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By Banire Abiodun

 

Saturday, 07 September 2013.

Dear Fela

As you mark the 16th anniversary of your transition and communion with your pan-African forebears, it is not my desire to taint celebration with the woes of an incorrigibly sick nation, but I feel obligated to do so considering the inimitable doggedness and sacrifices you made for this country. I chose the occasion to write to you as you complete the 16th corpus of the Ifa system, a condition for your coronation as “chief priest” of the great beyond.

As this occasion has the likes of Martin Luther King, Malcolm “X”, Thomas Sankara, Ben Bella, Seko Toure, Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Nkrumah (who obviously will chair the event) in attendance with cups filled with wine, I hope you wait and ponder before joining in the revelry.

Today, Martin Luther King’s America is a model and cynosure of human liberty, as even a black man is president, which more than fulfils his “I Have A Dream” project. Even Malcolm “X” must be smiling now as blacks in America no longer need legislations to live freely; so the “bullet” is no longer relevant as the “ballot” is potent enough to effect desired changes in America.

Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana is now the paragon of progress in West Africa, and the streets of Lagos no longer stream with Ghanaian “shoe makers” (a “profession” which was the exclusive preserve of Ghanaians in Lagos throughout the 1980s and 1990s). They have all returned home; not because of the “Ghana must go” policy of the Nigerian government, but because the survival of small and medium scale business is guaranteed with stable electricity supply and workable economic policies in Ghana. I think the Ghanaian government even instituted a “Nigeria must go” policy some time ago. Oh, you think I am lying? Ask Chinua Achebe who just left us (if his pan-Igbo sentiments as expressed in There Was A Country will allow him attend your coronation).

You remember South Africa? That pitiful apartheid-ravaged country which formed the focus of your “Beasts of No Nation” is now the giant of Africa. The country is trying hard to forget the horrors of apartheid, and even Nelson Mandela is reluctant to join you on the other side because his 27 years tenancy at Robben Island is translating to rapid development in his lifetime.

You must be wondering what is happening in Nigeria especially with the military rascality and brigandage that reached a choking crescendo when you left. Well, the soldiers have returned to the barracks and Nigeria now practices democracy. But before you ask for 30 virgins and 15 parcels of hemp to celebrate the return to democracy, let me quickly add that only the jersey has changed, the players and tactics remain essentially the same.

I know the mention of Olusegun Obasanjo’s name is nauseating enough to make you throw up but the man came back from Kano Prison (where he was residing when you left) to rule for 8 years. Well I know you are too familiar with the man, so I should just say he did the familiar things. Yes, there was unbridled looting at all levels. Victimization of perceived critics? Ha Ha Ha, I remember he did that to you on February 18, 1978. Well, that is his “regular trademark” as you sang in one of your albums and he actually removed some heady governors. Chuba Okadigbo is over there; ask him how he lost his presidential seat at the Senate. But please don’t call Baba Iyabo a “yeye man”; he is an Owu chief now. He is also born again, and goes on many UN and AU missions as elder statesmen.

Your other foe, MKO Abiola (I wonder how many times you have exchanged blows with him over there), is now the hero of Nigerian democracy. You remember his election was annulled by his “padi” for reasons best known to the two of them. Well, he now has a statue in Lagos, a polytechnic and a stadium now bear his name in Ogun, and the current Emperor tried, although unsuccessfully, to name the Lagos University after him. That is how forgetful we are, and now I understand why you took the “look and laugh” posture in your final moments. It is, no doubts, incurable amnesia that makes us forget that the politics of the Awolowos which was ideology and development-driven as represented by free education and agricultural legacies was substituted with politics of bags of rice, salt, Ankara fabrics by the likes of Abiola. Today, you can hardly convince a Nigerian to vote or support a cause without “greasing his palm” with Naira votes. That is why the likes of Gani (I hope he has finally calmed down over there) and Femi Falana will never win elections in Nigeria; they won’t grease palms. Today, the same Abiola you christened “Abi-Ole” at one of your Yabbis sessions is the hero of democracy, and every politician clings to June 12 mantra; they must survive, and everybody knows the “Awoist” slogan no longer works.

By the way, please when next you see Ken Saro-Wiwa disturbing the peace of Hades with the cry of marginalization of his people, tell him to stop living in the past as his kinsman is now the Emperor. Tell Ken his kinsmen are fully in charge and the “blood vessels” that sustain the Nigerian nation have been entrusted in the care of goons from the creeks. Even superannuated war horses (did you ask if Clark is one of them?) have been brought back to prominence. In fact every Tom, Dick and Harry from Niger Delta today is a major stakeholder in the Nigerian project whose view must be seriously considered. This is why a common ragamuffin belched from the bowels of the creeks could muster enough temerity to declare that the only condition for Nigeria’s continued existence beyond 2015 is for the Niger Delta-born Emperor to be returned to office. Don’t ask whether the Emperor is performing well or not; performance is not a condition for re-election or election in Nigeria’s democracy. The caucus or cabal you belong is the sole determiner, and Igomigodo (am not sure you met this grammar machine before you left us) got it right by dubbing Nigeria’s democracy “cabalocracy”.

Nigeria has slumped into the "slough of despondency." Nothing has changed except the degree of the disillusionment that envelops us, and I am more than convinced that George Orwell had Nigeria in mind when he asserts in Animal Farm that “Things do remain the same; never much better, never much worse - hunger, hardship and disappointment do remain the unalterable laws of life” in Nigeria.

