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By Olusegun Adeniyi
There is no better reflection of the state of our nation today than the Facebook exchange between the wife of the President, Mrs Aisha Buhari and the Senator of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani. It speaks to several issues: Nigeria is no better than a jungle where transgressing the boundaries of acceptable norms is standard practice for some people; the political actors care more about their personal interests than the welfare of citizens; and in the desperate struggle over spoils—which basically is what their rivalry boils down to—as it is in the animal kingdom, fear and brute force control the environment.
If we go by Senator Sani and Mrs Buhari’s Facebook narratives, we have an aging (and also ailing) “Lion King” who has to battle some ferocious “Hyenas and Jackals” to stay politically afloat. How the interest of the “Weaker Animals” features in such cold calculation I still do not understand but a word for Mrs Buhari here: Any confrontation between a solitary lion and a group of hyenas is usually very bloody. When you now throw jackals into the mix on the side of those hyenas, then what follows may be akin to Armageddon!
It all started when Senator Sani posted a message on Mrs Buhari’s Facebook wall, saying “prayer for the absent Lion King has waned. Until he’s back, then they will fall over each other to be on the front row of the palace temple. Now the hyenas and the jackals are scheming and talking to each other in whispers; still doubting whether the Lion King will be back or not. Now the Lion king is asleep and no other dare to confirm if he will wake up or not. It’s the wish of the Hyenas that the Lion King never wakes or come back so that they can be kings…”
In response, Mrs. Buhari—who is never shy of expressing strong, sometimes controversial political views—posted her own loaded message: “God has answered the prayers of the weaker animals. The hyenas and the jackals will soon be sent out of the kingdom. We strongly believe in the prayers and support of the weaker animals.”
For those who may miss the essence of that political allegory, let me refresh their memories with something that happened 18 years ago. For a whole week in April 1999 in Ethiopia’s Gobele forest, fierce fighting was recorded between a pride of lions and a pack of hyenas, leading to several fatalities on both sides. According to reports by the Ethiopian News Agency at the time, the rival animal groups “would rest in their dens during the day but come out every sunset, roaring and howling, to continue their battle for supremacy”.
There was no explanation for that bloody clash which was described as mysterious by the Ethiopian authorities. “If drought had been the cause, the beasts would have attacked neighboring villages rather than butcher each other,” said Kemal Bedri of the Harrar State Agricultural Bureau. But in a December 2014 piece, a writer named Eaglesong provided some rational explanations as to what usually causes a rift between the hyena and the lion.
In the vast Savannahs, according to Eaglesong, “two eternal enemies reside” which are lions and Hyenas and he explained why they fight: “Sometimes, it happens that lions get exhausted after killing a prey and so they decide to rest for a while and get back their breath before they enjoy their meal. But, in the meanwhile, the hyenas smell the fresh blood and spring into action to have it and for that they are ready to challenge the big cats as well. Generally, when the hyenas attack the lions, they do it in a huge group so that they can outnumber the lions.”
I hope readers are paying attention here. The lion has captured its prey and when it is time to eat, the hyenas would suddenly arrive to partake in what they did not work for. When you have an old lion battling not only such opportunistic hyenas who come in numbers but also a large group of jackals, then there can only be one outcome which then explains why Nigeria is in currently deep trouble. And talking about jackals and lions, a 20th February 2014 piece titled “Lions and jackal clash over kill”, published in ‘Wildlife’ magazine, provides interesting insights.
According to Corlette Wessels, who recounted an experience at the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a large wildlife and conservation area between South Africa and Botswana, she woke up one morning to find four lions eating an animal they had hunted. “They were surrounded by jackals. I was amazed by the bravery of these jackals as they tried to steal meat from the kill while the big male lion was still eating. The way they strategised and changed tactics to get a piece of the kill was amazing. Then a very brave little jackal got in on the action, taking an entire leg and running off with it. However, one of the lionesses came over, chased the jackal and took back the leg. The jackals never gave up; they stayed around and kept on trying to take some from the kill…” wrote Wessels.
Before we proceed, it is important we put the latest statement of Mrs Buhari in context. In a BBC interview aired in October last year where she threatened not to back any re-election bid by her husband in 2019 if certain things remained the same, Mrs Buhari revealed that the president “does not know 45 out of 50, for example, of the people he appointed and I don’t know them either, despite being his wife of 27 years,” before she added: “Some people are sitting down in their homes folding their arms only for them to be called to come and head an agency or a ministerial position.”
The significant point in that famous interview is that Mrs Buhari was not satisfied with the distribution of political spoils by the “Lion King” who, to her, had been tamed by a group of other animals—now identified as hyenas and jackals—who were not even involved in the game. The situation is now compounded by the distinguished Senator’s admission that nobody is sure of the health status of the “Lion King” though Mrs Buhari has assured us that it will roar again to the detriment of “the hyenas and jackals”. Yesterday, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, who on Tuesday dashed in and out of London, said he had a “good conversation on wide-ranging issues” with the President whose return date remains uncertain.
Meanwhile, the reduction of the nation to the status of a zoo, a wild jungle in which all of us—the civil populace and the APC political wheeler-dealers—are denominated in animal metaphor is rather unfortunate. Besides, while lions are regarded as the king of the jungle and the fiercest hunters of prey, it has also been established that any single lion can easily be brought down by a small group of hyenas. It is therefore the height of Freudian suggestiveness to cast the ailing president as a Lion King surrounded by some ferocious predators.
It is, however, not surprising given the imperial distance between President Buhari and the people who voted him to power, even before he took ill and had to leave for the United Kingdom. The underlying condescension of his wife who has been fixated with distributing spoils, in the absence of any serious attempts by the administration to articulate coherent policies, can therefore be aptly captured in this revealing but naive allegorical exchange on Facebook. Ironically, because it sums up the character, essence and dramatic personae of Buhari’s troubled presidency, it also paints a pathetic picture of Nigeria as just another animal kingdom!