“We have the tin-pot leader whose vanity knows no bounds. We have the rapacious family feathering their nests without regard for the law or common decency. We have utter disregard for values at home and abroad, the disdain for democracy, the hunger for constraining a free press, the admiration for thugs and strongmen worldwide. We have all the makings of a banana republic. But worse, we are showing the telltale signs of a failing state. Our government has ceased to function…” – David Rothkopf, writing in the Foreign Policy on the state of the United States in 2017.
The Nigerian cup was very full last week. Avoidable deaths in metropolitan accidents; killings and reprisal killings in villages; confessions and retractions in the public space. In the days before Islam and Christianity, wise men would review all these and ask: what have we done wrong? Who have we offended? Have we offered the wrong sacrifice to the wrong god? Or the right offerings to the wrong spirit? Sowing wind and reaping storm is in the nature of karma. If an entity is structured to fail, it will fall.
We cannot say we don’t want the devil in this village with what we have done – and what we are doing. I remember the old saying: The village head is the baron of brigands; his household sells Indian hemp; his wife hawks ogogoro (local gin); his children are the kings of the street, they collect illegal levies — and yet, you say you want the devil out of the village! Where else will the evil one go?
We have all the trappings of the village of unwellness. The wicked wreaks havoc in broad daylight; decapitates neighbours’ kids and displays his trophies of death. Criminals ply their trade in the open – unchecked, unfazed by the strong arms of justice. The Miyetti Allah is a very courageous entity. In Benue, it spoke and stood by its misdeeds. But thank God, in Plateau, it is struggling to avoid the sunbeam of justice. It no longer boasts of the bad it has done or can do to its opponents. There is a howling storm over a purported confession to mass killings – then a frantic denial.
The image I etched in my mind about that untouchable lot is that of a character in a Yoruba crime novel, Aja Lo’ L’eru. The character has a name that syncs with his reputation: Tafa Igiripa omo Lawale, Omi tutu tii jo ni faifai (cold water that scalds deeply). There is no crime he commits that is too grave for him to deny. Why deny a crime when you know you are an untouchable? He looks at himself and chants his chilling cognomen. He sings his own praise and the outraged keeps quiet. Akinwumi Ishola has a seamless translation of Tafa’s boastful invocation of his oriki: “I, mishap at home, mishap outside, mishap in the farm, mishap on the road, mishap in the bush, mishap in the city. I, the spirit that walks in the day. I, the masquerade that dances at night. I, the cattle egret that flies in the rainy season. I, the god of thunder that strikes in the dry season. I, the thug that flogs other people’s mothers, who will dare flog my own? I, the he-goat, have arrived; bad odour is here…”
When a man is too big to be cautioned by anyone, he wrecks his people and their destiny. Did you notice the last part of the hard man’s chant? He beats his chest and says he is: “the thug that flogs other people’s mothers…” and for effects, he adds: “who will dare flog my own?” That is the group forever in the news in Benue and Plateau. Terra firma is solid ground. If you are sure of the firmness of the ground upon which you stand, you won’t shake. You would look anyone and anything in the eyes and stress that you dey kampe.
The Miyetti Allah is the most popular organization in Nigeria today. It is also the most pampered. It can look the law in the eyes and refuse to blink. The law peers at that group and drops its gaze – or it looks elsewhere – probing the bed chambers of the group’s victims. Remember Benue and the Miyetti’s insistence that the anti-open grazing law there must die for it to stop going to war. What has the law done to the sure one who dared it? Nigeria’s destiny appears tied to this group and its sidekicks.
Whenever the he-goat arrives, what comes in is more than bad odour. With the stinking come repeated troubles that rile even the gentlest of angels. I read the president’s opinion on the horrific Plateau killings. What was he saying – or trying to say? What were the causative factors? He wrote about “geographical and economic factors.” He did not explain them for us to interrogate him further on that line. But he went further to identify politics as another cause: “We also know that politicians are taking advantage of the situation. This is incredibly unfortunate,” President Buhari said.
