The notorious rumour in circulation on Nigerian streets sounds every bit like a citation from a James Hadley Chase. Chase had a pleasant notoriety with his crime fiction novels that hold you spellbound. With a gloating slide to it, the rumour is trending, with celebrated gusto, about the “death” of the man Nigerians elected into office in May, 2015.
On the social media, in whispers and grisly jokes on the streets, a “man in the know,” who argues with the persuasive acumen of a salesman, suddenly emerges from the blues and clinically volunteers how Muhammadu Buhari passed on in the United Kingdom in 2017, only to be super-imposed with a body-double, said to be one Jibrin from Sudan.
It sounds more like a classic thriller from Chase. In, for instance, You Can Say That Again, Jerry Stevens, a Los-Angeles out-of-work bit-part movie actor who worked small-time, got an offer of a job that was worth a thousand dollars a day in California. What kind of job would be worth that huge pay? The brief was to act as body-double to one of the most powerful and indeed, the richest man in the world, John Merrill Ferguson. The reason for the impersonation was simple: Ferguson, at the core of a secret deal that was worth multi-million dollars, had been on daily watch by tattler newshounds who wanted exclusive stories on his life. In order to stave off these nosey hyenas, Ferguson needed to railroad them from his moves and thus, the need for Stevens as a stand-in. The money involved was so entrapping that Stevens couldn’t resist the offer, a whiff off his wildest imagination. However, from the moment he agreed to the Ferguson deal, he suddenly found himself in an intricate web of stark terror, unimaginable nightmare, murder and intrigue that swallowed him and his greed.
But, how could this crime fiction model be deployed to explain the governance of the largest concentration of blacks all over the world, Nigeria? How could that almost global celebration of matrimony between Nigerians and General Buhari, consummated in 2015, descend to this level of abysmal distrust and mistrust? Is this trending narrative of a body-double borne out of the normal four-yearly Nigerian orgy of politicking, the usual friction that comes with the “we” and “them” social dichotomy between the upper and lower classes, or the ordinary human cynicism?
There is no doubt that public confidence in Nigerian leadership has broken down irretrievably. There is also no doubting the fact that galloping misrule has alienated Nigerian leaders from the ruled, so much that the “them” and “we” almost live like cat and mouse in the polity. Is this why this callous concoction is a trending narrative in Nigeria?
Of a truth, rumour is not native to Nigeria or Nigerian politics. Indeed, rumour is a communication concept which involves a tall tale which veracity is not quickly or ever confirmed. Circulated from person to person, mostly on an issue of societal concern, rumour spreads like the Californian bushfire. In 1902, German William Stern authored a pioneering work on rumour which his student, Gordon Allport, built upon. It was followed by Robert Knapp’s definitive work in 1944 which he entitled A Psychology of Rumor. Of the three basic characteristics of rumour identified by Knapp, the one which says that rumour “express(es) and gratif(ies) the emotional needs of the community” seems to explain the force of this Nigerian rumour on their President. It is also in tandem with a 2004 work by Prashant Bordia and Nicholas DiFonzo which found out that rumor transmission is reflective of a “collective explanation process.” So, is Buhari’s death rumour simply a distrust borne by perception of his failure in government?
Rumour is as old as mankind. There is this Ijesha town in present Osun State where ancient myth claims that the people do not eat snail because one of its founders beheaded his wife on account of rumoured infidelity. While on the farm, dried snail sputum on the wife’s wrapper had been misinterpreted to mean a concubine’s semen. In memory of the fidelity of the amazon, descendants of the Ijesha town are said to be forbidden from eating snail, as totem of her death.
Recent history of rumour throws up khaki shorts-wearing humanist and educationist, Tai Solarin. At the cusp of national angst with wily gap-toothed military president, Ibrahim Babangida, Solarin had been fingered as purveyor of the rumour that an international magazine, Ebonyi had listed Babangida among World’s Richest personalities. Sure it had one of its enemies by his balls, the IBB government literally humiliated the frail and asthmatic Solarin by first arresting him and getting him to climb a number of stairs of some-storied building and immediately, beamed NTA cameras on him as he got to the grilling room. A copy of the 100-plus page Ebonyi was tossed at him, amid the growling bark of his interrogator asking him to point the particular page of the IBB wealth story. A vividly embarrassed Solarin coughed and sweated helplessly as he frantically flipped through the pages. To finally deconstruct the fabled newspaper columnist, his griller had asked, “Dr. Solarin, if I was one of your students and I wrote this for you in an exam, will you score me an A, B, C or F?” to which the Almighty Solarin waffled.
