In the year 2020, while battling a plague that buffeted the world, Nigeria, under the superintendence of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), decreed a set of regulations that, among others, barred interstate movement of people and vehicles as well as stopped local and international flights for travellers. For a people who relish revelling and loud expressions of faith, banning religious and social gatherings especially in the most endemic areas affected by the pandemic like Lagos, Ogun and Abuja was decreed and accepted as another necessary measure needed to push back the devastating virus that exposed the country’s weak health system and decayed infrastructure. The reign of a new normal of wearing of face masks, social distancing and handwashing thus ensued, the enforcement of which turned dramatic in some places. The plague is called coronavirus.
But the Nigeria we have today is one where state institutions mainly lack the regulatory capacity to enforce rules and regulations or bring defaulters to book without fear and favour. It is also one where those who even make the rules mostly see themselves as above the law and find ways of circumventing them with impunity. Where security agents are disinterested in enforcing the rules, except there are pecuniary benefits derivable therefrom, but only dash out like rats smoked out of holes when exposed.
This leads me to the case of the controversial musical artiste, Naira Marley, whose real name is Azeez Fashola. His followers are better known as the Marlians, whose attributes, according to an online post, are, “alcohol and drug consumption, (weird) hairstyles, zero manners”, who “don’t have manners, (and) … are expected to disobey constituted authorities.” The post further reveals that the musician, “through his songs, preaches Internet fraud, as he believes that making money from dishonest means could be justified.” Till date, I can’t pick out any of his songs on any radio playlist other than his recognisable look signposted by his short dreadlocks. Interestingly, Naira Marley has a maddening following among the youth. During the YouTube Music and YouTube Premium launch at the Google Incubator Hub in Lagos in March, he expressed his ambition of “creating more ‘Marlians’ globally and taking the movement international.”
It is this selfsame Naira Marley that in the heat of the flight restrictions in Nigeria, except for those on “essential duties”, who hopped into a private jet operated by Executive Jet Services to Abuja on Saturday, June 13 for a sold-out musical concert, said to be a drive-in, in the Federal Capital Territory, of all places. Please, note that music and musicians are not among the essential services prescribed.
It was only 48 hours later, on Monday, following a hail of outrage by Nigerians on Twitter, that government grudgingly took action by shutting down the Jabi Lake Mall venue of the concert while the aviation authorities “suspended indefinitely” the airline company and barred the pilot that flew the aircraft. Curiously, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said the aircraft which brought the singer was originally approved by the authorities to fly in Hon Justice Adefope Okogie from Lagos to Abuja. The minister noted that the airline deceived the authorities and flew Naira Marley instead. This should rank among the highest level of dereliction of duty anywhere, unspeakable in a sector like aviation.
But if that sounded bizarre, the explanation by the CEO of the airline, Sam Iwuajoku, that they mistook the musician’s name for the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, who qualifies to be ferried during the lockdown as a provider of “essential service”, as stipulated by the COVID-19 airline protocols, is the most ludicrous one can mull. Capping the absurdity, Iwuajoku said the airline did not know it was a “bunch of useless people” that eventually flew the aircraft after the respected judge could not make the trip as planned, a label the musician termed “arrogant and silly”. How the pilot and airline officials could not differentiate between the minister and the singer who surfaced beggars belief. But it speaks volumes. If you can believe this, then you can as well believe that dogs have horns.
Truth be told, Naira Marley did not operate in a vacuum. He knew, and still knows, Nigeria is a country defined by gross disregard to rules and a pernicious grip of impunity even at the highest levels. In fact, he sure knows the Nigeria we live in, like the rested Charly Boy Show, is one where “anything can happen”! He did not need to look far for inspiration. In March, it took a strongly worded reprimand, personally signed by the late Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, to force members of the National Assembly who were rushing home from overseas trips on the heels of the rampaging COVID-19 pandemic, before the closure of the airspace, to submit themselves to the prescribed checks on arrival at the Abuja and Lagos airports, as required by the protocols. Before then, they would walk into the various arrival halls with swagger refusing checks. Unfortunately, as it turned out, even the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, would, himself, violate the regulations on social distancing, he was tasked to oversee, when he led a strong delegation to the burial of Abba Kyari who succumbed to coronavirus-related ailments weeks later, with more people than the prescribed number (50) in attendance. Mustapha only offered a tame apology when confronted with national outrage, which was later denied by his aides.
Naira Marley knew that even the presidential directive banning interstate movements for motorists, except on essential duties, effective May 4, has been mercilessly breached by members of the political elite. As a Daily Trust investigation on June 5 showed, “On Monday, June 1, Godwin Obaseki of Edo State visited President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, to formally inform him of his intention to seek re-election for a second term. The same day, the Chairman of the Progressive Governors’ Forum and Governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu, led six of his colleagues to meet with the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee of the APC on what was believed to be a last-minute effort to save Obaseki’s candidacy ahead of the APC primary election in Edo.”
On Sunday, June 14, a day after Naira Marley’s ill-fated concert in Abuja, the embattled Obaseki drove all the way to Port Harcourt, Rivers State and later Uyo, Akwa Ibom to confer with Governors Nyesom Wike and Udom Emmanuel respectively, in a bid to salvage his sinking political ship after being disqualified by the APC from seeking a re-election. Interestingly, it is the same Wike who had dramatically closed all entry points into his state “in a bid to check coronavirus” that welcomed Obaseki.
Apparently, in Nigeria, while politics trumps safety, laws and rules are cobbled for the poor and not for the rich; where a poor fellow could spend five years in prison without any evidence to prosecute him while a top politician walked out of prison five months into a 12-year conviction for fraud after the apex court threw him a privileged lifeline “technically”.
Like Dr Joe Abah tweeted, and rightly too, days ago, “somebody approved the Naira Marley concert… somebody approved a bottle of hard liquor per ticket (at the concert); somebody didn’t stop the concert when it lost control; somebody should be sacked this morning…if somebody is serious.” Sadly, as I write this piece on Wednesday, nobody has had the awareness to do any of the above tasks. That is, if somebody is aware any of such even happened or bothered to think it’s worth the while to contemplate such actions. In better run and accountable countries, somebody would have voluntarily resigned or booted out by now. Not here.
In May, a leading British epidemiologist who advised the UK government on its coronavirus response, Prof. Neil Ferguson, resigned after The Telegraph revealed he had broken the lockdown rules he helped shape by allowing a woman, described as his “married lover”, to visit his London home. Later that month, the BBC reported that Junior minister Douglas Ross also resigned after Dominic Cummings’ defence of his trip to County Durham during the coronavirus lockdown. Earlier, more than 35 Tory MPs had called on Cummings to resign. His refusal led to Ross’ exit. Obviously, this can only happen in a sane society. Over there, public officials are held to higher and ennobling standards by society.
In the first term of the Buhari regime, information minister Lai Muhammed ran around with a Change Begins With Me campaign. (Nobody talks about that now anyway). Clearly, he didn’t have the political elite in mind when he conceived it, but that is where the change needed to transform Nigeria into a functional society should begin. One where transparency, accountability and exemplary leadership are the hallmarks. And where the Naira Marleys won’t disdain rules because those who make them breach them at will. Until Nigerian citizens rise up to demand accountability from their leaders, they will keep regarding us all as “a bunch of useless people”.
Written by Joel Nwokeoma
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