Let them hate me, as long as they fear me – Caligula, Roman Emperor (37 to 41 AD)
All through history, even with the advent of modernism, despots who hate the power of free speech always have their own version of repressive ancient monarchies’ abenilori. These were the ones entrusted with the task of beheading opponents, literally or metaphorically. While Robert Gabriel Mugabe of Zimbabwe had his in Minister of Information and Publicity, Jonathan Nathaniel Mlevu Moyo, President Muhammadu Buhari has Lai Mohammed, his Minister of Information and Culture. History recorded that Mugabe’s Moyo lent himself as a tool in the hands of a man who became one of the most tyrannical Africans to sit in a Government House. In a full coercive capacity, he helped articulate Mugabe’s wave of oppression against Zimbabweans.
Five years younger than Mohammed, having been born in 1957, from 2000 to 2005 and 2013 to 2015, Moyo drafted and vociferously defended Mugabe’s tools of repression. These came in the form of Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) (2001), the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (Commercialization) Act (2003), the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) (2002), the Public Order and Security Act (2002), and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (Commercialization) Act (2003). All of these restrictive legislations were targeted at muzzling freedom of speech and attracted widespread criticisms for their violation of Zimbabweans’ rights to free speech. Upon being brought to the Zimbabwean parliament, Chairman of Zimbabwe’s Parliamentary Legal Committee, Eddison Zvobgo, repelled AIPPA thus: "I can say without equivocation that this Bill, in its original form, was the most calculated and determined assault on our liberties guaranteed by the Constitution, in the 20 years I served as Cabinet minister."
So when Nigeria’s own Mugabe tool went the Zimbabwean route in a bill recently parceled to the national legislature seeking amendment to the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act, so as to enable Mugabe – oh, my apologies, Buhari – control online media operations in Nigeria, it was obvious that, as physicists say, like was attracting like. Last week, the minister told the House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values that he wanted the committee “to add that internet broadcasting and all online media should be included in the bill.” In the specifics he seeks, Mohammed wants NBC’s powers amended so that it can superintend over the licensing, registration and regulation of the social media. His morbid thirst for the blood of free speech is not done. He also wants the Press Council Act amended, as well as the Advertising Media Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) code, all in the bid to place the media on the laps of government. And Mugabe smiled mischievously in his grave.
As Minister, Moyo turned pugilist against the Zimbabwean press, until he got expelled from the ZANU-PF. Beaming like a voyeur at the government closure of one of the most vociferous newspapers in Zimbabwe, he had remarked, "The Daily News is a victim of the rule of law which it had been preaching since 1999.” He was vilified in Zimbabwe and became as worthless as the country’s dollar, so much that, in 2005, Asher Tarivona Mutsengi, a student leader, journalist and agronomist at the Solusi University, described him thus: "…he will go down in the annals of history as a minister who lacked foresight and for pouring vitriol against his perceived opponents, his shopping spree in South Africa of scarce foodstuffs, causing unemployment to a multitude of journalists and a penchant for uncivilized propaganda." Mutsengi poured the last vitriol: "…my final analysis is that he is heading for the precipice… He might be a spin-doctor and intelligent as some claim, but I don't subscribe to that myself.”
The United States was so chagrined by his role in the muzzling of free speech that it banned him from travelling to America. When in January, 1998, Moyo moved to South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand to work on a W.K. Kellog Foundation-sponsored project entitled The Future of the African Elite, the university later alleged that he eloped with a chunk of the research grant totaling 100 million rand. It got so bad that younger brother of President Thabo Mbeki, Moeletsi of Witwatersrand university, led a campaign to have Moyo jailed if he ever stepped his feet on the South African soil.
Scholars have established that there are two models of leadership that exist in Africa. First is one that swivels from benevolence to repression. The second begins as a dictatorship and significantly graduates into heroism. I add a third and the fourth: a leadership that begins as dictatorship and enjoys this sadism’s bumpy ride till its last day in office. The last is one that begins benevolently and never departs from this highway. Two African Heads of State personify the first two models. They are Mugabe and Jerry Rawlings of Ghana respectively. Sani Abacha represents the third and Nelson Mandela, the fourth.
Mugabe, African nationalist and ideologue, began his leadership journey as a moderate. By the time he left office in 2019, he had become a world renowned dreaded tyrant. Born in February, 1924 to a poor family called Shona in Kutama, then Southern Rhodesia, later known as Zimbabwe, Mugabe was a Marxist-Leninist, revolutionary and politician who became Leader of the Zimbabwean African National Union (ZANU) in 1980 and served, first as Prime Minister and later, President of Zimbabwe for 30 years, 1987 to 2017.