Rumour is also a potent weaponry in political discourse and communication strategy. Negative rumors about an opponent are more fatal than a blow in the heart. In Oyo State, politicians call it ibon oselu – political gunshot, the mortal blow from which a victim may never recover. Allegedly pioneered by the enfant terrible of Oyo politics, Lamidi Adedibu, when then incumbent governor, Adebayo Alao-Akala received his own mortal shot in months leading to the 2011 elections, parceled via the tale that the food he distributed to school children had caused the death of some of them, Alao-Akala limped into the election mortally wounded by the rumour. When a wall of his house in Ogbomoso fell and killed someone, the rumour of his voodoo sacrifice of persons to actualize his re-election became a mortal sting akin only to a snake’s venom.
None of the above has the scary implication as the current rumour in which Buhari is subsumed. Even though that rascally youth, Nnamdi Kanu claimed to own the patent of the rumour, it actually crept out in 2017, immediately the Nigerian president emerged from a UK infirmary for treatment of an undisclosed ailment. Many actually suspected it was cancer. Widespread permutations had reckoned that he would lose this health battle. Buhari arrived, lean and gaunt but acknowledged that he was indeed sick and transfused with blood. Subsequent incoherence in his words, a terribly receding memory and feeble grip of power, fueled the rumour that the recent Buhari was a body-double of the square-shouldered General.
On November 10, 2018, Kanu made what he called a broadcast from Israel, his latest fugitive refuge. Therein, he had stoked the insinuations. According to him, Buhari collapsed on Tuesday January 17, 2017 and was immediately rushed to London via Casablanca “where his presidential jet made a stopover.” In his words, Buhari stopped breathing and the plane had to make an emergency landing in Casablanca to pick up a life support machine and then flown to London. In the hospital in the UK, said Kanu, the President was declared brain dead on the 20th of January, 2017 but the life support machine was switched off on January 27, 2017 and Buhari pronounced dead. Pursuing this further, Kanu said Buhari’s corpse was then flown to Saudi Arabia on January 28, 2017 for internment. The procurement for a replacement for Buhari then began, said the youth, and a Jubrin, Sudanese, made to undergo plastic surgery in London, to become Buhari’s look-alike, was made. Confirming his thesis, Kanu claimed that the Jubrin has a different earlobe from the original Buhari and that the Jubril has a full set of hair unlike the bald Buhari, among other alleged inconsistent physical characteristics.
While Kanu’s allegation, as bombastic as it may sound, may look literally ambitious, it has variants in history and is provoked by some incoherent manifestations of the man, President Buhari. Indeed, political decoy is a long-standing concept in use to impersonate politicians for the purpose of drawing attention away from the real person and for political or espionage purposes. For instance, for intelligence purpose, soldier M. E. Clifton James was used successfully to impersonate General Bernard Montgomery in World War II. It was only after Adolf Hitler’s death that it was found out that he employed a body double, Gustav Weler. For the purpose of attending public functions after World War 11 wherein he feared he could be assassinated, Joseph Stalin, Soviet leader, is alleged to have made use of a “Rashid” as his double. Saddam Hussein, Henry Kissinger and Boris Yeltsin were all alleged to have also used body-doubles.
One major noticeable trait today that is at variance with Buhari who was a military Head of State, is the deviation from his dour and tough hombre persona. Except the humour he is said to inject into discussions today, you cannot but agree with that snide comment allegedly made of him by America’s Donald Trump that the figure he saw in Buhari was “lifeless.” The Buhari of today lacks grits, is most time askance, disinterested in virtually everything, unnaturally withdrawn, with a receding memory and acts like one being propelled like the cartoon character, Fido Dido. Witnesses to this came from some Nigerians who held a parley with him during his recent trip to France.
