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Strictly Personal

Kenyan politicians are reinventing megalomania by Tee Ngugi

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Imagine this scene. A man in a suit surrounded by gawking uniformed officers. One officer crouches before the suited man, shining his shoes with a cloth. The shoes are sparkling, but the officer keeps shining them. The man in the suit has one hand in the pocket, making stale jokes at which the officers surrounding him fall over with laughter. After his shoes are shined to within an inch of their death, he proceeds to greet government officers lining up to receive him. The person first in line begins to bow before the demigod.

Well, this is not a figment of my imagination. This is a video doing the rounds on social media. The man in a suit is a newly minted Cabinet minister.

Going by the comments, the video has greatly incensed people. The reason for the outrage is that there is something degrading about a human being, who is not a shoe shiner, but a uniformed government officer, crouching before another man to shine his shoes. That is not part of the officer’s job description. We know of police officers being demeaned by government officials. This video captures the master-slave relationship between high-ranking government officials and their juniors.

Culture of supplication

The video also depicts another decadent aspect of our political culture. Why do officials, who should be busy in their offices working to remove Kenya from the list of poorest countries in the world, line up to receive a minister or permanent secretary? Why do officials bow as if they are greeting a monarch, not an official of a supposedly democratic republic? Where did this culture of supplication before officials come from?

This culture of making demigods out of officials even became a lesson in a Grade Two book, which was later withdrawn by the Ministry of Education. One passage in the book read:

“I saw a helicopter / It was flying low / It was flying just above the trees / ‘Our leader! Our leader!’ we shouted / It was our Member of Parliament / He travels in a plane. It belongs to him / Three big cars arrived in our compound / They, too, belonged to him / He came out and greeted us / His wife waved at us. She had golden rings in (sic) her hand.”

The book was teaching children three lessons that make Kenya a poor Third World country: To worship money, no matter how acquired; women’s ambition should be to wear gold rings; and we must mindlessly cheer politicians, not question their decadence and hedonism.

Dwarf ambitions

If there ever was a passage that captured a country’s dwarf ambitions, that was it.

The video of the “hustler minister” pontificating to a reverential audience while an officer crouches to shine his shoes shows the cultural distance we have to travel before we can escape our Third World status.

China, through its Silk Road initiative, is planning for the next 100 years. Meanwhile, our officials are reinventing self-aggrandisement and megalomania.

Strictly Personal

The poetics of Bola Tinubu’s palm kernel, By Lasisi Olagunju

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Listen to Senator Bola Tinubu Wednesday last week in Abeokuta: “If you want to eat palm kernel, put a stone on the ground; put a palm nut on it, take another stone and smash it on the palm nut. The nut will be cracked and the kernel will come out.

You can see that it is not easy to get palm kernel to eat.” The Yoruba who watched how he strung his words together and the histrionics while saying what I translated above would say I have not done enough justice to how he said it. They should just forgive me.

Tinubu, super-rich city boy, must one day tell us who taught him how to crack nuts and eat palm kernels. It is intriguing that that was the imagery he used in describing his aspiration to be president of Nigeria. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the poetics, the rhetoric and the metaphysics of that Abeokuta outing.

Our fathers have several other ways of saying what Tinubu said with that imagery of force and devotion. They say also that a palm seed that would become palm oil must have a taste of fire. They foreclose shortcuts for the axe to the honeycomb.

Every axe that must have a taste of honey must lose more than a tooth. Tinubu remembered to add that too on Wednesday. He was a delight to watch.

At the very beginning of time, someone had a dream that he was cracking a heap of palm nuts. Where every dream is a warning, every question seen at night must be answered in the morning. The dreamer went to an elder for insights into what he saw.

He was reminded of the strength of his character but was told that he talked too much and needed to bridle his mouth. He was told that he was in a tough situation that needed tact and strategy garnished with loads of patience and composure.

He was told that he might be pursuing a goal that might not be entirely profitable – like picking and cracking nuts with diseased seeds. Senator Bola Tinubu’s latest Abeokuta declaration interests me. He was loquacious but I don’t think he was tactless. He believes he is working hard at getting the presidency of Nigeria because it is his turn.

But, he thinks his friends in his party’s government are sabotaging his efforts with the power he gave them. The man I watched in Abeokuta looked increasingly frustrated but defiant. He employed the imagery of palm nuts and two stones to describe his engagement with next month’s election. Elections are truly a palm nut-cracking process.

