There is a natural mystic blowing through the air
If you listen carefully now, you’ll hear
This could be the first trumpet, might as well be the last
Many more will have to suffer; many more will have to die
Don’t ask me why
Things are not the way they used to be…
One and all, we have to face reality now… – Bob Marley
Mystic, mystery and even a mystique, the coronavirus is, no doubt, and it is blowing through the air like the pestilence that it is. If it blossoms in its full plumule – God forbid – it may aspire to become the eleventh worst pandemic in world history. The Antonine plague of 165 AD, which killed five million people was the first. Like the coronavirus, it also sneaked into nations from abroad; first to Rome through returnee Roman soldiers coming back from Mesopotamia. It was the first experience for the world. Antonine not only wiped out the Roman army but spread to Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece and Italy. From Antonine, down to the most recent pandemic before the coronavirus, called HIV/AIDS, which has till date wiped out 36 million people from the face of the earth, like Bob Marley prophetically sang above, one and all we have to face this reality. And further realities that the virus is provoking about who and what we are. The first and most potent of the realities came from the church and mosque in Nigeria. The second is the social reality we face as Nigerians; the third, lessons that Providence is teaching us as we are all sequestered at home.
We accept the apologies of highly revered Bishop David Oyedepo on his unconscionable decision to gather his flock last Sunday, in spite of government’s ordered social distancing. However, by the time the apologies came, the eyes of the world were already opened to the calamity of Nigerian religious leaders. Nigerians had hitherto been blinded for over a century. Even with the reality of the destruction of COVID-19, church leaders only saw a viral attack “by the devil” on their milk cows. Mosques too initially spurned the order. Congregation at places of worship must continue to be gathered so as to reify the age-long belief that the mosque and churches are the only places where God hears His people. The wells of tithes and offering were drying up in their very before. Religious leaders’ immediate reaction was dissonance to this order. While some actually spurned the order like Oyedepo, some asked for the skeletal attendance of churches, while many ordered flocks to meet in cells of 50 each. Their immediate haunch was that if people were successfully turned back from places of worship for some consecutive weeks, it could be the point of their liberation from the Plato Café of a century-plus hibernation in a café of darkness. Returns to headquarters must not dry up, pastors panicked in frenzied frustration. The ultimate goal of this “episcopal wisdom” didn’t take long before the congregants saw it clearly: Worship centers merely wanted to keep alive century-old manipulation of people’s minds for pecuniary needs.
COVID-19 might have thus opened a new vista in religious worshipping orthodoxy in Nigeria. Eyes of worshippers may have opened to the selfishness of Nigerian religious leaders who see them more as wares to pawn than sheep to shepherd. For more than a century now, Nigerian religious faithful had been loyal to worship centers which they were told were the only sure routes to meeting God. Today is these religious faithful’s trying time, shut at home by a raging pestilence, a work-and-chop economy that is at best panting for survival and a government too lost in its own conceit to devise a way out. It should ordinarily be the time to requite their abiding followership, a time to throw the doors of those big tabernacles and big mosques as isolation centers. In the same vein, these religious centers should pawn people’s decades of investments in tithes/offerings to offer palliatives to congregants. These are worshippers whose forebears and they themselves had invested their ten per cent earnings in those centers for over a century now. It should be time now to pay back those selfsame people by rescuing them from the jaws of Coronavirus death.
But for flashes of pro-activeness, COVID-19 also unraveled the Nigerian government as effortlessly as the woodpecker pierces logs of woods for insects. While President Muhammadu Buhari, as usual, hibernates in his queer and taciturn cubicle, pummeling frustrated Nigerians with his artillery of silence, governors and other officials simulate positive actions by regurgitating orders already made by their colleague states. Sensational governance became the order of the day. In clear terms, COVID-19 caught many of the state governments napping. It also revealed the peremptory governance they had been running over the years. Common isolation centres were non-existent. A Nigeria that had been prone to epidemics over the years could only boast of isolation points you could count on your finger-tips. This trying time also raised the bar for some governors. Lagos’ Babajide Sanwo-Olu, hitherto profiled as laid-back and lacklustre, took the shine as the people’s friend in time of distress. His novel approach to the epidemic is commendable as he was everywhere. Oyo gladly stepped into Sanwo-Olu’s erstwhile shoes as people lamented governmental absence at a time this critical. What all these reveal is the unpreparedness for office of some of Nigeria’s leaders, aside the sensationalism and glamour of political office that tickle them.
COVID-19, in some cruel manner, has also become a trope, a clarion call on, especially Nigerian political elite, to make Nigeria livable for all. Or else, we will be victims of this gulag. Trapped inside the dross they constructed as a country over the decades, we are all forced to live our choices. Hospitals have transmuted from consulting centers into mortuaries, medical equipment are as scarce as the excrement of the masquerade and medical thoroughness escaped our windows long ago. Those leaders can’t breakfast in Madrid, lunch in New York and dine in Munich today, no thanks to the global lockdown. How could they have imagined that a day would come that they cannot, at a jump into their private jets, access their world-class hospitals? An alleged friend of the Bauchi State governor who himself allegedly tested positive to the virus was said to have stormed out of the isolation center, saying “I can’t stay here!” We should ask if he ever advised his friend the governor to equip those hospitals and build more? Now, we are all lying on our beds as we laid it; both leaders and the led.
