Is Babangida also a master satirist?
(Published by The Cable, August 8, 2021)
In 1964, the Nigerian Tribune’s editorial comment, entitled Where do we go from here?, a scurrilous attack on the Premier, Ladoke Akintola’s government of the Western Region, published on April 16 of that year, landed its editor, Ilobu, now Osun State-born Ayo Ojewumi, alias Pen Atalanta, in a hot soup of sedition charges. The comment contained one of the newspaper’s most mordant strictures ever. It labeled the Akintola government’s actions “awful, stinking, disgraceful and ugly,” and accused it of “reckless squandermania and abuse of office.”
Last Friday, while fielding questions from the Arise TV, self-styled military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, attempted to borrow the tool of satirists to analyze the decay in Nigerian leadership and the Buhari government’s love to go the way of traducers of Ojewumi. IBB, mostly likely accidentally, then zeroed in on satire to critique the government of Buhari while ostensibly dwelling on the maneuvering, undulating curve of Nigeria’s leadership. His most subtle but profound pillory of Buhari in that interview was his largely satirical analysis of the persona of Nigeria’s widely vilified president from Daura. If you discover the satire in that analysis, you would realize that not for nothing did the Nigerian media nickname Babangida the evil genius.
Ministers in the Akintola government, including the Minister of Agriculture, that Nigerian Tribune’s editorial comment alleged, deployed government farm equipment “to plough their fields” and same ministers, numbering over 50, collected £1000 and £3000 respectively in bonuses during the Republic and Christmas day celebrations. It also accused the Premier of hiring an Apala musician for personal fancy, at the public expense, for £20 a day, during the census celebration. Charged for seditious publication, upon a raid of the newspaper and discovery of the manuscript of the editorial, Ojewumi was found to be the direct writer of the offending editorial. In a previous raid on the premises of the newspaper, police claimed they were looking for Indian hemp in the editor’s office.
On October 16, 1964, Justice Atanda Fatayi-Williams of the Ibadan High Court sentenced Ojewumi to a six months prison term and fined the newspaper the sum of £500. The editorial, said Fatayi-Williams, was “an action calculated to bring the Western Nigerian Government into hatred and ridicule,” and “goes beyond the scope of fair comment because it was not intended merely to point out the errors of the government.” Another firebrand journalist, Folarin Adeeko, with penname Taku Onibaje, was immediately appointed acting editor of the newspaper. Ojewumi was only released on February 16, 1965, after serving out his term. His jailers never saw the next anniversary of his release from imprisonment.
President Buhari and his sidekick, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF) Boss Mustapha and Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, never seem to learn any lesson from Ojewumi. Largely frozen in Antarctica since 1903 when British colonialists promulgated it, Buhari recently furtively brought out the Newspaper Ordinance Act No. 10 from the glacier. In 1984, he similarly brought it to the sun to thaw in the form of Decree No. 4 of 1984, (Public Officers Protection against False Accusation Decree).
Yola, Adamawa State, was its place of reincarnation and Dimas Gwama of the Magistrates’ Court IV, momentarily morphed into Justice Fatayi-Williams. Gwama had sentenced Ikamu Hamidu Kato, a youth leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) to two years imprisonment. Kato’s crime was his temerity to insult two budding emperors – Buhari and his sidekick, Mustapha in a Facebook viral video. Kato had condemned the attack on his native Hong by armed men suspected to be Boko Haram insurgents. Kato, who shared his Hong nativity with Mustapha, was riled that, after the attack, Boss flew in and out of Hong, with scant empathy for casualties and their families. He alleged that similar calamities, traceable to the government’s failure, had befallen his people without a word from Mustapha. In the Facebook post, he called Mustapha a bastard. This was, of course, a harsh one to use.
Still, on IBB’s “It is silly to attempt to muzzle” freedom of speech, in May 2020, the Katsina Police equally arrested three persons on the allegation that they insulted Buhari and state governor, Aminu Masari, on social media. In a statement issued by Gambo Isah for the Katsina Police Command, entitled “Conspiracy and intentional insult against the President and Governor of Katsina State,” the police accused Lawal Abdullahi, 70; Bahaje Abu, 30, and Hamza Abubakar, 27 of committing the said offence.
