Act 4: Scene I
Deities don’t read newspapers. Humans do. Orita Gbaemu is the crossroads in Osogbo where deities are appeased in August at the commencement rites of Osun Osogbo, the globally acclaimed riverine festival that uplifts culture and restores worshippers’ souls.
From time out of mind, the Ataoja, once in every August, sits in splendour under a royal canopy on Gbaemu Road to commune with the founding deities of Osogbo and herald the celebration of fecundity, purity, cleansing, protection and wellness in the land.
Orita Gbaemu isn’t only about annual deities, however. It’s also renowned as the newspaper distribution epicentre where people throng daily to read newspapers and aerate comments on topical issues. Ironically, at Orita Gbaemu, like in all newsstands nationwide, comments are free, facts are scanty.
Today, PhD students – Kiko, Beki and Solo – are doing their individual fieldwork in Osogbo, Kano and Umuahia respectively.
At Orita Gbaemu, Kiko examines how everyday people view governance and political leadership. He sits in the crowd with a rolling tape recorder concealed in his breast pocket, listening to the drift of conversations as readers factionally engage in political whataboutism.
Now, whataboutism is the knee-jerk jagbajantis common among poor members of the public who respond to truthful allegations against their political leaders or parties by alleging that the greater sins lie with the accusers.
In Nigeria’s political whataboutism, very poor folks vigorously defend allegations against their political parties or leader(s) by bringing up counter allegations that don’t clear the air on the allegation levelled against their parties or leader(s). They’ll say, “Oh, you accuse Sai Baba of nepotism and incompetence, WHAT ABOUT the stealing-is-not-corruption mantra of the Badluck years and the holier-than-thou corruption of the Ebora era?”
For a once-in-four-years measly porridge, this is the whataboutism you’ll likely get upon raising questions on the disturbing funds found in the coffers of Mama Piss, which made her enter into plea bargaining: “Who’s a saint? Didn’t Mama Piss manage her matrimonial home more effectively than the beautiful hairdresser whose ceaseless domestic fights triggered guns on A-Sore-Rock. If you’re patient and have the stomach for political stupidity, you’ll hear: “The Bullion Vans of Bourdillon are not as sordid as the Article of Halliburton.” This is what you get when the masses, who should be grieving and protesting their futurelessness, hotly argue in defence of their candidates for the title of the Most Successful Thief after Saint Sanny Abutcher, Maradona and Ebora.
Act 5: Scene 1
In the Railway area of Umuahia popularly referred to as Isi Gate, hawkers run wildly after vehicles to sell their wares. At one of the newsstands, Solo is reading a copy of ‘Light’, a fearless newspaper that constructively criticises government policies. The cover headline reads, “Repeal ex-govs, speakers pension payment now – US advises.”
Reader 1: Wetin concern US with our country?
Reader 2: What rubbish are you saying? If you can collect millions of dollars in donations from the US, you must be ready to take advice on how the millions should be spent.
Reader 3: The US should just leave our All-Pervasive-Congress-led government alone o. Did it advise the People-Dehumanising-Party when $2bn arms funds were being shared?
Solo continues to take notes.
At the Galadima Road newspaper distribution centre in the commercially-busy Sabon Gari area of Kano, Beki mingles well with the crowd. She watches poor members of the public, who are adversely affected by government’s corruption and inaction, defend to the death insane government policies. She buys a copy of ‘The Truth’ newspaper, and sits down on a wooden bench provided by a vendor, who orders a free reader to get up for her.
A cover-page headline, “Two presidential jets go missing,” screams at Beki.
Reader 1: Irresponsible journalism! The jets aren’t missing. Both are in Dubai. One flew Baba’s daughter to Dubai while the other flew her pinhole camera there for her graduation photoshoot.
Reader II: What nonsense! At whose expense? Even the American president and his family pay from their personal purse when they embark on private trips.
Reader III: We’re not in America, we’re in paraDIES.
The second lead story on the cover page catches Beki’s attention. It reads, “Anna-B bags degree in Wait-and-Get photography, paints Dubai red,”. From the illogical to the absurd, readers feast on the story, trading allegations for and against the vampires in government.
Soon, all hell broke loose with emotions boiling over and weapons and punches replacing speech. An hour later, the police, responding to a distress call, swoop on the scene, carting away edibles and arresting innocent traders.
Anna-B is having her graduation bash inside the $24,000 per-night Royal Suite of the 7-Star Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai. Unmindful of political, religious and ethnic affinities, children of Nigeria’s Who-is-Who grace the occasion in luxury automobiles. The MC introduces the super-rich children as Anna-B welcomes them amid booming music and perfect lighting effects.
Anna-B: Oh, you made it here? I thought you said you can’t make it?
Moh Article: You know the airways are closed due to the pandemic. Dad had to tell one of his pilots to fly me down here.
(She leads him to the table where the scions of Ebora, Jona, Aibibi, Abutcher, Bourdillon, Hell Roof, ROtM, Weak-A, Oshy, Abbey, Ebory, Mack, etc are feasting)
MC: Make some noise for the son of 9ja’s articulate politician, Moh Article!
(The hall erupts in deafening noise)
MC: Hey y’all, listen to me real quick. I’ve the singular honour and pleasure to invite to the M-I-C, one of the land’s most gifted stand-up comedians, I-go-Faint!!!!
(The hall erupts in ecstasy)
I-go-Faint: Helloooooo sombory!!!!
Crowd: Hi, siiiiiir!!!!
I-go-Faint: 9ja no dey carry last! I’m so happy to be here tonight, I tell you. (He waits for the noise to abate)
I-go-Faint: Why una dey make noise like Magoo for custody? We funny die for 9ja: person wey dey detain people anyhow without bail dey cry for bail when dem detain am now.
(Audience bursts into laughter)
I-go-Faint: Where’s Hushpoopoo?
Audience: He dey jail!
I-go-Faint: I wish Hushpoopoo dey here make he come give una handouts to give to una fathers about how to electronically steal and transfer 9ja to white people so that dem go help develop our country quick-quick. Dis suffer too much.
(Audience screams in laughter)
I-go-Faint: This party shows the unity and love in our land. It’s the poor people on the streets, the uneducated and the unfortunate that are giving the country a bad name, portraying the country as terrorists and kidnappers’ enclave. 9ja na Turn-by-Turn Plc. You guys don dey take over from una parents. Una be the faces of Nigeria’s future presidents, governors, senators, ministers. Una fathers may quarrel occasionally, but dem dey settle their differences las-las. Why quarrel when resources plenty yanfu-yanfu to go round?
I-go-Faint: Una mothers no dey quarrel because enough time dey to gossip and enough funds dey to do manicure and pedicure abroad and also buy designers’ wears, pants, bras and bags.
I-go-Faint: Governor Pay-o-Lou do well in curbing COVID-19, but im state Assembly insist on physical sitting, a member don die now; what a great legislature led by a scandal-free Speaker!
Audience: Eko o ni baje!
I-go-Faint: Pandemic dey kill everyday but pastors and imams wan make dem open churches and mosques. Who go fight for the poor? Common man no fit think again because poverty don turn im head. Das why poor people still dey support una parents wey dey thief for government despite say na di stealing make dem life meaningless. I’ll be back after this musical interlude!
Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ softly overrides the applause.
*Odesola writes from the United States of America and can be reached @ firstname.lastname@example.org