By Festus Adedayo
Distressing pieces of bad news are everywhere. From the murder of Miss Deborah Samuel Yakubu by students of Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto last Thursday, to the immediate distancing of Nigerian politicians from her killing, hope that a post-Muhammadu Buhari Nigeria will not be clone of its unjust and inequitable era seems to be fading. Between the Deborah murder, the political mockery on the political arena and the lack of regards for Nigerians by Nigerian rulers, two explainers respond to the distresses: They are the Sekere and the forest.
Sekere, the Yoruba musical instrument, is reputed never to be found wherever tears are being shed. Made of a gourd that is knitted round by beads and which its user twists, shakes or slaps to produce a medley of exciting sounds, Sekere and sorrow are strange bedfellows as this musical instrument can never be found in an assemblage of poets engaged in dirges. Proud of Sekere’s pedigree of being a springboard of joy and conviviality, Yoruba proudly thump their chests that Sekere does not cavort in an assembly of the downcast. Unlike the Sekere however, last week, and as it has been its wont, Nigeria again showed that Sekere’s antithesis excites it. From the political, the social, to the economic, the Sekere became a rare object in sight in Nigeria.
But the ululating sound of the Gbedu was everywhere. Before its virginity was violently taken off it by emerging trends of modernity, the Gbedu was a sacred drum that you found in groves of Ogboni secret cult adherents. Also known as the Ogido, the Gbedu belongs to one of the four major families of Yoruba drums. To set it aside as unique and underscore its sacredness, the Gbedu in ancient time was shawled by carvings of animals, birds and the phallus, which depicted its masculinity. During traditional sacrifice ceremonies, the Gbedu was brought out with blood sprinkled on its outward coverings of carvings and an assortment of sacrificial offerings is festooned round it which ranged from feathers of hens, sprinkles of palm wine and egg yolks.
As the week that just ended was meandering into its twilight, Northern Nigerian drummers went inside their bloodied groove to bring out and beat the Gbedu drum. The drum’s howling beat had hardly subsided when the female student, Deborah, was stoned to death and burnt like a ram in Sokoto. Her sin for deserving the fate of a ram in the abattoir was that she allegedly blasphemed the name of Muhammed, the Islamic prophet who died thousands of years ago.
Thereafter, the country was set on edge. Ordinarily, in a country where politicians strive to outdo one another in hypocritical scramble for the hearts of the people in the public square, Deborah’s murder was an opportunity for the political elite to wax lyrical in righteous indignation and casuistry. Press releases that are far distant from the dark groves of the politicians’ hearts are issued at an auspicious moment like this, written in emotion-laden language that points at their belief and desire for a better country.
As the news of Deborah’s murder filtered in on the social media last Thursday, it occasioned a scramble among, especially, presidential aspirants who are sprinting to Nigeria’s Aso Rock gate. You wouldn’t find any difference between their scramble and the one between 1881 and 1914, nicknamed the Scramble for and Partition of Africa, which resulted in its conquest. As Western European powers invaded Africa for the purpose of its annexation, these politicians also scrambled to share a chunk of the people’s hearts in the art of shedding crocodile tears over this bestial killing.
Serial presidential contender, Atiku Abubakar, would seem to have breasted the tape before anyone else. Couched in a distraught voice that spoke like a father and a nationalist genuinely touched and saddened by the barbarism, Atiku’s statement got to Twitter at exactly 12.20am on Friday morning and empathized admirably thus: “There cannot be a justification for such gruesome murder. Deborah Yakubu was murdered and all those behind her death must be brought to justice. My condolences to her family and friends”.
In the language of Nigerian power, however, the above was not apropos. For Nigerian politicians, justice has no corresponding alphabet to politicking. So, when, a few minutes after the tweet, vultures that suck the flesh with their talons stained with blood, hopped on Twitter’s comment section threatening that, by that tweet, Atiku had lost their votes, with implicit threats that whenever he came to Sokoto, they would make him feel the pang of his infelicitous comment against Islam, it occurred to Atiku that votes were thicker than blood. One of them, going by the name, Otunba of Sokoto, told Atiku: “You just lost a million votes in Sokoto”.
