Saturday, 12 June 2010

June 12: Snow White Looked in the Mirror and Saw Shango

Benson Eluma

{This article does not represent the views of the Sentinel Literary Movement of Nigeria; all opinions expressed are solely those of the author.}


I don’t know which to pick between May 29 and June 12 as the worst date to look forward to in our political calendar. I don’t know which is, to me, emptier of meaning as far as democracy is the issue. Perhaps, I hold a generally jaundiced view of Nigeria’s political history and career. But I truly pity the optimists amongst us. And I have the greatest distrust for the so-called progressives to whose ranks was recently admitted that panegyrist on hire to any peacock with obscene dough, Dele Momodu, publisher of the overpriced, perfumed toilet paper known as Ovation magazine, which doesn’t even do its job of arse-wipe well because of the coarseness of its material. Whoever knows the fellow should tell him that in both age and ideological stance he belongs in the ancient breed of political villainy in Nigeria. He cannot now in his dotage aspire to represent the constituency of youth in the country, a constituency that with every passing generation finds its field of possibilities increasingly sown with thistles and thorns. But then who knows? The villains can be found among the youth too. Yes, Momodu could win election as ‘Baba awon lost boys’. However, in the event of such a contestand who says we cannot have such an elective position in Nigeria, the land of mind-boggling possibilities?he would have much to contend with in the strong forces of Bola Ahmed, the progressive politician who, in a parody of Nicodemus, went on behalf of the Pharisees in the AC to woo the ‘evil genius’ after their party was dumped by the no less unholy Atiku, a politician who carries the membership cards of all the political parties in Nigeriaextant, extinct, and envisaged; progressive, regressive, digressive, and even paralytic. Atiku represents the true spirit of Nigeria’s ‘nascent (stunted-growth?) democracy’. And one day when we come to realize the value of the central role he is playing today, we shall inaugurate a holiday in his honour, or re-assign May 29 as his Saint Day, or even June 12. For it is in us to venerate travesties. 

Today, I will be recalling sections of Karl Maier’s This House Has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis for the nth time. It always baffles me how it has been successfully seared into the annals that the election of June 12, 1993 is the freest and fairest of them all. I hold up the face of that election, its historical background and vital statistics, I hold it up to my mirror and it shatters in a million pieces. Imagine an election marred by grievous voter apathy, recording a turnout of no more than 35 per cent of the registered electorate, i.e. the Nigerian people, using or not using their legs, passed a vote of no confidence on June 12, 1993 and rejected a transition programme that had lost every iota of credibility owing to the disgraceful manner in which it had been stage-managed by the military puppeteers. Imagine an election the lead-up to which had been marred by the disappearance of the freedom of political association and political thought both for those seeking the vote and, by implicature, for those giving it. The SDP and NRC were the two remaining fingers of a leprosy-ravaged hand, bankrupt manifesto-wise and peopled with all manner of strange bedfellows with an eye for the main chance. Imagine an election in which all the political sluggers that could have matched Abiola blow-for-blow (or is it dough-for-dough?) were disqualified from the fray while an unknown apparition was manufactured and superficially propped up for the pretence of a contest with Abiola. This is the election that we hail as Snow White, the freest and fairest of them all. Today many people will beat their breasts in that predictable and silly ritual, and claim they are willing to die in honour of whatever it is Abiola stands for in their imaginings. I, being aware of the iniquity into which I was born and have lived in happily ever since, prefer demonologies to hagiographies. So, drawing from the demonology built up before June 12, 1993 by Nigeria’s progressive bastion, what I prefer to recall of MKO is that he was promoter and financier, a veritable diabolus ex machina, of the NPN, that constellation of the most cussed diehards and dyed-in-the-wool holdouts in the reactionary firmament of Nigerian politics. I also recall that his middle-name used to be military collaborator and his cognomen International Thief Thief. 

And each time, before I hold up this construction of his reputation to the mirror, I do not forget to add as addendum to his demonology the fact that he became a ‘progressive democrat’ only after what he expected to receive on a platter, like the head of Saint John the Baptist, began to prove unfortunate for his ambition. I recall the media blitzkrieg of his campaign. I remember the ‘Na for bingo’ TV advert in which it became clear that the NPN’s erstwhile financier had ‘finally’ acquired the knowledge that contrary to the false image of a rich country with a contented citizenry whose high standard of living could underwrite the extravagance of moneybags who owned houses in all the capitals of the West and fornicated in every galaxy in the universe, the vast majority of Nigerians were vying with dogs for bones to crunch. I marvel at the expertise and alacrity with which a completely new image, that of an ‘a luta continua’ fighter, was well-nigh successfully minted for MKO, the hitherto proverb-munching and skirt-chasing Aare Ona Kakanfo—he cut a figure close to Elesin, didn’t he?—as it dawned on him and his fellow progressives that his friend Abacha had not ousted Shonekan from Aso Rock so that Abiola could retrieve his stolen mandate. Abacha, Abiola’s friend, had gothic things in mind for his own kakistocracy, including show trials and kangaroo courts, dungeons, roadside murders, séances with marabouts, and regular soirées featuring nautch dancers from India. ‘A looter continua!’

