On Tuesday, the Mail of London reported that ‘Tik Tok stars who mocked a government official in Nigeria have been sentenced to be whipped 20 times under Sharia law.’ In the video that sparked the official outrage, according to the report, the duo of Mubarak Isa Muhammed and Muhammed Bula “mocked Mr Ganduje for alleged land grabbing, corruption and sleeping on the job. Their action was ‘capable of disturbing public peace’ according to prosecution lawyer Wada Ahmed Wada, who said they had defamed the governor.”
While a Magistrate rather than a Shariah court convicted the duo, it is no surprise that the news made international headlines. According to the police First Information Report (FIR), the two men alleged on their Tik Tok account, ‘Unique Pickin’, that Governor Abdullahi Ganduje is a greedy land speculator who also sleeps a lot. The Principal State Counsel, Kano State Ministry of Justice, who prosecuted the case applied for summary trial that was granted. At the end, the comedians“will receive 20 lashes each, to be administered in the public. They should also sweep and wash the toilets of Justice Aloma Mukthar Court Complex in No-man’s-land” for 30 days, the trial judge ruled.
Before I proceed, let me first commend Ganduje for approaching the court for redress where others would have taken the law into their own hands. “The man Ganduje is not trusted by the people of Kano and is someone who can use eye to see any parcel of land he will sell,” Muhammed and Bula said in their TikTok video which assails the character of the Kano governor. “The qualities of this Ganduje are as follows: He is a governor that loves to sleep.”
Meanwhile, it is important to understand that sleeping on duty usually involves an unintended, most often involuntary, act of dozing off. It is also generally regarded as gross misconduct that could lead to termination of work. Nobody is expecting Ganduje to lose his job on account of the allegation and to the credit of the skit makers, they did not advocate that. In any case, since most Nigerian politicians spend their nights attending meetings on how to capture or retain power, only few of them are ever fully conscious during the day. In Kano, there has always been talk about Ganduje’s penchant for sleeping at public functions. And there are several photographs of him online that suggest (or confirm) this allegation.
Apparently incensed by this unflattering reputation, Ganduje once went public on it by saying that what people ‘mistake’ for sleeping in public was actually a habit of him ‘pretending to sleep’. Ganduje then threw a challenge at his critics. “My opponents always complain that I sleep at public functions, but I want them to try and differentiate between sleeping and pretending,” the governor said on 1st May 2017 in Kano.
To be sure, Ganduje has a point about the difference between sleeping and pretending to be asleep. The Yoruba even have a name for someone who pretends to be sleeping. Such a person is described as an ‘Aperoro’. And there is a saying that it is always difficult to wake an ‘Aperoro’ from pretended slumber. So, to the extent that a little nudge often rouses Ganduje to consciousness whenever he ‘pretends to be sleeping’ at public events, the governor is a qualified ‘Aperoro’. Even at that, Ganduje is in good company when it comes to ‘pretending to sleep’.
In June 2014, NTV Uganda was banned from broadcasting presidential events after the channel was accused of a “lack of professionalism and biased coverage” for releasing footage of President Yoweri Museveni deep asleep during a debate in parliament. A government official, David Katungi, said Museveni (who has been in power since 1986) was not asleep, “he was simply meditating.” Evidently, Museveni and his ministers enjoy taking power naps at official functions and there are several memes about that online. But Museveni’s spokesman, Tamale Mirundi, was more concerned about the media house that had the temerity to broadcast the ‘presidential meditation’: “The president is the fountain of honour, and he must be respected; under no circumstances can the president of the republic be depicted in such a manner.”
Instructively, on the same day that the Kano magistrate convicted the two Tik Tokers for mocking Ganduje, an Area Court in Jos, Plateau State, sentenced a security guard, Abubakar Haruna, to six months imprisonment for actually sleeping on duty. Haruna was said to be fast asleep when thieves came to steal a generator, bundle of roofing sheets and 25 pieces of iron rods at his duty post. A panel of judges made up of Malam Sadqi Adam and Mr Hyacenth Dolnanan, sentenced Haruna after he pleaded guilty to the offence of sleeping when he ought to be watchful.
Of course, we cannot compare a security man with a governor. When you are in power, sleeping on duty is simply an act of ‘meditating’ or ‘pretending to be asleep’ while the work goes on. And because the Kano Tik Tokers failed to understand that; they will now receive 20 strokes of the cane each, (hopefully not to be administered by Ganduje) and they will also spend the next one month washing public toilets.Perhaps the Judge believed that experience would offer them good material for ‘content’ on their platform.
