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Nigerians’ anger and the coming darkness By Lasisi Olagunju

President Muhammadu Buhari

Monday, 18 July, 2022

“Who jails society when it does horror to people?” Fela Anikulapo Kuti asked that question the first time he was jailed by Nigeria for going against society’s bad manners. He was a deviant of no precedent. After Fela, very many others have asked the same question – quietly or with ear-grating stridence. There is this new face in rap music called Portable. His fans call him son of Shaku Shaku; some call him Street Problem; some others say he is Wahala. But he is no Fela; he is very far from the illimitable Afrobeats king. The adjective for Fela’s art is avant-garde. Portable also appears very original in roiling the mud for fame and wealth. And, because anything Lagos accepts becomes gold, he is making waves. He was the All Progressives Congress’s counterforce to PDP’s Davido in the just-held Osun State governorship election. There is so much in a name: Portable has a Muslim name, Habeeb, which means Lovable. He is also Okikiola (Fame of Nobility). Before he ‘showed face’ in that election, I tried not to look at his weathered profile, his craggy face. His head of many colours disgusted me. I thought his perpetually tipsy voice should lack the taste of popular acclaim. But he sings and young people and cities rise to meet him.

Fela found in his first jailhouse, people accused of having ‘gone against society’; and he asked “who the fuck is society?” He challenged that ‘society’ throughout his life, demanding the right answers to questions of social justice. This Portable, I have not had the courage to listen to his music, but his queer ways intruded into my consciousness last week. I sifted through the dross, which revealed something of value. I saw two videos of this ‘rubbish’ at the weekend and listened to the voice of ‘scum’ making great sense. In a 49-second ‘state of the nation’ video, he sneered at society and its efforts at foisting a generational curse on everybody. The setting looks like Abuja airport, and he whines: “…A whole Abuja, no fuel inside plane. E kàn ns’orí burúkú e l’énse nkan gidi (you are misbehaving but you think you are doing great)…You ‘rip’ our fathers; you can’t ‘rip’ us also just like that…” In another video, he tells an adversary that he might not have the luck of a rich dad, but he had run and broken the iron wall of poverty for his family: “You do not have to enter the ancestral grove before becoming an elder (kò d’ìgbà to bá wo igbó’rò k’o tó d’àgbà awo).” He uttered that and I thought it was a rather very deep chant from an unusual, unvarnished bard. Then he adds “Mo sáré (I ran) because I wanted to conquer poverty… SOS – Save-Our-Soul…What the father suffered, the son must not suffer same. I am not the son of a rich man. I am the one who made my daddy rich…”

The ghetto man has a jagged exterior and he flaunts it like new riches. But he was fine enough to draw a line between his business and his duty to his dispossessed class. His rant during a sweaty street-show in Osogbo was purely a commercial engagement for the APC. His Abuja ‘speech’ was against the APC federal people and the violence their ‘ungovernment’ is doing to the well-being of the Nigerian people. Portable’s “E kàn ns’orí burúkú e l’énse nkan gidi” can only be fully understood by a person who understands what the ‘orí burúkú’ concept means among the Yoruba. ‘Orí burúkú’ literally means ‘bad head’; deep down the surface is what is called negative aura; the ill-luck that oxidates gold to coal without value. Nobody wants it; everyone rejects it, complete with snapped fingers over the head. But beyond the literal, its attachment to a nation-wrecking leadership makes it more pungent. Nobody wants a person with a bad head as the head. When Portable spoke about Abuja “a whole federal capital” suffering fuel scarcity “even inside plane”, he spoke directly to Nigeria’s landlord’s lack of capacity, the negative energy and a reaffirmation of the country’s dysfunctional default mode. Things are very difficult for everyone. I want to say I could see darkness coming, but here, I ask myself, “what is the definition of this pall that has already descended on all?” The present darkness.

How many Portables have perished in the ghetto of Nigeria’s wickedness? Even young men and women without the wounds and scars you see in the skin and soul of Portable still end up as victims of a nation that may never work. Nigeria is a talent killer. A destiny muncher. There is a Kemi Badenoch making waves in the UK and getting set to become the Prime Minister of Britain. If she wins, she becomes a world leader – one of the seven – in a world of eight billion people. Her case will be more intense than Barack Obama’s, and you know why. She will become a goddess rubbing shoulders with the real owners of the world. But if she had remained in Nigeria, what would have happened to her dream? And that is if she had a dream at all. She may have become a university lecturer by now begging to feed because a government of certificate losers sits on her salary over ASUU’s intractable strike. Our ‘democracy’ would have also told her she can’t be a local government chairman because she won’t have billions to buy voters and security on election day. She would be qualified to become a personal assistant to a special adviser who does nothing.

