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Strictly Personal

Seun Kuti should have listened to his father, By Abimbola Adelakun

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Fela Kuti’s 1976 album, Ikoyi Blindness, featured a track documenting an encounter within Nigerian social context where violence is trite. The song, Gba mi leti ki n dolowo (slap me make I get money), is an encounter between an “Oga,” the quintessential big man who personifies the impunity of power, and an unnamed person who represents the disempowered masses. In the song, Oga reaches out to slap the Unnamed’s face. Rather than quake before Oga’s almighty power, Unnamed stands up to him. He taunts Oga to hit him saying the “systems of government in Africa” would arise on his behalf and he would ultimately become rich. Oga, stumped by the unusual rebuff, freezes in mid-action.

Fela being the activist that he was, of course, spoke from the angle of the disempowered Nigerian. Yet, the exchange he described gave enough insight into the predicament of Oga petrified by the defiance of the Unnamed. For Oga who must have been used to dehumanising the poor with such gratuitous violence, this unexpected boldness denies him the assertion of his status of power he sought through the slap. Pulling back from landing that slap would diminish his might as an Oga who can do and undo. Yet, going ahead would be imprudent if the enactment of that violence on Unnamed truly has the potential to change his fortunes. Oga’s hand suspended in mid-air as he is forced to listen to Unnamed’s taunt of “gba mi leti ki n dolowo” captures an intriguing moment of power reconfiguration. What happens if the violence the powerful enacts on the powerless is miscalculated and does not dehumanise? What if it instead elevates the Unnamed to be social equals with the powerful?

If you have followed the news on Seun Kuti’s ongoing travails for assaulting a policeman, you would have understood why I am using his father’s wisdom to divine the oracle. Who could have imagined that nearly 50 years after Ikoyi Blindness, the “Oga” in the tale would be Fela’s own son while the voice of the powerless lustily challenging the powerful power abuser would be the Police—an institution that has relentlessly abused Nigerians? It is a strange inversion, but here we are, parsing the layers of irony woven into the unfortunate encounter of Seun and an unnamed policeman.

By now, virtually everyone who has seen the video of Seun accosting an officer, unaware he was being recorded. There might have been a legitimate provocation somewhere, but the recording only showed Seun confronting the police officer and eventually slapping his face very hard before being restrained by passersby. The slapped officer—wisely, or maybe out of sheer intimidation—never fought him back. The first time I saw that video I wondered what kind of èèdì spell they cast on Seun. In a world where anyone can use their mobile phone to capture other people’s most mundane expressions without sparing a thought for their privacy, why get into a public fight? There is no winning for the person who wears the known face in such a dirty exchange. So far, nobody knows the name of the officer; his photo or any identifying details have not even been shared. It is Seun, the famous face in that encounter, that has now become a reference point for assault on the police.

That slap was ugly, even for a society like Nigeria where virtually everyone is prone to casual violence in everyday life. Whatever that officer did, whatever trauma a uniformed police officer represented to Seun, the man was—and will always be—a living breathing human deserving of dignity. There is no justification for assaulting him. Fela’s Gba mi leti ki n dolowo wisely intoned a lesson for the powerful. When you are higher on the social elevation, restraining yourself from engagement with those on the lower rungs of the social ladder is not cowardice. No, you preserve yourself because you do not want your virtue to be so cheaply transferred from your body to a moral or social unequal.

Like “Oga” found out, engaging the one you thought was powerless and could be driven over can end up with you being sapped of your worth. In that moment when Oga’s hand was suspended mid-action, debating whether to slap or not, he was diminished either way. The person he proposed to slap to assert your “Oga-ism” has become richer for the experience. They might not get cash out of it, but they could get morally richer because Oga let down his social worth to get into roforofo with them.

Seun must have imagined that since many police officers are routinely abused by the very system that employed them, by the coterie of Nigerian big men that use them like slaves, they can be treated like animals. Well, given his present tribulations, he sure thought wrong. They will fight for their own, not because they believe in justice or are trying to assert the dignity of their officer—whom the police institution dehumanises in other ways—but because they have been handed a golden chance to extract value from the encounter at the expense of Seun (and other civilians).

You only need to consider how the Ogas at the Police headquarters have been spitting into the air and using their own faces to collect it to know that they have become richer at Seun’s expense. A whole Inspector General of the Police had to order his arrest! A case of assault that should be treated at the local police precinct has now become an opportunity for the police headquarters to extract some moral coins from Seun. Even the Police Service Commission waded into the matter as if such violence is not routine in Nigeria. Delta Police PRO Edafe Bright even swore Seun would “regret his actions.”

The way they are going about his prosecution makes you wonder when they became so efficient at addressing an assault. Even though Seun turned himself in at the police station, they still had to handcuff him and parade him to the public. Then they asked the court for a remand order to detain him for 21 days claiming that the assaulted policeman was in a coma at an undisclosed hospital. For the prosecutor to spin such cheap and unimaginative yarn, you know that this case has become an opportunity to make money from a slap. As if all that was not bad enough, they raided Seun’s house and seized his wife’s phone!

Make no mistake, the assaulted officer is the least of their concerns. They do not abhor violence against their officers; they just want to be the ones to do it. If the Police institution truly cared about its officers, they would have the least proven it by improving their material conditions. Seun handed them his derrière on a silver platter, unfortunately. He not only slapped an officer but had also previously made a video where he boasted that he had slapped police officers many times before because he was Fela’s son. That is a slight the police will not take lightly. With his own mouth, he nailed himself to their cross.

The top officers might not even bother with him, but you see the lowly ones who regularly endure ridicule in the hands of the Ogas they are regularly deployed to serve? They will humble him. His humiliation will validate their self-worth. They will not stop there. In the future, they will still use him to deflect accusations of police brutality. Slapping a police officer in Nigeria is a fantastic example of overreaching yourself and making your victim richer at your expense. Seun is a very good musician who plays his father’s music very well. Honestly, he should have listened to the songs too.

Strictly Personal

Don’t cry for Mandela’s party; ANC’s poll loss is self-inflicted, By Jenerali Ulimwengu

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There is losing, and then there is losing. The loss that the African National Congress suffered in the recently concluded elections in South Africa is a loss of a special type. It is almost as if the erstwhile liberation movement willed this loss on itself.

This is Africa’s oldest political organisation, which, with its longevity and the special task imposed on it by history, became more than a party or a movement but rather became more like a nation — the nation of Black South Africans.

I mean, if you were a Black man or woman in South Africa and you wanted to identify as somebody who wants to be respected as a human being, you were automatically ANC.

True, this is somewhat exaggerated, but it is not very far from the truth. For most of its life since its founding in 1912, it always identified with and represented the people of South Africa, taking an all-inclusive approach to the struggle for all the racial, ethnic, and confessional groups in the country, even when the exactions meted on the country by the most nefarious ideology on the planet could have suggested, and did indeed, suggest a more exclusivist outlook in favour of the majority racial cohort.

It sought to unite and to mobilise energies nationally and internationally, and create a more equal society for all, that would be in sync with the most advanced and progressive thought of the world at different stages of its career. It became home for all South Africans regardless of colour, creed or social station.

Even after Apartheid was officially promulgated as the philosophy and practice of the national government after 1948, the ANC hardly veered from that steadfast philosophical vision. To galvanise adhesion and grow ownership, the ANC adopted strategic blueprints for the future, including the Freedom Charter of 1955, setting out the basic things the movement would do when it came into power.

In the face of intransigence on the part of the Boers, the ANC saw the need to alter strategy and accept that armed struggle was inevitable, and launched the MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation) to spearhead armed insurrection.)

Though MK was more effective as a propaganda tool than a fighting force, it did the job of getting the white minority in the country to realise that their lives of comfort were numbered as things stood, and that it made more sense to seek some form of accommodation with the Blacks.

