scrutinized government’s familiar but gradual descent into the harbor of authoritarianism. Thenceforth, saidPunch, Buhari would be addressed and recognized, on the pages of its newspapers, as Major General (rtd.) and his government, a regime.
“As a symbolic demonstration of our protest against autocracy and military-style repression, PUNCH (all our print newspapers, The PUNCH, Saturday PUNCH, Sunday PUNCH, PUNCH Sports Extra, and digital platforms, most especially Punchng.com) will henceforth prefix Buhari’s name with his rank as a military dictator in the 80s, Major General, and refer to his administration as a regime, until they purge themselves of their insufferable contempt for the rule of law,” Punch had written in the said leader.
This got the ire of presidential spokesmen who lacerated the foremost media house with their press releases that sought to deny the essence of this editorial. While Femi Adesina, Special Adviser, Media wrote: “Rather than being pejorative, addressing President Buhari by his military rank is another testimony to free speech and freedom of the press, which this administration (or regime, if anyone prefers: it is a matter of semantics) has pledged to uphold and preserve,” hours after, Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant, had written, “Punch Newspaper’s double standards in cuddling some of our past dictators and their open contempt for President Buhari clearly show that the paper has sinister motives for its current curious editorial judgment. Its personal hatred for and animus towards President Buhari should not be allowed to becloud its good judgment.”
So many informed commentators have lent their voices to how apt the Punch editorial was and patently wrong the presidency was, not only on the issue of rights violation in Nigeria, but on the strong stance of the newspaper outfit on these issues. What bothers me most is that, unlike the Abacha regime which was notable for sending its goons to intermix with the public and ferret out information, this government is not feeling the pulse of the people. That was why I once said that if Buhari knew the kind of call-for-revolution comments that are traded in marketplaces on an hourly basis on account of his misrule, he would thank critical voices like Punch that bring him troves of such remarks.
The most tragic offering on the Punch editorial comment was the Daily Trust newspaper’s comment on the issue. Dripping with groveling slavishness, you would be tempted to claim that the leader was penned from the Aso Rock Villa. It was an assault on logic and affront on reason. While admitting that Punch had the right to stricture government on “the need for the government to improve its democratic credentials and respect for court orders,” – which is puerile because the Buhari government is not known to hold any democratic credential – Trust bent over backwards to sustain the belief that it was a leaflet of autocracy by denouncing the newspaper’s tag of “regime” on what Buhari calls a democratic government. If Trust didn’t know, a democratic government is not so because it is so called but because it demonstrates it. Having grudgingly agreed that the Buhari government shuns court orders and detains opposition without trial, Trust now deviated from the normal logical conclusion that should flow from its own premise that Buhari’s is indeed a regime, which Punch aptly labeled it.
It was not Punch that delegitimized the Buhari government but its undemocratic credentials. When the newspaper made its sanctimonious submission, to wit, that “PUNCH’s stand crossed the boundary between journalism and activism and could cause problems for proper journalism practice in the future,” it turned its editorial preoccupation into a laughable venture that demonstrates failure to grasp the essence of the media in a democratic society. This is that, the line between the societal role earmarked for the media to communicate reality to the people, is almost indistinguishable from that of a crusader or an activist, especially if the rights of the people are trampled under the jackboots of autocracy or that of a pretentious democracy. This is why men and women of good will in the media should not allow the self-immolating assault on the media by the Trust to go without a stricture.
Now, let me engage a seemingly ribald narrative to bring out the inanity of the Buhari government’s beef with the Punch. First, if Buhari and his media minders were students of music or keen listeners to some of the old songs that speak truth to power, they probably would not be running over backwards to have their boss’ cup run over. Have they heard Ayinla Omowura, late Yoruba Apala music maestro, warn that it is not all palm trees that the wine-tapper should climb, nor is it every leaf in the field that the one in search of leaves should pluck? In undiluted Yoruba, he had warned, Gbogbo ewe ko l’ojawe nja, gbogbo ope ko l’onigba ngun. There are some leaves that are plucked that lead to disaster. This latch on the old trait of arrest, detention without trial and disrespect for court orders by government will definitely lead to Golgotha.
