Our president is a Major General

This president is not Sani Abacha who expired fighting some ragtag civilians called NADECO. He is also not Ibrahim Babangida who was forced to step aside before his appointed time. Perhaps one of the few strengths the three share is their taste for beautiful women (look at their wives). They all also love power as much as they do their adorable partners. And that appears to be where the similarity ends.

IBB and Abacha are/were strongmen but they call(ed) this man ‘BOSS.’ And he is in fact, in name and in deed, their boss. Did Abacha not earnestly seek to transmute to a civilian president and fail? Did the man our president calls Ibro not flounder repeatedly in his hesitant efforts to stage a comeback through the ballot box? And, where those intrepid ones failed, did this demure Fulani not succeed? Success in impossible tasks always separates the boss from the boys.

I can see the Lagos-Ibadan press axis scrambling to fight the excesses of Muhammadu Buhari. They did that in the past and won – they killed fascist tigers with clubs of resilience; but this lion has shown that he can’t be fought with the pestle of the past. In fact, has he not warehoused all the pounders of the NADECO years, detaining their consciences in his vault? He does his things, rides rough-shod on truth, on rights and liberties and moves on to march on new territories. He has no words of apology or contrition to offer to anyone hurt. He rides sure-footedly on dry, solid ground of unprecedented power. The Yoruba have a line of salute for butterflies like him. He may fly in unbalanced bursts but he won’t fall before entering the grove. Never mind the muffled rants from our president’s bedroom about missing pillows and muted hoo-haa pillow-talks. Such protests are vital to the realization of the mission to lull and conquer. The fragile glide you see in this president’s flight is his strength. He de-robes the stupid with his frailty, then moves on to annex new fields. If you want to fight this elephant in our house and attain some success, you need lots and lots of gritty sense – not editorials, not columns, not noise because he is no wall of Jericho.

We batter one another over a president who has long moved past explanations and who has abandoned his worshippers at the bank of reason. The vow now from the devastated is to start addressing him as Major General. The man is chuckling and laughing at us. He will throw a party for his chi if we carry out the threat. Every soldier wants to become a General and be so addressed. Because of our disability as civilians, we won’t know that becoming a General is the ultimate of all aspirations in the barracks, the crown on the head of a soldier’s career. Muhammadu Buhari probably dropped the title in 2015 after he became president because an Olusegun Obasanjo painfully did so in 1999 – to appease our simple gods who insisted that we must have a civilian president. Now, the old warriors’ prayers are answered. With our own restless fingers, we have, on our own, woken up the Lazarus of the rank. Our civilian president is a Major General.

‘It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake’ is Geoffrey Chaucer’s old warning in old English. That warning isn’t ours. We don’t listen to old wisdom here. And it is not because we are suicidal. Democracy is good, but when people are disillusioned with democracy, they openly yearn and fall for anything – including fascism! Tired, old, sleeping (and sleepy) dogs always become frustrated Nigeria’s best hunters. We enjoy the habit of dragging carnivorous soldiers to the frontline of wars then complain that they eat their men. We forget always that not every dog does a yeoman’s job. We are overwhelmed today because a General is shooting at everybody who held the ladder he used in climbing to today’s height. What exactly should he be doing? Did we not know him as a man of war before we begged him to break his vow not to contest elections again? The wise would always leave the sleeping dog to slumber on. We say that barking at civil rights and biting at freedoms are not allowed in a democracy. We, same time, conveniently ignore the fact that a dog must always bark and bite, especially if a threat is afoot. We ignored this in 2015 and convinced ourselves that a ‘reformed’ canine had answers to all our questions of existence. We stormed the kennel, yanked the tired off his retirement bed and invested him with our rights. Then the lie started its brisk walk to victory.

Since 2015, there has been an explanatory note for every obvious lie. There is a scapegoat for every failure. There is a victim to blame for every abortive dark scheme. Our control tower is a massive spiral castle of untruth. I once read Sean Illing’s argument that destruction of truth is “critical to the fascist project.” He refers to Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism and adds that “fascists are never content to merely lie; they must transform their lie into a new reality, and they must persuade people to believe in the unreality they’ve created. And if you get people to do that, you can convince them to do anything.” Is that not what we have at present? Welcome to fascism in Nigeria.

I read yesterday in The Nation newspaper a Buharist columnist asking his hero why he is treating southern Nigeria like a conquered territory. Did that start today? Some people once ruled Nigeria (north and south) with a party they named Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and heaven did not fall. Buhari has even tried; he has modified the name of the old NPC to something called APC, replacing the ‘Northern’ with a nebulous ‘All.’ The columnist said he didn’t have answers to questions on why his Buhari government looked more like a northern Nigeria regime of conquistadors. Instead of asking the president ‘what is happening’, it will profit him better if he goes to read Thomas Dumm’s interesting insight into how fascists sew their dress of dread and death: “When people are feeling insecure about their status, they can go one of two ways. They can say, ‘we have to work together to make things better.’ But the fascist’s response is to find scapegoats, and build the idea that things will be better if these people are marginalized and dealt with.”

I hope the columnist has his answers now: group marginalization is a weapon in the hands of the insecure. And I pity the writer – I pity us, all of us, especially those who had a clear dream of today’s badness but ignored the warnings.

Students of fascism are disciples of Benito Mussolini. They all speak and act his words and insist, like he did, that “the truth is that men are tired of liberty.” They read their mentor’s lips and body language and fulfill his prophecy crossing out pretensions. If you are that journalist wailing about press freedom in today’s Nigeria, Mussolini had a timeless response: “The press …is free, freer than the press of any other country, so long as it supports the regime.” Democrats or pretenders to democratic credentials, who complain about gunshot elections also have a lesson-pack in his dissection of democracy which he said “is beautiful in theory, but in practice, it is a fallacy.” And you know what fallacy means? It means a mistaken belief, a lie.

That old columnist of The Nation complained and wailed about unprecedented southern subjugation under Buhari. Five years after the rain started, he is finding his voice finally. He is saying that he is disappointed at Buhari’s behaviour in power. An old editor of the Nigerian Tribune, Banji Kuroloja, once wrote that “the North has a way of making others sing their songs.” It is great that a Yoruba member of the northern choir is asking questions about his existence. I read and pitied the old man as he waddled through sentences and paragraphs to erase all his past groveling adulation of his General from near Niger Republic. Our tribe of fascist enablers forgets that centuries of laid-back insouciance cannot wean an old soldier of jargons and creepy tricks. They felt the soft palms of a General were of a velvet man who would land here to soothe their pains, clear out the mess and incinerate dirts. They did not know, as did Michael Rosen, that fascism does not arrive in fancy dress worn by monsters. Fascism, in its most deadly form, arrives as a cosy friend, a passionate lover in tunics of restoration of honour. It arrives holding flags of nationalism in one hand and the cross of salvation in the other. It comes promising to make all proud, to protect families of all and give jobs to all who need to work. And what happens after coming in? I remember Robert Paxton’s viewpoint: Once in power, fascists suppress individual liberties, imprison opponents, forbid strikes, authorize unlimited police power in the name of national unity and revival, and commit military aggression.

Did our parochial present not walk in as a fumigator, ringing bells of salvation and blaring the loud flute of regeneration from a past of venality? After the gentle, nimble walk-in, what followed? Nepotistic fascism. And it appears the rain has just started.

Meanwhile, is the columnist still asking questions?

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