When former Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, died in June 1998, I was one of those who took to the streets to celebrate the nation’s liberation from his murderous grip. These days, I look back at that infamous Monday and wonder the point of rejoicing at someone’s death when none of us is beyond mortality. Abacha’s death, we know, resolved a conundrum and cleanly freed us from the bonds with which he held us. Also, given the timing of his death, it did in fact seem God heard Nigerians’ cries for liberation. However, death by natural causes is no punishment; it is one of life’s many realities.
In the past few days, both the “fake news” and refutation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s “death” have seized the airwaves and “bus-stop parliaments.”
Since the President’s announcement of his annual vacation and “medical trip” to the United Kingdom, folks eager to script Buhari’s obituary have been beating an elegiac gong. In the post-truth world, rumours and fact-free truths travel the world without a visa and debunking them, unfortunately, sometimes assert their validity.
To make a revolting matter even more shameful, Buhari’s media aides, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, two spin doctors who never muster enough professional dignity to overlook the temptation of wading in murky pools with every species of human, seized their social media handles. They announced – with puerile peevishness- that the President was alive and well! From their interaction with cybercitizens, one deduces they imagine that those who wanted the President dead are malevolent souls who are still sore Buhari defeated their candidate in the 2015 election.
Adesina and Shehu might well be right. In the run-up to the 2015 election, the sitting governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, started the guessing game about Buhari’s health and death. Other “wailers” picked up the baton and have continued to run with it since then. What both aides have probably not considered is that such rumour mongering is also a response to the failures of the government to properly communicate with people. Over the years, the Nigerian government has proved to be thoroughgoing dishonest on even simple and insignificant issues. When people cannot get reliable official information, they make up their realities and hawk them around until they acquire some truth value.
Besides, our nation has a long history of leaders lying about their health. From Abacha to the late Umaru Yar’Adua, to te wife of the former President Goodluck Jonathan, we never get an accurate picture of anything. Till now, we cannot tell with confirmed certainty if it was liver cirrhosis that killed Abacha or the mysterious “Indian escorts”. Did Yar’Adua speak regularly to his ‘Kitchen Cabal’ or his communication on his deathbed was a case of ‘Esau’s hand, Jacob’s voice’? How did Governor Danbaba Suntai govern Taraba State after his accident? What was the nature of Dame Patience Jonathan’s illness and how did she get mysteriously healed after leaving Aso Rock? What is Buhari’s actual condition of health? In these times where the traffic one successfully drives to one’s website translates to financial gains, “fake news” mongering will not abate. Until our leaders learn to preempt rumours by making their health conditions public information, they will expend themselves putting out fires.
Rather than stamp their petulant feet on the ground and moan the immorality of wishing one’s leaders dead, they should ask why the people they govern want them dead. Beyond the obvious reasons of poor communication between the leader and the led, is the reality of spite and sadism on the part of the citizens. People wish their leaders dead because they want to transpose some of the pains those leaders inflict on them back to the leaders; they want everything that brings them joy obliterated
While I am in no way justifying this sadism on the part of the people, I also think a mere resort to flagellating them will not help our leaders to introspect. The question they should in fact ask themselves is why things should be otherwise.
Why should people care if their leaders live or die when those leaders themselves do not care if their people die or live?
Why ask people to demonstrate empathy towards a leader who grabs the public wallet and goes abroad to see well-trained specialists in well-funded hospitals? Why ask impoverished people to show humane feelings towards such a person when the system that the leader runs at home cannibalises them and their children? Why would people who live, move, and have their being, amidst dehumanising conditions be concerned about the ethics of wishing death on someone else? The conditions of their own existence already bespeak death yet they are supposed to writhe at the pain of a leader whose privileges are funded with their blood?
If they must know, wishing our leaders dead is moral revanchism. Those death wishes are like the stone from David’s slingshot. They might not have achieved the desired aim of hitting Goliath in the head and watching him drop dead but is nevertheless a ready weapon of warfare available to the agonised poor, the helpless victims of the nation’s necropolitics, the forgotten and silenced majority, and the historically and structurally dispossessed. Trying to ramp up religious or cultural sentiments about the immorality of wishing our leaders dead will not abdicate the reasons people wish death or evil on their leaders, such shaming will only repress the instinct to publicly express it. Under that surface sneer of “I wish Mr. President soonest recover” will remain a seething rage that can only find some cathartic outlet through their deaths.
I dare say that this feeling of “go and die!” as it was once tactlessly voiced by a former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, is mutual between the leaders and the led. In Nigeria, we eat death for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Life is cheap here and there is little evidence that our leaders think that our lives matter. Ours is a country where a bomb will “mistakenly” drop on a refugee camp, death toll will rise to 236 and not a thing has changed one week later. No lawmaker is currently sitting to review the gross incompetence that led to such a massacre and propose changes to the conditions that made it happen.
Ours is a country where protesters are shot by security agencies whose heads have been addled and nobody, not even their state governors or legislators will shut down the system and demand that their deaths be redressed. From Benue to Enugu states, people have been gruesomely killed by rampaging herdsmen but what have our “dear leaders” done other than toss the responsibility of accountability elsewhere? The blood of the Shiites who were dumped in graves dug at night still cries for justice but it flies past our deafened ears. The many victims of violent deaths vociferously cry for redress; their vain pleas drain us of psychic energy. If our lives are treated so cheaply, why are they surprised wishes of their own death are cheaply trafficked?
We are gradually becoming a society where death is meaningless because life itself has been sapped of meaning. When people look at their leaders and wish them dead, they are trying to infuse some meaning into a meaningless order. Just like we thought of Abacha, if this person -who represents ethical and spiritual corruption, decadence, executive aloofness, oppression of the poor by the rich – drops dead, then maybe it is proof that there is a God; He exists and in fact cares about alleviating our pain.
Buhari is not the first President who will be rumoured dead and if the one that comes after him makes our lives miserable too, people could wish him/her dead as an expression of their inner rage and frustrated helplessness. It is nothing personal.