Nigeria’s Absurd Political Theatre -By Jide Omotinugbon

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Jide Omotinugbon

Jide Omotinugbon

 

…in the South-West, the supposed centre of academic excellence in Nigeria, Alhaji Busari Adelakun, who Pa Awo reputedly called “Eru o b’odo” (fear no foe) as a commissioner under the Bola Ige administration in Oyo State in the 1970s/80s, was asked what he saw to the then raging students’ unrest. His answer went something like this: “How can the students rest when they have to do assignments? From the UI of Ibadan to UI of Lagos and UI of Zaria, it is the same!” To Adelakun all the universities in Nigeria bore the UI (the University of Ibadan, as first university in Nigeria) nomenclature, like the one behind his neck of wood.

If your higher education coincided with the rise and fall of Shagari’s Second Republic as mine did, there were some political gladiators whose names you would not easily forget. And they had some things in common. If you mention K.O. Mbadiwe, Barkin Zuwo, Busari Adelakun, Sam Mbakwe and others of such ilk, you are talking about political theatre and humour.

Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe was a minister in the First Republic. In fact, his ministerial assignment predated Nigeria’s political independence. He was renowned for his flamboyance as well as bombastic “political grammar” – a self-styled man of “timber and caliber, juggernaut and caterpillar.” “The only one who did not have a before or after”, as the “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary” in Shagari’s short-lived second term. Whenever Dr. Mbadiwe spoke then, one wanted to listen. One of his lines: “When the come, comes to become, the unbecome must become.” Or take this: “Logic and illogicality can never meet…illogicality and logicality would produce tautology.” Whatever that means! He provided the much needed comic relief to lighten up a seeming grim economic/political situation – reminiscent of the recent one that gave birth to the change mantra that ushered in the present Buhari administration. Incidentally, the same Buhari as a general brought the much needed change, then.

Bakin Zuwo was a distinguished senator from Kano State who succeeded Dawakin Tofa as the governor when Mallam Aminu Kano’s Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) was torn into smithereens by some ‘rebels’ in his party. He had a limited western education, so his understanding of the spoken English language was also limited. His campaign was comical to say the least. During a television interview, when asked who was going to be his running mate as the gubernatorial candidate, Bakin Zuwo’s understanding of the term “running mate” was kind of upside down. His answer went something to this effect: “W’Allahi t’Allahi, it is Abubakar Rimi that is running after me. He won’t leave me alone.” Abubakar Rimi was his opponent in the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), the party he decamped to from PRP. And when asked how he was going to fulfill his campaign promises in view of the fact that there were no mineral resources in Kano state. Then candidate Barkin Zuwo retorted: “Who told you so? There’s Brahma Gurrana, (most popular drink then in Kano) there’s Danta Cola, there is Coke, there is Fanta…” He equated “mineral” with the colloquial generic name for sodas and soft drinks such as Coke and Fanta, which was ‘minerals’ (from mineral waters) then. That was quite hilarious, even if unfortunate.

And in the South-West, the supposed centre of academic excellence in Nigeria, Alhaji Busari Adelakun, who Pa Awo reputedly called “Eru o b’odo” (fear no foe) as a commissioner under the Bola Ige administration in Oyo State in the 1970s/80s, was asked what he saw to the then raging students’ unrest. His answer went something like this: “How can the students rest when they have to do assignments? From the UI of Ibadan to UI of Lagos and UI of Zaria, it is the same!” To Adelakun all the universities in Nigeria bore the UI (the University of Ibadan, as first university in Nigeria) nomenclature, like the one behind his neck of wood.

Then governor Sam Mbakwe of Imo state had the title of the “weeping governor.” He seemed to shed tears at the slightest emotion. When asked why he was that emotional, his answer was that tears got him whatever he wanted and that might be true especially when the state was ravaged by flood as then President Shagari’s federal administration rushed relief materials to the state. One wonders if any of the present day Nigerian state governors–who act more like lords of the manor–would condescend to that level.

How about Adegoke Adelabu, who we just learnt was former President Obasanjo’s mentor, and whose pronunciation of the phrase “peculiar mess” sounded as Penkelemess to his largely untutored Ibadan constituents, whose awe at Adelabu’s ‘mastery’ and deployment of the English language made them give him the sobriquet of Penkelemess!

Political humour in Nigeria predates the aforementioned. There was the story of the then premier of the Western Region, Chief Ladoke Akintola campaigning for his party, the Action Group, who encouraged his counterparts in the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), dominated by the people from the Eastern Region, to continue reading books while his party would continue raking in money. He was alluding to the fact that most NCNC’s political leaders’ last name ended with ‘-iwe’, which phonetically identical and shares a sound pattern with the Yoruba word for book, as in names like Aziki-iwe (Azikwe), Mbadi-iwe (Mbadiwe), Igi–iwe (Igwe) Mbaki-iwe (Mbakwe), etc.

How about Adegoke Adelabu, who we just learnt was former President Obasanjo’s mentor, and whose pronunciation of the phrase “peculiar mess” sounded as Penkelemess to his largely untutored Ibadan constituents, whose awe at Adelabu’s ‘mastery’ and deployment of the English language made them give him the sobriquet of Penkelemess!

Political humor in Nigeria also has some roots in urban legend, with one allegedly occurring in London during Nigeria’s independence negotiation. The British were serving tea, and being the gentlemen that they were, tea cups were placed on saucers. If your cup has been emptied and you no longer need more tea, the cup is supposed to be turned face down. One of the Nigerian leaders did not seem to know this and, with one of his counterparts at the negotiating table refilling his cup continuously, he kept drinking and going to the rest room, such that the most important decisions were taken behind him.

Where has the humour gone out of our politics? Except for the cerebral and the Students’ Companion (remember that book?)-laden grammar of Honourable Patrick Obahiagbon of Edo State, it seems to be no more. Well, we cannot take Mama Peace’s malapropism out of the equation. My favourite one being: “On behalf of two million naira, I donate my family!”

Has our psyche been so beaten up that we can no longer laugh at ourselves? I know, politics and governance is supposed to be serious business, but then we should be able to laugh at our foibles.

Jide Omotinugbon writes from Louisville, KY. USA, and can be reached on [email protected]

 

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