Unfortunately for Nigerian leaders, modernity has put them under very serious scrutiny. At the press of buttons of phones, Nigerians see unequal comparisons of leadership elsewhere. At this critical period, leaders of nations are offering verbal and physical succor. In Nigeria, we are afflicted with proxy leadership which is being glossed over by hired demagogues as subsisting for this trying time. Unfortunately for them and for us all, providence is blowing a strong wind to reveal their rumps. The proxy leadership erected by Buhari himself, in the person of his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, blew up in his face at the thick of the COVID-19 plague. Highly suspected to suffer challenges which have reduced his capacity to interface with the people to nil, Buhari literally relinquished governance to this unelected aide of his. In spite of this, Nigeria is still enveloped by a miasma of hopelessness while some favoured minions smile home with Nigeria’s patrimony. By afflicting Kyari with the virus that infects ordinary mortals, Providence told him in unmistakable terms that he is not different from the man on the street. He is capable of affliction, sickness and diseases like all of us. Now, even Aso Rock clinic, with billions voted but quaffed by rapacious political leaders, had no arms to embrace the Almighty Kyari. His is now sequestered in a God-knows-where. The gloat-like responses of Nigerians to this fate of Kyari’s, in the wake of his affliction by COVID-19, should therefore be expected. It is a natural reaction of a pauperized people in the hands of a rudderless and inept government.
The world should wake up from this COVID-19 to realise that togetherness is the only way out and that, rather than bickering and mutual muzzling, there is need for global collaboration. Past recriminations among powerful leaders of the world, even as pestilences raged, only yielded multiplications of graveyards. Between 541-542, the Plague of Justinian killed 25 million people and half the population of Europe. This outbreak of the bubonic plague which afflicted the Byzantine empire and Mediterranean port cities, like it is happening in Italy today, devastated the city of Constantinople and killed an estimated 5,000 people per day. So also was a pandemic that was mischievously labelled the Black Death which occurred between 1346-1353. It ravaged Europe, Africa and Asia and was reputed to have killed between 75 to 200 million people. Like COVID-19, it also jumped continents through fleas that lived on rats.
The period 1852-1860 did not fare better. The cholera pandemic, said to be the deadliest of cholera pandemics, ravaged a 19th century world. From India where it originated, it flew to Africa, North America, Asia and Europe, killing over a million people. Equally of no lesser devastation to the world was the flu pandemic of 1889-1890, also known as the Asiatic/Russian flu which also claimed a million lives, as well as the Sixth cholera pandemic of 1910-1911 which killed over 800,000 people, as well as the 1918 flu pandemic said to have killed between 20-50 million people. In the Asian flu of 1956-1958, the world lost two million people. Having infected the people of the Chinese province of Guizhou, it flew to Singapore, Hong Kong and to the United States. The ninth pandemic, which was just a little older than the HIV/AIDS, was the 1968 Hong Kong flu pandemic, killed one million people and, from its first strain on July 13, 1968 in Hong Kong, within 17 days, landed in Singapore and Vietnam. Within a space of three months, The Philippines, India, Australia, Europe, and the United States had offered the flu a honourary citizenship.
I went into this long history of global pandemic calamities to situate the fact that rather than the daily flexing of muscles by global leaders, global citizenship requires global comradeship to combat our common vulnerability. Nigerian leaders are good examples of how not to lead. We do not see in them those qualities of leadership that made First Republic leaders earn the immortality they have in our hearts today. No selflessness, thoroughness, foresight or vision but kick-and-follow, empty leadership. Going by realities, especially as prophetically projected by Marley, that “Many more will have to suffer; many more will have to die,” there is the need for world leaders to jointly and periodically meet to proactively invest in epidemiology. More attention should also be paid to the process of emergence of leaderships, especially in Third World countries. Leadership is needed at a time like this to rise up to global challenges. Just use the Lagos State example to extrapolate a Nigerian global template and you would see why the flight of leadership is more corrosive than the spread of the Coronavirus. Nigeria is hemmed in. God forbid an implosion in the COVID-19 pandemic. Where is the leader and the leadership that can rescue Nigeria from the hands of this global scourge?
Imam, Dabiri and the Twitter Gangs
There are currently hot and subsisting engagements on Twitter, provoked by a man simply known as Nigeria Imam of Peace, @ImamOfpeace a few days ago. They are causing a seismic upheaval on this social media outlet. Imam has consistently tackled the Muhammadu Buhari government to its hilt, including calling for its resignation. His #BuhariResign forced Buhari out in flowing robe simulating action. In one of such, he tweeted, “Nigerians, your president is incompetent and extremely clueless; you deserve better.”
Each of those tweets has provoked uproar among his followers, as against the legion of Buhari’s recruits littering this social media platform who attempted to tackle him. When Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairperson, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, attempted to weigh in by congratulating what she termed “Great investigative journalism” in a Buhari hireling’s previous tweet which sought to discredit Imam as a “conman,” one lady, @estherolabisi01 gave Dabiri-Erewa a smudge on her face by tweeting, “This isn’t the newscaster I always saw as my role model. Please come and take the handshake you gave me in QCY 2002.” The ex-newscaster, @abikedabiri, who has become an unapologetic lapdog of the Buhari government on Twitter, also replied her, saying “This isn’t the proud girl I thought you would grow up to be. No morals. No values. But all will be well.”
On Twitter, it is a contest between Buhari’s paid recruits and swelling ranks of Nigerians who cannot stand how the Daura-born General has become a mere Egyptian mummy in Aso Rock, especially with his silence at critical junctures. He exhibits scant leadership feelings and contributes immensely to the literature of atrophy of good governance in Nigeria.
Festus Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist.