DIALOGUE WITH Akin Osuntokun
This season, I mean the Covid-19 pandemic season, has been emotionally draining for me, as it is probably the case with many others. I started out trivialising its onset and laughed at the Asians who, before any other demographic, cultivated the culture of wearing masks in the city of Oxford. Considering the headstart of China in the apprehension of its medical ramifications, it is logical that diaspora Chinese and neighbouring Asian countries would cotton on to the emergency proportions earlier than the rest of us. Despite myself, when I had the opportunity to make a prayer request on a coincidental tourist visit to a 15th century church relic, I entered the impersonal prayer that God should shield and heal the world of Covid-19. A few days later, the reality hit all of us when Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined the preventive global initiative and shut down the United Kingdom. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
The emotional roller coaster exacted by the crisis gathered momentum with a level of aggressive credulous behaviour in Nigeria and America that beggars the imagination. Social engagement was put to the utmost stress test of debating the conspiracy theory that Bill Gates was the evil genius behind the eruption of the coronavirus plague. The problem here was that this sort of delusional proposition was being canvassed by those that cannot be readily dismissed as inhabitants of the lunatic fringe. In the height of tragic irony, here were Nigerians demonising an international do gooder who had spent tens of dollars in combating and eradicating one scourge or another in Nigeria. And potentially stands to exercise the same philanthropy in boosting accessibility to the Covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available.
At the vanguard of the dissemination of this asinine conspiracy theory were two avant garde new age Pentecostal influencers-the two Chrises, Pastors Chris Okotie and Chris Oyakhilome. Given what we now know, they have deservedly earned the reputation of false prophets. According to Okotie “the Covid-19 pandemic was a bizarre project conceived by the billionaire, in association with some powerful elements in the multilateral institutions, supported by key leaders of governments around the world to achieve sinister objectives… the satanic objectives for the “bizarre project” include: “a systematic reduction of the world population through the increasing Covid-19 deaths; enforcement of a global lockdown to ruin the economies of nations and impoverish the people and frustrate true worship of the Living God.”
In valiant jockeying to outdo one another in the propagation of falsehood, Oyakhilome upped the ante: “In Nigeria for example, the federal government intervened and shut down Abuja and Lagos.The federal government was pushed to lockdown Abuja and Lagos specifically. Why? Because of 5G in Abuja and Lagos. That’s the reason the federal government had to lockdown Abuja and Lagos. So the 5G could be installed. I have said before, what killed people in Wuhan, China was not the virus, it was the 5G. What is the reason for social distancing? It is not because of infection. That is the easiest way to prevent protests. So we don’t communicate (speaks in tongue).
They carry photos from China, or from Italy, or Spain and show to the Americans, show to the British. You see things like “oh this is really happening,” but it’s not. They do not tell what’s killing the people. Two things are killing the people. The first one is where those 5G signals are being tested and have been turned on. A lot of people died. This is real. Number two, where are the people that normally got sick with the flu? Where are they? Nobody is talking about the flu right now”.
In doctrinal genealogy and vocational orientation, these pastors are the proteges of the dubious heritage of the morally purblind American evangelical Christians who have become notorious for the mercenary role they played in the enabling of Donald Trump. It is uncanny how the great tragic distortions and infodemic disinformation in human experience tend to find legitimacy in the wilful demagoguery of the sham religious fundamentalists of each era. It was so during the age of inquisition and the bubonic plague; the era of the slave trade and slavery; and the Second World War followed suit when the Pope and the Catholic church looked the other way as Hitler unleashed the monstrosity of the holocaust. And so it seems this history is presently repeating itself in the acceptance and encouragement Trump finds in the bosom of the evangelical Christians. What bothers me is that the culprits who repeatedly traffic in lethal conspiracy theories feel no remorse nor chastened when they are categorically disproved and revealed for the fraud they are. As the scriptures warned “Today we warn you that there are false prophets and false teachers arising;. And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken”
Unlike the pastors, it is the unsung President Goodluck Jonathan and the Nigerian electorate who would bequeath
an improbable positive example for America (to follow) in the art of democratic transition.This is how low, the American President, Donald Trump has sunk the acclaimed birthplace of constitutional democracy. But we must not get ahead of ourselves. This worthy Nigerian behaviour is, of course, an aberration and the aberration has been laid bare in the nationhood and governance regression Nigeria has endured in the last five years under the stewardship of Major General Muhammadu Buhari.The Nigerian experience parallels the shocking abuse and subversion America has suffered under the presidency of Trump within the same time frame. In almost equal measure, both leadership was shot through with embarrassing incompetence, cruelty, bigotry and the arrogance of ignorance. Unlike America though, it was the preponderance of the Nigerian intelligentsia, political elite and statesmen who, in momentary fit of absent mindedness parlayed Goodluck Jonathan for Muhammadu Buhari. And who, with a little more reflection, should have known they were cutting their nose to spite the face. It was Andre Gide (or perhaps Richard Wright) who warned that Lucifer once lived in heaven and those who have not encountered him will not recognise an angel when they see one.
