By Pius Adesanmi
It's been 'eebu tins' (insult extravaganza) in the arena of political discourse and public commentary since this column decided to award itself an extended vacation five weeks ago. So massive has been the scramble for pottymouthing by critical segments of our commentariat that one was compelled to punctuate one’s vacation in favour of the occasional Facebook commentary on the matter. And the Nigerian penchant for flourish and exhaustiveness in negative matters means that we invaded the house of 'eebu' (insult) and appropriated all resources therein.
Name calling, bullying, catfighting, mudfighting, and roforofo became the building blocks of a colourful national orgy of insults and pottymouthing: Presidency versus Opposition; Presidency versus NGF; Presidency versus Media; Presidency versus former Facebook friends suffering from buyer's remorse; NGF versus PDP Governors Forum; PDP versus PDP; PDP versus APC; APC versus APC; APC versus PDP; Jang versus Amaechi; Amaechi versus Jangjaweed Governors. In the middle of it all, the triumvirate of sophistry and chicanery, Doyin Okupe, Reuben Abati, and Reno Omokri, migrated their mouths from the gutter to a more scatological habitat in the pit latrine, trafficking in words unbecoming of any presidency as they engaged the Opposition while servicing the lies of a glaringly inept President Jonathan. With these three clowns throwing insults all over the place, D.O. Fagunwa would refer to Jonathan’s Aso Rock as 'Eebudimeta'.
Sadly, the season of 'eebu tins' was contagious. It would have been an occasion for rejoicing had the season of national pottymouthing been restricted to the pestilential ranks of corrupt government officials and political actors for one's heart is always gladdened when the rapists of Nigeria tear at each other while dancing naked in the public sphere.
President Jonathan fighting the NGF, Tambuwal and Wamakko clawing at Bamanga Tukur, Rotimi Amaechi and the Jangjaweed Governors pottymouthing one another are all occasions for rejoicing by the people. These are all instances of the Yoruba philosophy of 'fun ra won ni won o ma fun ra won l'ogun je'. In other words, o ye people of Nigeria, rejoice and be merry whenever the corrupt rapists of our commonwealth feed each other poison. You do not need to inherit their cant and chicanery; their bickering; their pottymouthing; their pettiness; their irrationalities. For in the dead of night, when all doors are closed and you guys are still outside abusing each other along religious, tribal, and geopolitical fault-lines and lining up behind one political gladiator against the other, these guys close ranks, embrace, and declare aloota continua behind your backs.
There is one group of fellow citizens who, apparently, does not subscribe to the notion that we, the grass beneath the feet of the gorging elephants in the political class, do not need to tear at each other and spread the contagion of 'eebu tins' just because we support a particular political actor and believe that he is Junior Jesus and Deputy Mohammed combined. I am talking about the formidable armies of social media marketers of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and General Mohammadu Buhari who have taken on the task of marketing these two prominent figures of a very amorphous opposition to the broader Nigerian electorate. The methodology and strategies of these marketers have very serious implications for the democracy we all envisage and the Nigeria we all envision.
Asiwaju Tinubu's claim to an oppositional/progressive patina stems from his investment in NADECO and the anti-Abacha struggle of the era, his relatively successful tenure as Lagos State Governor during which, we must admit, the foundation was laid for much of what Raji Fashola is doing today. It was also during his tenure in Lagos that the state became a model of resistance to Federal brigandage as he was largely able to resist what I call our "almajiri federalism", which has state governors singing "asiri a bo bam bi Allah" all the way to Abuja, becoming cowering and conquered houseboys of an omnipotent President in the process. Rotimi Amaechi's laudable resistance to Goodluck Jonathan's arrogance of power today is nothing new. By successfully resisting Obasanjo's crudeness, Tinubu paved the way for any Governor willing to remember that Federalism does not mean that states should become vassals of an arrogant centre with irrational powers. Is the pathetic Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa really a state governor today or Goodluck Jonathan's palace eunuch?
Nigerians know the answer. Lagos is also where Asiwaju marshaled strategies and resources to eventually rid the southwest of the ruinous stranglehold of the PDP. He resisted Obasanjo in Abuja and also brought in new brooms to sweep away all the corrupt PDP governors that Ebora Owu had rigged into office in the southwest.