Once that was effected, even those Whites who had been diehard supremacists suddenly realised, with regret, how stupid they had been all along: Not only were these Blacks, long considered subhuman, not only fully human but also corruptible—just like the Whites.

And so the White establishment set out to work on their old enemies, corrupting them to the core with the luxurious goodies that up to then the nouveau riches had not imagined, with things like the erroneously termed “Black Empowerment”, a programme designed to yank from the bosom of the people a handful of individuals with sufficient appetites to make them forget about the Freedom Charter.

Probably more than anything, it was this that spelled the start of the demise of the ANC. In the past, we had seen former freedom fighters in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau scramble into the blinding lights of Lourenco Marques, Luanda and Bissau, to be destroyed by the perils of Original Sin.

But South Africa was different in that the erstwhile oppressors simply took even the former “terrorists” by making them filthy rich, detached from the depressing realities of the masses of their people, by making them, in effect, traitors. So much so that when the workers at Marikana went on strike against a company owned by the current president of the country, the latter had absolutely no qualms about sending in the police to kill scores of protesters!

Now, the phenomenon of two sitting presidents being replaced by their party is spectacular in itself, but it belied a body politic that was groaning under its dead weight of sleaze and factionalism.

It may seem to some observers that the only thing that kept the various hungry factions together was the white-run oppressive system, and that after this was replaced with money-making cabals of ex-comrades, we found an ANC that was ideologically bankrupt and politically rudderless.

Now the ANC has to deal with the electoral result that has denied it an absolute majority for the first time, its crimes and misconduct have caught up with it. It has been sent to a political purgatory to atone for its sins, but while there, it must choose whom to work with among its sworn enemies:

Will it choose the DA, a lily-White party whose feeble attempt to ‘bronze’ itself with the recent choice of Mmusi Maimane as its head failed miserably? Will it rather be Jacob Zuma’s MK party, which is shamelessly an ethnic outfit bent on rehabilitating a misfit who has been disgraced multiple times as a rascal and a thief? Or could it be the EFF’s Julius Malema, whose day job has become, for some time now, to lambast the person of the current president and chief of the ANC?

We shall see.

Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: jenerali@gmail.com

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Strictly Personal

Appraising 25 years of return to democracy, By Jide Ojo

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Last Wednesday, May 29, 2024, marked exactly the silver jubilee of Nigeria’s return to civil rule. However, the celebration has been shifted to June 12 in commemoration of the 1993 presidential election won by the late Chief MKO Abiola which the military junta of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida annulled. It was the immediate past President, Muhammadu Buhari, who did that. In a tweet posted on his X handle on June 6, 2018, Buhari said inter alia “Dear Nigerians, I am delighted to announce that, after due consultations, the Federal Government has decided that henceforth, June 12 will be celebrated as Democracy Day. We have also decided to award posthumously the highest honour in the land, GCFR, to Chief MKO Abiola. In the view of Nigerians, as shared by this administration, June 12, 1993, was and is far more symbolic of democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29, or even October 1.”

Chief Abiola’s running mate, Babagana Kingibe, was also awarded a GCON. Furthermore, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), a tireless fighter for human rights and democracy, and for the actualisation of the June 12, 1993 election was posthumously awarded a GCON. Buhari said further that, the June 12, 1993, election was the freest, fairest and most peaceful election since Nigeria’s independence.

1999 to date has been described by political historians as the Fourth Republic. Recall that the First Republic was between October 1, 1960 and January 15, 1966. The Second Republic was between October 1, 1979, and December 31, 1983, when the military struck. The Third Republic was between 1990 and June 23, 1993, when IBB annulled the June 12 presidential election. Thus, the Third Republic was inchoate and inconclusive as it was aborted without a president being sworn into office. Out of Nigeria’s 64 years as a sovereign nation, 29 years were administered by military junta.

