Maverick musician, Charles Oputa, professionally known as Charly Boy, during the week, led a protest against the long absence of President Muhammadu Buhari, during which he was assaulted by policemen. He spoke to newsmen afterwards. Associate Editor, TAIWO ADISA, presents excerpts from the interview.
A protest by Our Mumu Don Do group, which you led, was disrupted by the police and you were even manhandled by the security operatives. Weren’t you scared for your life at any point?
Well, I didn’t know it was going to come so soon, because, like they say, you can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs. The people who are involved in this struggle can’t expect that everything will go smoothly all the time. We know the environment that we are in; it is an environment of deceit, lies, criminality… Everybody is just doing anyhow – from the executive to the man on the streets. I used to think that the police were my friends. I am taking this a little personally, because I have done a lot of publicity work for the police. I have worked with the police in the past. But when I saw what played out on Tuesday, I was very disappointed with them. I called a few of them who were my friends, especially the ones with the high ranks. I asked them if this is what the force has turned to. A whole Charley Boy! As old as I am, coming to support what young people are doing, standing up for their right, being able to ask questions… It is me that they are singling out as a criminal. And the worst of it was the nonsense statement that they put out; that they were targeting the miscreants.
There was nobody but a few of us who came near Unity Fountain on Tuesday morning. Do your investigation. You need to talk to the people who were working at Transcorp Hilton Hotel. They were all on the fence and I saw them with their cameras. They must have captured everything. There was nobody who came around. We were just seven people and over 150 policemen with dogs and tear gas were there. At first, when we wanted to gain entrance into the area, there was one guy who was saying that the thing had gone viral and Aljazeera carried it, Channels, AIT, etc, carried. I didn’t know about any of that, but I knew that the TV people were well represented during the protest.
Before we got there, the police were already there. We had announced that we would do a sit out. We didn’t plan to walk on the road. The sit out was just to gather under a tree and talk to ourselves about what we are going to do for our dear country and how to move forward. And we decided we would dedicate one or two hours every morning to gather there to discuss. And that was what we came to do. Unfortunately, they had their plans.
Did you receive warning before attack?
There was no warning, and we told them that we would come the next day. They were there when we gave out that information. We directed that the next day, not a lot of people should come out. But the group leaders will keep meeting at the unity fountain to just talk about the way forward.
[President Muhammadu] Buhari wasn’t just our main objective; there are a lot of things that are bothering us. They include the highly padded salaries of the National Assembly members. That is a cause for worry. They are asking us to make sacrifices but we don’t see them making those sacrifices. You have to start from somewhere. We decide to ask, what is wrong with our president? Most of us in the group believe that if anybody can solve the problem of our nation, it would be Buhari. But we are aware also that the wife of the president said that the president has been captured by some people who were not even part of the campaign. So, we believe that this country is being run by a cabal; that even Buhari himself, as honourable as he is, will not want to hold on to power.
The argument of many, including the Senate, is that the President has not contravened any law, are you aware of that?
We are not saying he has contravened any law. Morally, if it is my father, I will ask him to quit. It is your health first. I laugh when some people argue that we have no reason to ask about his health status. The day Buhari decided to run as the president of Nigeria, he automatically became a public property. And as a public servant, he owes us an explanation. We need to know what is happening to the person we put there. It is our right. Under the law, go to Section 144 of the constitution, if the president is incapacitated and for a certain period of time, he cannot make it to the office, a medical team should be put together to ascertain the health of the president whether he can go on or not.
But Nigerians have been told that he is also recovering fast?
Haven’t we seen this play out before? This thing happened in [late President Umaru] Yar’Adua’s time. And if you remember, at that time, it was the same Buhari who said that Yar’Adua should produce his medical certificate. He carried that campaign on his head. I am not blaming Buhari for anything; we are only asking that we should be informed about what is happening.
But he said the late president failed to properly hand over to the then vice president, why are you bringing up his comment when the present scenario is different?
Listen. It is just like what you heard the police say last Tuesday that they moved against us because they saw some miscreants. We were there; there were no miscreants. They have this attitude of deceit, which is the game. They handed over power, so why is [Vice President Yemi] Osinbajo not functioning? Why is it that after swearing in ministers, they still have no portfolios? Why is it that they have to wait for the President to send a message to the people in Ozubulu before he spoke? Why is it that I am looking at the man and I don’t think he is in control? Why? All pointing to the same cabal we are talking about. We know the game and that is why we have this catch phrase ‘our mumu don do’ and our stupidity should end. Now my only involvement in this is as regards young people. Young people, rather than seeing how they can organise themselves, are agonising about Nigeria’s predicaments without doing anything. They believe that if they pray, miracle will happen, believing in breakthrough, believing in whatever some pastors are preaching these days, gospel of prosperity more than spirituality. These are all part of our problems.