As repressive as his government got against the media, Babangida couldn’t stand the Buhari government’s attempt to enact laws curtailing media freedom as the sedition law that imprisoned Ojewumi, maintaining that the media and the people would resist it. “The media and the people will not allow that to happen. They will talk, they will make noise. It is silly to attempt to muzzle the press,” he had told his interviewer.
Satire is a literary device often employed when there is foolishness, wickedness and evil to be censured in an indirect way. Samuel Johnson, the great English lexicographer, said it is “a poem in which wickedness or folly is censured.” Hurtful and fatal most of the time, like one who hurls his spear at an enemy, satirists weaponize words, so much that early Irish literature was renowned to be the turf of extraordinary poets who deployed their verses like Generals do in war. They brought death and disgrace to the way of their victims. Seventh-century Greek literary satirist and poet, Archilochus, renowned to be the first to use satire in Greece, had composed verses that attacked his future father-in-law, Lycambes. So potent were these verses that both Lycambes and his daughter hanged themselves. Satire was viewed as powerful.
In Africa, satires were and are also deployed to censure governments, especially vengeful ones that can come after the work of literature and its author. Ayi Kwei Armah used his Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born to talk about the rage and disgust of Ghanaians towards the rottenness and decay in Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah. So also did Chinua Achebe satirize the decadence in the politics of the First Republic with his A Man of the People.
Asked what caliber of persons he envisaged in a Nigerian leader, IBB replied: “I have started visualizing a good Nigerian leader. That is a person who travels across the country and has a friend virtually everywhere he travels to and he knows at least one person that he can communicate with. That is a person who is very vast in economics and is also a good politician, who should be able to talk to Nigerians. I have seen one, or two or three of such persons already in his sixties. If you get good leadership that links with the people and tries to talk with the people; not talking on top of the people, then you would be okay. I believe so if we can get him.”
Now, begin to break down these qualities, one after the other. There is no doubt that a divided country like Nigeria needs every inch of those qualities outlined by IBB. No doubt too that if Nigeria does not have one who possesses those qualities post-2023, she will wallow in stagnation. Of all Nigeria’s leaders in time past, none suffers an austerity of persona that is national as much as Buhari does. Even Shagari, shot to the presidency from his school teacher world, was more national in orientation than him.
The Daura-born soldier is known, even among his restricted coterie of admirers, to be hugely circumscribed, limited in horizon and network and inhabits the cell of a world whose affiliation is sparse. Recall that IBB’s coup day broadcast on August 27, 1985, following Buhari’s overthrow, said that much. He had said: “Regrettably, it turned out that Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was too rigid and uncompromising in his attitudes to issues of national significance. Efforts to make him understand that a diverse polity like Nigeria required recognition and appreciation of differences in both cultural and individual perceptions, only served to aggravate these attitudes.”
No, IBB’s prescription of a leader who “links with the people” isn’t necessarily a leader who has a wealth of rich repertoire of associates, the like of which Shehu Musa Yar’Adua paraded; one who was able to eat amala in Lamidi Adedibu’s Ibadan home; eat ofe onugbu in Enugu with Jim Nwobodo and dance dadakuada with Olusola Saraki in Ilorin. He was talking of somebody passably national in outlook and network. Not only is Buhari largely provincial and a closet president with shrunken horizon, one can count his friends and associates on fingertips. This is why the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) became Buhari’s identifier and marker for association immediately he became president in 2015. It was also why membership of that political party was the umbrella he hid under to determine who got what on his assumption of Nigeria’s presidency. Babangida knew this; knows that no divided country like ours should have such a restricted mind as a leader. This was why he satirized it as his foremost prescription for Nigeria to get out of the hole it has been plunged into in the last six years.