However, there are so many holes in claims that the present Buhari in the Aso Villa is a body-double. First is that Nigeria is too porous for such a secret to endure. Second, the secret must be in possession of virtually all world leaders, especially the voluble Trump, that it wouldn’t take long for it to bounce back home; third is that those who have interfaced with Buhari and his current impersonator would surely spot the difference. My haunch is that Mr. President’s manifestation of acute withdrawal, austere energy of governance and other indices is a withdrawal syndrome associated with sufferers of the kind of ailment that he battled, who is probably manifesting the effects of exotic drugs administered on him to keep alive. You will recall that his memory loss and incoherence have been manifest before that infamous trip to the UK for treatment. His mis-pronouncements of the name of his party, the APC and Osinbajo’s, for instance, predated his travel to the UK. But why some people won’t allow this gentleman rest at home is my major bother.
Vigil nuisance at UCH
Two federal institutions incubated during the regime of Immortal Obafemi Awolowo as Premier have not ceased to lure me into aimless mind wanders. One is the Liberty Stadium and the other, the University College Hospital, both located in Ibadan, capital of the Western Region. Commissioned for operation on November 20, 1957 by the Princess Royal, the UCH will be 61 years old in two days’ time. The Nigerian Federal Minister of Health, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, took up the vision. One million, five hundred thousand pounds sterling (£1.5million) was said to have been raised for its initial construction and it first sod turned in 1953. Queen Elizabeth II of England did the partial opening of the new hospital complex while visiting Nigeria in 1956 but it was completed with a total sum of Four million, Five hundred thousand pounds sterling (£4.5 million).
UCH became the hub for infirmary, not only in Africa but for many parts of the world. Gradually however like all things Nigerian, it is beginning to kiss the canvass. While medical equipment are obsolete and decaying, successive governments have contributed their own quota to its decay. Recently, religion, that destructive cancer that is whittling the cells of the Nigerian nation, crept into UCH. There is this hall at the back of the Mortuary which used to house an eatery that has now been converted into a church ground. Vigils hold on end there and patients in their wards who need peace and quiet are constantly woken up to the religious howls and shouts coming from the hall. This is what happens when people are confronted by the helplessness/hopelessness of medicine and its equipment. Yes, we know that doctors treat and God heals but confusing the church for the hospital is one tragedy that is strictly an African ignorance and symbol of our backwardness. When you go to the Liberty Stadium and you are confronted by its decay, filth and rot, you cannot but wonder what will happen if our forefathers, incubators of these dreams, wake up to life today. Someone said the stench of the rots will kill them again; immediately!
Oshiomhole and a corruption allegation that won’t abate
Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC) was riled beyond description during the week that just ended. He could not put up with constant “unsubstantiated” allegations of corruption against him which allegedly occurred during the just-concluded primaries of the party. Ordinarily, the allegations are so mind-boggling and should get anyone losing their sleep. $55 million! Is there such money in the whole of the world? And for a single person as bribe?
Oshiomhole was so angered that he was emitting stings like an injured viper. Henceforth, said the party chairman, anyone who trifles with his patience and levels such “unsubstantiated” allegation will have to meet him at the law courts. Great! That is a Comrade talking. Only that, in the true spirit of Comradeship and in the true abidance with the kernel of “a name” he claimed to have built over the years, Oshiomhole should submit himself for investigation so that the “incorruptible” name could be clearly situated.
The truth is, the APC will be going into the 2019 elections with a hugely stained apparel. How can a party whose credo, lingo and catchphrase is integrity, go into a general election with its Number One man wearing an apparel that the people perceive and see as grossly stained? The description of the bribery roulette is so graphic, with known go-betweens’ names mentioned, that could take a literary enigma like Sidney Sheldon to concoct. No sane government or party should sleep with such huge dis-advertisement as its pillow. How can both Buhari and Oshiomhole mount a campaign rostrum and promise to clean the polity when, on Oshiomhole’s table dangles a corruption Sword of Damocles of that Hiroshima and Nagazaki proportion, with his khaki shirt and trousers allegedly festooned with such army of maggots? Indeed, if I were Oshiomhole, I will tender my letter of resignation immediately.
As an aside, I must give kudos to President Muhammadu Buhari. I drove past the Omi-Adio, Bakantari flank of Oyo-Ogun States’ border last week and saw the massive light rail project ongoing. It is said to link Lagos and Ibadan and is billed for completion in a couple of months. I had, upon reading it in the newspapers hitherto, thought it was a fiction.