Wherever Can Themba is today in the spirit world, I have no doubt that he sees me as a fellow ecumenical spirit. Since that first day, sometime in 1989 or thereabout, as a second year Philosophy student of the University of Lagos who ‘minored’ in English, when then Dr., now Professor Karen King-Aribisala, read Themba’s The Dube Train short story to us in the class, Themba and I developed a strong literary affinity. A very pretty, brilliant Guyana-born scholar, King-Aribisala, who herself had written the famous Our Wife and other stories – apparently her experience as a foreigner married to a Nigerian, which won the 1991 Commonwealth Writers' Prize’s Best First Book Africa – had read the story so pretty well that a natural love developed between Themba and me. Also listening in the class was the woman we all called Aunty Joke, Olu Jacobs’ wife, who was our older classmate. I must have cited Themba’s The Dube Train for eternity, conjuring his restless spirit ad infinitum. This short story is ever so grimly relevant to the Nigerian sad reality.
Daniel Canodoce, otherwise called Can Themba, was one of South Africa’s weirdest writers. Born in Marabastad, near Pretoria in South Africa, most of Themba’s works were done in Sophiatown, Johannesburg. An investigative journalist with the defunct Drum magazine, he also tried his hands on short story writing. Together with Henry Nxumalo, Bloke Modisane, Todd Matshikiza, Casey Motsisi, Lewis Nkosi and Nat Nakasa, these men formed what was popularly called the “Drum Boys.” They were renowned by the dictum, "Live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse.” Themba however lived his life like the dictum of the Drum boys. He drank to stupor, literally lit the candle of his life and placed it by the windy route, in spite of his magnificent elan. He died at an early age due to acute dependency on alcohol.
The need to wake the drunken spirit of Themba up once again arose due to the quantum of blood that has been shed in Nigeria in the last couple of weeks, placed side by side the laughter-inducing opera going on right now at Nigeria’s seat of power, starring septuagenarian Muhammadu Buhari as the lead cast. Three words sum it up – grim, ribald and grotesque.
If you have ever read the history of the South African liberation struggle, you will discover that it is replete with macabre and a number of horrendous murders that a civilized world would never condole. In the name of global struggle to eliminate apartheid, many of those atrocities were excused and indeed came to light seldom. The world focused, on the reverse, on the evil regime of Frederick de Clark and the atrocities of segregating white from Indian, black and Coloured South Africans. The dastardly act of murdering fellow blacks who were perceived to have betrayed the cause of liberation struggle in very horrendous manner never came to light to the whole world. Thus, we never knew how base and bloodless the hearts of our brothers were.
You will recollect that Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) perpetrated a lot of criminal and horrendous murders that were swept under the rug, from the prying eyes of the world. Several South Africans accused of betraying the struggle were summarily executed and nobody heard of their deaths till today. Recollect also that late Winnie Mandela was accused of this same macabre perpetrated by her football team assemblage, said to be a façade for such inhuman dispossession of fellow human beings of their lives. If you read Themba’s The Dube Train, you will find the theme of violence and abuse that the story is replete with. It opens with a narrator inside a train coach, where a tsotsi (tout) is harassing a young lady. A woman enters the train and sits beside the narrator. She is verbally assaulted by the tout while both the narrator (who was instead bothered by springing developments of Dube town) and the passengers maintain studied silence. The woman denounced the men in the train as “poltroons” or cowards for allowing the tsotsi make them effeminate. Another tsotsi pulls out a knife, hits the lady beside the narrator, prompting a huge man to come to her aid. The man hurls the tsotsi out of the moving train, to his death and the rest passengers are not bothered a bit about this early morning murder. The train passengers look on because death was ten-a-dime in Apartheid South Africa. Themba tries to show here that the totality of the apartheid experience had burrowed animalism in many South Africans.