On a serious note, there are several publications on how too much or too little of sleep can impact public policies. In his book, ‘The Politics of Sleep: Governing (Un)consciousness in the Late Modern Age’, Simon J Williams, a professor of sociology at the University of Warwick, United Kingdom, raised pertinent questions. “Why and how has sleep become increasingly politicized in contemporary society? Is a politics of sleep either possible or desirable? What light does sleep shed on the governance of bodies and the management of everyday/night life?”, the author asked. “Sleep is not simply a political matter, it is also increasingly politicized, from the bedroom to the boardroom, the classroom to the clinic, the laboratory to the law courts, even the military battlefield. In an increasingly time-squeezed era, the future of sleep becomes increasingly contested or uncertain: something to be defended, downsized or even perhaps done away with altogether.”
The charge against Ganduje is not that he sleeps but that he sleeps at the wrong time and in the wrong places. Same can be said of many politicians in Nigeria and may be responsible for the state of affairs in our country. But that is not where I am going today. Lampooning the foibles of the highly placed has always been a legitimate area of the comic art. We laugh at them because they are human, just like the rest of us. Regrettably, the lighter side of public life has over time been diminished by our penchant to treat even comics with needless seriousness. The artists who draw our attention to the human frailties of those who rule us should not be subjected to harsh reprisals of the law. Strokes of the cane should not be the reward for merited public entertainment.
Yes, Ganduje is entitled to the occasional public snooze. But the Tik Tok boys should also be entitled to the artistic license of freely picking their subjects without fear of intimidation. I therefore make a plea that the Kano State Governor should exercise the prerogative of sublime mercy by complimenting the comic temerity of the Tik Tok boys with an equally humorous state pardon!
● Between Ortom and Atiku
On Monday, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State gave reasons why he would not support the presidential aspiration of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) flagbearer, former Vice President Atiku Abaubakar. “My people are being killed and you want me to be quiet; you want me to be slave to a Fulani. It’s better I die. Anybody supporting Atiku in Benue is an enemy of the state,” said Ortom while hosting the visiting governors of Enugu, Abia, Oyo and Rivers who together with him form the PDP G-5 now at loggerheads with their party leadership. “I will never support a Fulani man to become president. If there is another person, who is ready to work with me and ensure the security of my people, I will work with him.”
Although Ortom has not hidden his displeasure with the outcome of the PDP presidential primaries and the role played by the national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu whose resignation is being demanded, linking his opposition to Atiku’s aspiration to Fulani heritage is reckless and opportunistic. For those who may have forgotten, prior to the 2015 general election, Ortom was a Minister under President Goodluck Jonathan. Denied the PDP gubernatorial ticket in Benue State, Ortom moved to the then-opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) whose presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari he knew to be a Fulani man. After securing the APC gubernatorial ticket in Benue, Ortom was one of those who helped Buhari to defeat Jonathan at the 2015 presidential election.
However, by the 2019 general election, Ortom had moved back to the PDP. As it would also happen, his party’s presidential candidate whom he now berates is equally a Fulani man. Ortom saw nothing wrong with Atiku’s aspiration at the time. Indeed, at his re-election campaign rally in Katsina/Ala on 10th January 2019, Ortom was effusive in praising Atiku. He said while President Buhari was canvassing for cattle routes, Atiku had been establishing ranches for his cattle and even proceeded to build feed-mills. “Besides, Atiku has a long-standing relationship with the Benue people who conferred a chieftaincy title on him years back and he also believes in the corporate existence of Nigeria,” Ortom said.
Three weeks later on 30th January 2019, Ortom visited the Hausa and Ipusu communities in Makurdi, the state capital where he told them: “The late former President Shehu Shagari and late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, (both Fulani) gave people of Benue lots of appointments. Atiku will do more, hence, the need to vote for him massively during the election. He is a friend of the people of the state, and he will sustain the relationship even as the president of the country.”
On 8th February 2019, just two weeks to the election, at the PDP presidential campaign rally in Makurdi, this was what Ortom said about Atiku: “The APC-led administration has neglected the Benue people, especially in the area of placements. I want Benue to vote Atiku for president because of his sound economic knowledge. I am confident that he will deploy this knowledge into initiating policies that will create jobs. Atiku has the capacity to deliver and will not subject his presidency to the whims and caprices of a cabal.”
The question now is, if Ortom did not see anything wrong in Atiku being Fulani four years ago when he was also the PDP presidential flagbearer, and they were working together, why should that be a problem now? As a member of the five governors who feel aggrieved about the outcome of the presidential primaries, Ortom has a right to be angry about the defeat of his friend and Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike. I have no problem with that. It is also within his right to vote for any presidential candidate he chooses at the general election in February next year. But it is not right for the governor to peddle ethnic bigotry just because of petty political differences.
• You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com
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