It is late in the day to start crying over split milk especially against the backdrop of how the unintended consequence of Buhari’s misrule has radicalised inherent Nigerian conditions and rendered it ripe for resolution. In his ruthless exposure of the ugliness of the Nigerian backside, Buhari has convinced the most unrepentant worshippers at the temple of quasi unitary Nigeria status quo, that, barring course reversal therein lies the road to perdition impatiently waiting around the corner. I pity Generals Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo, Theophilus Danjuma, Alhaji Ahmed Joda, Philip Asiodu and other post civil war dreamers of a Nigerian nationhood that they have lived to see this day. More to be pitied are Gowon and Danjuma who bleed a little whenever a middle belt community is subjected to genocidal wipeout at the hands of rogue Fulani militias. Who would have believed that the day will come when Obasanjo, Mr Nigeria himself, will be labelled as divider in chief by an antithetical Nigerian ingrate who rewarded the national faith naively entrusted in him with a fulani rebellion and bigotry of the order never before witnessed in this country.
Trump has revealed the ugliness of America’s backside much in the same manner of his Nigerian counterpart. In the primitive pursuit of personality cult style presidency, Trump subjected America to the worst humiliation a proud American can envisage, namely the effective reduction of America to the level of Russian puppet. From his vantage position at the apex of the awesome intelligence infrastructure of America, former Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats reportedly pondered “Coats continued to harbor the secret belief, one that had grown rather than lessened, although unsupported by intelligence proof, that Putin had something on Trump. How else to explain the president’s behaviour? Coats could see no other explanation. Coats saw how extraordinary it was for the president’s top intelligence official to harbor such deep suspicions about the president’s relationship with Putin. But he could not shake them”.
At the inception of the Trump presidency, Fareed Zakaria read from the tea leaves. “Donald Trump is different, not just because he is obnoxious, tacky and vulgar, or that his business dealings show him to be a scam artist. He is different because of what he believes. Trump’s views on policy issues, from social security to taxes, were insincere” and simply reflections of what he thinks his supporters want to hear. Trump seems to believe deeply in ethnic stereotypes and has contempt for many of the foundations of liberal democracy,” from banning Muslims from entering America to threatening to jail his opponent if he is elected. Donald Trump is not a normal candidate. He is a cancer on American democracy,” Zakaria concluded.
Four years later, Thomas Friedman gathered enough evidence to corroborate the prescience of Zakaria. “We have just experienced four years of the most divisive and dishonest presidency in American history, which attacked the twin pillars of our democracy — truth and trust. Donald Trump has not spent a single day of his term trying to be president of all the people, and he has broken rules and trashed norms in ways that no other president ever dared — right up to Tuesday night, when he falsely claimed election fraud and summoned the Supreme Court to step in and stop the voting, as if such a thing were even remotely possible”.
As we speak, Trump is still playing the American nemesis. And his niece has warned that he may have resolved on acting out the Samson syndrome and pulled down America with him on his way to damnation. The concern for the rest of us is that what happens in America does not stay in America. We can only hope that the American military establishment is anticipating that letting loose the nuclear bomb code is not beyond a Commander in Chief of Trump’s description.