This is a broad summary of the achievements that have earned Asiwaju the right to become he who must be obeyed and never questioned in the world of his supporters. If these supporters were content with just sacrificing their own right to civic questioning, becoming marionettes, and letting Asiwaju take over the responsibility of thinking and deciding everything for them in the political and democratic sphere, that, I guess, would be their own kettle of fish. We must concede to every Nigerian his democratic right to be the political toilet paper of his own chosen hero among the gladiators in our public sphere. But Asiwaju's fans are not content with worshipping their ordained orisha. They fan across social media as onward Christian soldiers, sorry, onward Asiwaju soldiers, trying to force-feed their idol intravenously into the Nigerian electorate in a manner that brooks no argument, opposition, or genuine debate.
Asiwaju, the argument goes, liberated the southwest from the PDP and his reward must be the everlasting silence of all Nigerians, even beyond the southwest. We should just all submit ourselves uncritically to his every whim, his every caprice, his every political calculus. We should just all become eternally grateful citizens of the nebulous empire that Asiwaju is building, no questions asked. To ask any question is to attract the ire of his supporters who mass in and rain insults on the critical questioner, blind as they are to the essence and meaning of democratic citizenship.
Democratic citizenship starts with my fundamental right to ask questions and probe the practices and politics of any participant in the political destiny of my country. If you are selling a political hero, democratic citizenship starts with my right to haggle, to critically examine the product you are attempting to sell to me, to ask questions about the provenance, usefulness, and durability of your product. Questions of worth and value are pertinent.
To put it in a popular Nigerian parlance, if you are selling Asiwaju to me, it is my right to price your market. Pricing your market in this respect means that I can raise very serious critical and ethical questions about the ruinous financial slavery of Lagos state – and increasingly the southwest – to one man today. I have the right to ask questions about tax collection processes in Lagos state. I have the right to raise an alarm over tolling at Lekki and where the money goes.
If you are selling Asiwaju to me, I have the right to wonder if you are not asking me to replace the corrupt dictatorship of the PDP at the centre with the no less corrupt one-man show of an aspiring emperor. I have the right to ask if you are asking me to replace Nigeria's failed Federalism with Tinubu's political empire, which is emerging somewhat parallel to and somewhat in opposition to that failed federalism at the centre. When I peep into this emergent political empire and I see things injurious to the spirit of democracy, I have the right to ask you questions if you persist in selling that product to me.
I could tell you that looking at the untidy way in which Asiwaju's wife was imposed as a Senatorial candidate, the untidy way in which his choices are imposed as Local Government Chairmen everywhere he holds sway, the untidy way in which his choices are imposed as Governors everywhere he holds sway (until the Ondo rout), the untidy business of attempting to impose his daughter as the new Iyaloja of Lagos, the untidy way in which he and Chief Bisi Akande have privileged a rigid babacracy over internal party democracy in the political party over which they preside and, now, the absolutely horrible, undemocratic, and arrogant way in which he is trying to abort democracy in Ekiti by asking Opeyemi Bamidele to wait for his turn – I could look at all these things, all these dictatorial tendencies, the recurrence of the word 'imposition', and decide that the corrupt democracy of Aso Rock is better than the corrupt babacracy of Bourdillon Road. At least the pretense of democracy exists in Aso Rock whereas there is no room for even democratic pretense in Bourdillon road. Indeed, the unfolding outrage in Ekiti has confirmed my long-held suspicion that Bourdillon road is the most formidable antithesis to democracy in Nigeria now. I certainly hope that Opeyemi Bamidele will be buoyed by the precedence of Ondo and defy imposition and empire building.
When bold and patriotic compatriots raise these legitimate issues, Tinubu's social media supporters, who have no liver for debate, resort to knee-jerk 'eebu tins'. They rain insults and curse and curse again. They bully and intimidate the same people they are trying to persuade to adopt their orisha of Bourdillon. Yet, the very next minute, these devotees of the orisha of Bourdillon begin to hold out the southwest as an example of democracy to the rest of the country. They purport that the southwest has lessons to teach the rest of the country in democracy and its practices. I always wonder who dashed them the mouth to make such spurious submissions. Until the southwest deals with the untidy legacy of Tinubu’s impositions and his long-winding trail of subversion of democratic principles, they must understand that they have lost the mouth with which to contribute to broader national arguments about democratic ethos. The rest of the country would be justified if they told the southwest: abeg, make we hear word.
