SIMONKOLAWOLELIVE ! BY SIMON KOLAWOLE
Hooligans invading the Capitol Hill, disrupting the certification of presidential election result and desecrating the symbol of American democracy? That would be art imitating life. That would be the Machiavellian and eccentric President Frank Underwood doing his thing in the House of Cards on Netflix. But, no, this is life imitating art. This is US President Donald Trump unleashing his mobsters on the Congress in a last, desperate and violent attempt at enthroning anarchy — after urinating on American democracy persistently since his definitive defeat in the November 3, 2020 election. Trump and his political thugs are forever on the wrong side of history. Not that they care, though.
When Trump put together his rally in Washington, DC, to coincide with the certification of the election of Vice-President Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States by the Congress, I had no doubt in my mind that he was up to some mischief. It was not ordinary that he picked DC, nor was it a coincidence that he chose January 6. Sitting in my house thousands of miles away, I sensed there was going to be a pandemonium. It must come as weird that the US security agencies did not take any action to pre-empt the breach of Congress by Trump’s thugs. The mob easily marched into the parliament as the certification session started. At the end of the carnage, lives were lost.
Before the reign of terror, Trump had thrown everything and anything at assaulting the credibility of the presidential election, claiming — without evidence — that he won and that the vote was rigged. If you believe you won and were cheated, there is a place to make your point in modern, civilised times: the courts. Take your evidence there. His wild surrogates had filed over 60 lawsuits seeking to upturn results. They failed woefully. He had tried to manipulate the Electoral College by encouraging the electors to undermine the wishes of American voters as expressed through the ballot. Again, he failed woefully. At that point, the sane thing was to take his loss and walk. Not Trump.
Having failed to get Vice-President Mike Pence — the ceremonial president of the senate and the chairman of the joint session of the Congress — to sabotage the certification of the result, Trump pulled the last card from his chest pocket: inciting violence. At the ironically named “Save America” rally, he told his hoodlums: “And after this, we’re going to walk down — and I’ll be there with you — we’re going to walk down… to the Capitol and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women.” He thereafter drove off in his motorcade while his thugs rioted and piled violence on the Capitol, leading to five deaths. Trump has blood on his hands, for sure.
American democracy just dodged a bullet. The constitution specifically says the presidential result must be certified on January 6. If the Congress had failed to do the certification that day — after the mob attack — there could have been a constitutional crisis. Given that Trump had reportedly been toying with imposing martial law or invoking the Insurrection Act all along, who knows what next he would have done in his desperate attempt to steal the election? The lawmakers, determined not to allow Trump ruin the system, reconvened and certified the result that day. In the end, democracy won. In my opinion, the system has shown that it is robust enough to cage the monsters.
To be sure, the January 6 violence was neither spontaneous nor unlikely. It probably started loading in 2008 when Barack Hussein Obama got nominated as the presidential flagbearer of the Democratic Party and went on to be elected president of the United States in the general election. That was unacceptable to the right-wing racists and xenophobes who could not imagine a black man occupying the White House. It was unthinkable. Soon, we started hearing the coded message of “Take Back America”, disguised as a rallying call to “Save America” from mismanagement by Obama. Statistics showed that the US economy had one of its most prosperous times under his leadership.
Trump, with his eyes firmly on the White House, began to mobilise the racists and the lunatic fringes to “Take Back America” — presumably because Obama, a black man, had taken America from the rightful owners. Trump was one of those who actively promoted and supported the “birther” movement peddling the falsehood that Obama was not born in America and was, therefore, not constitutionally qualified to be president. In March 2011, Trump told the Laura Ingraham Show: “He doesn’t have a birth certificate, or if he does, there’s something on that certificate that is very bad for him.” Obama had to release his birth certificate to prove that he was born in Hawaii.
Tragically, the racists took back America at the end of Obama’s tenure through their champion — Donald John Trump — who immediately set out to grow his philosophy of hate, unilaterally placing travel bans on some Muslim-majority countries and launching a full-scale war against Obamacare, the affordable healthcare programme that allows the uninsured to receive treatment. The little detail in there is that because black Americans are at the bottom of the social stratum and are low income earners, they are unable to afford health insurance. They were going to be the biggest beneficiaries of Obamacare. But Trump and his racist allies would have none of that.
The attack on Obamacare was not in any way surprising — it was part of his campaign promises. The promise served a big purpose: that was what most members of his racist coalition wanted. The Tea Party fringe of the Republican Party held rallies in the days of Obama calling him a Communist and a Muslim, depicting him as Adolf Hitler and an African witchdoctor. They protested against the Affordable Care Act and made disparaging statements against black members of Congress. (As an aside, there is a disproportionate number of blacks among those killed by Covid-19 so far and this is largely attributable to pre-existing conditions which treatment many could not afford.)