When this revolutionary got into office, he was extremely people-friendly. He expanded Zimbabwe’s healthcare and education phenomenally, tickling the world into a state of exhilaration. He transited from being a major hater of white rule as demonstrated by his guerilla warfare, especially in the Rhodesian Bush War. He fought lan Douglas Smith’s white government to a standstill and reconciled blacks and white. Smith was a Rhodesian fighter pilot, politician, farmer who ruled Rhodesia as Prime Minister from 1964 to 1979 when he handed over to Mugabe. A dotting world waited on Mugabe as a competent and benevolent leader. He lifted the Zimbabwean economy to double-digits, shot school enrolment up from 2 to 70 percent and more than doubled literacy level from 45 to 80 percent. In recognition of all these leadership feats, Mugabe was garlanded with international awards and honors, the most outstanding being the knighthood he received in 1994 from English Queen Elizabeth II and his shortlist for the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize in the 1980s.
By the turn of this century, however, Mugabe had morphed into a recalcitrant monster and grew fiery Dracula fangs. The world in turn robed him with the trophy of one of the most repressive governments in the globe. The Zimbabwean economy nosedived horribly under his grips, so much that a fourth of the population was forced to flee the country to seek refuge elsewhere. More than 90 percent of Zimbabweans were unemployed and healthcare nose-dived to its nadir, shooting HIV-AIDS prevalence figure to a fifth of the population. Mugabe’s government got so repressive that, in a speech he delivered in 2003, thumping his chest like a matador, he boasted against the opposition that he would rule like a “Black Hitler, tenfold.” Under him, the Zimbabwean dollar became one of the most worthless in the world as he printed the currency at will, forcing inflation to jump to 231 million percent in 2008.
Rawlings, a Flight Lieutenant of the Ghana Air Force, on the reverse, hijacked power in Ghana in 1979 as a bloodthirsty despot. He ordered the execution by firing squad of eight military officers – Generals Kotei, Joy Amedume, Roger Felli, and Utuka and three former Ghanaian heads of state – Generals Kutu Acheampong, Fred Akuffo, and Akwasi Afrifa. Hs wave of oppression included torture, killings and arrests of dissenting voices, as well as muzzling of the press. He later resigned from the military, founded a political party named National Democratic Congress (NDC) and became Ghana’s first civilian President. Towards the latter days of his reign, Rawlings amazingly transited into a benevolent democrat and by the 1990s, had become the IMF and World Bank’s poster boy for good governance, tremendously and positively transforming the Ghanaian economy. Thereafter, he got re-elected and at the end of his terms, he supervised the first peaceful transition of power to another civilian government in Ghana.
The comment of Innocent Madawo, a Zimbabwean journalist and Toronto Sun newspaper columnist, about the Zimbabwean Minister of information, is where I begin my comparative analysis of Nigeria’s Mohammed and Moyo. Apparently frustrated by Moyo’s regression into the hall of infamy, Madawo had said of the Zimbabwean Minister of Information: “…a lot are embarrassed that they ever knew him." Same with Mohammed. His grandson was probably the most embarrassed. In his self confession, the Minister said the lad confronted him with the notorious narrative of “lie” as substitute for his “Lai” first name that is reigning on the streets.
I have bumped into Mohammed about twice, once as Chief of Staff to the Lagos State governor and another time at the Agodi, Ibadan Secretariat sometime in 2011 and I can say that Mohammed cut the visor of a man who could not hurt a fly. Soft spoken but a man you would goof tremendously if you ever set store by his cranial endowment, he looked like your avuncular neighbor next door. To now imagine that such a man could transmute into and carelessly walk into a Moyo hall of infamy, to many who knew him, is one of the mutative wonders of political power.
Caligula, who the unconscionable quote at the beginning of this piece was attributed to, real name Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, the third Roman emperor, was equally inebriated by power. He was so powerful that he planned to leave Rome, the seat of power and permanently live in Alexandria Egypt, where he would be deified and worshipped as a living god. On 24 January 41, he was stabbed 30 times, like his elder brother, Julius Caesar, by assassins within who disdained the idea of Rome losing out as the seat of power.
A lot has been said of Muhammed’s embarrassing assaults on the sanctity of truth and his weaponization of untruth as instrument of the management of governmental information. He has made himself the proverbial man who hangs on his waist a belt made of grains of corns who invariably gets embarrassingly scampered after by a colony of chickens. His penchant for Goebbelsian lies – from Joseph Goebbels, Germany’s Nazi Party chief propagandist and Reich Minister of Propaganda from 1933 to 1945 – which he dresses in the euphemism of propaganda, is notorious. Mohammed’s most recent infamy, which in my own estimation is his chunkiest assault on common sense and reasoning, is his attempt to get the National Assembly legalize his hatred for free speech.