Now I am telling these youths that it is time to wake up, because there is no way you can build a nation without young people actively taking part, it won’t work. A nation of old people will not work. And I keep saying that this country will only be saved by its exceptional youths, and nobody can tell me otherwise. If you go to Harvard, there are Nigerians there who are young people. If you go to NASA, there are Nigerians there who are young people. If you look at the American medical history, Nigerians made them what they are today. A lot of Nigerians are excelling in different fields and that is why you have a footballer who has been training in Ajegunle and as soon as he gets a foreign contract, he starts to excel and expand. So, what is wrong with our system here? We can’t go on like this.
How long do you intend to do this?
Don’t ask us how long, don’t ask us how far, and don’t ask us where we are going to. We know that a lot of things have been damaged in the system. As we do these little things, we are busy sensitizing the young people. Those are the people at risk, as far as I am concerned. And as I keep telling you, Nigeria will only be seen by its exceptional youths. That is why we are looking for a way to work with INEC because the young people need to understand the power of their votes. It is not about wanting change, it is about taking part to make that change happen.
And then let me say this: I want to apologise on behalf of people of my generation, because we are the ones that created this rot. The generation before me and my generation are responsible for what is happening. And maybe that is why I feel obligated to guide the youths, because my generation was busy looking for greener pastures, especially around 1975 and mid 1990. The best of us were running away looking for greener pastures, developing other environments. The few that were left were hiding under the bed. Nobody is talking. Have you noticed that nobody is talking anymore?
Are you not too old for what you are doing?
What is the meaning of my life if my children cannot have a better future? What does my life mean? It means nothing. So, are you telling me that I am more important than the people that have died for this nation, and the people that have died for this cause? Am I more important than them? What does my life mean? I am doing what I believe is what God has asked me to do. I am not a religious person but I am doing what is called second nature.
My father used to say, ‘know who you are’. I thought he was disturbing me. That is why I was rebellious in my teenage years. He always said to me, ‘I am giving you a name that comes without blemish, make sure you protect it’.
Through my father, I learnt the act of humility and living a simple life. My father didn’t have money, he was the happiest person. He did a lot for humanity. He told me, ‘anywhere you see injustice, fight it because if you don’t, it will come back to chop your head’. And the imagery of something coming back to haunt me stays with me forever. So, I am doing what comes to mind naturally. I am even happy that before all these shenanigans, my first daughter and wife had travelled out of the country. I thank God they were not around. But my wife knows I have given myself to the cause. We were born to die. So, even if you don’t talk and you are frustrated, you will die. If you talk, you will die. So, rather than die like a chicken in my house, as a frustrated Nigerian, I will die for something.
Do you subscribe to the views that this administration has not done much to lift Nigerians?
If you want to answer that, talk to other Nigerians. They will answer that. It looks like every government we get is worse than the previous one. So, are we developing or going back? Every government that comes is worse than the previous government. This thing cannot go on for long.
Part of our agenda is to take on the EFCC. They must declare to the Nigerian people how much they have recovered. We need to do that because if we suddenly wake up and realise that those chasing the looters are suddenly the looters also, then we are in a big mess. We are going to INEC. We just came back from Makurdi, where we inaugurated the Mumu Don Do campaign. We are going to Nasarawa to inaugurate the chapter. Do you know the people who call us the most? They are the northerners, not the southerners. Do you know that this man who put out the statement on Igbos, Yerima Shettima, has spoken to me? I didn’t know him before. For the last month or two, it has been hate messages upon hate messages. People can start to fight, but how the fight ends, they can never know. And that is why we need to talk with wisdom. I know the only reason they gave that ultimatum was to bring down the Biafra thing, the IPOB stuff, because they were becoming too popular. If you asked me about my brother, Nnmadi Kanu, I would there are more than one way to get to heaven – through religious way or spirituality.
Where we differ, he might say Biafra or nothing. I would say, let’s see if we can patch things first. That is the only way. How did Biafra come about is because there are injustices or marginalisation. The biggest marginalisation in Nigeria is suffered by the have nots and the gap is widening. I have come to understand that the suffering of the people in Sokoto is the suffering of the people in Imo State.
I don’t see us dividing into piece and pieces. But if this cannot work, then we need to sit down and talk.
There are people who feel your group is being used for political reasons, how true is this?
Which group? My group? The Mumu Don Do group? Well, I am not your typical Nigerian. I may live in Nigeria but Nigeria does not live in me. I am the son of Justice Oputa, the epitome of integrity in Nigeria. My father raised me well. If you look at all the people that are talking, who are their fathers and mothers? When were they born? Let them not use their standards to judge me. What I am doing, everybody can see. After all, how many people came out in our rally on Monday and Tuesday? We weren’t up to 100, because we were not sharing money. We don’t have money to share. How many people did you see on Tuesday? Seven. These seven people you see are ready to sacrifice their lives. And that is what matters.
Would you say that the civil society has met your expectations thus far?
How can they meet my expectations when everyone is quiet? I don’t see people trying to gather themselves together and find out what they can do. Everybody has gone quiet. Somebody has to do something. Unfortunately, it is me. I can’t sit back. I believe I am going to die. At least, let me die for something.
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