That threat seemed to jolt the Turakin Adamawa who sprinted to delete the empathetic message.
While outrage gripped the land that had been painted with crimson, politicians, especially those seeking electors’ votes, weighed the ounces of their statements in empathy to Deborah. It took Vice President Yemi Osinbajo more than 24 hours before his comment came. As I write this, none has come from Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Even the president’s was steeped in the usual puritanical escapism associated with lame duck government statements. Even if it did, nobody would believe him. Buhari has run a government in the last seven years that is lean on justice against malefactors but lusciously rotund in cavalier grandstanding. “No person has the right to take the law into his or her own hands in this country. Violence has and never will solve any problem,” Buhari said.
Pray, why would a president, held to be an emblem of justice and equity, now be seeking to upstage the ecumenical cadences and spiritual narratives of the Imam or the pulpit sermon of the pastor? The animals of Sokoto go luscious because Nigeria has been a consequence-less country. It is worse under a man like Buhari who sees his first responsibility in Aso Rock as a defender of the Islamic faith. In virtually all continents of the world where human beings inhabit, you cannot rule out the tendency of some of our brothers extending their hands in a handshake to our ape brothers. This they do in an attempt to link up with their pre-historical mammalian ancestry. Wherever this occurs, flaunting the scorching fangs of the law, governments of such countries always come out to violently reset the brains of these apes. But we know that this won’t happen under this president. It has never happened. Buhari himself, as a presidential aspirant, had espoused this religious fundamentalism and crude lawlessness when he made reference to the blood of baboon and dogs.
Many people have been talking tongue-in-cheek since Deborah was murdered. The truth is that, Northern Nigeria is home to one of the most horrendous religious fundamentalism that the hapless people of Nigeria are forced to stomach. The killing of Deborah and reactions to it have proved very graphically that yoking the north and south together was one of the most fundamental errors of Nigeria’s nation-statehood. While a negligible percentage of northern purists shudder at this barbarism, millions others believe that religion and its tenets should take precedence over human life. This is the root of the fundamentalism that killed Deborah. It is sickening that in this 21st century, a people could be this dogmatically wedged to and rigidly affixed to an interpretation of scriptures, at the detriment of humanity. There is no difference between the religious fundamentalism and extremism of the Sokoto animal butchers who killed Deborah and the ones of ISIS and Al-Qaeda. They are both sired by and linked to negative outcomes such as prejudice, hostility or even armed conflict that religious fundamentalism brings.
In southern Nigeria, the character of religion is more discerned and indeed discernible. What is my business if you blaspheme Jesus Christ? Am I His armour bearer? Or that you tore pages of the Bible and defecate on it? That is your business for which you will have your day with Him in judgment – if indeed there is one. Why should anyone seek martyrdom for foreign religions whose hereafter theologies are basically guesswork?
Christianah Oluwasesin, Grace Ushang, Gideon Akaluka and others after them are products of the useless martyrdom that some adherents of Islamic religion crave. Their claim for those horrendous murders was that the holy writ says they would be beatified if they kill their fellow beings. Oluwasesin got lynched in Gombe in 2007 by secondary school students. They had accused her of rubbishing the Qur’an. What happened was that, while invigilating an exam, she was confronted by cheating students. Irked, Oluwasesin snatched the paper from them. To her chagrin, she discovered that the leaflet was a Qur’an. She met her waterloo. Ushang, in 2009 in Maiduguri, got raped and murdered. Her sin? She had the effrontery of wearing the trousers of the NYSC. I remember that in Yelwa-Yauri in 1992, my female colleague corps members were almost lynched inside the Yauri market for wearing similar trousers. Gideon Akaluka was the precursor of the earlier two. He was beheaded in Kano in 1995. His sin too was disrespecting the Qur’an.
