TRAGEDY of a very unusual though not unprecedented kind befell Dutse Gogo town in Kwara State this week. An apparently ill-bred, unthinking youth pumped hot bullets into his younger brother’s chest. The two brothers, sons of a hunter, had been apparently excited over a newly minted amulet with a vaunted ability to prevent gunshots from penetrating its users. And the culprit, Abubakar Abubakar, wanted to test its efficacy, lacking even the street intelligence that would have caused him to test his magical bulletproof on an animal, say his mother’s goat, first. No, he had no time for frills; he was sure the “charm’ would work, and down went Yusuf Abubakar, his 12-year-old sibling!
Before we go into what I think to be the symbolism of this tragic incident, let us remember the Maji Maji rebellion of Tanzania, an episode in which at least 75,000 people lost their lives. The causes of the conflict were largely economic: the German colonizers were forcing the indigenous population to grow cotton for export, and the mutineers resorted to magic to drive them out. A spirit medium, Kinjikitile Ngwale, who claimed to be possessed by a snake spirit called hongo and dubbed himself Bokero, told the people that the gods had decreed the elimination of the Europeans, and that their salvation lay in his medicine, which he boasted would turn German bullets into water. This antidote was in fact water (maji) mixed with castor oil and millet seeds. Fully fortified with this new charm, and dispensing with any form of methodological skepticism, the people filed out against the Germans, confident of victory.
In his paper, “The organization of the Maji Maji Rebellion”, the British historian John Iliffe writes of the false messiah: “Hongo gave orders that every man must anoint himself with his medicine [i.e. the maji]; anyone who refused was to be caught and killed.” We shall leave the story of the sad outcome to the Tanzanian poet, Kassam Kassam, who adopts the voice of an old man remorsefully recalling the pestilential past: “They fired bullets, not water, no, not water../Dead, we all lay dead.”
Why have we gone the Maji Maji route? Well, it is election season once again and great populations of Nigerians are, like Master Yusuf Abubakar (may his soul rest in peace), presenting their chest to killers. Known thieves and frauds are taking over the political space with their messages of falsehood. They are hungry lions seeking prey: hyperbole, character assassination and mudslinging have become popular tools in the hands of their publicists, including columnists. They are conversant with the golden rule: always commit your murder through a third party. The market of ambitions is full of dross.
The times have changed but those who remain mentally in the past insist on leading a traumatized populace to El-Dorado. These are the days of jets hidden in the clouds, but the horse riders of yesteryears clutching swords insist their game is the glory of the people. The giant of theatre, Moses Adejumo (Baba Sala), invested and lost a fortune in celluloid but if he were here today, he would wonder what really was the point of it all: movies are now watched on cell phones. Oduduwa did not use a camera.
Nigerians have a duty not to repeat the 2015 error of personality worship: it will lead only to hell. In 2015, the evangelists claimed that a NEPA bill was sufficient for the top job; that with a soldier providing military tactics and a pastor providing spiritual arsenal, the country was on its way to Canaan. They cavorted in wild ecstasy, their brains blighted by falsehood. But the lies soon dissolved into an ocean of regrets: they moved from Sai baba (Hail Baba) to Ah Baba (What! Baba!), then Kai Baba (Don’t, Baba) and, finally, Bye Baba. Nigeria is now the global capital of poverty. Going into a digitized world with typewriters is mere comedy. We must ask the excited monkeys now jumping from one social media tree to another: if you won’t recommend your candidate for your company’s Managing Director job, why recommend him for public office?
What this land needs is a tinkering with the very question of its existence, and unless and until that is done, a million(un)popular candidates will make no difference. In a recent piece, I wrote: “Today, with the ravages of decades of military rule that turned the federalists into avid unificationists, Nigeria has a behemoth centre arrogating to itself the sole right to the repressive apparatuses of the state, talking down on the supposed federating units, and commandeering the national purse. The results, to take only the latest verdicts by statistical agencies for instance, have been horrific: the global and international terrorism research/analysis group, Jihad Analytics, has just ranked the unitarily policed Nigeria as the second most terrorised country in the world, behind Iraq which occupies the top spot with 337 recorded terrorists attacks between January and June this year, as against Nigeria’s 305. Nigeria, for good measure, is the global capital of poverty, of open defecation, of poor electricity access, and of out-of-school children. There is simply no logic to a unitary Nigeria.” I find no reason to disturb this conclusion.
Nigerians at all levels must beware, to return to Kasam Yusuf’s Maji Maji, “of the men who talked of deliverance and freedom/And of the warriors who pledged to fight.” They must take the political jamborees currently ruling the airwaves as mere artifice. ‘For many days,” the Maji Maji rebels led by Ngwale/Bokero “resounded with drum-beats and frenzied cries/Then with the spirits of alien ancestors,” but they ended in certain doom. Our aspirants are holding dane guns, intent on 21st century warfare. They sound dangerously like Elvis Mbonye, the self-styled Ugandan prophet who claims to have been to the celestial realms to give Satan a thorough hiding. Addressing his flock at a hotel in Kampala, Mbonye said he had first encountered Satan’s bodyguard, beat him to a pulp and then made his way to the “big bad boss,” leaving him “severely injured.”
Over to Nigerians…
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