by Rotimi Fawole
In spite of ribbing, both good-natured and spiteful, that takes place between the government’s supporters and its critics, it is probably safe to assume, that deep down inside, everyone wants a better Nigeria. How we get there and who leads us into this promised land are the things we cannot agree upon. What has also emerged from the frequent back and forth on social media is that we aren’t agreed on the basis of our criticism policy formulation. I will explain.
Sometimes we criticise government from the HCF perspective, and at other times from the LCM, with apologies to those who “hated maths in secondary school.” The Highest Common Factor here, is the ideal, the examples we frequently cite from more advanced democracies like America, Canada, Great Britain, France. We tell our government that they fall short in their obligations to us because, in spite of all their Rome-Wasn’t-Built-In-A-Day excuses, these countries at the top of the political food chain have shown us what is possible.
However, we also seem to frequently argue, at the same time, contradictorily in my opinion, that government should relate with us at the level of the Lowest Common Multiple. Or, when government is not the focus of our critique, that the level of the Lowest Common Multiple is where we, the emerging intelligentsia, should base our arguments.
Recently, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai (former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, former PDP-man now turned ardent critic of PDP on all fronts, including social media) retweeted a picture of President Goodluck Jonathan on his knees, in a church, with his hands raised in prayer. The picture had been caricatured by the addition of the president’s prayer in speech bubbles. The “prayer points” reflected (or lampooned, if you like) the widely-held belief that the president is a hand-wringing, committee-forming president, not renowned for prompt action and definitely only playing lip-service to many serious issues. In my opinion, it was extremely witty. However the tweet retweeted by Mallam El-Rufai also contained annotations raising the standard social media fare of presidential ineptitude and haplessness. Shortly after his retweet, condemnation began to fly.
The annoyance/disappointment with the Mallam’s retweet seemed to predominantly be based on the notion that it is insensitive to mock a man in prayer, especially when the man in prayer is a Christian (president) and the retweeter of the mockery is a Muslim (opposition politician). The premise for this argument was that if the tables had been turned, Muslim sensibilities would have been offended and that Mallam El-Rufai has barely recovered from the outcry at his last retweet of a joke with Christian undertones. While these arguments do have sentimental or emotional value, I question their logic. Again, let me explain.
It seems, that rather than annoyance at the original tweet itself, people (Christinas?) are angry that it was retweeted by a Muslim. The annotations said nothing different from what you would typically find on most Nigerian timelines on Twitter and the Prayer Points reflect popular anger towards the manner in which our leaders abdicate their responsibilities to God (“accidents are an Act of God”) or invoke His name at the slightest opportunity, and yet we continue to see plunder and pillaging at the very highest levels of political office.
This same indignation followed the many pictures that were published of the President performing “the pilgrimage” (topic for another day) in Jerusalem. Pictures of him being prayed for in Joseph’s Tomb were greeted with derision and derogatory remarks about the Presidential High Priest. The original tweeter of the now-offensive tweet has significant following on Twitter, yet there was no outrage until El-Rufai’s intervention.
And his intervention awoke the tribal and religious instincts in all of us. “Nigerians are religious, and vote on the basis of religion and tribe, so religion should not be mocked.” Yet the picture did not mock Christianity – just a purported Christian, whose attitude to certain issues surely leaves him wide open to a heavy dollop of cynicism. “Muslims would have revolted, had a picture of a Muslim leader in prayer been mocked.” Well, Danfo drivers drive aggressively, so private car owners must also drive aggressively when confronted by Danfos in traffic. See the problem with that line of reasoning?
We seem to want to ignore the fact that this is a democracy. Everything public officials do in public has to be fair game. If the president wants to pray privately for 10 hours everyday, that’s his concern. However, if someone whose performance (or dithering) and commitment to transparency are constantly in question decides to engage in public acts of worship, he should expect comparisons between his purported piety and the people’s reality. The greatness of the Americas and Great Britains that we keep shoving under our government’s noses is that while the office of the head of government does carry weight, there are TV shows like South Park, Saturday Night Live, Mock the Week, etc. that pass government’s actions under the microscope of public commentary through the use of humour. Sometimes, gallows humour even.
I think it is inconsistent to bash “Touch not my anointed” but then support “Touch not this president that I’m always bashing, because he is kneeling down in Church”. Same as it was inconsistent to constantly bash Nigeria, but get angry when Jon Gambrel said exactly the same things we were saying. I think it is inconsistent to be angry at the picture mocking GEJ, yet having at one time or the other shaken your waist or bobbed your head to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s Coffin for Head of State.
Are we going to discuss Nigeria’s issues from an enlightened (HCF) perspective or from the (LCM) perspective of our primal instincts? Was the tweet offensive? Or was it the person who retweeted it that made it offensive? If we, the internet-at-glance, smartdevice-wielding generation, supposedly better than the people in our villages, languishing in poverty, who would sell their votes for airtime top-up cards, will not distinguish between the mockery of a man and the mockery of his religion, then those who say that we deserve exactly the kind of leaders we have, may truly be on to something.