It is a short distance from the NPN to the SDP. Abiola actually ignored that short distance and took a shortcut made even shorter by the media power, the connections within the military-industrial complex, the philanthropist’s clout and, not least, the vast marital and fornication network he had amassed over the decades. Maybe there was no distance to travel at all, as Atiku’s example now convincingly instructs us. Indeed, under the barefaced puppetry and magomago of the demiurge IBB-Maradona, there was no line, thin or thick, between the NRC and the SDP. Those two parties were tighter than Siamese twins walking a little to the right and a little to the left; they were thick as thieves. The political players of that era, minus, of course, the apparition Bashir Tofa, are still at their nefarious worst, evenly and interchangeably spread over the landscape of party politics, all of them ancient rogues and toughs ruining the ‘nascent democracy’ and kicking the battered ball that is Nigeria here and there and nowhere in particular because the goalposts have long been dismantled. (Aside: FIFA ought not to have fixed a world cup match for Nigeria today June 12 when it is most likely not to score any goal. Tatalo Alamu has written a fine article on this ominous mistake here.) 

If Abiola had survived those fateful sips of hemlock... sorry, I’ve just crosschecked that against the official record, it says ordinary tea... but if MKO had survived those trembling mouthfuls he managed to swallow that fateful day in July 1998, he would most likely have signed up as a player on the PDP team like his running mate Babagana Kingibe. I dare anybody to contradict me on this. Africa’s ‘Pillar of Sports’, founder and owner of Abiola Babes FC, would have been a PDP playmaker today. And if he had ended up in the AC or ANPP, what degree of difference would that have signalled? Let’s ask Atiku who’s been there and done that. Or, for that matter, Bola Ige who served as minister in the PDP government of OBJ, that ‘nest of killers’, even though he was chieftain of the AD, a party that was supposed to stand for everything the PDP was the antithesis of. Or prithee let’s ask our ‘new-breed’ political parvenus, from Speaker Bankole to every harried AC rep, all of whom share the same mind, the same ‘long throat’ cloned from an extinct species of giraffe, insofar as the issue is jumbo allowances for the asses at the National Assembly. And what else besides their obese earnings and bulging ‘Ghana-must-go’ booty is always on the agenda of those asses at the Assembly? Eh, what else do they aye and nay and bray about?


I agree that people have the right to construct and recall their history however it pleases them. In the case of Abiola, it is sure that the progressive hagiography has both overtaken and overpowered the progressive demonology. The man is a saint, and the election he won is our Snow White. This is the dominant political history of June 12 in both expert and popular discourse in our land. But I also say that whatever the edifice of historical syllabus people construct, it is susceptible of critical inspection, and when we can, it is our duty to deconstruct every such construction in order to understand it. Brecht wrote the words: ‘Unhappy the land that needs heroes.’ The desperation in our land shows up in the way we have clutched at the straw of MKO. In the absence of Snow White, haunted Prince Charming embosoms the queen. I wonder if the same unhappy desperation does not explain the beatification and eventual deification of Shango the marauding fire-breather. Anyway, I would sooner look to Shango for heroism than join the breast-beaters of the annual June 12 ritual. At least Shango repented of his belligerent ways and regretted that he had got his two strongest generals—IBB and Abacha?—overly accustomed to slaughter and plunder in addition to the worse crime of militarizing the imagination and ethos of his people. Shango ‘Oba Koso’ willingly took his own life. And then the ebullient bata rhythms of Shango worship—where is the colobus monkey that prefers the flying spittle and grating mendacities of the June 12ers to that? In matters heroic I prefer myths because we can always metaphorize them and distil some nuanced essence from their offerings. As Auden warned, ‘Political history is far too criminal and pathological to be a fit subject of study for the young. Children should acquire their heroes and villains from fiction.’ The admonition should be extended to the pedagogy of adults as well. Especially those adults who, when they look in the mirror, find that like Dele Momodu they have regressed into adolescence. 


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