Now, would you not see it as “incredibly unfortunate” that our president “knows” these politicians and would rather report them to us instead of doing something about them? Who are they? It is not only in the military that not taking any decision is an infraction. It is a grave one also in leadership. If you know them, go for and after them! But then, flirting is a game between equals — in whatever form.
Herdsmen who kill have patrons. Who are they? Problem children are very difficult to manage, especially for bad parents. They bring shame and troubles in torrential excess. Enemies won’t let our president rest because he is Fulani. Killer herdsmen are the he-goats who come with bad odour. They foul the air wherever they hit. What I don’t understand is the reluctance of our government to even call them by their name. There is always an official counsel or an explanation for every bad act they stage. We should be worried for our president on this herdsmen matter. His statement on the Plateau tragedy was not presidential. Or, maybe, I am wrong.
If you think I am wrong, read him, this is what he wrote: “According to information available to the presidency, about 100 cattle had been rustled by a community in Plateau State, and some herdsmen were killed in the process. The state governor, Simon Lalong, had invited the aggrieved groups and pleaded against further action while the law enforcement agents looked into the matter. Less than 24 hours later, violence broke out.”
That statement says a whole community of Nigerians committed theft of 100 cows and murder of five herdsmen. I don’t want to ask if the claims were true. I should not query the truth of assertions in a statement from the highest office in the country, but the statement does not contain any immediate punitive action against the murderous thieves. Or are murder and theft no longer crimes under our laws? The statement was silent on official actions against the alleged crimes. Instead, what followed was appeasement and accommodation of evil. And what followed “less than 24 hours later” was violence! And what has followed the “violence”? Appeasement and accommodation of the violent who flogs others’ mums and dares the aggrieved to flog back his own.
Our presidential statements smell like he-goats. It is true that presidential pronouncements, even in saner climes, are accident-prone; but such are rare and far between. Ronald Reagan of the United States once misquoted one of his predecessors, John Adams. Adams had famously declared that “facts are stubborn things.” But Reagan, in one moment of political pressure, went for Adam’s quote and blurted “facts are stupid.” The error is forever quoted as proof of momentary failure. In Nigeria, accidents are normal and both statements would be right. We have scant regards for whatever is correct, especially if it is done by our patron or the person we love. That can only be the reason our government would make excuses for calamities and the nation moves on. Our favourite quote here is from Richard Nixon: “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” It is the Orwellian state where Big Brother is forever right, does no wrong. Here, “war is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength.”
That explains where we are and why we are here. Choosing leaders should not be perpetual mishaps. But it is with us. We elect monkeys who scheme evil while on moral tendrils. We empower the lazy (but wily) ones who know how to wrest guns from hunters and give 21-gun salute to the devil. Members of the British House of Lords, a few days ago, agonised over the killings in Nigeria. The killings are senseless, troubling; they said. They said the bloodletting must stop. We also know it must, but how do we stop it? Our president said we should pray. We have been praying. We pray, but will the government allow God to answer our prayers? Leaders exist to spot problems and solve them. Why are our own leaders always getting lost in the maze of challenges?
The debate in the British parliament about Nigeria was as intense as it was rich in analysis and facts. Why don’t we have such informed debates in our own parliament here? How did we get stuck with the leadership we have? Is it about how we choose our leaders? You cannot plant failure and harvest success. As we lament the quality of leadership, can we also reflect on those who vote on election days? The elite rarely join the queue to vote. They only argue on TV and do results collation in the comfort of their living rooms. Like attracts like. Those who vote get attracted to qualities they see in themselves. They choose leaders who excel in making excuses for failure. Then problems come and all the leaders do is explain why things must always go wrong. They find excuses and spray money to make people forget their pains. The people pick the bait and reelect the he-goats for them to continue to foul the air.
And the beat goes on, killings continue, reprisals follow and the guards intervene with explanations on why the bloody campaign won’t stop. They come out to tell us why herdsmen can flog other people’s mothers, but won’t have theirs flogged. Awon janduku ti i na iya oniya, o ku eni ti yio na tiwon. The beat goes on. The tally of tragedies increases. The people die one by one. The law continues its cowering in front of dubious politics.
That is the definition of Banana Republic.