The year never ends until we chronicle its kingpins of comedy, those who unveil its underbellies of humour. The real humourists, though, are not persons who go out of their ways to crack our ribs. They make us laugh just by being themselves in the routine glories of their days. And they could even be genuinely appalled at our amusements. They are not I go dye O, or that tribe of humanity who write out skits or jokes with a view to the punch line. Anything they do is a kaboom of laughter. They take themselves seriously while we keel over. But we never cheer them on, and they hate us if we do. The stages are not artificial. There are no paid audiences, or advertisement jingles to invite us to their acts. Ironically, they are funny because they are sad. The best comedies, whether it is Shakespeare’s AS You Like it or Soyinka’s Jero Plays, hint at the visceral pain inside us. Through them, we mock ourselves.
Ghost of the Year
The winner is Ben Murray Bruce. This was a year we neither heard from him nor saw him. He was like Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man. When he became senator, we did not hear enough of the oyibo media mogul. His debut act was the Silver Birds Awards in Eko Hotel. He decorated himself as the common-sense commoner. He would disinfect Nigerian politics and governance of its grand follies. He had come that we may have senses and have them more abundantly.
In line with his cult of common sense, he would pooh-pooh first class flights, forgo the fancy craze of luxury hotels, patronise the local humility of Innoson-made cars. In a flourish of the lowly, an Innoson car sat without proclaiming itself in the hall in a parody of a dealership. He sported a face of mock gravity that hardly concealed his cheerful vanity, as a revolutionary recruit of the Nigerian political elite.
But he had a giddy fall from his common-sense horse when AMCON revealed that his Silver Birds had been one of Nigeria’s whited sepulchres, a phony, slivery shine over a cadaver of debt, other people’s money. So, the bluster about injecting sanity in a body politic adrift was all a lie. At the Silver Birds Award night, then Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State saw perfidy in his claims and wondered if Murray-Bruce would muster the guts to make such a bluster half-way through his tenure. Uduaghan did not even know that the man would be a ghost. Silence, they say, is golden. His is ghostly.
Artist of the year
He is an orator with a supernova smile, but the man beat any contender as the artist of choice. With his statue of another comedian from another part of the world, Rochas Okorocha, sometimes described as Owelle, is our artist of the year. He gave us a statue of Jacob Zuma, the dancing ecstasy of a politician and parody of a leader of South Africa. Okorocha’s imagination tucked away the bust of the Madiba or locals like Achebe, or Azikiwe or Ojukwu because the Imo State governor wanted to amuse us. No ribs would stir at sculptural tributes to those men. He made his point, and the headlines bustled across the country. No less inspired was this from the bowel of Sigmund Freud: “Zuma’s erection, Okorocha’s pains.” If the Freudian power is hard to miss about a man who wanted his people to be so happy, he appointed his sister to promote its ministry.
Worshippers of the year
During the Middle Ages, a cleric and intellectual Peter Abelard asked the question, “when did God become man?” You only had to watch the video of celebrants when our dear president Muhammadu Buhari emerged after months away to take care of his health. The streets in some parts of the country erupted in raptures with adorers for his return in good health. The videos were unmistakable in their pious adoration. Men and women were flailing in worshipful reverie. On a roadside, a woman fell to her knees in rhapsodies. Not just that, she bowed many times with her forehead pasted with dust from its trip up and down the ground. Another person poured water on the ground and drank it. It did not matter if a person had defecated or urinated there before, or any other sort of impurity.
This was worship that trumped any in the church or mosque in the whole year. They were answering Abelard’s question over 500 years later. They were saying that in 2017 God became man in their president.
Dancer of the year
A tragedy foreshadowed it. His feet must have wobbled and collapsed when his brother, the charismatic Isiaka Adeleke, passed on. But he was asked to fill his brother’s shoes in the Senate. To do that, he found his dancing shoes. On soap boxes, his dance moves prophesied the thrills to come. But polls were serious, and he had to win first. Win he did. And the dance floor was never the same again. From the victory stage in Osun State to the church in Atlanta, Demola Adeleke, the roundish, pot-bellied happy senator was at it. He stole the show anytime and every time, and he found many times to dance. He made law-making into choreography. His heavy frame yielded to the nimble flow of his rhythms, sometimes led by his paunch, or head or even feet, his face lit up as the crowd allowed him room to roam. As a metaphor for his colleagues, he had no rhythms in ideas on the Senate floor, where even his waist did not spin. His nephew, the well-known singer Davido, waded in and described the thespian senator as Nigeria’s Michael Jackson. He probably has a point because the senator’s middle name is Jackson.
General of the year
Nnamdi Kanu had his secret service. He had his soldiers. Earlier in the year, he declared that he was going to war. No compromise to Nigeria that he described as a zoo. He was an Igbo general, he told himself, although he wore a cap that was a phony version of a man he would not brook: Obafemi Awolowo. Maybe because he envied him since Awo also went behind bars for treasonable felony. Kanu was that megalomaniac. He also had a sort of spectacle that had the rims that mimicked the Ikenne sage – sort of. But no matter. Kanu was pictured mounting a guard of honour. He played host to some mighty men of the east, and he began to see himself brushing shoulders with Buhari, his gaoler, in short order. Not until Buhari ordered the routing of his men, who had no resistance or a whimper of a prayer or even a war plan. The worst of it was the disappearance of Kanu. No one knows where he went, or how. The general even has no troops to remind us he once swayed in the east. What a war commander!
Banker of the year
He did not need a licence. He had no banking hall. He had no interest rates. Neither did he have a staff nor attend weekly meeting with other banks. Neither the CBN nor the President nor finance minister knew about him. Yet he had enough to float many a start-up, inspire a school project or even change a town in Nigeria. The bank had no name. Unlike others, the bank did not welcome anybody except the owner. It was perhaps the first secret bank known in Nigerian history. Under the control of Ayo Oke, and his wife, it had $43.4 million, 27 thousand pounds, and N23.2 million. It makes Ayo Oke, the former DG of the National Intelligence Agency, the banker of the year. It makes where the money was domiciled the apartment of the year. That is apartment 7b of Osborne Towers, Ikoyi. It was so important that a governor accused a minister of stealing the state’s money. No evidence. But it was good theatre.