A couple of weeks ago, I stepped into the Alagbado, Lagos “Garrison” of renowned Yoruba Fuji musician and General Abacha-inducted General Kollington Ayinla. I had gone there to interview the General on a book that I am almost rounding off, based on the lifetime of Omowura, who was fatally attacked in a barroom brawl with his manager, Fatai Bayewu on May 6, 1980. Kollington was Omowura’s protégé whose first album, Omo Iya Onipako in 1975 was done in defence of Omowura against his arch-rival, Fatai Olowonyo of the E l’ewure wole fame. I remembered that being prefixed with military titles, with the epaulettes in mind, was a fad among Yoruba musicians of the time. While Sikiru Ayinde Barrister claimed he was “Commander,” just as Ebenezer Obey, Dele Abiodun was “Admiral” and Pick Peter was “Emperor.” Don’t they say that “Old soldiers never die”? So, why are Buhari’s aides crying over his being General-ized by Punch? The truth is that, over years, in narratives on the streets and even in his governmental fare, Buhari has been reduced to an effeminate ex-General, the only known General in Aso Rock Villa being his wife, Aisha. Punch merely lent a hand to re-General-ize him.
With the narrative of his not being in charge of the administration of a government he was voted into which is being allegedly run by some funny elements, those who formulated democracy as a government of the people by the people never reckoned that someday, a latter-day convert into this global phenomenon like Nigeria would be saddled with a strange contraption of a government run by some unelected appendages, on behalf of the people.
What would make the MacArthur soldier not to fade away is not the epaulettes on his shoulders but his positive imprints on the battlefield. Buhari’s aides should be worried, not about whether he is General again or not, but about the fact that he is rehashing a General’s brawns and gruff of 1984. Nobody will clap for him post-presidency for this. Someone needs to tell Buhari this painful truth.
Danjuma’s alarm and alert
I was at the Tribune newspaper’s launch of 70 years of Progressive Journalism, a book which detailed the newspaper’s 70-year battles with runners of the Nigerian state and its triumph over many of those forces. The launch took place in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, last Thursday. I indeed did the review of the said book. At the forum which hosted the Who-is-Who of the Nigerian society, General Theophilus Danjuma, former Chief of Army Staff and ex-Minister of Defence, who was one of the awardees, elected to speak after being given the award. His comment has become an issue of dissection in Nigeria, with very many of the commentators arguing, as usual, from the narrow prism of political party and crass naivety.
Danjuma had said: “In Yorubaland, everybody seems to have lost their voice. People appear not to care about what is happening. If I tell you what I know that is happening in Nigeria today, you will no longer sleep.”
The above has provoked so many hollow comments that do not seem to track the big dilemma that Nigeria is in today. Among some of the ill-informed comments I have read, many condemned Danjuma as having said this because he allegedly fell out with Buhari over some oil bloc that the latter allegedly withdrew from him. Some also accused him of being part of the Nigerian problem.
We should ask ourselves, as well as Danjuma, some pertinent questions if we are desirous of apprehending the real issues at stake. The first question to ask is, if indeed Nigeria is in a big hole as the Danjuma alarm seems to indicate, who between him and us is likely to be a victim of the “big hole”? If I am not mistaken, Danjuma should be closer to his grave than many of those making the comments. That translates to mean that the number of years that he has to live inside “the hole” is significantly lower than ours. Third is that, for someone whom the Nigerian state has been taking care of since he joined the Nigerian Army, just like Muhammadu Buhari, Olusegun Obasanjo, among others, is Danjuma likely going to be a recipient of the economic crises that could likely follow the effect of “the big hole” he claimed we have sunken into? These put together mirror the vacuity of the arguments of many of those who claim that Danjuma could have made the statement out of frustration.