Nigeria’s president must travel wide; so said IBB. Those close to Buhari know that even as president, travelling is an anathema to him, except his predilection for frequenting his infirmary in the UK, where he is recorded to have travelled for 200 days since he became president. Sources claim that once the president locks himself inside the fortress of Aso Rock, not even his fura and nunu can stampede him out of his closet. Villa sentries would be glad if they ever catch a glimpse of him by the gate of the fortress. If travelling is indeed education, you can then imagine the ounce of education that our president has scooped up or his knowledge of the life lived by the over 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria. Yinka Odumakin, God rest his soul, once told me that while he was publicist to Buhari and he was holed up with him in Kaduna, Buhari’s most prized intellectual property was his daily New Nigerian newspaper. He was so dismissive of reading books or scooping any other piece of knowledge outside of the Kaduna-produced pamphlet. That is why when you pin him down extempore, Buhari’s oft riposte is to West Germany, grazing route and allied knowledge of distant yore. His thinking is in a glazier.
Vastness in economics and politics is another leadership criterion, a la IBB. Nigerians should be able to decide whether Buhari fits this bill. Even as a military leader, IBB was a delight to behold in micro and macro-economic policies. The profundity of his economic and political policies was simply marveling. That Arise TV interview shows that about two weeks shy of 80 years on earth, IBB is still the old warhorse. In submitting these as indices of leadership, IBB knows Buhari’s limitations. He decisively satirized it in his usual Maradonic mien.
Now, Nigerians know that Buhari ranks the least among leaders who talk to them. The ‘presidency’ says it is his style. The truth, however, is that Buhari’s queer taciturnity is so counterproductive and barren that it has caused several untold havocs in Nigeria. On few occasions when he journeys out of his shell, Buhari, to borrow IBB’s word, talks on top of the people. Imagine if IBB was presented with characters like Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho to manage. He would deploy the Gramscian model of co-optation, so much that these two fellows would be eating from his table and there would be less seismic shake as we have now in the polity.
Antonio Gramsci, intellectual and politician, founder of the Italian Communist Party, whose ideas remarkably influenced communism in Italy, dismissed systems of coercion that reigned for centuries before him. Coercion as a system of rule, he said, was outlandish, outdated, ineffective and archaic. You can administer the same people more effectively by subtly meandering into their subconscious. Buhari, comparatively, is so heady, stubbornly self-opinionated that a nation of millions of accomplished people in the Nigerian nation-state was a dot in a circle, in his rather queer estimation.
Take for instance the issue of corruption, amply raised by IBB in the said interview. Political scientists have long submitted that Babangida’s government set up the first official incubation machine for corruption in Nigeria. But listen to Babangida, notorious for his ice fish slippery maneuvering which landed him the sobriquet, Maradona: Corruption under the military, when comparatively placed beside successive civilian governments’, is child’s play. “You can’t compare it with the facts on the ground now. From what I read, from analysis, I think we are saints when compared to what is happening under a democratic dispensation. I sacked a governor for misappropriating less than N313,000. Today, those who have stolen billions and are in court are now parading themselves on the streets.” The humongous corruption under Buhari is IBB’s satiric weapon here as well. Though IBB was dead right, he was patently mischievous. Corruption isn’t strictly in amount or number. It is the mindset of the corrupt. The IBB government’s mindset was patently corrupt as Buhari’s.
Even when it was obvious that he was marshalling cants and sophistry to rationalize the greatest political chicanery in modern Nigeria he inflicted on Nigeria – the annulment of the June 12 election – you still cannot but marvel at IBB’s capacity to quell an impending uprising.
To colour this “silliness” in a Decree No. 4 of 1984 complexion, the complainant in the Adamawa Kato matter was the Department of State Services (DSS). DSS had earlier invited Kato and kept him in its custody for four days, after which it transferred him to a correctional centre. Witnesses against him were a DSS operative, Zayyanu Adamu and Chairman, Adamawa State Concerned Citizens, Husseini Gambo Nakura. Nakura not only testified against him but tendered a confessional statement by Kato. Hong council PDP even sided with Buhari, promptly suspending Kato as its youth leader, for gross “indiscipline” against “leaders of opposition political parties.”
