Governor Ayo Fayose thought he pulled off a great score with his insolence of an advert against General Muhammadu Buhari. And he did. For infamy, that is. And PDP faithful, including Femi Fani-Kayode and Olisa Metuh, bedecked themselves as Goebbels reincarnates because of their juvenile tales about Buhari’s certificate. Except that they are counterfeit remakes of Goebbels, who was known as Hitler’s liar-in-chief.
If Fayose’s lack of culture unveils the mistakes voters make in a democracy, the likes of Fani-kayode and Metuh indicate the failure of a generation – for throwing up barbarian upstarts as party denizens and role models. You can throw in the legal infantilism of a man like Mike Ozekhome.
Fayose’s lack of respect for elders and jockeying with death remind me of my encounter with former Senate President Chuba Okadigbo. He had insulted, with flamboyant irreverence, the Great Zik in public and dismissed his words as the “ranting of an ant.” Zik was upset and railed back at him with avuncular rage, cursing him that he would rise to the top but fall precipitously, like humpty dumpty. Those with superstitious imagination believed that Zik’s curse hit Okadigbo in his later years as his song grew suddenly dark and passed away like a jolt.
But beware of curses, even if they convince the facile minds. However, it was his sense of guilt that struck me when I confronted Okadigbo at the Lagoon Restaurant in Lagos a few years after his errant rhetoric against the great politician. I asked Okadigbo if he had apologised to Zik, and if the great Owelle accepted, or if he had not, and why not. He was having lunch with some guests and was put off, because he had expected me to cushion him with flattering questions as most reporters did.
Okadigbo flew into contained fury, and rambled about his peace moves with the old man and that it was not my business. I reminded him that when he ribbed the Great Zik, he exulted in public and why would he want to make it a private mea culpa if he did. That ended the dialogue.
Buhari does not have Zik’s flair for the dramatic, so Fayose may not expect a curse from the old general. Nor is it necessary. Fayose, in his primitive gusto, just showed to the Ekiti people why democracy can expose its own underbelly, its fatal terrors. When a clown mounts the throne, and whips up ethnic hate, it is no longer fun or funny. For those practitioners of the high art of comedy, it is a most dangerous oeuvre into the dark soul of society. It is like what playwright Samuel Becket describes as a laugh laughing at itself. It is sad. He made us laugh at ourselves in a gloomy way. Fayose wished GMD dead, and when it ignited an uproar, he repeated it. His party dissociates itself from it without condemning him. Not even President Jonathan, who the advert favoured. It was consent by silence, by a wink and a nod.
The newspapers that aired the adverts preferred money to decency. They now know they made a mistake. Freedom of speech is no licence to indecency. That was why the Pope cautioned the French and the editors of Charlie Hebdo magazine that desecrated Islam in the name of freedom of speech. As Machiavelli noted, “where everybody is free, nobody is free.” Machiavelli was no prude himself.
What was wrong with age? Did Churchill, the last lion, not roar with Britain at age 70 when he led his country in victory over Germany in the Second World War? Did the British not re-elect him at age 76? Did he not die at 90 exactly 50 years ago? Did Charles de Gaulle not reign in France until he was 79 years old? Were Churchill and De Gaulle not the greatest modern leaders of Britain and France? Did Mandela not salvage South Africa from the abyss of ethnic and racial turmoil at 76 years old?
Do we remember the presidential debate when Reagan was asked about his age, and won over Americans with a quip? “I will not make age an issue in this debate. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” It was Reagan’s winning quote of the election. Fayose is no student of history, but he did not need to study history to learn decency. His Yoruba upbringing might have taught him a thing or two about dealing with elders.
The certificate scandal should not be on whether Buhari was qualified. We should ask a different question. How come the file of an army’s commander-in-chief does not contain his certificate? How did he get other equivalent certificates and those that surpassed secondary school certificate? The question should be directed at a desecrated institution. Who sneaked into his file room? After all, how did he gain admission into Mons Officer Cadet School in the United Kingdom, or Defence Staff College in India? How did he obtain a master’s degree in Strategic Studies at the America War College in Pennsylvania, United States?
When he released his certificate, Fani-kayode, whose devotion to political harlotry is irredeemable, started clutching at straws. He also had fits of hallucination with his mendacious partner, Olisa Metuh. In this age of harlotry, Fani-kayode has swiveled in the chairs of political loyalty from PDP to APC to PDP. He is entitled to his own beds and partners.
When he released his certificate, Buhari must have thought he had laid the matter to rest. But hallucination was at full throttle. Fani-Kayode and Metuh saw what they wanted to see. In semiotic and literary circles, it is in tradition of what is called hermeneutics, or reader response theory. Thinkers like Althuser, Roland Barth, Shklovsky, and a few others explicated this human trait. Minds of mischief read mischief. As a man thinks in his heart, so he is, says the Bible. The text loses innocence in the eyes of the wicked. So even if Buhari takes the certificate from Cambridge and places it before him, they would not accept. They are worse than Thomas Didymus, who saw the evidence of Jesus and exclaimed in agreement, “My Lord and My God!” Fani-kayode and Metuh would start asking questions like, where are his uniforms and the spoon he ate rice with, etc?
In the West, it is easy to know if a person graduates from an institution. When I practised journalism in the United States, a Nigerian had lied to me that he was a neuro-surgeon, and his family and friends about did not deny it. I published a story on him. Then his estranged white wife materialised and denied that the man ever attended a university. He was a fake. All I did was place a phone call to the university he claimed gave him his certificate. They told me he never walked through their portals. The fake did not challenge the university. I used the instance to teach my students in the same university on the pratfalls of sourcing and reporting. Let’s not forget the disgrace that billionaire Donald Trump brought on his head when he tried to prove that Obama was not American. The racist failed to distort his birth certificate.
But it is not the driveling of men like Fani-Kayode and Metuh that should worry fair-minded Nigerians. It is when a lawyer like Mike Ozekhome plays devious games with truth and legal integrity by backing falsehoods. If Buhari has a master’s degree, it means his maximum is more than the required minimum. American War College could not admit him without requisite qualifications. Ditto to Mons Officer Cadet School in the UK. Facts are sacred, and opinions can be foolish. It is that sort of obsession that Charles Dickens mocked in his novel, Hard Times. Facts are meaningless without their use.
The pettifogging over certificate arises from mischief to divert attention from the real issues of the campaign, about war on terror, corruption, infrastructure deficit, failed education, etc. We can now ignore the Fani-Kayodes, Metuhs and Ozekhomes.