Thursday, September 01, 2005

Archive: Goodbye to All That

A kind of 'goodbye' to the year 2003 - in which I run through some of what constituted that year in the news.


Goodbye to All That
By Molara Wood
Goodbye 2003, year of the 419 elections, during which EU observers reportedly witnessed and obtained evidence of widespread election fraud in many states. The “winners” claimed the moral high ground nonetheless. At his inauguration, Obasanjo declared himself a brand new president. Pity then, that in almost every sphere of life in Nigeria, it was pretty much same old, same old - with extra sting.

Our brand new president had a brand new approach to the country’s problems - solving sticky situations everywhere else. Obasanjo left the house fires burning to put out flames elsewhere. He took his African Big-Brotherism to Sao Tome and Principe and, thanks to his intervention in Liberia, Charles Taylor now sits uneasily in faux colonial splendour in Calabar. Millions and millions of dollars spent on COJA and CHOGM while the average Joe could not find enough naira notes to rub together. Goodbye to all that.

Goodbye to the fuel strike which along with the word Deregulation, made 2003 seem like an ever recurring day - like the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day. And the more we resisted deregulation, the more OO hammered us over the head with it, readjusting fuel prices without warning, consultation or announcement. The president got his comeuppance in a very public spat with Professor Wole Soyinka in which the national treasure gave the Otta farmer a sound ticking off: “OO, you simply do not know me! You lack the depth to ever fathom who I am!” It was fabulous!

It was a year of make-believe. Michael Moore stood at the Oscar ceremony just before the Iraq war and declared that these are fictitious times. He said fictitious election results in the US had produced a fictitious president who was taking the American nation to war “for fictitious reasons”. Moore was booed but had the last laugh, as he was proved right. WMDs were the great fiction of the year, thousands were killed when George W Bush unleashed Operation Shock and Awe. But try as he might, WMDs could not be made real. In keeping with the fictitious theme, the Iraqi Information Minister, Comical Ali, displayed a pathological sense of unreality. “Those invaders, their tombs will be here in Iraq”, he said, even as Baghdad was falling. Comical Ali was a WMD in himself, the most important propaganda tool for the US-led coalition. After the war, he re-emerged as an inoffensive Uncle-type with white hair. You couldn’t make it up.

When the American RnB band, Color Me Badd, sang “I Wanna Sex You Up” in the early 90s, they had grannies and toddlers singing along all over the world to the catchy tune, in effect uttering the word ‘sex’ without apology or embarrassment. The BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan went one better in 2003, alleging that the British government had “sexed up” the so-called dodgy dossier which made a case for the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war. In the controversy that followed, The Man Died. The man being scientist David Kelly who, exposed to the glare of the whole world as the source of Gilligan’s story, took his own life. In the Hutton Inquiry into events leading to Kelly’s death, major UK government figures right up to Premier Tony Blair appeared, each denying responsibility. They gave the impression they’d been listening to the Shaggy song, “It Wasn’t Me”.

Asked about Tony Blair’s religious beliefs by American journalists, the former spin-doctor, Alistair Campbell said: “We don’t do God. I am sorry. We don’t do God”. Nigerian politicians do God to the extent that, if He above had a lawyer, he would sue. Adolphus Wabara rose from murky electoral waters to become Senate President - and said it was God’s will. OBJ made an art out of keeping silent on pressing national issues. Why talk to man, when you have a hotline to God. Then in a classic case of kettle calling the pot black, the president had the gall to lecture church leaders about corruption. True, many of Nigeria’s church leaders need a talking to, but to be lectured by OBJ, well, that took the biscuit.

My villain of 2003 was the Mad Max of Anambra, Chris Uba. He did and undid, perpetrating every atrocity imaginable upon the person of Governor Chris Ngige - and got away with it. The saga rolled on, gathering other side-shows along the way. The Holy Ghost even came to play, invoked by Josephine Anenih. Not that Uba cared. Who needs God, when you’ve got Aso Rock looking the other way.

Lacking a demented character like Chris Uba, the Ladoja/Adedibu situation was never going to get as ugly as Anambra. It was Curses, Shock Absorbers and Videotape as The Godfather met The Village Headmaster in Oyo State. Chief Lamidi Adedibu, the Godfather of Molete, exponent of so-called amala politics, called Governor Ladoja “an ingrate” who’d given all the plum positions to his kinsmen and mistresses. “Yes, we are fighting”, the old man said. It was hilarious, like a scene in a Lere Paimo play.

