June 12 represents the denial of the wish of the majority by the powerful holders of power in Nigeria (and their foreign collaborators) who annulled the most peaceful and free election in Nigeria’s history. Moshood Abiola who dined with the military hierarchy forgot to use a long spoon while eating with the ‘devil’. The resolve to pursue his mandate ended in death and since that election, Nigerians have retreated to their ethnic base, only going to the centre to collect maintenance allowances while parasitic elites across the zones harmonise against the interests of the poor majority. The story behind June 12 is being lost and the 2021 protests were not much about June 12 of Abiola. The ‘Buhari Must Go’ protesters demanded of the President to address the monsters of unemployment, poverty, and insecurity which are terrorising Nigerians. Through the protest song, O ti yara gbagbe gbogbo re o, ileri re igba ipolongo, a se binti logbon ori e, iwo ti a ro po gbon (you have forgotten your campaign promises, we overrated your capacity, we thought you were wise), the youth called out the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), demanding an end to ‘demonstration of craze’ by herdsmen, kidnappers, and bandits among others.
Protest songs have become useful in explaining the turn of events in Nigeria because they embellish the experiences of people and point direction towards ameliorating the unpleasant experiences. Through protest songs, leaders who promised but failed to deliver on those promises are called out and the breach in agreement revisited to show regret in the abuse of trust and to serve as a reminder and draw attention to pending issues. But the handlers of Nigeria’s democracy barely tolerate dissenting voices. This was why Nigerians reacted against the position of Buhari on his suspension of Twitter. Rather than being sympathetic to national security argument of the Buhari-Osinbajo regime, Nigerians perceive a backdoor strategy of this regime to actualise their long-pursued social media regulation. What kind of world could we be living at the moment? Could the converted-democrat have backslidden?
The answer to my questions was provided by Afro-beat legend and Pan-Africanist, the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who provided experiential and theoretical explanations of two worlds which exist in his universe. It is a timely intervention because Fela dissected Nigeria and the global politics in his song, Beasts of No Nation, after he was released from prison. He had been jailed in 1984 by the Major General Muhammadu Buhari regime on allegations of currency smuggling but was released by General Ibrahim Babangida after 20 months in jail. Beasts of No Nation was a vociferous protest album to end the apartheid regime in South Africa under President Pieter Willem Botha who said ‘this uprising (opposition, resistance and protest) against the apartheid will bring out the beast in us’.
In Beasts of No Nation, Fela constructs prison as ‘inside world’ and outside the prison walls as ‘outside world’. To Fela, outside world is ‘craze world’, governed by wicked rulers, corrupt judges, ineffective national assembly, soldiers, magistrates and police who brutalise and extort people who are fighting for their rights and are struggling with Nigeria’s terrorising space. He says “the time wey I dey for prison, I call am inside world. The time wey I dey outside prison, I call am outside world. Na craze world, no be outside world. No be outside the police dey… Craze world. No be outside the soldier dey… Craze world. No be outside the court dem dey…craze world. No be outside the judge dem dey….craze world”. To Fela, all the actors who ordered his arrest and those who sentenced him live and dominate the ‘craze world’. “No be outside dem find me guilty …craze world… No be outside dem jail me five years….craze world… No be outside dem kill dem students… Soweto, Zaria, and Ife”. Do the catalogued incidents resonate anything in your mind?
As it was during the military, so it is during democracy because the actors are the same; they only operate under different systems of government. In this ‘craze world’, we continue to experience miscarriage of justice, extortion by the police and brutal clampdown on #EndSARS protesters ordered by government. Just like Fela explained that “I no do nothing”, revelations at the #EndSARS panels unveil the wasting of human lives by police operatives on trumped-up charges and beastly extortion.
The de-marketing of Nigeria did not just start with this regime, during War Against Indiscipline of Major General Muhammadu Buhari, Fela said he had never heard where a government would say “My people are useless, my people are senseless, my people are indiscipline…..na Nigerian government, ee-oh….dem dey talk be that…which kain talk be that….na craze talk”. Fast forward to today and add “fantastically corrupt” with ‘lazy youth’ and the answer you get is a leopard that does not change its spot.
In this craze world are pretenders. We pretend to be good to exploit and people uncritically get trapped with the bait. In our ‘craze world’ therefore, many leaders (people) disguise as messiah or are packaged as such but show their true self once their ambition is realised. In Nigeria’s political campaign, a presidential candidate who is in Benue State will be made to wear Benue attire to portray the candidate as detribalised. He does the same thing across the states. However, the true colour is revealed when he assumes office and begins to manifest clannish mentality. To Fela, ‘many leaders as you see dem…. Na different disguise dem dey oh, Animal in human skin, Animal I put u tie oh, Animal I wear agbada, Animal I put u suit u’. The nature of our relationship which is founded on deceit and falsehood is our albatross.
In the Beasts of No Nation, Fela educates us on why ruling government clamps down on dissent. Using this song, I reasoned that treating human beings with respect begets respectful relationship while unleashing beastly behaviour against uprisings will lead to reproduction and multiplication of beasts. Through his song, Fela shows that Beasts are ubiquitous from local to global and can be unleashed. In Nigeria’s situation, the beastly killing of Muhammed Yusuf by the police brought out the beast in Boko Haram; the failure to provide for the North’s kids in the almajiri system created beasts terrorising through abduction and kidnapping. The failure to allow for dialogue by government is producing beasts in the South-East and the failure to suppress the uprising of the criminal herders against the farming communities is responsible for the creation of restructuring movement and self-determination agitators in the South-West.
In reading of Fela’s philosophical analysis of the relationship between the rulers and the ruled embedded in the Beasts of No Nation, I extend the argument which tends to locate beastly behaviour as the preserve of those who hold levers of power. I argue that citizens are co-creating and unleashing beastly behaviour like their rulers either in reaction to the state beastly conduct or as an uprising oriented to draw attention to unmet needs in the polity.
To sum up, protests and rallies are democratic rights which a government must guarantee and respect. Protest is a form of political participation in which citizens show government that they still love their country but would want certain things attended to. The Muhammadu Buhari/Yemi Osinbajo regime should see the message from Fela Anikulapo-Kuti as advice to pacify frayed nerves. Brutal clampdown on dissent only brings out more beasts that will terrorise the country. Moving forward, the problems of poverty, unemployment and insecurity must be addressed without prejudice to any ethnic nationality. Agitators only call attention to address injustices and must be seen as partners in the Nigerian project not enemies of the state.
Dr Tade, a sociologist, sent this piece via [email protected]
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