In his years as Minister, Mohammed has negatively defined the boundary of operations of an information minister to include deodorizing the excrement of the man in power. He blatantly dresses government’s failure in garment of honour and turns upon their heads obvious realities in the polity, just to suit the whims of the people-hating, animal-loving government of Buhari. He has effectively used magical realism and voodoo as a tool of communicating government activities. With the UN recent statement that 4.4million Nigerians were starving, I will be shocked if Mohammed hasn’t issued a release to argue that enemies of Nigeria were behind the claim. His notoriety for blatant contradictions became manifest during the #EndSARS protests, especially over its casualty figure as he sought to criminalize CNN’s report on Buhari’s decision to borrow a leaf from South Africa’s Soweto massacre.
Mohammed received flaks across board recently when, in a press interview where he attempted to criminalize Twitter’s yanking off of President Muhammadu Buhari’s genocidal quips, he equated Nigerian president’s outlawry with Nnamdi Kanu’s deranged tweets and sought same treatment for both by Twitter. Last week, while speaking on a Radio Nigeria programme, he claimed that Twitter and its founder, Jack Dorsey, were liable for losses that Nigeria suffered during the protests, alleging that Dorsey, through Bitcoins, raised funds in sponsorship of the protests and his Twitter platform fuelled the crisis. At that point, you begin to wonder if indeed Mohammed was ever at the Nigerian Law School. How can Twitter, either vicariously or otherwise, suffer any liability in a Lekki toll gate civil, lawful protest that, all over the world, is held to be a fundamental human right? He has been exhibiting huge appetite to swallow Twitter up and let out its excrement inside a pit latrine.
I do not know if Mohammed realizes that, as the Yoruba say, the yearly masquerade festival, with its feast of plenty and brawns, no matter how long the frills take, always comes to an end. The son of the Chief Masquerade will thus have to resume his patronage of akara – bean cake – seller at the market square. The muscle-flexing and intoxicating wine of power will by then have melted into nothingness.
Today, Mohammed’s predecessors in mis-wielding of raw power – Mugabe, Moyo, Abacha and many more – have become footages in history. At the end of their tour of coercive power usage and stomping on the people’s right to express themselves, Buhari will conveniently mesh into his conservative Hausa–Fulani society which will garland him as a hero; so will Garba Shehu and other hirelings. Where will Mohammed hide his untruthful face in a very critical, very unsparing Yoruba society? What will be said of him when historiographers and historians are compiling 21st century diary of infamy?
Ayinla Omowura calls one of his for a tete-a-tete
Last Tuesday morning, lovers of the music of late ace Yoruba Apala musician, Ayinla Omowura, a.k.a Hadji Costly, Egunmogaji, lost one of the connoisseurs of that traditional music. Waheed Ganiyu was my friend, with whom I shared intellectual conversations on Omowura. He knew Omowura like the back of his hands, though like me, he never met the Abeokuta, capital of Ogun State-born bohemian musician who was killed 41 years ago in a beer parlour tiff. Ask him what vinyl volume a particular track of the musician could be found, he would tell you off hand, with clinical precision. As a testament to his depth, knowledge and how he lent immeasurable hand in the writing of the book, I showered huge encomiums on Waheed in the book.
But for him, I most probably would not have written the biography of Omowura. He rummaged through information and located me sometime in 2015, clutching earlier pieces I had done in newspapers about Hadji Costly. With that characteristic smile of his, he demanded that I wrote a book on the musician. He would inundate me with calls and pleadings, asking that I should wake up from my procrastination. More out of the need to satisfy him, work began on the book in 2018. You could see the fire of enthusiasm on his face as researches turned up tomes of information about Omowura. He was ever ready to accompany me on the several interview trips I embarked on to Abeokuta and Lagos to talk to sources about the musician.
In February this year, Waheed took ill and we all thought he was going to pull through in matter of weeks. Some weeks ago, he called that his health was deteriorating. Ever not ready to burden anyone with his load, he hid details of his existential challenges from his friends. Only for that jarring news of his passage to hit the airwaves last week.
Lovers of Omowura’s music worldwide should not allow Waheed’s only child, Ganiyu Abdulateef Oluwapamilerinayo, a student of Oriwu Junior Model College, Igbogbo, Ikorodu to suffer the absence of his father. Many thanks to Azeez Temitope, a friend of his who offered his shoulders for Waheed to lean on in his last moments. May Allah repose his soul.