Goodbye to the great irony of 2003, which saw justice denied to the Justice Minister, sending his wife to her grave, dead from a broken heart. Oba Adeyinka Oyekan exited and Oba Rilwan Akiolu ascended the throne of Lagos with much pageantry in a display of aweful majesty - reminding us of the glory of our culture. Professor Akinwunmi Isola was my most beautifully dressed man of the year, attending Akiolu’s coronation wearing traditional etu. Chuba Okadigbo started the year as Buhari’s running mate in the April polls. By September he was dead, days after being tear-gassed at a Kano rally. Some said Okadigbo was a great man, others called him a tarnished politician. I simply mourned the passing of a figure who was perfectly leonine.

And so to the great exits of 2003: folk hero extraordinaire, Gbenga Adeboye - the good die young; the indomitable lion who fell in line of duty, Marc Vivien-Foe; the quintessential matinee idol and good guy, Gregory Peck; the Walrus of Lurve, Barry White. Katharine Hepburn also went, finally. Dorothy Parker had once dismissed a theatre performance by Hepburn with the words: “She ran the gamut of emotions from A to B”. Hepburn rose above it and went on to win a record four acting oscars. Robert Palmer, whose 80s video of “Addicted to Love” spawned a thousand imitations, went to the great cooldom in the sky. Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees also departed. He and his brothers provided the falsettos for the soundtrack to John Travolta’s iconic role in Saturday Night Fever - making it the most unforgettable dance movie ever. Jazz and blues singer Nina Simone also took her last bow, as did the blood-thirty despot, Idi Amin.

In keeping with the theme of make-believe, President Bush made a trip to Africa with Nigeria as the last stop. He didn’t want to see real Africans so they were kept away. He got a taste of his own medicine in the UK where thousands shouted loud and clear that they didn’t want to see him either. The Queen came to Nigeria and, so as not to offend her royal sensibility, she only saw make-believe Nigerians - actors - in a make-believe village. Goodbye to all that.

December, and we saw the hole at the end of Saddam Hussein’s world. I had often wondered about the lair of the fox, not even my imagination could stretch as far as the cubby hole. Saddam’s statue that was pulled down during the war proved to be a talisman, and the real thing was captured, disoriented, feeling for his beard as one feels for a comfort blanket. One does not feel sorry for Saddam. It is in the nature of tyrannies to fall, the saying goes - let all the tyrants of Africa take note - the day of the people shall come like a thief in the night. The sad thing is that in Iraq, the tyranny merely fell to an even greater tyranny - the neo-colonialism of America’s neo-conservatives.

A survey in 2003 found that Nigerians were the happiest people in the world, and Nigerians said: “What?” Our president berated us for being pessimists and, before the year was over, Robert Mugabe had cottoned on to the idea - telling Zimbabweans to be happy. A UK newspaper offered contestants on British Big Brother £50,000 to have sex on TV - none of them did. In Big Brother Africa, two of the housemates went all the way - for free.

It was the year of the political marriage - Aishat and Basheer, Jemila and Atiku. Jemila started the year as Jennifer, determined to be a WMD to Titi Abubakar. The current issue of Ovation shows Jemila sitting next to her fairy-godmother and fellow Titi hater, Stella Obasanjo. Faced with a blatant challenge by a woman young enough to be her daughter, Titi Abubakar dusted herself down and soldiered on. And by the end of the year, the wind had gone from Jemila’s sail somewhat. I am not a fan of Nigeria’s many first ladies as they are part of what is wrong with our society. But Titi Abubakar wins my vote as the political wife of 2003. It can’t be easy keeping your head high when your husband’s wifelets are running amok calling themselves “Her Excellency”.

2003 was a mad year. Ritual killings reached epidemic proportions in Nigeria. The worldwide Anglican Church tore itself apart over a gay bishop, and Britain’s Prince Charles publicly denied an allegation that could not be spoken. A little-known singer, Gary Jules, beat all the over-hyped pop acts to claim the much-coveted Christmas no.1 on the UK singles chart. Jules pulled it off with the reflective song “Mad World”. A fitting indictment of the world in 2003.

  • Originally published on Nigeria2Day Online.

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