How has Nigerian democracy fared under civil rule in the last 25 years? Poorly. Leadership remains a bane of Nigeria’s progress. Although there are 11,082 elective political offices in Nigeria, the occupiers have been more concerned about personal aggrandisement than selfless service. That is why our elections are heavily monetised and prone to violence. Politicians, more often than not, adopt the Machiavellian principle of ‘the end justifies the means.’ They do all they can to compromise the electoral process and manipulate it to their advantage. For instance, campaign finance laws are breached as they spend far above the legal spending limits. Though there are copious laws against electoral violence with stringent penalties, the masterminds and the arrowheads more often than not do not get caught while their minions who get caught are bailed out of detention without prosecution.

If the Independent National Electoral Commission should publish the list of those successfully convicted for electoral crimes in the last 25 years, most Nigerians will be surprised at the infinitesimal number. This has sustained the culture of impunity in our electoral process. Little wonder INEC has been in the forefront of asking for the setting up of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal. Will Nigeria’s devious political class allow that law to be passed? That will be political hara-kiri!

So, since many of Nigeria’s political leaders ‘bought’ or procured their electoral victory, their loyalty does not lie with the electorate but to themselves and their rapacious political class. Because of the heavy spending on elections, the primary objective of Nigeria’s political class is to recoup their investment with super profit. Thus, there is a nexus between unbridled political spending and corruption. The truth is that if all the political officeholders were to live and survive on their basic salaries, there would be so much left for infrastructural development and good governance. However, while they are quick to show us their pay slip, the humongous amount they receive as allowances, estacodes and kickbacks are never mentioned.

Does it not occur to you that nobody will spend billions of naira to contest for a political office only to collect a sum of money that will not defray his or her political expenses? The truth is that not all politicians are bad but the good ones are very few. According to the former American President, Abraham Lincoln, “The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject anything, is not whether it has any evil in it; but whether it has more evil than good. There are few things wholly evil or wholly good.”

I watched a vox pop conducted by a lady in the United Kingdom asking Nigerians in that country if they would like to get £100,000 and move back to Nigeria. All the respondents said no to the offer. She probed further why they didn’t want to come back home, and unanimously they said it was because of our leadership problem. They all fingered leadership as Nigeria’s number one challenge. The irrefutable fact is that Nigeria is a crippled giant to borrow the words of renowned Professor of Political Science, Eghosa Osaghae. Yes, while I admit that we are not where we used to be, we are at the same time not where we ought to be. For many years, Nigeria laid claim to being the biggest economy in Africa but today we are number four after South Africa, Egypt and Algeria according to the International Monetary Fund.

Twenty-five years into this Fourth Republic, we have had seven general elections in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019 and 2023. We have also had five presidents namely, Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan, Muhammadu Buhari and the incumbent, Bola Tinubu. Two political parties have ruled at the centre; the Peoples Democratic Party which governed from 1999 to 2015, while the All Progressives Congress has taken over the leadership mantle at the centre from 2015 to date. Unfortunately, whether you’re talking of the APC or the PDP, or the three tiers of government namely, federal, state and local; what is common to all of them is poor governance. All the development indices that are pointing south are a cumulative non-performance of all the former holders of political offices and the incumbents. As we say, governance is a continuum.

I have said, time and again, that no individual has the magic wand to turn things around for the better in this country. The President, being the overall boss should work collaboratively with state governors and local government chairpersons. However, the president must lead by good example so he can serve as a moral compass to helmsmen and women at the sub-national level. I’m not comfortable with the spending spree of our political office holders who luxuriate in ostentatious lifestyles with their families while the majority of my compatriots languish in poverty.

Nigeria’s political leaders should imbibe the culture of prudence in the management of public finance. The borrowing binge should also stop. Many in the executive arm holding political offices are indulging in reckless borrowing under the guise of funding developmental projects. At the end of the day, there is nothing much to show for the huge public debts. It is important to block revenue leakages and stop oil thefts. It is an act of selflessness, not selfishness, of our political officeholders that will lead the country out of its current economic doldrums.

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