Clowns without borders
By Abdul Mahmud
Imagine your country as a circus. Behold those you saddle with governance humouring and amusing themselves with slapstick comedy, entertaining nobody. Citizens who endure hardship and seek escape don’t find any entertainment in their pantomimed foolery. The circus is a national pastime. Those who spare a moment to behold the circus, and for whom governance is serious business (of statecraft), can’t fail to observe the itinerant awada kerikeri who have reduced governance to a curious mix of pantomime and politics: a counterculture they delight in, outdoing and outperforming each other with the clownishness of Clarus and Gringory.
They can’t fail to observe what they do, although I am confident they will be sad to see how politicians now enrich the humour mill at the expense of statecraft. Ignore the circus at your peril. And there is worse. Think of what they do: governors who sit beneath chandeliers, nodding their heads to bands of praise-singers, singing their praises to the heavens, while sipping expensive wines.
There are others who exhibit unmagisterial behaviour, the kind that would make King David – the murderer of Uriah – envious were he alive today, and compose bad habits which bring out the worst in them. The worst which they have in common is what they defend against those who disrespect them; constituted authorities – a sad case of the condition, conduct disorder.
Is it any wonder that a governor threatened to kill any citizen who blocks his right of way? “Next time the ADC should order for a shoot. It is very illegal to block the governor. If anybody is killed in the course of that, it is allowed in the law”, Governor Umahi is reported to have said.
But, there is a more insidious connection this time between King Saul and our governors, as the anecdotal evidence shows. My attempt at connecting the spirit-possessing Saul with our politicians is neither dubious nor, in the context of politicians doing awada kerikeri, conjectural. There is evidence, beyond conjecture, which points to the spirit that makes our politicians, like Saul, wayward. The spirit that makes them look and act stupid also draws them towards things that calm them. These things may be incomprehensible to many, but they make meaning to our politicians, who find delight in the acquaintance of something therapeutic: music.
If music is the food of the soul, play on, they insist. Saul insisted, as the holy book reports in the First Book of Samuel: “and so it was, whenever the spirit of God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, the distressing spirit would depart from him”.
“If you are musical, you are likely to do something more musical than musicology”, the famous music critic, Hans Keller, once expressed. Though Keller omitted to suggest what was “more musical than musicology”, but we now know, drawing from the holy book that it may well be “spiritual deliverance”- a sort of “cognitive behavioral therapy”.
As if taking a cue from Saul, Governor Masari was only recently reported to have issued a letter of appointment to one Ukashata Suleiman, the leader of the ludicrously named Masari Modern Singers Association. The letter reads in part: “I have the pleasure to convey the approval of of His Excellency, the Governor of Katsina State, Rt. Hon. Aminu Masari, GFR, for your appointment as Special Assistant, Modern Singers”.
Knock knock. Who is there? David? No, Ukashata Suleiman. Imagine Ukashata Suleiman stepping into the governor’s court, accompanied by a band of “modern singers.” Picture him squatting at the feet of Governor Masari as he renders a line from that great lutist, Ishaq al-Mawsili (also called “Isaac of Mosul), who played at the court of the renowned fifth Abbasid Capliph, Harun al-Rashid: “I can sing for you what no ear has heard before”. Picture the Governor, calm, retiring to the sanctum of his court. It isn’t hard to glimpse the effect of Ukashata’s soulful song on the governor.
If Ukashata’s appointment parodies our politicians, it also explains their irrational behaviour. Beyond that it also serves two useful purposes. While on the one hand it ridicules politicians and makes governance crass, on the other hand, it draws some connection between humour and truth. In amusing themselves, the truth of how scarce public resources are wasted on expensive personal liftestyles is revealed.
Think of the other things they do. Here are two examples. In 2017, Kate Owoko, a member of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly commissioned the first floating toilet in our country. According to media reports, the Assemblywoman built the floating toilet as her constituency project. Have you seen the photo of the toilet? Google, please. However, this should be noted of the image of the floating toilet: it either hints at an artifact of a by-gone civilization or a civilization eager to take its own life. As if to improve on the Assemblywoman’s mission civilisatrice, Desmond Elliot, a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, had also commissioned a “biofil toilet” to his personal delight. The problem isn’t that the legislators commissioned toilets in their constituencies, recognizing that open defecation is a concern that has drawn global attention to our country; the problem is the razzmatazz that accompanied the commissioning, television cameras covering everywhere but the toilets.
It is hard to see how Elliot’s “biofil toilet”, for instance, addresses the potty problem of a mega city that requires eight thousand public toilets. But, he claims his toilet is useful: “this isn’t just a toilet, but one that converts waste to manure”. It’s been two years since the “biofil toilet” was commissioned and there is no news as yet on the human waste so far converted to manure. Maybe he hasn’t found time to return to the toilet to oversight the potty business or, like Saleem Sinai in Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, admire those who drop “the longest turd” for manure conversion.
Something must be responsible for the comical behaviour of our politicians. Is it a tyranny of expectation – the pressure to deliver on real governance? Are our politicians dealing with cognitive capture? Or are they cleverly using humour to mask the real issues? Next week, I shall answer the questions. Meanwhile, members of the President’s extended family are living rent-free in our grace-and-favour presidential residence, while many tax-payers struggle to bear the increasing tax burden. The case of the class clowns squatting at the expense of taxpayers. The circus continues.