Cracking palm nuts is a very deep Yoruba way of coding wars and snatching victory from the jaws of hard labour. Ojú bòrò kó ni a fi ngba omo l’ówó èkùró (You don’t snatch the seed from a palm nut by being gentlemanly).

That was Tinubu’s description of the “superior revolution” he said he is staging with his candidature in the February 25 election. Tinubu understands perfectly what he is into. I am not sure his supporters do.

Still on the rhetoric and the poetics of Tinubu’s politics. His words impale; his dance steps taunt the enemy. Whenever Senator Tinubu speaks in his distinctive Oyo-Yoruba, I hear poetry in his (in)eloquence; I see verses in his allusions even as he drags his words.

He is always at his best speaking in the language of his fathers. He may be awful in singing, but he is a devastating user and connoisseur of Yoruba war lines. Where he is from, every General has a drummer, singer and chanter of words of adulation and provocation.

Tinubu, in Abeokuta, ordered his war bard, Wasiu Ayinde, to sing against his enemies: “K1, bèrè ìlù; ìlù òtè (start to beat drums, drums of war/intrigue/rebellion); pèlú àyájó nlá; àyájó nlá ni kóo gbé lé won l’órí (Seal it with a big, strong spell, place it on their heads).” My people say song goes before a war; sometimes it incites the enemy to rash defeat.

What Tinubu asked of his bard is invocatory; he asked for an invocation, a summoning of the elemental principalities to come and fight his foes. It is getting clearer that what we are watching (or about to watch) is not a ‘small thing.’

But who were/are the ‘them’ so deserving of the spell and imprecations of the warlord? And why ‘Ayajo’? Why not ‘iwure’ (blessing) for the sea of bald heads at that rally? Why imprecations and not prayers for his enemies to have a change of heart?

Tinubu’s imagery of one stone down, one stone up and a stubborn palm nut between them reminds me of a ‘war’ over rocks between two towns in present Osun State. In cracking hard nuts, stones are for man as rocks are for the gods.

When a rock is stacked on another rock, my dictionary says I should call it a cairn. But a cairn is man-made; this one in contention was made before man was made. Here, the people had two huge rocks, one on top of the other, standing on top of a hill.

Like the current north-south fight over the presidency of Nigeria, these two coterminous communities fought over the ownership of that hill and a war was imminent. Some elders, with sense, thought there was a more sensible place to resolve disputes other than at the war front. The feuding peoples should meet at the foot of the hill, the place of friction, and do it as their fathers did.

Every appointed day must arrive and so was it with that day. The day broke, with plenty of orin òtè and ìlù òtè, the feuding feet met at the base of their object of discord. The kind of spell Tinubu asked Wasiu Ayinde to hurl at his enemies last week in Abeokuta emitted from the mouth of one of the sides. “May the top rock ‘ré lu’lè’ (fall down) within seven days if this land belongs to me,” the king of one of the feuding towns invoked those words.

The other side nodded and the warring parties went home. At the dawn of the seventh day, the top rock was down the hill. The spell-casting town is Iragbiji, a community ten-minute drive from my own in Osun State.

The fall of that rock was the end of the ownership dispute but the victorious town, from that day, added a valiant cognomen to its name: “Iragbiji Olókè méjì,/t’ako t’abo l’órí aagba/Òkan yí lu’lè ó kù’kan (Iragbiji, owner of two hilly rocks,/ Male and female, one on top of the other/ One rolled down, leaving the other).” Read that ‘oríkì’ again. A rock must fall for a side to win.

The first time Tinubu climbed Abeokuta’s Olumo Rock and sensationally reminded us of how someone from the north lu’lè one, two, three times like a mágùn victim, my mind went straight to that cognomen and the “ó lu’lè” refrain in it.

When Tinubu, last week, called for àyájó (spell) on his enemies, I remembered it was one ‘ayajo’ that felled a hill in that part of Yorubaland.

Tinubu was angry in Abeokuta because of petrol and the naira. We are angry too because of those two items but the reasons for our anger are not the same as the politician’s. Tinubu says fuel and money have become as rare as masquerade’s excreta because of him.

He thinks his creations in government are setting him up for a crushing defeat in the February election. But he is one of the stones cracking our palm nut. Whether he is the up stone or the down stone, he is no friend of the people’s palm nut.

He cannot be allowed to extricate himself from the consequences of the government he foisted on Nigerians. Because of politics, the earth is scorched and they say we must endure the pains of their vain feud. As I write this, the streets are in hunger and existential angst.

