General Tukur Buratai is not your ordinary camel-riding Kanuri man. He is the no-nonsense, snake-charming Chief of Army Staff. He is not just about soldiering and rearing snakes in Abuja. He, last week, reminded us of our forgetfulness. We are so laid back to think well and straight about how the past can surprise our future. Buratai warned unknown soldiers to stop hobnobbing with unknown politicians. Soldiers meeting politicians, politicians meeting soldiers. That sounds very well like a history of our history. All bad heads of today were forged in the factories of these two tribes of men in black purdah. But some of us have been around long enough not to be bothered. Those ones have always been business partners and it is not funny at all. It is like watching Islam-bashing Donald Trump dancing in Saudi Arabia with muslims and their king. Power is business (or should I say business is religion?). A poet reviewing that Buratai statement would turn it into a painful dirge on rape, attempted rape and the (lack of) consequences. He would write about democracy and its ugly wear and tear. He would write about chinks and armours and lack of care from those who should. He would write about Achilles and his heels of gout and death. He would write about hope and abortion. He would write about the government and its inanities. He would write about government working for the people and government walking out on the people. He would write about hopelessness and vanity in hope.
The Nigerian with enough tears won’t be bothered that some spirits are making unclear sounds in the forest. Can any other situation be worse than this? He would rather mend his tears where the rapist left them. He would sulk and would soon forget the tears and face other issues of existence. Unknown soldiers and their unknown patrons won’t bother me. Don’t blame me if I am indifferent. What bothers me may not bother you. I have bills to pay. I know you have too. We pick our bills ourselves. We also pick those of soldiers and politicians. They pass their loads to us to carry. We are beasts of burden; they ride and beat us. So, should it make any meaning to anyone that the riders meet or that they don’t? They are children of same parents, pursuing same goals. What can we do?
A poet would see no difference between what Buratai claimed soldiers and politicians do and what some wanton boys did to some girls in Falomo, Ikoyi, Lagos early this month: R-A-P-E in broad daylight. Schoolboys forcing themselves on hapless schoolgirls at noon on an open field. In case you have forgotten what the heroine of that tragedy wrote, this is it: “People were looking – and some persons – the security guards in the office near us – were recording it. I opened my car in disbelief and shouted on the boys to break it up while shouting at my security and the second driver to assist me. I walked towards them and as I made my way towards them I saw another group and this time they had cornered one of the girls who fell while running from them. In almost a surreal way, I was looking but not quickly processing. I saw her kicked down, she bravely pushed herself up and another guy tried to clear her legs and she lunged at him and then a guy took a pair of scissors in his hands and with one swoop tore her skirt from the bottom and also a part of the black spanx shorts she had on underneath. All these happened really in a few minutes and he procee ded to push himself into her through her back. His trousers were open too and another one tried to do same from the front. As this was going on, the crowd of boys were wild with frenzy, cheering the two boys on, while grabbing at her hair, breasts and she was fighting for her dear life…” That is it. Now, is that not what your governor does to you when he, with audacious criminality, makes his security votes trump your monthly salary?
That Lagos sad episode happened just less than three weeks ago and I am sure we have forgotten. We always forget. It is only when a Buratai warns that we wake up, drowsily. The Lagos criminality has a parallel in what Buratai said some politicians are trying to do. When politicians take politicking to soldiers, they can only be thinking of rape. They have very low opinion of our intelligence. They know we forget anything and remember nothing. Our drunkard is ever washing his poverty with drunkenness. They know. Soldiers and politicians are those wanton daylight rapists. They rape and clink glasses. They don’t care if you shout or yell. It is their right. They know you won’t remember anything after the act. The enemy would meet again and again because they know we lack memory. They know we can’t recollect and don’t value the long walk to this bus stop of freedom. They are aware that how democracy rained today’s fresh air and birthed new beginnings is now history, distant in our consciousness.
Democracy is sweet and must endure till thy kingdom come. As it endures, let it work too for all and not just for the soldier and the politician. Lagbaja, the mystery musician, warned years ago that this system must not be subverted. I echo him. But is it in the DNA of the system to invent and condone new rape cultures? We have seen so much and suffered and cheered. Like that Lagos school rape, we applaud tragedy. Everywhere you turn, hope disappears. For parents of those two secondary schools in Lagos where rape was made a culture, democracy has failed them. Their own nightmare is not about some unknown persons meeting someone somewhere. It is finding the answer to how the devil infiltrated the lives of their young to commit or suffer rape. It is why rape was wantonly committed in broad daylight with an audience cheering and clapping. Beyond these, there are others across your corridor. Three years ago they had three square meals per day; last year, it was two meals; this one feeds them once. Has democracy worked too for these ones without helpers? The civil servant who is gainfully unemployed, why do we want him to belong? Democracy is sweet but let the worker get his life back and live as a living being. Let he who got life before the year of democracy – 1999 – stop losing it in a system he voted to enthrone.
Democracy is sweet but the sweetness must impact the street too. It must fill its own void and must take care of the vulnerable. It has not been all sound and fury of disappointments. Our champions of democracy may continue to tell the needy to go to hell. Some in unusual places are, however, filling the void left by our autocratic democrats. I see some cooking hope deliberately so the land won’t die of famine. I know sartorial Oba Adedokun Abolarin of Oke Ila Orangun setting up a school and massing children of the vulnerable there to be saved free of charge. He does not have to do it, but he is doing it and will get his rewards from history. The Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi, sits on a throne defined by advantage. He interests me the way he fills voids left by our uncouth, unpleasant, inadequate system. His community is a study in challenges. I read a recent statement credited to him: “We have to employ the over 6000 people which include the widows, most of them victims of Ife-Modakeke war of many years. We have many widows…so I called them, we are all one now, and told them the only war we are going to fight is economic war. I made it clear, as the Ooni of Ife, I will not engage any town in war. The only war which I will fight is economic war. I will raise all ammunition of welfare to fight poverty and wretchedness in Yoruba land. This is a war I will fight with all my might, energy and agility. But to carry weapons against one another is capital NO. But against economic war against poverty and wretchedness, I will do everything positively needed to destroy these two monsters that are reducing the dignity of my people in the eyes of all…” I have not read a statement anywhere near this in human feelings from our politicians, the inheritors of our democratic struggles. They would rather, like the Lagos boys, lurk in corners, long and dash for cheap money and expensive influence for themselves, their wives, their children, their concubines.
Back to General Buratai. Should we not thank him for getting us to stop sleeping and stay awake – if staying awake is enough to stop this painful rape? More importantly, should we not appreciate his candour in reminding us of the road that took us to this side of the valley?