Just like Themba, Nat Nakassa, real name Nathaniel Ndazana Nakasa, was one of the Drum Boys. Born May 12, 1937, he too died early at 28 on July 14, 1965. He wrote the short story entitled Must we ride… to disaster? with similar theme like Themba’s. His deals with the surging problem of crime, especially in the train and explains the ordinariness of crime and death in an Apartheid-tormented South Africa. Both of them explain the dehumanization of the human person in the South Africa of their time.
Last week, 23 sect members and adherents of outspoken and foremost Shi'a Muslim cleric in Nigeria, Ibrahim Yaqoub El Zakzaky were mowed down by the gruesome pellets from the guns of the Nigerian government under Muhammadu Buhari. They were protesting the continued unlawful incarceration of El Zakzaky by the government. This would not be the first time that adherents of this cleric would be shelled to death by soldiers of the Buhari government. Indeed, an adherents once claimed that over 2000 of them had been killed under Buhari. On December 2, 2016, a year after his incarceration, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, presided over by Justice Gabriel Kolawole, granted the cleric and his wife, Zeenatudeen, bail and ordered their immediate and unconditional release. It also fined the Federal Government the sum of N50 million for their unlawful incarceration. Lai Mohammed, Buhari’s Minister of Information, has since then concocted all manner of ridiculous lies in the disservice of this official rascality of keeping El Zakzaky in Buhari’s gulag, chief of which is that government was trying to build where to keep him and that he is in protective custody. Like the Dube train passengers, Nigerians are just going about their normal business.
Under Buhari, Nigeria is getting to that eerie intersection where South Africa under Apartheid was. Last week, the Kaduna state police command owned up that at least 55 people had been killed in a religious crisis which occurred in Kasuwan Magani in Kajuru local government area of the state. If you know the lies of officialdom in Nigeria very well, the real figure in that mayhem must be at least twice of the volunteered figure. Police claimed it had arrested 22 suspects in connection with the mayhem and the state government imposed a curfew. Both the American government and Amnesty International have condemned this naked brutality, when the protesters could have been methodically disarmed.
Gradually but surely, an irreparable fracture on the people’s humanity is being caused and official/unofficial inhuman killings and injustice are becoming commonplace. I doubt if under any government before in Nigeria’s history, same quantum of blood has been shed as this, except perhaps during the civil war. This is aside the escalation in the number of social crimes which makes it apparent that the problems of existence in Nigeria under this government are weighing in so enormously on the people, so much that killings with impunity by government, by ourselves against one another and getting involved in otherwise absurd crimes do not matter to us any longer.
What could be responsible for this careless disposition of the average Nigerian to the humanity of the other person? Why is it that cannibalism, which was thought to have been incinerated long time ago, is resurfacing in our midst and criminal activities are on the rise? Why do crimes, which before now were unheard of, like pedophilia and incest, on the upward swing? Why is government and indeed, all of us as a people, less bothered about such crimes among us? I find a readily available answer to these in the limitless border of the cyber age, rise of civilization and the global village that the world has become, as well as the increasing hopelessness that governments and the rest of society seem to have colluded to inflict on the rest of us. It is in the same vein that we find more lunatics than we used to have on our streets. People are daily disillusioned about today and despondent about tomorrow. No one cares for the other.
The multiple murders of El-Zakzaky adherents were still ongoing when the Buhari government unleashed its certificate ribaldry. The President has been severally knocked for not submitting his school-leaving certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and claiming to INEC that his credentials were in possession of the military board. Only two days ago, the presidency made a fanfare of the certificate. WAEC, led by its Registrar, Mr Iyi Uwadiae, had made a presentation of attestation certificate and confirmation to Buhari in his office, amid titivating laughter and backslapping. A number of controversies have trailed Buhari’s possession or otherwise of an ordinary school certificate. While in 2014, he claimed to have taken a UCLES examination conducted by Cambridge University, the story changed to WASC in 2018. The truth is that, WAEC is never known to have taken over from UCLES, but Cambridge. There are claims that WAEC denied that in Northern Nigeria in 1961, the year Buhari purportedly graduated, it conducted any examination for any student.
As ordinary as this back-and-forth argument on the certification of the President is, it only speaks volume of where we have got ourselves in terms of leadership in Nigeria. While leaders of the world are emerging as the most cerebral of them and concluding plans to get into the moon, we are throwing up leaders whose certification is in gross doubt. It is also a shame that, almost 60 years after Nigeria produced a Prime Minister in the person of Tafawa Balewa who went on a visit to the United States and was given a rousing ovation due to his brilliant, cerebral ex-tempore speech and a Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello whose Queen’s English was so impeccable that you would fall in love with his diction, we could be saddled with a Buhari, from the same Northern region, who barely makes sense while making speeches and exhibits absolute vacuity in his discourse.
Since we are all in this Dube train where grim issues are treated as commonplace, let us patiently watch our collective descent into a killing field and the mockeries that governance and government are fast becoming.
The Ganduje dollar roulette
Pointers to the joke that Nigeria is often come from any part of our expansive country. It is Kano’s turn at the moment. Shocking videos of Kano State Governor, Mr Abdullahi Ganduje, in black kaftan, receiving bribes from contractors have inundated social media in the last few weeks or so. While the usual elite culprits’ alibi to stave off suchlike revelations had been that they were photo-shopped, the world was shocked when Editor-In-Chief of Daily Nigerian, Jaafar Jaafar, appeared before Kano State House of Assembly which claims to be investigating the bribery scandal. Jaafar further tendered a plethora of other video clips which showed Ganduje collecting bribes from contractors. Buttressing the authenticity of the videos, Jafaar had said, “I swore an oath with the Holy Quran before tendering the several videos.”
Shawled in the thick cloth of the scandal, Ganduje has however denied the videos, lapping the usual elite shibboleth that they were photo shopped. The governor was alleged to have collected $5 million bribes. He failed to honour the House of Assembly summon inviting him for his own side of the story last week but instead sent one of his commissioners, Mr Mohammed Garba.
As we speak, neither of the two apparati of crime and corruption-tackling, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and its sidekick, Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, (ICPC) has advertised its interest in the matter. Ayodele Fayose wasn’t steeped in a quarter infamy as this by the time EFCC went on its twitter handle to advertise its partisan bias against the ex-Ekiti governor, early this year. If Ganduje were a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governor, EFCC would have dramatized a vacuous competence so well that the tremor of its drama would be reverberating round the nooks of Nigeria. In a Nigeria that is basically patterned after a patron/client relationship, the Buhari Federal Government that is a potential beneficiary or victim of the Kano debacle, going by the millions of votes that are available in Kano at the polls, has kept a studied silence at this national shame.
To worsen matters, Garba, the state’s commissioner of information, rather than submit why Ganduje didn’t collect the bribe or was not the one in the video or a victim of modern cyber doctoring called photo-shop, went on a binge of what philosophers call argument ad hominem. He said that Jafaar is a certified blackmailer. This is a pitfall in argument, otherwise known as personal attack, where an interlocutor in an argument goes on a rollercoaster of a fallacious argumentative strategy characterized by abandoning genuine discussion of a topic before him and choosing on the reverse to attack the character, motive, or other attributes of the interlocutor. If Jafaar were a blackmailer, was it not better for him to collect ransom from Ganduje himself, which he would have paid to save himself from this global embarrassment?
Having been said to have sworn to reveal the identity of those who sought to put the apparent serial graft-taking governor in the dragnet by setting him up, Jafaar needs to bite the bullet and further expose the details of this shameless roulette. We all know that government officials in Nigeria, governors of Nigerian states the major kingpins, are renowned to be at the forefront of such infamy. Bribes are paid into offshore accounts in China and other far-flung countries by some lackeys. It has even quadrupled since Buhari took up the reins of power, claiming he is fighting ‘kwaraption’.
I am however very skeptical about this Ganduje dollar roulette ending in recompense for the guilty. It is an elite infraction and it will be sorted out in the nocturnes where the bribe was collected in the first place. Unless Ganduje had upset some apple-carts and needed to be made public example of.