DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN
It is a platitude to characterise the year 2020 as significantly abnormal. In this characterisation, Nigeria and the United States of America are in a class by themselves. For the latter, keeping bad company is the exception but it is mostly the rule for the former. This is the difference that one individual can make in the life of society. The peculiar lesson that Americans have come to learn in the past four years is that with a president like Donald Trump, that terribly abused country has no need of enemies especially Russia. What the 45th democratically-elected president represented for American democracy is the equivalent of a one man demolition squad. Of late, hardly a day goes by without the president committing or contemplating a felony often of the treasonable genre. The most significant news regarding the Trump phenomenon is that he commands the blind and fanatical approbation of a third of the American electorate. And in the bubble of this blind adulation he has attained to personality cult figure with a charter to take impunity to rarefied heights. A uniquely valid and illuminating perspective within which we can understand and interpret the complexity of the year gone is the concept of the Esu divinity.
In Yoruba cosmology, the prevailing American context of Trump’s presidency and the deviant intra America self-destructive streak it has spawned is a typical Esu manifestation. The signature imprimatur of this dangerously mischievous divinity is written all over the bizarre turn America has taken in the past four years. Were Russia the custodian of Esu, it is hard to imagine a more efficient manner she could have deployed the messenger better than the one man wrecking crew of Donald Trump. Ifa proceeds from the premise that while embarking on any important course of action or venture, you are liable to the negative or positive intervention of Esu. Hence the need for Ifa divination to ascertain the disposition of the divinity and make consequential
appeasement in the event of a negative portent. And the potential malevolent intervention of Esu cannot be rationally anticipated, it has to be spiritually discerned and disarmed.
Thus, America could not have anticipated that the far-fetched scenario of a perverse and destructive White House incumbent would sooner materialise in the four dimensional reality of Trump. Such improbability was what prompted the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to correlate his father-in-law with the black swan (according to the English dictionary, black swan is used to describe any phenomenon which occurs even though people think it impossible’). It is the reason why the American society was caught flatfooted in stupefication and bewilderment, when the unthinkable agent provocateur of Esu eventually showed up. Literarily buoyed by the luck of the devil, Trump stole in (in 2016) like a thief in the night. And there is no more appropriate allusion to the degenerate propensities of the American president than the character witness proffered by his otherwise reticent erstwhile chief of staff, General John Kelly. He is of the considered opinion that Trump is the most flawed individual he ever knew. Yet, this is a man reputed for the understatement of saying less than he intended to convey. Kelly was saying that there is hardly any earthly flaw or folly to which Trump is not irresistibly drawn-running the gamut of dishonest, delusional, inaccurate, pathological behaviour, evil, narcissism, scam, cancer on the American democracy….
The case of Nigeria can be likened to a crisis junky whose addiction thrives on keeping the revolving doors open for the endless procession of Nigerian Trumps. And none more typical than the current Nigerian Trump. In vintage Esu deployment, Nigeria was sold a dummy in the projection of Buhari as what he is not and he has spent the entire duration of his presidency proving this misfortune. Under him, Nigeria has increasingly become a grim and rapid turnover harvester of tragedies. Nigeria is now denominated by a vicious (chicken and egg) cycle of terrorism, nepotism and corruption. It has been suggested that Nigerian military officers are making hay from the Boko Haram insurgency/business. If this is true, what then would be the motivation for such strategically placed individuals towards bringing a swift and expeditious end to the crisis? At the level of the larger Nigerian polity, how likely is it that the beneficiaries of the prevailing Buhari dispensation of brazen nepotism especially those assigned to so called ‘lucrative and juicy’ public offices would not view their posts as a charter and license for corrupt personal enrichment? And as characteristic of the ill -disciplined Nigerian elite especially the nouveau rich, the beneficiaries of the ill gotten riches can be relied upon to flaunt and stick it in the face of the downtrodden and impoverished masses. Which in turn trigger and provoke the violent animus of many caught in the vicegrip of abject poverty. Which constitutes the most fertile ground for the cultivation and recruitment of terrorists, bandits, mercenaries and freelance criminals. The ensuing cyclical nature of this composite crisis of corruption, nepotism and terrorism is that one fuels the other and the other fuels another and vice versa. Nepotism fuels corruption and corruption fuels terrorism which fuels corruption and nepotism.
