Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, was in no mood for jokes the other day. In his opinion, the media has done a terrible job covering the unchecked murderous rampage of Fulani herdsmen, particularly the Benue massacres, which he irresponsibly and characteristically downplays as “clashes”. According to him, the media has thus far worsened the situation by using inflammatory language. He is particularly piqued by this line from The Sun: ‘‘President Muhammadu Buhari was the first to endorse the Benue massacre’’.
Based on this and other red lines he drew in the sand, Shehu concludes that the media is effectively in the province of hate speech with regard to the coverage of a national tragedy that will definitely seal the fate of his boss, President Buhari, as an inconsequential resident of the dustbin of history. I will return presently to the sentence which infuriated Garba Shehu and occasioned his latest Trumpesque assault on the media.
Suffice it to say for now that Garba Shehu’s lament reminds me of an old folk tale about Tortoise and shit that my grandmother used to tell me. One day, Tortoise decides to go on a journey. As is usual of Tortoise, he has a brainwave. He is going to travel to his destination wearing a garment he has sewn by patching together his own excreta. Yes, you heard right. He is going to travel dressed up in his own shit.
As these things always happen, Tortoise is not the only wayfarer on the day of his curious trip. He bumps into some very talkative wayfarers. He meets his neighbourhood Cock. He also meets Parrot. He meets the Eagle who travels far distances and carries news everywhere. In short, every animal that fate brings across the shit-covered tortoise is of the news broadcasting variety.
The following day, Cock is the first to wake up the entire animal kingdom at the crack of dawn. He begins to crow out the news of Tortoise’s garment of shit, broadcasting it far and wide. He is given to hyperbole and crows at great length about the colour and the pungency of the excreta he saw Tortoise wearing with his own two eyes.
The animals are incredulous but Parrot is also an eyewitness to Tortoise’s show of shame. Parrot also goes from door to door, telling every listener that his mouth is not big enough to contain what these his two eyes saw the other day – Tortoise was wearing a garment made of his own shit! Like Cock, Oga parrot also adds his own slant to the story. He even swears that he knows that Tortoise had to combine watery and hard shit, yellowish and greenish shit, and shat nearly two hundred times to produce enough shit to make the garment.
Eagle, also an eyewitness, carries the news beyond frontiers that Cock and Parrot cannot reach. He takes the news to neighbouring and faraway animal kingdoms, adding curry, tomapep, and ajinomoto to the story at every stop and with every retelling.
Soon enough, Tortoise catches wind of the scandal and goes to town to do a number on Cock, Parrot, and Eagle. He calls them liars and exaggerators. He goes from door to door, supplying what he calls the true version of the story of his garment of shit. No, he used only hard shit and not a mixture of hard and watery shit as the news bearers claim. In fact, he was constipated at the time as was, therefore, producing only hard shit. And, no, by the time he shat fifty times, he had enough shit for the garment so he did not shit nearly two hundred times.
Tortoise is meticulous. He is convinced that the bearers of his story are enemies determined to ruin his good name by not getting the story of his excellent garment of shit right. They are bearers of fake news. They are purveyors of hate speech. How else to explain that these disgruntled news hounds, Cock, Parrot, and Eagle, find it difficult to accurately describe his shit? Is their bias not obvious? Is their evil intent not obvious?
This is the point in the story when my grandmother would stop abruptly and ask us to imagine an end. She would also ask us the moral of the story. What does the story teach us? We were eight years-old. We were nine years-old. We were ten years-old. Yet, at that tender age, we knew that something was terribly wrong with the judgement and the value system of Tortoise. You are covered in your own shit. You ignore the fact of your smelly shit to whine about the telling of the story of your smelly shit. Something was terribly wrong with Tortoise’s brain! We would mock him as alainironu and alainirori – a moron incapable of critical reflection.
What we understood as ten-year-olds is, apparently, rocket science for Garba Shehu and the Buhari administration. On President Buhari’s watch, Nigeria is swimming in an ocean of blood. Hundreds and hundreds have been hacked to death in the last two years by murderous Fulani herdsmen. This administration’s handling of it has ranged from callous insouciance to depraved, snailspeed lip service – witness their robust handling of Nnamdi Kanu’s situation.
Yet, Garba Shehu ignores the fact of this ocean of blood and the colossal irresponsibility of his boss to whine about how the media is covering the massacres. Who are these people? Who are these presidential reprobates? What kind of human beings are these people in the Presidency? Garba Shehu’s tragic umbrage at the media in the middle of wanton bloodletting all over the country is the sum(mary) of the Buhari Presidency: callous, irresponsible, morally bankrupt, ethically decrepit, and philosophically moribund. President Buhari only lifts a finger when he is dragged kicking and screaming to act. Now he is exchanging letters with the Senate, detailing yeye security steps that are a day late and a naira short.
Back to the sentence in The Sun. Yes, a sentence that suggests that President Buhari literally and directly endorses massacre is beyond the pale. It is either depraved hyperbole or bad sentence usage by the newspaper. However, this still does not in anyway put the administration in a moral position to be whining about media coverage while our citizens are being hacked to death on their watch. As we say in Nigeria, they have no mouth to talk. What exactly is to tell me that the sentence in question isn’t poor English usage by the author. Is this administration even in the position to whine about language use? These are people who once tweeted that the President had “commissioned prisoners” before correcting themselves.
It is instructive that while Garba Shehu was whining and heehawing about media coverage of the Fulani herdsmen massacres, the Governor of Taraba state was screaming for help and warning about an impending attack. As is characteristic of this administration,
They did nothing…
The attack happened…