Though sedition is said to have been expunged from the Nigerian law, its portents still hide in some of her laws, like the Penal Code under which Kato and the Katsina crew might have been tried. About this same time, Guwahati, the biggest city in the Indian state of Assam, the largest metropolis in northeastern India, was struggling to free itself from the hold of this 1903 Ordinance. India had similarly been colonized like Nigeria and one of the bequeathals of Britain to it was this sedition law. Journalists Ms. Patricia Mukhim, Meghalaya-based columnist and editor of the Shillong Times and Ms. Anuradha Bhasin, also editor of the Kashmir Times, had stormed the Guwahati Supreme Court to challenge the constitutional validity of this 1903 sedition law. Manipur-based activist, Leichombam Erendro, had then just been arrested in May of this year on sedition charges. Erendro’s crime was that he had written on his Facebook wall: “Cow dung and cow urine don’t work,” and when charged, argued that his “detention (was a) violation of (his) personal liberty.”
Indian journalist, Kishorechandra Wangkhem, who got arrested by the Guwahati authorities on the same charges as Erendro’s, is currently in jail. The contention of the two editors was that the “use of sedition to intimidate, silence and punish journalists has continued unrestrained…” and that if the maintenance of “public order” was the sole aim of the government in wielding sedition charges against free speech, same objective can be attained by more civil and less restrictive means in a democracy. Wrapping their argument up succinctly, they said sedition casts a pall of “chilling effect on the exercise of the right to free speech and expression.” India, one of the most repressive countries in the world, is in bed with sedition.
In the editors’ averments, they brought up data which showed that there had been “a steep increase in sedition cases from 2016 to 2019 – roughly 160 per cent.” To show that sedition was going out of fashion, the journalists established that, “conviction rate in 2019 was less than 3.5 per cent.” It is noteworthy that, upon hearing the journalists’ application, the Indian Supreme Court submitted that, in a significant manner, sedition was an archaic colonial relic and wondered if the Indian government still needed it, 75 years after it gained independence from Britain.
Minister Lai Mohammed, apparently a prisoner of his boss’ highhandedness, admires the manacles of jailers and is fascinated by the sedition law. All over the world, this law is seen as a serious threat to the functioning of democratic institutions. It is so especially due to its stranglehold and enormous power for abetting power misuse. It also renders public accountability of no effect. Muhammed has shuttled into antiquities to clone remnants of the sedition law.
In this Kato’s case, it is obvious that the Sedition Act, which even Britain, author of the draconian law, has done without, was brought back to life, tucked from attention in the Penal Code. Buhari and his boy, Boss, will do well to realize the saying that, if you can’t take the heat, don’t go in the kitchen or, as Bob Marley said, don’t jump in the water if you can’t swim. In exchange for the free house they sleep in, the free meal, the sickening allowances they scoop at the expense of the state, all the people require of them is the right to say it the way it should be said. It may be unpleasant or scathing. If they feel offended, they can sue for defamation in their personal capacity rather than unfreeze the Newspaper Ordinance Act No. 10 of 1903 from where it is kept in Antarctica.
Sedition has been found to have a chilling effect on press freedom and freedom of expression. It has no place in a democracy. Even in the UK which brought this repressive law, has long been abrogated. What Boss apparently caused the DSS to do, which was activated by the Yola Magistrate Court, is analogous to a shameful act of the 16th century when, precisely in 1534AD, King Henry VIII married a second wife on the pretext that his first was barren and was rightly vilified by the London press for what it called the king’s chicanery.
On the whole, after listening to the interview, the question you will ask yourself is why leadership gets this progressively worse and charlatans of old become heroes of today? To put a functional tag on this statement, let us take a few shuttles backward. An avid student of Nigerian history who has mopped up huge bits about the villainous and acrimonious politics of Bauchi-born Nigeria’s first and only Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, would be shocked seeing a viral photograph of him and his sons sitting on bare floor in his Balewa village, needling their teeth into sugarcane sticks during a vacation.
Again, place same Balewa, who received a standing ovation for his oratory prowess and depth while on a state visit to the United States, with Buhari’s passably accessible communication and Goodluck Jonathan’s waffling ex-tempore speeches. You will be alarmed at this mathematical regression. Now, use these as the premise of deductive logic. The conclusion will be that, perhaps, when Buhari leaves office in 2023, Nigeria’s lot would be a far lower-quality leadership, something leaner in size and quality than the texture of the gang which currently occupies Aso Rock Villa today.
Did Buhari or the ‘presidency’ get the satiric drift from the Prince of the Niger?