There is no money, there is no fuel, there is no electricity, no water. Yet we must live through these times because an election must be won and lost next month.

“In Osogbo, husband went out to queue for fuel; wife went out to queue at the ATM. Both returned in the evening. No money, no fuel.” I saw this post at the weekend on the Facebook wall of a former commissioner.

The lot of the couple in that post has been the lot of millions across the country in the last one week. There has been power failure for several hours; you need fuel for your generator; petrol stations won’t take old notes; their POS terminals aren’t working; you can’t get new notes at the ATM; you go inside the banking hall and get paid with old notes which get rejected in the market.

Things are bad and are likely to get worse even with the two-week extension of the deadline for old naira notes to die. But why would our husbands insist that after February 17, 2023, old naira notes outside the bank vaults remain unredeemable forever?

The law says the CBN can “issue, reissue and exchange currency notes from time to time” – that is what Section 18(b) of the CBN Act says. It also says the CBN can, at any time, “call in any of its notes or coins on payment of the face value thereof” – after giving reasonable notice.

But the same law (Section 20(3)), says that even on the “expiration of the notice”, and after it has ceased to be a legal tender, an old note or coin “shall be redeemed by the bank (CBN) upon demand” – except it is “mutilated or imperfect” (Section 22).

The law sets no time-limit for the redemption. But our CBN yesterday set February 17 as the limit to satisfy the demands of this provision. I think the February 17 limit is unlawful. You can also read the CBN Act; it is available online. The makers of that law are not stupid. They followed what the civilised world does when in similar situations.

In England, the £20 and £50 paper notes ceased to be legal tender on September 30, 2022 but the system continues to allow those still in their possession to exchange them for the new polymer notes. Check the Bank of England’s website, it is there: “30 September 2022 was the last day to use our paper £20 and £50 notes for retail purposes.

However, there is no need to worry as withdrawn notes can always be exchanged at the Bank of England for new notes at any time after this date.”

Whatever elite mischief the government wants to cure with the naira redesign should not be to the sorrow of the ordinary Nigerian. Tinubu alleged in Abeokuta on Wednesday that the currency redesign was an act of sabotage against his aspiration.

He spoke with so much courage and, watching him, I was so pleased that someone from my place was staking his all for what he wanted. But, the fuel-and-naira speech was all about him; he had no word for the stranded and the grounded; the high and dry and the down and out. And, like Julius Caesar, he is more than one person; he is not an ‘I’ but a ‘we’ with an intelligence superior to his enemies’. Listen to him: “We are too smart.

We are brilliant. We are courageous. We are sharp….This is a superior revolution and when I tell you, you know what I mean. You know me. We are going there to win.” And he wrapped up everything with the defiant refrain: “A maa d’ìbò, a maa wo’lé (we will vote, we will win).”

If a proverb sounds like it is meant for you and you keep quiet, it means you are afraid of a fight. President Buhari countered the narrative at the weekend that he would not leave “the poorest of the society” to their own fate as they suffered the pangs of a measure which he said in November last year was designed to stop politicians from mobilizing “resources and thugs to intimidate people in any constituency” in this year’s elections.

And, on Sunday, he hosted the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, in Daura and made adjustments that extended the life of the old naira notes by 10 more days. Will Tinubu thank Buhari for this gesture? The presidential election is February 25; the naira note deadline is February 10. Tinubu and Buhari are warriors in the mould of Shaka, the Zulu – they do not take prisoners. But the people are groaning and dying.

Shakespeare in King Lear describes those who suffer the violence we suffer from our husbands as flies in the hands of “wanton boys.” Elechi Amadi in his The Concubine says we are grasshoppers in the hands of these same “wanton boys” who “kill us for their sport.”

The warring APC elephants are no different from Shakespeare’s and Amadi’s ‘wanton boys’; they crush us just for their politics. But, can I ask Tinubu and Buhari to read the epic of Mazisi Kunene’s Emperor Shaka the Great? Shaka was the young prince for whom “the shadows of the past dissolved in the new sun” and he “grew proud and generous and full of confidence” and became king.

He was the king who believed that in every war “victory must be final” and the “enemy must be chased and trapped in his own home” and destroyed; it is only then “he shall not raise his head again.”