We have got to a sorry intersection in engagement with the public sphere as a country that many who are genuinely pissed-off by Nigeria’s slide in the hands of her runners would elect to keep silent for fear of some urchins spitting saliva on them. Politicians are most probably the highest beneficiaries of the uncharted free information highway of the social media. All they do is hire some jobless hounds with bare knowledge of society and give them the names of victims to descend upon. Pronto, as the Americans say, they begin to let out a whoosh of very illogical arguments that lack substances and deep thinking.
Danjuma, I suspect, was not alarmed because he was a saint who wasn’t complicit in the Nigerian problem. Virtually all of us are. He most probably spoke because he was first and foremost a Nigerian and an elder statesman. At the event, you would pity him as he attempted to speak. The words came out of him in measured droves, sometimes taking 20 seconds at intervals to let out. I saw a man whose heart was burning with searing information but which he could let out at his peril. The last time he spoke on his native Taraba’s fate in the hands of Buhari’s Fulani herdsmen, I would not be too sure he didn’t suffer negative riposte for it.
I doubt if there is any one in Nigeria who does not know that the country is in a very deep hole in the hands of the current landlords of power. The extent of this hole is what we may not know. Danjuma’s last advice to Nigerians at the Tribune event was that the solution to the Nigerian hole is in the hands of Nigerians themselves. This has gained less currency in the cadence of arguments about his statement. The piece of advice is however the crux of the matter. The choice is ours: Remain in the hole so that the foxes would pick us up for supper one after the other or elect to leave the hole by rescuing ourselves.
Akure, Agbayewa, Ajayi The Tailor and Sotitobire
Akure, the capital city of Ondo State, is in the news of recent for something not totally gladsome. A one-year-old missing child, Gold Kolawole, who got missing on November 10 at Sotitobire Miracle Centre, Akure has led to burning, wailing and looting in the city. No fewer than two persons were reportedly killed in the fracas that ensued at the worship centre last Wednesday, ostensibly fired by some irate youths who were said to have set the church ablaze. This mob action, according to reports, was said to have been ignited by a purportedly false news story which alleged that the remains of Gold had been found in the church and exhumed.
What I find most bothersome in this story is the role that the people of Akure and Ondo State in general are carving for rumours in the ancient city. Rumours have in the past almost incinerated this city of huge respect and ancestry. During the 1983 elections, rumours led to the assassination of the crème-de-la-crème of Akure land who, today, should have formed the corpus of development in the land. Olaiya Fagbamigbe, Chief Agbayewa and other sons of the land, were burnt alive like fish on the gauze, fuelled by rumours of their deleterious roles in the UPN/NPN tango of the time. It was this said rumour that finished a man called Ajayi The Tailor in the early 1980s. He had been alleged to have placed a fetish on his girlfriend called Bose who began to pine away until she died. Till today, the man himself pined into irrelevance because of this likely rumour of his culpability in the girl’s fate.
Today, Akure people are again allowing rumours to define their temper and passion, chief among which is the rumour about the role of His Imperial Majesty, Oba Aladetoyinbo, in the bid to seek peace in his domain. I make bold to say that the land, in Aladetoyinbo, is blessed with one of the most forward-looking and peace-loving monarchs in the history of the land and every progressive-minded son and daughter of the land should join the Deji in his quest to move the land forward.
This is without prejudice to the fact that whoever was behind the dastardly act of kidnapping of Gold should be made to sniff the raw pepper of the law. My initial comment is that, if indeed, all those acts said to be perpetrated and allegedly subscribed to in the Sotitobire Miracle Centre are true, which on their face value are apparent gross dissention from the teachings of the bible, then as the Yoruba say, if someone does not cavort in the company of the big rat, it would be difficult to associate or ascribe the palm-nut to him.