A RETICENT SCRIPTWRITER & HIS ACTORS’ PLACE IN HISTORY:
When Bandits Demand Levies, Motorcycles . . .
By Tunji Ajayi
In “When the Malnourished Breastfeeds”: (Nigerian Tribune, September 9, 1996) I alluded to the secret behind having beautiful films, dramas and documentaries. I recalled what my professor told my class in the course: Writing For Broadcast Media: “The secret of playing a part well in drama is ‘thinking yourself’ into it.” Yes. To act a drunkard, you need to stagger and talk unintelligibly, perhaps vomit on your body, or sleep off and snore inside a malodorous toilet. As the script directs, you may even need to urinate or pooh-pooh on your body to act your role and draw home the points envisioned by the scriptwriter. And to act an imbecile, you may need to open your mouth wide, laugh merrily and cheerfully at odd and irregular times for no reason. Actors are queer personalities.
What the script states is what the actor acts. The tune the horn blower blows into his horn is what the horn reels out. Same is true of a Yoruba traditional drum called “Iya’lu”, alias mother drum in English lexicon. A perspicacious drummer in an ensemble looks at a scenario; takes account of events around him, and with his extra-sensory perception imagines a fitting proverb or witty remark to reel out of his drum to explain what he had observed. He squeezes his drum artfully; and the perspicuous message resonates in the minds of the initiated, who appreciate drum messages and respond accordingly; having understood the messages.
Ask me why the world renowned King Sunny Ade dances so marvelously; and unarguably far more than any musician on African soil, and I will tell you without equivocation that the enigmatic musician understands every message of the drum. Thus, when the decoder clearly understands the message from the encoder, communication is made easy. Otherwise there is what we call dissonance in communication parlance; or discordance in musical tunes.
President Muhammadu Buhari is a skillful scriptwriter and kinesis master. Rather than apply verbal communication, kinesis is the art of applying body gestures to send messages across to decoder in communication parlance. Buhari could condemn banditry and kidnapping today and tacitly commend it tomorrow by being ambivalent, and most often maintaining eerie silence, even on burning national issues. With his ubiquitous voice, he could commend and also condemn almost in quick succession with either side of his mouth. He has decried banditry and all forms of criminality for a countless number of times. And for the umpteenth time too his government has claimed to know those behind the horrendous acts; but he has neither named nor effected any arrest. In one of his recent statements, the peripatetic professional do-gooder Abubakar Gumi, while being asked why he chose to be so close and confident to reach and mediate with kidnappers; Gumi said there was never a time he went into their hideouts without the knowledge of some prominent traditional rulers, governors, etc. Gumi added that indeed, it was the government that often provided him with security cover. The question is this: If Gumi already knows where bandits and kidnappers are, what problem does the President now have in apprehending them, if truly he decries criminality? Buhari’s aides clearly understand him and his subterfuge. Most state governors understand him too; and quite often are eager to do his bidding, lest they offend the highly introverted and reticent man. Perhaps with the exception of a few brave and independent-minded governors like Samuel Ortom, Rotimi Akeredolu and Nyesom Wike, they hardly take crucial decisions even on state issues that affect their citizens without first studying his body language to know his real position. And that clearly explains why presidential body language idiomatic phrase now enters our English lexicon. That also explains human reverence for man even far more than God our creator. When the level of criminality by the herders who were killing, maiming and raping their citizens became more intense and uncontrollable, though with the full knowledge of the President to whom many state governors had pleaded for support without anything concrete forthcoming; the 17 Southern states’ governors, under the aegis of Southern Governors Forum (SGF) had a joint resolution to ban open grazing in their respective states. At least, they are representatives of the people in their respective states. No sooner the communiqué was released than the president, who had always maintained eerie silence on herders’ genocidal acts condemned the resolution, branding the meeting outcome illegal through his ever loquacious spokespersons. The presidency added that the resolution negates the Nigerian constitutional provision on freedom of movement. However, the presidency never explained whether there is freedom of encroaching on others’ properties or maiming, slaughtering and raping farmers’ wives and beheading their children.