What goes for Tinubu's supporters also goes for a vast majority of General Buhari's supporters. Indeed, General Buhari's avowed online loyalists make Tinubu's supporters look like kindergarten pupils in the department of 'eebu tins'. Unlike Tinubu's supporters who are trying to sell a political orisha because their principal is trying to consolidate an empire rather than openly jostling for an elective office, General Buhari's supporters are trying to sell a political candidate jostling for the office of President. They insist on the General's personal capital: simplicity, integrity, leadership, zero-tolerance of corruption, sound moral and ethical stock. According to this narrative, corrupt politicians would scamper out of Nigeria were General Buhari ever to be elected President for he would not spare them.
So far so good. Things get a bit more complicated for General Buhari and his loyalists the moment you move beyond the General’s impeccable personal capital to other things you need to be acceptable to all Nigerians irrespective of tribe and creed. General Buhari’s loyalists are quick to insist that he is a pan-Nigerian statesman. His statements and actions suggest otherwise and when concerned Nigerians insist on raising that significant issue, the General’s loyalists, like Tinubu’s supporters, recourse to ‘eebu tins’ to sell their product. They curse and curse and curse. They rain insult upon insult on Nigerians for being simpletons who just can’t understand the General. One wrote an article in Sahara Reporters advising the General to withdraw from politics because he is too good for Nigeria or Nigerians aren’t good enough for him. The stupidity of claiming that 160 million of us are not good enough for or are undeserving of one of us was not apparent to this Buhari loyalist. I’ve encountered more bellicose variants of that insult coming from General Buhari’s army of online loyalists. Nigeria, they insist, is not ready for him because Nigeria is not good enough for him.
But the Nigerians who are being insulted by Buhari’s loyalists are not the people responsible for the persistent question mark on the General’s pan-Nigerian credentials. The General is and the blame must be placed firmly and unequivocally at his doorstep. General Buhari has done more in the last two decades or so to forge an image of himself as a closet geopolitical irredentist and very little to encourage perceptions of himself as a pan-Nigerian statesman. This is not limited to his healthy syllabus of northern and Islamic irredentist statements – his supporters are ever ready to insult us that we are just not intelligent enough to understand those statements – but also to his inaction. I will explain the bit about inaction presently.
Suffice it to say for now that the insults and curses rained on Nigerians daily by Buhari’s supporters are far worse than the treatment we get from Tinubu’s supporters. My stomach churns whenever I encounter pro-Buhari statements starting with such illogicalities as “Buhari is the only living Nigerian capable of this and that”. Really? Please! There are 160 million of us. There must be limits to hyperbole. And there is no greater insult than saying that 160 million of us are either too mischievous or too unintelligent to understand the repeated careless statements of your hero. Personally, I’m loath to have a President of Nigeria who constantly needs the service of the extra-talented geniuses in his core support base to explain his constant stream of misstatements and misspeaks to 160 million unintelligent simpletons. We must ask the question again: why is it that only fundamentalist loyalists have found the key to understanding General Buhari’s statements?
Now to Buhari’s inaction. We must ask his supporters: exactly where is Buhari’s national presence, say, since 2011? His statements, careless or reasonable, mostly get to the south of the river Niger whenever local journalists are lucky enough to monitor an interview he granted the Hausa service of BBC or VOA from his Kaduna base. I know that he was at my friend, Nasir El Rufai’s book launch in Lagos and was, also, recently at the funeral of Asiwaju’s mother in Lagos. There may be other unreported low-profile ventures outside of the north by the General. However, if I were in Buhari’s shoes, I would have been all over the Nigerian map physically since 2011. My social and political calendar across Nigeria would have been very busy and active. I would have been attending well-publicized events all over the country, delivering speeches on critical national issues in Universities all over Igboland, all over the south-south. I would even have ‘invaded’ Professor Bolaji Aluko’s fief in the Federal University, Otuoke, by delivering a significant lecture on critical national issues from that pregnant location. I would have been all over the southwest, the MiddleBelt – everywhere - engaging people and issues, strategizing about the way forward with critical stakeholders. Newspapers would be reporting that some of my national statements and interviews were monitored in Isanlu, Kabba, Amawbia, Nnobi, Calabar, Nsukka, Enugu, Okene, Owerri, Osogbo, Ore, Ibadan, Abakaliki, Ogwashi-Uku, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Ijebu Ode, Akure, Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, Warri, etc.