Following the precedents of Chibok and Dapchi, a reenactment was recently in the making in Kankara or so it seemed. Now, a measure of the free fall of Nigeria is that in any typical 24 hours timespan, one national tragedy would have crowded out another. Recall we were yet to come to terms with the macabre ritual of the mass decapitation of Borno farmers by a detachment of Boko Haram. Recall the insult upon injury presidential extenuation that the victims were paying the price of not seeking security clearance before embarking on their livelihood. The Kankara recurrence is, however, peculiar in many respects. It was matched with the arrival of President Buhari at Katsina State; and the sheer number of the targeted abductees was way too ambitious for any realistic chance of getting away with it. Nonetheless and as speculated by Afenifere, it is not beyond the contemporary Nigerian dispensation that the whole episode is a scam. By the same token, there is the possibility that the occurrence is indeed authentic- in the new Nigeria normal of reality imitating fiction. Either way, it has a ring of tragicomedy to it all. Why would the office and authority of the president (as represented by Garba Shehu) get the approximate number of the kidnapped students so outlandishly wrong as to mistake ten for three hundred? How would the shepherding of three hundred children into the bush by foot and motorcycles defy the paraphernalia of Nigerian security forces within a few hours of notification? Why would the kidnappers compromise the success of their mission by encumbering themselves with such unwieldy crowd when a much more manageable size would have attracted the same attention?
Beyond America and Nigeria, Esu was starring globally as the harbinger of the Covid-19 pandemic- in his capacity as the arbiter that separates us from the affliction of the malevolent spirits ie Ikú (death), òfò (poverty), òràn (danger), èpè (curse), èse(misdeed) àrùn, èwon, ègbà (sickness and disease). Esu has often been erroneously corresponded to the biblical Satan. The essential difference between the two is that while Satan is unambiguously sold on evil, Esu can exercise himself for good or bad. As such he “is the neutral locus between good and evil as moral categories”. This ambiguous duality is demonstrated in the contradictory role Covid-19 has played in the contemporary American polity. More than any society with comparable scientific and technological capability, the United States stands out as disastrously impacted by the pandemic. To boot, it precipitated the near collapse of the American economy on whose buoyancy Trump had hoped to coast home to electoral victory in the November presidential election. While a better crisis manager might have converted the challenge of the pandemic to the opportunity for demonstrating elevated presidential leadership competence, it became for Trump an albatross for showcasing abject leadership failure. It is difficult to conceive a scenario in which Trump might have lost the election without the intervention of the pandemic force majeur. If, in the highly unfavourable circumstances of the 2020 presidential election, Trump could still garner a record 74 million votes, how would he have fared were there to be no compelling intervening variable of the order of Covid-19?. The rise and fall of the Trump presidency finds illustration in the ambiguous duality of Esu. Against the run of play, he was shockingly catapulted to the presidency on the currents of bigotry and spite (the wards of Esu) in 2016 and was brought down by another unique orchestration befitting of Esu. The 2020/2021 transition marked the exit of Trump and the deployment of the Covid-19 vaccine-and represents a positive momentum for America. Which begs the question of what does the same transition portends for Nigeria?
The Return of Tony Adefuye
Talking of Esu and his malevolent messengers, here is one. The last we heard of him was the report by Chioma Gabriel that “I witnessed the beating given to some pro-democracy activists who betrayed the struggle. I was in Abiola’s house and personally witnessed the beating given to Tony Adefuye by Nigerian students. He was stripped naked after the beating for betraying the struggle”.
The leopard that would not change its spots demonstrated the stuff he is made of by impressing his slave masters with this rogue infamy. “I believe in 2023, the APC will zone the presidential ticket to the South. When it comes to the South, then it will be narrowed down to the South-west because that is the only region that has not produced the President since 1999. Obasanjo is not a Yoruba man. He is an Igbo man from the South-east. His father was from Anambra while his mother was a Yoruba woman”. Afenifere subsequently intervened to ensure that Esu and Adefuye do not have their day “That was a twisted and perverted logic. The South-west produced Nigeria’s president in the person of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo for eight years 1999-2007. If anyone wants to be President, he should go ahead but not use the name of the highly sophisticated Yoruba race to push through a perverted logic to try to sell his candidacy. Chief Obasanjo is a Yoruba.