The Nigerian zoo story

9 Min Read

Anyone who thought that Acting President Yemi Osinbajo would return from visiting President Muhammadu Buhari to contribute to the conversation on the metaphor of the animal kingdom that started on the Facebook page of Senator Shehu Sani must be a joker.

Nnamdi Kanu, of the intrepid Indigenous People of Biafra, is famously reported to have consistently called Nigeria a zoo. He, however, explained that he used the metaphor to “elicit (the) reaction that will facilitate the desired change, (or political restructuring?), which is desired (in Nigeria).” His metaphor is now acceptable in Nigeria’s high political circles.

“Zoo Story,” if you recall, is a one-act play by American playwright Edward Albert. It explores the themes of isolation, loneliness, and dark humour, but ends with Jerry, apparently a suicide, dying after running into a knife that he had somehow got Peter, his new acquaintance, to inadvertently hold at the ready.

If you didn’t attend the English literature class of Mrs. Umo Balogun of Molusi College, Ijebu Igbo, in the 1970s, you missed out on the “scoop” that “Animal Farm,” the fairy tale by George Orwell or Eric Blair (choose whichever name suits you) is a satirical allegory of the now defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Mrs. Balogun painstakingly pointed out that “Moses, the tame raven,” was Karl Marx, the evangelist of communism; “Old Major” was Lenin; “Napoleon” was Stalin; “Snowball,” the propagandist, was Trotsky, who was later expelled from the USSR; and the other pigs were the top echelons of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Of course, the braying dogs were the secret police or the KGB; “Boxer” represented the thick-headed and gullible masses. Mr. Manor and the other men who came to dinner on the “Animal Farm” were the capitalists that Marxism was supposed to eliminate.

Senator Sani had said that the “Prayer for the absent Lion King has waned, until he’s back. Then will they fall over each other, to be on the front row of the palace temple. Now, the Hyenas and the Jackals are scheming, and talking to each other in whispers, still doubting whether the Lion King will be back or not.”

He lamented: “Now the Lion King is asleep, and no other (animal) dares to confirm if he will wake up or not. It’s the (hope) of the Hyenas that the Lion King never wakes or comes back, so they can be the king.” Being a senator evidently affords Sani the opportunity to see these characters up-close.

Sani adds, with optimism, “(But) it’s the prayer of the weaker animals that the Lion King comes back to save the Kingdom, (and the weaker animals?), from the Hyenas, the Jackals, and the other predators.” You are right on the money if you think that the hyenas and the jackals are those generally referred to as the bogey men cabal.

Maybe, you know that the Algerian cabal, called “le pouvoir,” or the power, holds febrile 80-year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika hostage as President, in order to hold on to power, Algeria’s greatest political and economic commodity. Though he sometimes stares into vacant air, Bouteflika is regarded as a stabilising political force-for the benefit of Algerian jackals and hyenas apparently.

Aisha, wife of President Buhari, has gleefully said, “God has answered the prayers of the weaker animals. The Hyenas and the Jackals will soon be sent out of the Kingdom. We strongly believe in the prayers and support of the weaker animals.” To which the weaker animals should sigh, “Hope rising”?

The following is an attempt to decode the registers in Senator Sani’s animal metaphor. It may not be too accurate –Nigerians sometimes don’t mean what they say. “Prayer for the Lion King,” is the hope of the masses that President Buhari will recover.

“Hyenas and Jackals,” are the cabal, “natives” in the corridors of power, to be found in the National Assembly or the Presidency, as confirmed by Senator Kanti Bello. They hope to profit from the sickness, or death, of President Buhari.

Some suggest that Senator Bello, who says he doesn’t mind Osinbajo as President is selling a red herring. He privately worries that President Buhari is squandering the North’s current presidential slot. His may be a subtle canvas for another Northern presidential candidate in 2019 if President Buhari is unavailable.

And the young Turks of the Northern Establishment have pencilled in coy Senate President Bukola Saraki as President-in-waiting. But if Osinbajo becomes President, against their permutations, they’ll unfold Plan B, which is well-cut-out.

Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, or Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, would become a truculent Vice-President to mild-mannered Osinbajo. Though when you read the body language of Senator Saraki, AGF Malami, and Governor el-Rufai, you may not be too sure if they are in on this morbid adventure.

The phrase, “No other animal can confirm if the Lion King will wake or not,” alludes to the uncertainty that President Buhari will survive, especially because no one is explaining the nature of his illness. “Weaker animals” must be Acting President Osinbajo and the hapless Nigerian citizens.

The Yoruba say “Aisinle ologbo, ile d’ile ekute,” the rat ranges with swag in the absence of the cat. A Yoruba lion metaphor, borrowed from juju musician, I.K. Dairo, and translated into English, roughly indicates that in the absence of the lion, the grass-cutter is forming as a lawyer, and the antelope is acting like a judge.

If you string all these together, you should arrive at the narrative that ahead of possibilities that President Buhari does not pull through, some elements of the Northern Establishment are already hatching a scheme to checkmate Acting President Osinbajo from becoming President.

Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe wouldn’t like to be called an Uncle Tom’s nigger. But in seeking to toady to the Northern Establishment, he mischievously observed sometime ago that Nigeria had neither a President nor an Acting President. This was because Osinbajo was attending an African Union summit in Ethiopia, while President Buhari was ill in England.

Senator Kabiru Marafa then weighed in by citing Order 53, Rule 4, of the Senate Standing Rule as obviously misread the Constitution to say, “If the President is not around, the Vice-President should act, and if the Vice-President is not around, the Senate President, who is (the) number three citizen, should become Acting President.” A wise Senator Saraki ruled him out of order.

Nigeria’s Vice-President can only be removed by invoking Section 143 of the Constitution if he is “guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office.” The nebulous provision has helped the mischievous by describing gross misconduct as “Grave violation or breach of this Constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts, in the opinion of the National Assembly, to gross misconduct.”

By the way, you may need to invoke a doctrine of necessity to impeach an Acting President. Those who live by legalism say the Constitution is silent on that. Constitutional lawyer, Prof Ben Nwabueze, should be able to clarify the ambiguity.

When you consider the way animals tear a weak, old lion to death, you’ll agree with Senator Sani’s allusion that Nigeria’s is a zoo story indeed.


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