Now, imagine this: President Muhammadu Buhari paid homage to the Emir of Katsina, Dr Abdulmumini Kabir Usman, at his palace on Saturday and asked all of us to thank him for the ‘little’ discomfort we enjoy. “If our people were to know the kind of hardship some other African countries are in currently, they would have been grateful with the situation here at home,” he said. I heard him and raced back to the days of the much maligned NPN (National Party of Nigeria) of the second republic. Those who lived through that reign would tell us that the Shagari regime did not do ten percent of the bad things we see today. But Buhari said our situation is better than those of other African countries. He did not tell us the countries he had in mind. Could he be talking about South Africa? Or Rwanda? Or Ghana? Or where? If Fela were around, how would he have described this regime of hunger and anger demanding gratitude? Lips sulky, jaws defiant, Fela would have sung of locusts despoiling the field. And the regime’s cheer party: “no brain, no job…” would have been the song for their zombie. Now, why did Buhari limit his excuse to African countries? There is the current champion in failure, Sri Lanka; our president should have pointed at that one in particular for direction. Buhari’s Nigeria mirrors Sri Lanka which unravels and still tells the world that it has no time to do well. The country continues to roast in its own stew of bad, unfeeling leadership.

It is true the world is melting down and there is anger everywhere. The authoritative The Economist magazine shouted three weeks ago that “a wave of unrest is coming.” That is the title of a warning that sounds more like a prophecy. Nigeria should be very worried and be very careful how it rides the camel of the Nigerian people. There is hunger; there is anger. When troubled Portable filmed himself whining that “no be Nigeria no good, no be Nigeria get fault…,” he was pouring the street into the frustration of the ordinary Nigerian. I am not done with The Economist report. It should scare everyone who knows the meaning of trouble and unrest. I pray those asking us to thank them for not governing well read and understand it. For their benefit, I quote the report in copious details: “Sri Lanka has already defaulted and melted down. Angry and hungry mobs have set fire to vehicles, invaded government buildings and spurred their reviled president into pushing out the prime minister, who is his brother. Riots have erupted in Peru over living standards, and India over a plan to cut some jobs-for-life in the army, which rankles when so many yearn for security. Pakistan is urging its citizens to drink less tea to save hard currency. Laos is on the brink of default. Anger at the cost of living doubtless contributed to Colombia’s election of a left-wing radical as president on June 19th…The greatest risk is in places that were already precarious: countries such as Jordan and Egypt that depend on food and fuel imports and have rickety public finances. Many such places are badly or oppressively governed. In Turkey the supply shock has accelerated ruinous inflation caused by dotty monetary policy. Around the world, the cost-of-living squeeze is adding to people’s grievances and raising the chance that they will take to the streets. This is more likely to turn violent in places with lots of underemployed, single young men. As their purchasing power falls, many will conclude that they will never be able to afford to marry and have a family. Frustrated and humiliated, some will feel they have nothing to lose if they join a riot.”

The report smells Nigeria. The country keeps doing horror to the people without consequences. And it thinks this won’t end or be ended one day soon. On every street and at every hour are youths without hope. Helpless graduates without jobs; hopeless undergraduates without schools are outside their parents’ gates. They mill around in subdued anger and won’t mind calving a Sri Lanka out of Nigeria. So, how do we pull back from this precipice of chaos? We cannot avoid the fall if those who wounded the health of the nation are demanding gratitude from us for their bad acts. I go back to The Economist which gives a guide. It warns stakeholders and all of us to do something immediately because “the longer all this anger is allowed to fester, the more likely it is to explode.” How much were food and petrol last week? How much are they this week? Food and fuel price inflation, the magazine said, are good predictors of mass protests, riots and political violence. Then it warns: “The pain is most intense for city dwellers in poor countries who spend a huge part of their income on bread and bus fares. Unlike rural folk, they cannot grow their own crops—but they can riot.”

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