In spite of the threat to national peace and security, the President - a Fulani man, said there was no going back on open grazing. What else do the pro-Fulani organizations need to grow more wings and turn belligerent and recalcitrant? Why wouldn’t the President’s position embolden all the pro-Fulani Associations, the likes of Miyetti Allah, Gan Allah Fulani Development Association of Nigeria (GAFDAN) etc., most of which were hurriedly formed as soon as Buhari became the president and suddenly found voice to oppose all reasonable viewpoints and positions. For example, apparently harping on the position of the president’s “No going back on open grazing” stance, GAFDAN too, just like the fire spitting Miyetti Allah Association, threatened that any southern state that bans open grazing would have no peace. And so it has been. Southern Governors Forum’s ban on open grazing was described by GAFDAN as a “Call to Anarchy” adding that the Southern states governors’ position would definitely jeopardize their chances of having the country’s next president in 2023. The pro-Fulani obviously understands and is playing out the presidential script; otherwise the presidency should have sternly cautioned them on such reckless threats.
The Defense Minister Bashir Magashi, a cerebral retired military stalwart in the esteemed rank of Major General also understands the president’s drama script. He knows what needs to be done to stem the tide of kidnapping and banditry. But he needed to carefully study the body language of his boss first. Having done so, all he needed to do was to advise the Nigerian citizens to stop being feverish and apprehensive whenever they were being confronted and attacked by the criminals. He taught them what to do. They should learn the art of self-defense. As brilliant and knowledgeable as Magashi is on defense issues; he – the actor, could not have been wiser than the scriptwriter; his boss whose script he must act out in-toto, and whose bidding he must do excellently well, apparently to please his boss and earn his accolades. But ironically, his boss had sworn to an oath of office to protect lives and property of every citizen regardless of tribe, language or religious affiliations. In the gale of repeated failure to nip kidnapping and banditry in the bud, Magashi, ostensibly acting out the script of his boss spoke: “Is it the responsibility of the military alone? It is the responsibility of everybody to be alert and ensure safety when necessary. We shouldn’t be cowards. Sometimes the bandits come with about three rounds of ammunition and when they fire shots everybody will run.” Who doesn’t know that engaging in a combat with drug-induced, AK-47 toting criminals is an invitation to hara-kiri, regardless of how many rounds of ammunitions in their guns; which only Magashi knows? A good actor deserves commendation. No matter how incredulous his homily to citizens could appear, he must have had a warm handshake from the scriptwriter.
Like that actor in a drama whose role is to act like an imbecile, laughing hysterically without anything seeming funny, or urinating and pooh-poohing on his body to make a statement according to the scriptwriter’s script, Magashi’s suggestion may appear bizarre and infradig to his exalted position as a General and recipient of many military service stars. But we must appreciate that he has a script to follow in-toto. Like a Yoruba proverb says, “ÀsotÌ òrò ló n jé omo mi gbó enà” – A prior agreement reached often makes coded expressions clearly understood by the decoder.
Mallam Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant on Media to His Excellency is also a very good actor and decoder of drama script. The loquacious and ubiquitous president’s aide’s name sounds like the ruthless Gabbar Singh of Sholay Indian Film fame. On December 11, 2020 a bizarre event was yet again reported and confirmed by the Governor of Katsina State, Aminu Bello Masari that about 300 school boys at the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara Local Government, Katsina had been kidnapped by the Islamist militant group called the Boko Haram. Regardless of the fact that the figure must have been given to the Governor by the school management who knew better, Garba Shehu was displeased. He needed to please his boss by saying only what pleased his ears. Despite the fact that similar incidents had previously occurred on April 14, 2014 when a whopping 276 school girls were abducted from their college hostels in Chibok, Borno State, and also on February 18, 2018 in Dapchi, Yobe State involving the kidnap of about 110 students, Mallam Garba Shehu debunked the claim as spurious, adding that only 10 students were actually abducted.
