Nigeria’s god of literature, Wole Soyinka needs no elaborate introduction. His evident literary flourishes underscore a deep mastery of the English language which he eminently utilizes to address socio-political conditions in his native Nigeria and across the world. He has, several times, confronted misrule, urging the economic weary, downtrodden masses to stand up against bad governance and reject the entrenchment of power monsters in the polity. In his globally acclaimed civil war memoir, The Man Died Soyinka magisterially submits that “the man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny”. By that epoch submission, the Nobel laureate encourages victims of feral exercise of power to speak up and not shut up because death is the comeuppance of timid acceptance of political and economic terrorizing.
Soyinka’s advice to the populace to speak up contradicts Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s admonition that Nigerians demanding a new beginning from the present APC disaster should ‘shut up’. Tinubu, the presidential flag bearer of All Progressives Congress (APC) was unmistakably direct when he recently encouraged his audience to tell those demanding a change of government in Nigeria to ‘shut up’.
Indeed, it is a demonstration of pathetic humiliation when a child is physically brutalized and asked to ‘shut up’, don’t cry. Nigerians have been roundly assaulted on all fronts by the APC government therefore they reserve the right to speak up and not ‘shut up’. Following Tinubu’s outburst, many people reacted to what they considered an insult. How could a presidential candidate seeking the votes of Nigerians to the highest office in the land tell the same people to ‘shut up’? Such language use, from a potential president besides being condescending, is uncouth and a deliberate attempt to intimidate Nigerians already impoverished by the APC government. Some commentators, socio-political profiteers if you like, rising in defence of the Tinubu howler which has become a trademark of his public appearances in recent times, have explained that he was only joking. Well, a joke must be relevant and understood in the context of its semantic application. In Tinubu’s estimation, ‘shut up’ is a ‘polite’ way of telling Nigerians to keep quiet. It is a way to further insult those who think that the APC disaster should be dislodged at the ballot box next year. Tinubu is not a political novice. He should understand political rhetoric as well as anybody in politics.
Certainly, Nigerians will not ‘shut up’ in the face of crippling economic conditions, a bleak future occasioned by mindless borrowing from the present government, corruption, insecurity, collapse of education, and degrading of the healthcare system. No, sir, Nigerians will not ‘shut up’ under such unpropitious conditions. If indeed, the Jagaban of the universe can tell Nigerians to shut up as a presidential aspirant, what will he tell them if he becomes the president? The ‘shut up’ outburst is an apocalyptic, habit-forming gesture in Tinubu’s psychology of power which portends a miserable future for the opposition and freedom of expression in the event he becomes Mr President. Is this an indication that the APC aspirant will not brook any opposition as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces? We can criticise Buhari for many things but Tinubu’s carriage is gradually turning Buhari into a saint of some sort. In all his intransigence, Buhari has never told Nigerians to ‘shut up’, although he once called the Nigerian youths ‘lazy youths’. Perhaps, it is in the character of the APC government to show disrespect towards Nigerians but Tinubu’s outburst of ‘shut up’ has redefined the insult paradigm in Nigerian politics.
It is more puzzling because Tinubu was at the forefront of ‘speaking up’ during the Abacha military junta. I have interviewed former ministers and ex-presidents who were unanimous in their submission that Tinubu did well through NADECO to fight against the Sanni Abacha dictatorship. If indeed Tinubu didn’t ‘shut up’ when the country was under the strangulating grip of Sanni Abacha, why then would he ask Nigerians to ‘shut up’ and not demand a change of government under an administration much worse that the Abacha era? Is Tinubu a dictator in the making? When he says Nigerians should ‘shut up’, does that also include any of his press outlets where many distinguished people are pursuing a career in professional journalism? The Tinubu take-it-or-leave-it behaviour since the commencement of the present political campaign is inconsistent with the attitude of a man of good intentions. To tell Nigerians to ‘shut up’ for daring to ask for an alternative administration is in bad faith and stands to be condemned. Times are different. People are more aware these days. The present hardship in the country has roused the people out of inexplicable inertia which explains their unenviable position in the hierarchy of global conquered persons. In their misery, they will no longer ‘shut up’.
There is no question about Tinubu’s competence as an administrator, a manager of men and resources. However, the truth is that Nigerians are disenchanted with the present APC government at the centre and would want to give another party a chance to steer the ship of state. Nigerians want change and there is nothing bad about it. Therefore to ask them to ‘shut up’ and not demand a change is a remote way of undermining their wishes and a further laceration of the existing injuries inflicted on their lives by the APC misadventure. ‘Shut up’ shows a disdain for the opposition which is a hallmark of totalitarian states where opposition is abhorred. ‘Shut up’ is combative, cantankerous, disorderly, spiteful, and disrespectful. There is no way anybody in the world will justify a ‘shut up’ effusion seeing that many people desiring a change of government from the APC catastrophe are older than Tinubu. So he was actually telling some older people to ‘shut up’, which in his assessment is a way of being ‘polite’. No sir, Jagaban of the universe, there is no iota of politeness in ‘shut up’ please.
Political gladiators in the current dispensation should realize that times have changed. Nigerians are no longer the docile, primitive, unlettered people they used to be in the past. It is the right of every citizen in Nigeria to desire a change or continuation of a government. It is a good thing that Tinubu realizes that Nigerians are vehemently clamouring for a change of government which is why he is telling them to ‘shut up’. If the APC government had performed well, will Nigerians demand a change of government? It is more bewildering because in 2015, Tinubu was at the vanguard of a change of government and no one asked him to ‘shut up’. If indeed, Buhari, Tinubu, and many of the present APC stalwarts marched on the streets of Nigeria demanding a change of government without anyone asking them to ‘shut up’, then Jagaban does not have any ethical, moral, spiritual or even political justification to ask anyone to ‘shut up’ for demanding a change of government now. That Tinubu has vowed to continue with Buhari’s legacies is enough reason for people to reject him at the polls. How on earth will anybody want to continue the present hellish dispensation and expect people to ‘shut up’? No sir. “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny”.
On second thought, the ‘shut up’ admonition could be more fundamental – in which case, the opposition will not be allowed any presence in Lagos, Tinubu’s territory. Yes, the ‘shut up’ insult could mean that no opposition should speak, or maintain any form of presence in Lagos. Is that why opposition billboards cannot be mounted anywhere in Lagos even though Tinubu’s billboards are all over the country even in territories dominated by the opposition? Could that be the reason why a young boy with the flag of an opposition party was reportedly manhandled by those empowered to enforce the ‘shut up’ rule? Is there a calculated attempt to ensure even on social and mainstream media that the opposition ‘shuts up’ till Election Day? Are we going to witness more brutal enforcement of ‘shut up’ in the days ahead? Is that why any scrutiny of the APC presidential candidate is immediately hounded and attacked all in a bid to enforce the ‘shut up’ rule? As Nigeria’s literary sage Chinua Achebe advises, “let the eagle perch and let the hawk perch. If one says no to the other, let its wings break”. Nigerians must soro soke to the high heavens because “the man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny”.
Promise Adiele PhD
Mountain Top University