Shaka was powerful and popular; then he overdid things and lost the ground that gave him strength. Because the Zulu king lost his mother, life and living were decreed halted with a screech. “There shall be no ploughing and no reaping,/ No cows shall be milked throughout the land;/ No man shall sleep with his wife in the year of mourning;/ No woman shall be pregnant in the year of mourning.” That decree took Shaka’s plane into a turbulence he never quite recovered from.

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Strictly Personal

Tribal Balancing in Government; a blessing or a curse? By Prince Bill M. Kaping’a

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When President Michael Sata came under a barrage of stern criticism from some of us regarding the appointment of his kith and kin to key government positions; he retorted thus during one of his swearing-in ceremonies, “I don’t balance tribes, I balance brains!”

What do we make of this?

We don’t have to be geniuses or indeed consult the Sangomas to help us fathom whether the man people loved to refer to as King Cobra was bluffing or not. This was nothing but an absolute attempt to camouflage the ugly head of tribalism and nepotism rampant in his government, and he got away with it. Those of you with the memory of an elephant would recall that in 2012 or thereabout, I was almost locked up for high treason for churning out an article, “Sata’s Family Forest Explained” detailing the stinking whiff of nepotism and tribalism in the PF regime. Edgar Lungu was Minister of Home Affairs at the time. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, you should have seen it on ZNBC TV main news. He was banging and slamming his shiny mahogany desk and seething with uncontrollable rage as he urged the investigative wings to bring the culprits to book!

Anyway, once the millionaire businessman cum cattle rancher turned politician Hakainde Hichilema swept to power, he went out of his way to assemble a cabinet that is representative of the national character by nature – unlike in the past, all the regions of our great nation are represented in the current establishment.

But lo and behold, if we analyze the performance of some of the ministers, it leaves one wondering whether tribal balancing is indeed a blessing or a curse. It’s as clear as daylight that some of the ministers aren’t delivering at all. We feel pity for the president that he has to maintain dead wood in cabinet lest he’s accused of purging certain tribes from the government.

Let’s take Minister of Information and Chief Government Spokesperson madam Chushi Kasanda for instance; does she still exist? The madam hasn’t been keen to grab the bull by its horns feature on live phone-in programmes to explicate government policies! She’s rather comfortable dispatching written press statements from the comfort of her office. When the nation is grappling with numerous challenges such as load shedding, and an increase in the price of fuel and essential commodities, we expect Kasanda to fire on all cylinders trotting to every radio and TV station debunking the lies and innuendos that the enemies of progress are peddling against the New Dawn Administration.

We come to achimwene bambo Mtolo Phiri the Minister of Agriculture; does he really understand what is expected of him each time he reports for work? The distribution of farming inputs for the current farming season has been chaotic and shambolic to say the least! We expected Phiri to jump into his work suit and gumboots and embark on traversing the countryside to ensure that inputs are getting to the farmers in good time. What has been the situation on the ground? Farming inputs have been getting to our people halfway into the farming season! Who does that?

The energy sector is even worse! It had to take the entire President to excuse himself from his busy schedule to intervene in the energy crisis. What was Peter Kapala doing all that time? Why was he found it a challenge to dash to Kariba Dam or Maamba Collieries on a fact-finding mission to appreciate the magnitude of the problem and propose alternative solutions?

The president has a passion for this country, there’s no question about it. The man is in a hurry to address the stinking mess left behind by the previous regime. Unfortunately, though, most of his ministers don’t seem to move in synergy with him. They are either lost at sea or busy enjoying the trappings of power to make up for the lost time in the wilderness.

We would like to appeal to the president to immediately undertake, not only the performance appraisal of his ministers and aides at the State House but also seek to know which of his officials are engaging in corrupt activities. If it is so established that Minister XYZ has failed to perform to expectations or they’ve indeed become instant millionaires boasting of fleets of cars, mansions, and colossal sums of cash in offshore accounts, the issue of tribal balancing mustn’t even stand in the way! We expect heads to roll.

For instance, there’s been a lot of petty talk bordering on the demotion of the Presidential press aide Anthony Bwalya with some alleging that he’s lost his job based on tribe. However, Economic Front leader Wynter Kabimba has shared intelligent sentiments about the same. Speaking in an interview with the press, the former PF Secretary General says Bwalya must have crossed the red line for him to lose his much-coveted job at plot 1 and not some rubbish called ethnic grounds! It’s unfortunate that some opposition party leaders and their blind followers have gone wild spreading lies that can further polarize the nation. UPND media and the entire government machinery, please wake up!

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