When the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara release was secured about a week later, the world was stunned to see 300 unkempt, physically and psychologically rattled students filing out dispiritedly from the kidnappers’ den. It was not that Garba Shehu, a mallam indoctrinated from youth in Quranic canonical teaching about benefits of untainted honesty and truth speaking. But he has a boss to please. It wasn’t that he did not know that journalism - his core profession preaches accuracy and abhors biased reportage, slanting and sensationalism, being a high-ranking veteran journalist who had presided over a prominent print media industry before his appointment. As abominable and heartrending as the abduction of 300 students was, nonetheless, he must have reasoned that confirming only a lesser figure would be less horrendous and attract lesser damaging effect on the image of his boss - a retired Army General and former Head of State. Garba Shehu eloquently argued that only 10 students were in the kidnappers’ den. To the trio of Garba Shehu, Mr. Femi Adesina - the special adviser on media & publicity, and Mr. Lai Mohammed, the Minister for Information & Culture, anything said about the government or the presidency, no matter how factual is branded utter falsehood. As at the time of writing this piece, over 348 innocent students were reported to have been abducted by kidnappers and bandits. For example, on July 5, 2021 about 121 students were abducted from Bethel Baptist High School, Chikun, Kaduna State. In Niger State about 136 students of Salihu Tanko Islamiya School, Tegina were kidnapped on May 30, 2021; while 83 students and 7 staff members of the Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri were also victims of kidnapping. Hospitals are not spared of the menace. On July 5, 2021 gunmen reportedly attacked the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Training Centre, Kaduna where patients and babies with hospital staff were abducted. They included about 20 students and 2 staff kidnapped in Chikun Local Government of the State by suspected armed bandits.
University campuses have also been targeted several times. Indeed 5 innocent students were killed for inability of victims’ parents to meet the demands of kidnappers to pay requested full ransom before the deadline given. This was even after the students’ parents reportedly paid a whopping N55 million which was deemed insufficient by the bandits who wanted N180m. Of 22 students kidnapped, 14 were released after about a month in kidnappers den. The list is endless and increases by the day, while the Federal Government keeps lamenting and passing condemnation on daily basis.
It is antithetical and incongruous of a President who professes peace and “feels saddened” by the spate of wanton killings by bandits and kidnappers across the country in one breath, and yet deplores in another breath the call by the Southern Governors Forum for cattle ranching method; while he, the President embraces open grazing across a country where killings are being perpetrated by herders and kidnappers on daily basis. His militaristic shout of “No going back on open grazing” and a resolve to search for the olden days 1963 open grazing routes seems retrogressive.
Like Marcus Cicero, a Roman statesman once said that “the greatest incitement for crime is the hope of escaping punishment” criminals too know that Buhari’s government is a mere toothless bulldog that lacks the capacity and willpower to curb their nefarious activities against the citizens and the state. It is no wonder therefore that bandits and criminals who once ravaged a portion of the hitherto hallowed Aso Rock presidential lodge on May 9, 2021 are now making peremptory demands from their victims, including the government now held captive by the criminals. Consequently, after being paid N55 million ransom, kidnappers who raided the Greenfield University, Kaduna on May 3, 2021 threatened to kill all the abducted students unless their parents paid not less than N100 million in addition to 10 brand new motorcycles. The school system in the entire northern part of the country has collapsed as schools are closing down, while parents including the Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-RufaI have hurriedly withdrawn their children from schools.
The abductors of the students of Bethel Baptist School, Damishi, Kaduna also rejected the 9 bags of rice and other materials presented them on the grounds that it was short of what was being demanded. The impudent kidnappers had demanded for 20 bags of local Rice, 10 bags of imported Rice, 20 bags of Beans, 10 cartons of Maggi seasoning, 10 kegs of Palm Oil and 2 bags of Salt. Criminals seem to have formed a parallel government now by demanding levies from farmers in Kaduna State before being allowed to go to farm. There is no form of disaster that citizens have not witnessed under this government, typical of a state of interregnum when no government is in power. Whether Nigeria survives this onslaught, when bandits are forcefully marrying innocent school children in their den, depends largely on the mindset of this scriptwriter and his actors. But what would be the place of this government and the scriptwriter’s cohorts in the history books? Here is our consolation. History is never partisan or biased. Even in tragedy there is comedy. Every government – good or bad, has her conspicuous place in history book being scrupulously kept, so that on-coming generations may make reference and learn some lessons. Thus, while History is busy recording, the Archive too is busy keeping such records. Verbum Satis Sapient.
+COURTESY: Ohio Wesleyan University Press, USA.
*Tunji Ajayi, a creative writer, author, biographer and audiovisual documentary producer writes from LC-Studio Communications, Nigeria (+2348033203115, +2348162124412)