Bible and Quran, written thousands of years ago, must be made to adhere to the quests of today’s world. You cannot ask for an unthinkable adherence to a call to kill “infidels” written in an almost pre-historic era at a modern time like this. Whether in Christianity, Islam or any other faith, the moment you allow your brain to go on sabbatical while you read the writs of the faiths, you have become indistinguishable from an animal. The Bible or Quran cannot be bigger than humanity. Man was not made for religion but religion was made for man. Nothing weighs as hugely as humanity and its essence.
Aside the Deborah murder, there are other parallels to the strange weirdness that has gripped Nigeria in recent time. And the forest seems the most fitting description of where we have found ourselves. In Africa, the forest is not just a mosaic of long stretches of scary landscape, huge trees that seem to offer handshakes to one another; it is not merely the habitat where scary chirps of crickets and birds and animals are heard, neither is it just the abode of flaura and fauna. The forest is the place where the unexplained and the inexplicable live. If you doubt this, read the classics of D.O. Fagunwa. It is why hunters who make the forest their dwelling places, who suddenly get lost inside its strange labyrinth, are highly respected and venerated as superhuman. Hunters are reputed to tango, in a life and death battle, with strange and deadly animals, deploying their physical brawns and supernatural powers inherited from their forebears.
Our children have been at home for months now, no thanks to the ASUU-government imbroglio and no one seems to care. In the states of the north-central, north-east and north-west, there is a greater harvest of human bodies than they do annual crops. Hopelessness has seized the land like a pestilence. Yet, politicians are stone deaf and morbid dumb to this reign of crimson. All they do is muzzling and stampeding for political offices. We now have a canvass of serious contenders for positions and appointment-inspired declarations of intents. Billions of naira of government’s money and already stashed away cash are being floated in space to attain life-long ambitions of politicians while hunger persistently wracks the bellies of the people.
In situating where we have found ourselves, I will go to the forest still to secure an explainer. Especially, for the cat-and-mouse game between the political and governmental elites and the people. When hunters go to the forest to hunt game, they use this peculiar, centuries-old expedition methodology that is aptly captured by the “we” and “them” bifurcation. The hunting crew encircles a forest which is believed to be the habitation of games – mongoose, impala, antelope and so on. Those with guns and cutlasses, with their weapons on the ready, are ranged at the front while the rest of the crew is saddled with the task of beating the bush with huge woods from the back.
With this, experience tells them that the animals will scramble out of their holes. When the animals thus try to escape, the armed hunting crew shoots them to death. At the close of the day when the whole crew gets home with their spoils and the animals are shared, the armed hunters, who do next to nothing but shoot, get what the Yoruba call the Itafa which consists of the meaty thighs and head. The yokel who beat the bush get the almost meat-less portions of the animal. Espousing the sense in not being a yokel, late Apala musician, Ayinla Omowura, sang that his opponents merely beat the bush in a hunt for games and he was the hunter with the gun who would coast home with the chunkiest meat – “E f’awon were sile…” he upbraided them. Resigning to fate in an unholy alliance as this, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, another musician of that age, sang that when given the bony back of the animal in this equation, it signified that he would see his enemies’ end, their back.
In the hunting for the goodness of the land of Nigeria, the elites – political, governmental, business etc – secure an unfair advantage over the generality of the people. In saner climes, that ambivalence by Atiku Abubakar should open the door out of the presidential race for him. It will however not, because this unfair dealing with the people is normal in elite-people tango. His scramble to explain this gaffe worsens the gravity of the deletion of the tweet. It is why justice, to the political and governmental elite, has dual colour. It is why murderers deserve empathy and the ones murdered do not. It is why Godwin Emefiele, Nigeria’s No 1 banker, could mock Nigerians that he was not bothered if they had heart attacks in their quest to have the best man to administer them. It is why Goodluck Jonathan could tell that humongous lie that Miyetti Allah bought him his presidential form on the platform of a party that tore the remnants of his credibility to shreds. It is why our votes, rather than our humanity, matter more to Atiku Abubakar, Tinubu and the rest political harlots. It is why Nigeria is not wired to be ruled by brainy but hare-brained politicians. It is why we are where we are.