Electricity, water, food, house are still in the realm of imagination and hope (where you left them); unemployment is still employing Nigerians in millions (about 70% now); basic health care system remains elusive (am sure Gani must have told you how the poorly-trained, poorly-paid Nigerian physicians diagnosed and (mis)treated him for wrong ailment in the poorly-maintained public hospital. Our roads continue to railroad people to your end of the divide and our aircrafts have been re-christened “flying coffins”.

Authority stealing has never been this prominent, as Niyi Osundare aptly asserts that corruption has become “the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic.” In fact, the culture of stealing with impunity has been institutionalized - where an official who uses his position to loot is rewarded with chieftaincy titles and even “compensated” with rehabilitation contracts and presidential pardon like “thieving Tafa” and “Chameleonic Alams”.

I listened to your track “Authority Stealing” and shuddered when I got to the part where you maintain that the big thief in Nigeria is allowed to go home, while the small thief who probably stole to escape the pang of hunger is condemned to jail. I wonder if you composed that song for those days or for these days, because it aptly describes the reality of today where a man who stole a governor’s phone has been sentenced to 45 years in prison, while an official who stole over 5 billion naira police pension fund has been asked to “pay tax” (which the fine represents) and then go home to enjoy his loot.

Before you start “yabbing” us for not recognizing the simple reality that the phone thief’s crime is against just one man (the governor), while the pension thief’s is against the nation, humanity and all the families of the affected retired policemen (did you say it is their punishment for harassing the masses while in active service?), let me quickly tell you about the “crazy demonstration” that we experienced recently.

Thirty-five Nigerian governors gathered to elect a chairman for their forum. Two governors contested the seat; one had 19 votes while the other polled 16, but in a fetid and rancid show of shame; show of complete disregard for the collective moral and mathematical sensibility of Nigerians, many of them (governors who participated in the same election) posed with the loser with 16 votes for obscene photographs in celebration of his victory over democracy, mathematics, common sense and Nigerians. And as if that was not sacrilegious, the Emperor, while hosting the Liberian leader, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, recognized the loser as chairman of the governors’ association in what seemed like a world press conference to announce Nigeria’s new mathematical rules.

Five “Horrorable” members of the Rivers parliament (believed to be the Emperor’s myrmidons) have even taken the new mathematical theory to greater heights by impeaching the Speaker and suspending 15 of their colleagues. Don’t “pardon" me abeg, you heard me right; 5 members out of a 32-member House did the show. How it was resolved? Well, the matter na stalemate oooo, as we are still asking ourselves if 5 is indeed greater than 27.

No! No, Fela, it is bigger than my mouth to tell the ever-smiling Emperor to go back to school to learn arithmetic. You are “the fearless Abami-Eda,” tell him yourself, but please beware of “Abatic Bomb” and “Okupean Missile” who are more lethal and more biting than the mosquitoes at Gusau and Alagbon prisons.

You must be wondering what the likes of Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana, Tunji Braithwaite etc are doing in the face of this travesty of common sense that percolates the entire fabric of the Nigerian state. Well, dem kuku dey talk, but the Emperor does not give a damn. How many times has Soyinka and Falana been jailed? Hahaha… you are truly living in the past, Baba. The Emperor does not want to overstretch the already congested prisons with such “sophisticated ignoramuses.” Where I got that phrase from? Hahaha. No, no, not from Igomigodo, it is one of the many darts of Abatic Bomb. Of course, Kongi in his sarcastic manner welcomed the dart as a prize for reminding the Emperor that granting amnesty to a wanted criminal who disguised as a woman to escape trial in London does not portray Nigeria as serious about stamping out corruption.

Today, you do not “Yab” or picket the Emperor’s too many follies and wait for the black maria to arrive; you only need to fuel your “I pass my neighbor generator” and switch on the television to see the Kata-Kata you have brought upon yourself with the avalanche of darts you are sure to receive from Abatic Bomb and Okupean Missile. The Emperor cares so much about his image; he abhors snags, and that is why he has recruited two firebrand “Doctors” to doctor our thinking and perception of the “Oga at the top,” and deal ruthlessly with busybodies who won’t stop “distracting and overheating” the polity with their oversabi.

Abatic was on our side; the masses' side, but you know that is not the lucrative side for a deft businessman. Some say the Emperor’s offer was too irresistible, but we should also know that the conscience of a true populist does not have a price tag. Okupean Missile is on a familiar track; a hatchet man par excellence. Their combination provides the Emperor with a fortress built on lies and deceptions. They are unsparing, and the ferocity with which they attack shames Hitler’s Blitzkrieg.

Nigeria today is like a rudderless ship trapped in a whirlwind at sea. Our captains continue to perform circus shows in the name of salvaging the ship; the senior captain, surrounded by his menacing lapdogs, looks and acts clueless, yet scorns at every voice that seeks to correct. The passengers have been mummified and converted to inmates who must contrive some smiles to endure suffering – “Suffering and Smiling.”

While our "Ogas at the top" continue to fritter our commonwealth on frivolities, we give our battle to the lord; so we shall continue to throng Lagos-Ibadan expressway and Idi Iroko-Ota road every Sunday to entreat God, and we shall continue to pay out tithes so that our pastors can fly our prayers to heaven in private jets. We are optimistic that our miracle is on the way whether you believe it or not.

The coronation party must have gathered momentum now, and it is not nice for the guests to see you, the celebrant, in a pensive mood. The Lagos state government has built a museum in your memory to preserve your legacies – at least that’s good news. But as you assume mantle as the "diviner" of Hades, please make it your first duty to entreat the oracle on our behalf, as we have spent eternity entreating Western gods to no avail.

 

Banire Abiodun is a Fulbright Scholar at New York University and can be reached atsabanire@yahoo.com

 

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