By Tunde Odesola
Before 1975, the name ‘Gabber’ meant nothing to me. It was just any other nice-sounding monicker. But after I watched Sholay, India’s most successful movie in the last 50 years, at Rainbow Cinema, Mushin, Lagos, in the mid 70s, I began to hold the name in suspicion.
Gabber’s initials are GS. He’s the supervillain in the 1975 superhit movie which broke all records and ran for more than five years in Mumbai theatre. His surname is Singh. Gabber Singh is the ultimate, archetypal villain of the multi-billion dollar Indian film industry.
I was taken to the cinema by one of my uncles, Boda Jide. Wow! I love the electronic darkness of the cinema. With its colorful, larger-than-life pictures, booming sound effects and fluorescent-white screen, the cinema holds a spelbound charm at all times.
Sholay’s storyline is simple but arresting. The bandit, Gabber Singh, kills the family of a retired police chief, Thakur Singh, who employs the services of two small-time thieves, Veeru and Jai, to help capture the criminal.
Clearly, I still can hear the bewitching Hemma Malini, (cast as Basanti), the commercial horse cart rider, singing and wriggling her beaded waist. I can see the tall and handsome Dharmendra (Veeru) and the sexy Amitabh Bachchan (Jai), riding their joint scooter in daredevilry, shooting their way out of harm. I can see the young Amjad Khan (Gabber Singh) smiling as he supervises the torture of Dharmendra, and the armless Sanjeev Kumar (Thakur), riding on the wave of vengeance. I can’t forget the song of avowed friendship between Dharmendra and Amitabh, Hum Nahi Todenge. Literature, good music, soap operas and movies were the hallmarks of my childhood.
In today’s Nigeria, literature is coughing up blood, music is writhing in viral vulgarity; porn, violence and materialism reside in soap operas and movies while science and technology is the leper in a godforsaken colony called ignorance.
It’s not only Bollywood that has a cult figure with the GS initials. Nigeria’s political theatre, Aso Rock, also does. Aso Rock’s GS is the inimitable dramatis persona called Garba Shehu, who, years ago, rode hopefully towards Abuja in the convoy of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s aspiring presidency, but changed seats after the BAT shrieked at midnight and swung the pendulum of power to Katsina.
While the supervillain Indian Gabber is a master who gives orders, the superhero Nigerian Garba is an obedient servant who takes orders from seen and unseen masters, and carries them out with the swiftness of a conscienceless sword.
When you’re spokesperson to a President without a school certificate, insult becomes a weapon against reason, coercion displaces the rule of law, sycophancy swallows merit and victimisation becomes a state art – all in the defence of presidential ineptitude, corruption, nepotism and ethnicity.
Like Gabber, Garba is fearless. He’s no respecter of age, intellect, dignity and civility whenever a voice of reason rises against his lean and incompetent master in Aso Rock. Garba threw decorum and honor out through the window last week when Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, called attention to the weak former soldier’s everlasting lethargy and unconstitutional action by single-handedly locking down Abuja, Lagos and Ogun over the coronavirus outbreak without the consent of the National Assembly.
Like Soyinka, several lawyers, including two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, Femi Falana and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, faulted Buhari’s overbearance, stressing that the husband of Aisha possesses no such powers to unilaterally close any state’s borders. But Garba chose not to contend the illegality of Buhari’s action with the lawyers because, unlike Soyinka, they didn’t beam a torch on the darkling failure that has enveloped Buhari from Nigerians. The poet-essayist-novelist wondered how Buhari, who had been on ‘AWOL’ (Absent Without Leave), suddenly woke up after a long siesta to start issuing orders, closing Abuja, Lagos and Ogun to movement for 14 days.
If Soyinka had only criticised Buhari for the lockdown, Garba wouldn’t have been unleashed. Soyinka became Buhari’s object of attack because he (Soyinka) highlighted the pounding absenteeism that has become the cornerstone of the Buhari regime.
However, Garba neither deployed wisdom nor common sense in his attack on Soyinka, leaving discernible members of the public wondering how many certificates are missing in Aso Rock.
In a language decipherable to a primary school pupil, Soyinka, who didn’t criticise the global medical recommendation of lockdown, revealed that he himself was in self-isolation but he stressed that Buhari should simply have gotten the National Assembly to approve his lockdown wish, lest the country descends into illegality. The laureate even called on legal luminaries to help shed light on the legality or otherwise of Buhari’s action, warning that if left unchallenged, Buhari could wake up some other time, and declare a vindictive lockdown on any state – long after the COVID-19 pandemic had ended.
In his profoundly empty and unwise response, Garba steered the argument away from Buhari’s idleness and cow-in-a-china-shop meddlesomeness, which Soyinka raised, saying the playwright should write a fiction about coronavirus. In an infantile attempt to ridicule Soyinka and diminish his literary genius, Garba belched, “Professor Soyinka is not a medical professor… Across the world, mandated lockdowns are in place…Perhaps, Wole Soyinka may write a play on the coronavirus pandemic after this emergency is over.”
It’s obvious that Garba is oblivious that all democratic countries, which effected lockdowns during the ongoing pandemic, first got the approval of their legislatures.
By trying to trivialise literature, Garba opened himself up to ridicule as a shallow image-maker, who is shockingly unaware that a captivating novelist, Dean Koontz, foretold the outbreak and deadliness of coronavirus more than 30 years ago. Medicine as an offshoot of science and technology is critical to human wellness just as literature as an offshoot of arts is the adhesive that prevents the world from falling off the map of human dignity – teaching language, culture and tradition. Unlike the misleading gospel of Garba, neither of science and technology, and arts is superior to the other. Probably, Garba is the type of parent that would force his child to study medicine when such a child has the talent to outwit Messi to the Ballon d’Or or outsing Cobhams Asuquo to the gong or beat Sanyeri to crowd applause.
Few days after Garba’s defence, Buhari, uncharastically saw sense in Soyinka’s wise counsel as he later sought and got the approval of the Senate for the closure of Abuja, Lagos and Ogun, putting a needle to the balloon of shame inflated by Garba. A report by Vanguard newspaper of April 4, 2020, confirms Buhari’s compliance with the rule of law. Hitherto Buhari’s capitulation, Garba and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, had insisted that Buhari was right in his usurpation of the National Assembly’s powers. If the President was right, why get the approval of the Natiinal Assembly on the long run?
After Buhari trampled upon Nigeria’s constitution by sacking the democratically elected government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari on December31, 1983, Generals Gbadamosi Babangida and Sani Abacha wouldn’t have had the guts to seize power in 1985 and 1993 respectively if Nigerians had resisted the criminality perpetrated by Buhari and his gang in 1983.
Expectedly, the impotence of the commander-in-chief of Nigeria’s Armed Forces to check the growing dehumanisation and killing of innocent Nigerians, especially in the South, by Buhari’s zombie-soldiers failed to stir the milk of human kindness in Garba. Or has Garba not seen viral vdeos of bestial soldiers, mostly of northern extraction, ordering people to swim in sewage? If Nigerians had resisted soldier-police oppression since the 1970s – as advised by the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti – the incessant killings we see today won’t occur.
This is the essence of Soyinka’s homily to Buhari. Political aides should help their principals see issues in true perspectives. This is a better way to earn a living rather than bark at imaginary shadows.
•Odesola writes from the US, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org