The Magu/Malami marabout war

July 13, 2020
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There was an executioner in Old Oyo who specialised in cutting off his victims’ heads. He later sinned and was sentenced to death. At the point of execution, he demanded to know which part of his body would be cut: “the head or the feet?” The town yelled: How did you kill your victims? Ex-EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu is accused of a billion offences and has been in detention for one long week. He wants bail and is reported to have said he should not be treated like a common criminal. What is the definition of ‘common criminal’?

I have a troublesome friend who dragged me into this discussion of Magu. “That is a clear no-go area for anyone who has something serious to do with his time – and life,” I told him. It is a kinsmen’s affair; a dogfight. Or rather, it is a fight of the witches and wizards – and of marabouts of Abuja over meat and meals and thrones. Why should the uninitiate (ògbèri in Yoruba) be involved in such a dangerous conclave? You can’t go into that matter and be well, I warned my friend. If you weep for the one on the floor, he would say your tears are direct from the eyes of the crocodiles of Lagos lagoon; if it is just a smile you offer for those pummeling him, you will be guilty of charges of mockery. So, why not just maintain your lane and leave matter for Mathias? You know why tortoise wanders around with an amputated nose? He got his miserable head involved in separating a family feud between shrew and squirrel and, in anger, the long-mouthed one ate the useful part of his nose.

I also reminded my friend of the anecdotal case of the man who insists on burying his elder brother naked. Wise men around agree with him but say he should take his younger brother along to the burial ground – as heir to that role. The cycle of naked burials in Nigeria didn’t start today. When supercop Tafa Balogun fell and was handcuffed and dragged along the rocky streets of Abuja, we clapped as we enjoyed the show. Anti-corruption czar, Nuhu Ribadu, who supervised Tafa’s strip dance soon had his own dark day under the klieg light of Nigeria. Again, we watched and took sides. Others came on stage, acted their own (ig)noble roles and are left to retire into silence. Ibrahim Magu was an actor-witness to all these histories. It is his turn now to be the main issue. Every naked burial has a younger witness to carry on the family tradition. It won’t end during this Buhari era; that will be a taboo.

Ibrahim Magu was ‘acting’ chairman throughout his five-year reign. There is an acting somebody on his seat now. After this one, the next will also act because the government we have is an actor-government. They know Nigerians are a very emotional people who believe everything they see in movies and weep at every scene of horror. They know Nigerians so well that they keep them stung with tragedies of power. But these people in government lack imagination. And that is my problem with them. They repeat scripts and copy and paste storylines. Sometimes they change, or even repeat, the face of the disgrace they put on the screen for us to watch. They refuse to agree that when the end is known at the beginning, the drama becomes very uninteresting. What I am saying is that Nigeria’s script writers are very predictable. They make a Perseus of every adventurer; they allow him to freely roam and assault every Atlas on the way. Then, they violently bring the celebrated hero to the reality of his nothingness. The lowlife who is graciously allowed to become a hero is gently hauled down the rocks of Abuja. In our cinema house, every devil must come first in saintly tunic, then he is stripped naked and taken straight to hell. Sometimes he comes back from the dead, lionised and sanctified to mount the royal horse back to ‘reclaim his mandate.’

In this Magu matter, there will be lightning in blinding excesses. You are already hearing thunderclaps with numbly shocks. There will be more teary acts and scenes. Then there will be calm and peace unbelievable. You will be shocked only if you’ve been negligent in paying attention to details. Remember Sambo Dasuki. Nigeria is a family drama. Nothing is real.

I read on Sunday that Magu is also demanding a probe of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, his nemesis. He said he must be made to account for assets his office sold without a mandate to so do. It looks like Nigeria is at the threshold of a major explosion. Everywhere you turn, the questions are who really is in charge and why are we here? Gridlock is what you get where there is no control. Things must of necessity fall apart once the centre fails to hold. Forty-something years ago, Fela Anikulapo Kuti said his countrymen thought they had a country “but me as I see am, I know say Nigeria don go down.” He sang ‘Confusion Break Bone’: “For Ojuelegba/Moto dey come from East/Moto dey come from West/Moto dey come from North/ Moto dey come from South/And police no dey for centre/Na confusion be dati-oh…” Gridlock. That is the perfect description of Buhari’s government – and of 2020 Nigeria – a country without a head; a plane without a pilot.

In any case, maybe I am even wrong about who drives this vehicle. I told my friend that he should not bother me further about Magu and his troubles. I asked if he ever heard about a special people called marabouts. He said yes, he heard about them. They are intermediaries with the supernatural, the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Amadou Bamba was the founder of a Senegalese Muslim sect called Mouride. The cleric who lived from mid-19th century into the 20th century once told his disciples: “Follow your marabout as a dog follows its master.” And they did exactly that with him till he died in 1927. People who have always ruled Nigeria are dogs of marabouts. They do as the ‘spirit’ in Guinea, Senegal and Morocco commands them to do. That is why many times you can’t understand the queer ways of these people you call leaders. You remember how marabouts famously held on to Sani Abacha, confining him to the Villa until he expired right inside that hole? They are still around; they don’t die. But where are they? My friend can ask questions! They are invisible but they are real; they are not the Ali-and-the-Angel stuff in children’s books. They rule Nigeria. They are the real government. If we are serious, they should be the one to head-hunt and vote for going forward, not these impotent politicians who can’t do anything without first kneeling before the hermits of the desert. What I am afraid to say is that marabouts have the first and the last say on who to appoint to positions and when to appoint them; who to sack and when to do the sacking. They decide who to arrest, try and jail, and who to free with full benefits. The final decision on Magu will be taken by these invisible spirits, not by any panel or government.

There has been a spur on the Magu matter with Malami facing a slew of very alarmingly real and/or imaginary accusations. You know the village Babalawo has exhausted his entire stock of incantations when he starts spitting in the air. On Saturday, Malami frontally took on SaharaReporters and accused it of fighting him while ignoring “serious allegations against its kinsmen.” My surprised friend asked who SaharaReporters’ ‘kinsmen’ were? “If SaharaReporters has kinsmen, they should naturally include Sahara desert,” I told the friend and begged him to please spare me the pains of a further stupid search for the kinsmen of other news websites around the world.

The sun has truly set for the country; otherwise, why would the chief law officer of multi-ethnic Nigeria publicly use the language of ethnicity to fight his wars? I discussed the comment with two of my unusual chat mates. One of them, a Buharist from the South, saw it as “a costly Freudian slip which tells how their minds work.” The other colleague, an ex-Buharist Northerner, said it was “a disgrace” because what “they” were implying was “factually incorrect.” I pray the attorney-general withdraws that offensive paragraph with apologies to the whole country. And what if he doesn’t? Of course, he is the boss, very powerful. He can choose to ignore all of us, and heaven will not fall.

So, as we watch the Magu-Malami money-eating drama, waiting for the denouement, let us remember that what we have is a helpless system of marabouts, without earthly command and control. Remember that what rules you is a regime of loans and debts that ‘builds hope on foundations of confusion (and) misery.’ Remember to keep your seat belts fastened because we are either on the very edge of a cliff or at the threshold of a seismic deliverance.

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