Trump did quite an amazing job nurturing racism and breeding violence in America. He did not hide it. In 2017, he tweeted in no uncertain terms that four congresswomen — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar — who were critical of him “should go back to your country”. All of them were originally from foreign countries. For context, “Go back to your country” is a phrase popularised by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), the white supremacist hate group that targets mainly African Americans in their campaign. For context, too, KKK is one of the strongest support groups for Trump. They campaign and vote for him. His racist credentials are monumental.
In those infamous tweets against the three women, Trump wrote: “So interesting to see ‘progressive’ Democrat congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.” The undertone was, how do I put, quite explicit.
Gradually but consistently, Trump kept building up and encouraging hate and violence in America. He encouraged the use of brutal force against Black Lives Matter demonstrators who were protesting the racist murder of George Floyd last year. Trump disgracefully retorted: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” It is quite normal that the quote had a racist past — dating back to 1967 when Walter E. Headley, the police chief of Miami, Florida, said: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Headley was responding to the outbreak of violence in protests for racial justice across the US that year. It is only fitting that Trump would use Headley’s words to the same effect.
Trump’s rhetorical romance with violence only climaxed in the January 6 mayhem. He rode on the back of chauvinism to win in 2016. In four years, he amassed 74 million votes — compared to 62.9 million in 2016 — by primarily playing the hate card. He posed with the Bible at St John’s Episcopal Church to keep faith with his right-wing Christian fanatics. One of the rioters displayed a big banner, JESUS SAVES, while they attacked the Congress. The irony! They believe Trump — who grabs women by the privates, pays more for sex than tax and might not even know where Genesis is located in the Bible — is more Christian than Biden and Obama combined. Hate destroys brain cells.
I do not envy Biden. He can neither heal nor unite America. The damage is extensive. The racial prejudice is endemic. That is why the police kill blacks like a game. Blacks are not at the bottom of the ladder by mistake. Calling non-whites “people of colour”, as they do in America, is an eternal stamp of racism. Is white not a colour? Trump did not start racism in America. He only saw an opportunity and became a unifier of racists, misogynists, xenophobes and bigots. With 62 million voters growing to 74 million in four years, the number in 2024 may be more astounding. Is another Trump warming up? If so, it may become a case of “when the voting starts, the shooting starts”.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
IGBO AND 2023
South-east political leaders rose from a meeting in Igbere, Abia state, last week with a proposal — that all parties cede their presidential tickets in the 2023 elections to the zone “in the interest of justice, equity and national unity”. Since 1960, only the south-east has not produced a democratically elected chief executive of the Nigerian federation. In 1999, the south-west enjoyed the privilege of producing the only two presidential candidates, evidently as compensation for the annulment of the June 12 election won by Bashorun MKO Abiola. The Igbere Proposal, as I would call it, is the easy part. The real job is in building the key alliances across Nigeria to actualise it. Work.
There are many things to break your heart about Nigeria, but how do you explain the fact that it is cheaper to ship goods from China to Lagos than to move the same cargo from the ports to warehouses in the same state? We are not even discussing port congestion here, which is another issue entirely. Trailers have for years made the Apapa roads hellish for other commuters. A call-up system put in place by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to keep the trailers in designated parks has been consistently sabotaged by the presidential task force which allegedly takes bribes and allows trailers to park on the road. An import-dependent country cannot even import properly. Shame!
The University of Lagos chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has sanctioned 240 members for enrolling in the integrated personnel and payroll information system (IPPIS). Indeed, IPPIS, which can detect ghost workers and track tax evasion, is one of the reasons (some will say the real reason) ASUU went on strike for nine months. They said they have developed their own software to accommodate their “peculiarities”. But here is the irony: one of the conditions ASUU gave before calling off their strike was that no-one should be victimised for participating in the action — but now the Unilag chapter is victimising members for their choices. Hypocrisy.
“S.O.” AT 70
Dr Sunny Obazu-Ojeagbase (“SO”), Nigeria’s sports journalism legend, clocked 70 on December 31. The great man, who pioneered sports publications such as Complete Football and Sports Souvenir, gave me my first job in 1993 — employing me straight from my national youth service and making sure I was not unemployed for even one day. To his eternal credit, his Complete Football “academy” has produced a vast number of top sports journalists in Nigeria, including notably Dr Abdulmumin Alao, who has been working with Obazu-Ojeagbase since 1988. I thank God for the life of the builder of talents, business coach, author and pastor who has touched many lives home and abroad. Hurray!