If , rather than cultivate this broad national praxis in the service of my presidential ambition, I cocoon myself mostly in Kaduna, releasing northern and Islamic irredentist statements to the rest of the country in interviews granted the Hausa service of BBC and VOA, going as far as to carelessly equate a legitimate clamp down on Boko Haram with a war against the North, I should be prepared to accept responsibility for a certain perception of myself and work very hard to address the issue. Genuine supporters of General Buhari have serious work to do. I know many of them, patriotic compatriots working tirelessly for Nigeria, convinced that General Buhari is a far better option than the disgrace currently residing in Aso Rock. They are not into the business of insulting Nigerians to sell their product.
They are my friends: Adebayo Adeneye-Adejuwon, Marian Iyabode Awolowo, Kizito Agba-Injo. One of them, Tunde Asaju, is my cousin. What these believers in the Buhari project must understand is that their genuine efforts to sell Buhari online is largely crowded out by the ill-reflected strategies of the more fundamentalist Buhari supporters who believe that the best way to sell their product is to constantly insult and bully Nigerians. Adebayo Adejuwon and co must understand that they have their work cut out for them. Not only must they continue to try to sell their product using the time-tested strategies of democratic debate and superior argument, they must also work harder to convince those who are trying to sell the General via insults that they are damaging Buhari’s brand – to borrow a way of speaking made popular by my sister Bamidele Ademola-Olateju. And unless they believe that General Buhari is infallible, they must be prepared to reach out to their hero, engage him, and see how he could work on the statesman and de-emphasize the northern irredentist. Accusing those asking questions of ill-will or inability to understand the General will not cut it.
Personally, I’m not on the Buhari train because I am not convinced me that we cannot find a Nigerian in the age bracket of 40-55 among 160 million people who fits the bill for 2015. As a friend of mine, Kemi Sisi Eko, once observed, there is something fundamentally wrong with you if you are a Nigerian in your 20s, 30s, or 40s and you insist that a septuagenarian is the singular and the only answer to your problem in the age of Obama, Cameron, Merkel, Harper, and Hollande. If I raise this issue, it is your responsibility as a Buhari loyalist to engage or confront me with superior logic and try to persuade me. Don’t come hurling insults at me, avoiding serious issues by claiming that I harbor some undefined animus against the General. That is the lazy strategy that General Buhari’s loyalists often deploy to kill genuine debate.
Building democracy is not just about the struggle to rid our country of a corrupt, comatose, and visionless leadership such as we currently have in Goodluck Jonathan; it is not just about the struggle to build credible and genuine institutions; it is also mostly about the need to forge, inform, and instruct a critical and civic-minded followership. A democracy without a followership that questions is doomed. And questioning does not mean criticizing Jonathan endlessly while being intolerant of any criticism of your own political orisha. By resorting ever so often to ‘eebu tins’ in the marketing of their heroes, too many supporters of Asiwaju Tinubu and General Buhari are endangering democracy. They are part of the problem. They are tolerating democracy only to the extent that their respective heroes shall neither be critiqued, questioned, nor engaged. Those of us whose singular premise is Nigeria – and not sacrosanct heroes – shall not allow this to happen. We shall continue to question, to critique, to engage.
Perish the thought that we shall ever allow the emergence of a Nigeria in which it would be possible for some citizens to crown political orishas that are deemed too good for some undeserving 160 million people. If you belong in the group of workers for Nigeria who are not beholden to any political orisha, then by all means continue to raise very pertinent and critical issues whenever and wherever the loyalists of Tinubu and Buhari sell their heroes on social media. That is the stuff, the essence of democracy. Followers must be able to ask legitimate questions of other followers without being intimidated or insulted. That is the Nigeria we envisage and envision.
If Buhari’s or Tinubu’s loyalists insult you for asking questions, shrug your shoulders and tell them that insults do not grow on the forehead of the insulted or, as the Yoruba would put it, “eebu o so”.