Saturday, October 16, 2021

The absurdity of our own brand of political tragi-comedy, by Prof. Abubakar Liman

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Jaafar Jaafar
Jaafar Jaafar is a graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. He was a reporter at Daily Trust, an assistant editor at Premium Times and now the editor-in-chief of Daily Nigerian.
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Things are really happening in our own unique political firmament. As 2019 political campaigns approach our shores, the good, the bad and the ugly of Nigerian politics are commingling in a perplexing manner. If you call it drama you will not be far away from the truth. Drama is everywhere staged in the mighty name of partisan politics. In all modern nations where electoral democracy is practiced, drama is always used to add glamor to politics. But the level of notoriety of our own brand of political drama is, to say the least, very unique in its own right.

I’m sure our political terrain would have served as a perfect experimental laboratory for the great playwrights of old. Ben Johnson, Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Henrik Ibsen, Arthur Miller, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Anton Chekov, Tennesse Williams, George Bernard Shaw and Wole Soyinka would have cashed on the entertaining performances of Nigerian politicians. Although politics is considered as the most important business in Nigeria, the dramatic side of it is no less so. Drama in politics is as old as the candor characterizing its comic relief. Some of us were old enough to witness the drama that happened in politics, even if remotely, during the first republic. In our unique political theatre of the absurd, the dramatis personas have kept changing the leitmotif and style like cameos as the stakes change in time and space.

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Ideally, contemporary Nigerian playwrights should have by now had their hands full because of the so much reality content to texture in their creative and imaginative experiments. Creative artists in general will definitely have a field day in the process of engaging everyday realities of our own brand of political drama. In the first and second republics, when politics was based on genuine desire to serve the people, its art and practice were defined by selfless service, principles and ideology. In those reassuring days, Nigerian campaign arenas used to be huge pads that attracted the public even for the mere fun of it. Campaign rallies were usually laced with flamboyance, lively and captivating acts of political chicanery. There were lots of drama, humor, pranks, banters, musical songs, dances and general atmosphere of merry-making all over the place. Politicians deploy the communication tools of drama to attract public attention to their manifestos, programs and activities. Nigerian political history will never forget M.K. Mbadiwe, Festus Okotie-Eboh, Michael Okpara, especially in the first republic, while in the second republic characters like Waziri Ibrahim, Maitama Sule and Sabo Bakinzuwo were quite memorable through their political antics.

I will always remember how I used to imagine the tales woven around the campaigns of late Waziri Ibrahim of the GNPP. How he was rumored to have promised to flood the streets of our towns and villages with “Fura da nono”. Waziri Ibrahim had once promised some simple-minded folks of how he would construct “pampon fura” for them if they voted GNPP candidates into power. At the point he was making such promises, his party was more popular than Shehu Shagari’s NPN. In fact, he had so much money to splash around during his campaign rallies. There were those memorable moments of political sagacity in the campaign trails of many a burgeoning politician. There were also singing and dancing and lampooning of opponents without anybody taking it personal. Today, there were very few such cases of dramas and theatrical performances by our budding politicians. Of course, there is no basis for comparison between the politicians of yesteryears and the hungry politicians of the day, the types that can be described as newfangled cash and carry politicians. I could also recollect how the campaign helicopter belonging to late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was destroyed by sandstorm in Sokoto. Those were the periods when Awolowo would mercilessly lambast NPN apparatchiks as corrupt and incompetent politicians. Baba Awo was always looking grim and serious any time he was addressing the people at campaign rallies. His opponents in the NPN were more dramatic in their mien.   

Today, politics is played without all that glitz and theatre, and without the entertainment galore characteristic of politics in the 1970s. The harvest of political gladiators is not encouraging in the terms of political expressiveness. In the current dispensation politicians are appallingly terse, gruff, dry, tactless, timid and even too stiff-necked. These are the typical characters that have presently choked the lineup. They are so humorless in their public outings as they find it very difficult to deploy any dramatic asides in their uninspiring political behavior, especially in their understanding of theory and practice of political campaigns in the country. This is the sense in which I find the political disposition of our number one citizen a little dour. Whenever our President is carrying out some of his functions in the public domain he allows his Spartan streak to take over the better side of him. However, those that claim to know the President closely have somehow attested to the fact that he is also a man who is endowed with lots of humor in the precincts and seclusion of his home. They also said the President is humorous in conducting the administrative routines of his office, which is characterized by drudgery all the way. Although Mr. President’s dignified posture in public is superlatively graceful, but that needs to be complemented by a little drama. This is naturally expected to have come out of the human side of Mr. President. Despite all the assurances of his close associates against his seeming apolitical posturing, Mr. President is hopelessly on the quieter side, very much unlike the hilarious normative of politics that the generality of ordinary Nigerians are seeking from their leader. The political disposition of Mr. President even in this great season of political campaigns leaves much to be desired. Politics can only be attractive when embellished with large doses of humor and entertainment.

As it is, the political market square of the Nigerian politics and the space for its theatrics have since been appropriated by some opposition figures in and outside APC, the ruling party. Least likely candidates are the ones that have been currently spicing Nigerian politics with their brazen banters and quips. In short, they doled out to the people the types of theatrics normally cherished by ordinary Nigerians. The unrepentant as well as latent opposition politicians like Oliseh Metu, Dino Maleye and lately Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State have in their various ways been providing much-needed comic relief, which has the potential value of dousing political tension. For now, the common denominator of Metu, Maleye and Fayose is their ill-fitting cervical collar precariously hanging like the sword of Damocles on their necks (even though collar hanged loosely in the case of Governor Fayose). This has since been turned into a relentless butt for social media jibes. The other denomination of the trio is in their penchant for sensationalism and an unquenchable craving for media attention. In their politics, they have uncontrollable predilection for extreme and bizarre behavior. Apart from their being given to attention seeking, they were also enmeshed in legal tussles with security and anti-corruption agencies. In addition, they always want to spectacularly see themselves in the eye of the storm. On this, however, Metuh is the least evil of the trio. He could not measure up to the excesses of the other two who have been overdramatizing their use of cervical collar. I earnestly hope that those fashionable cervical collars strapped on their necks are no signs of a disaster waiting to happen to them in their individual ways, because they are asking for it.

No matter how we want to view their street parody, the dramatic effects of those ominously pretentious tragi-comedies have not elicited the desired result from their supporters. Their muppet show did not significantly click in the psyche of their audiences. Instead, the shows were unmistakably viewed for what they were – dramatic performances. Neither Maleye nor Fayose could garner enough public sympathy. They could not also achieve the moral outrage they have been looking for from the public. They are seen for what they are – political upstarts. They are also nothing but uncouth and unrefined political characters that have little or no mastery of the game. For Fayose, what is looming large in his unsophisticated consciousness is the prospect of facing life out of office amidst corruption charges leveled against him by the EFCC, and the threats of his inevitable arrest. His tantrums and his shading of tears like a toddler in full glare of television cameras could be interpreted as some signs of bad omen, and the uncertainties of life without political immunity. Fayose is doing everything possible to stoke the embers of political instability and violence in the run up to Ekiti gubernatorial elections because he is not sure of the possibilities of winning the gubernatorial ticket by his anointed candidate against a more formidable APC candidate. He also does not want to go to jail immediately after leaving office like those other governors that were thrown into jail by the courts. Fayose indeed has every reason to cry in public.

To this end, may the 2019 elections be ushered in by more fun, more entertainment and more glitz rather than unrestrained political tension, violence, death and destruction! Also, may lots of entertaining drama come our way from so many political quarters the fact that the current chief political actor does not seem to be cut out for theatrical displays!                   

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