Though it looks harmless, political cartooning can be nerve-racking, provoking the bile of political office holders and triggering a huge political umbrage in the process. In February, 2021, an award-winning political cartoonist with the Daily Trust newspaper, Bulama Mustapha, sketched a cartoon flake of a framed photograph sitting majestically on Nigeria’s Aso Rock presidential seat. It looked like an effigy filling space. It was the photograph of President Muhammadu Buhari with a mirthless and expressionless face. Cosseted on both sides by all the paraphernalia of office, to wit, Nigerian flags and coat of arms, Buhari himself was nowhere to be found. Bulama’s cartoon sought to portray a presidency by proxy.
Earlier on September 7, 2008, an award-winning cartoonist with the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times, Jonathan Shapiro, whose cartoon identity was Zapiro, had triggered a huge ball of fire in South Africa. The cartoon, instantly named Rape of Lady Justice, had then leader of the African National Congress (ANC) who was to later become the South African president, Jacob Zuma, loosening his trousers’ zippers for a sexual romp. He had a shower tap placed on his head. An impish but salacious smile lit his face. Before him, flung on the bare floor, was a blindfolded lady with a lapel inscribed, “Justice System” hung on her chest.
Four hefty and menacing-looking men knelt by the Lady Justice’s side, holding down the “wench” whose skirt was half peeled off. They were political surrogates of Zuma in the ANC which included Julius Malema, then leader of the ANC Youth League; Gwede Mantashe, a key leader of the ANC; South African Communist Party (SACP’s) General Secretary, Blade Nzimande and General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Zwelinzima Vavi. The scale of justice had fallen down beside the Lady Justice, with Mantashe smilingly beckoning on Zuma to clamber her for a rape binge, “Go for it, boss!”
That cartoon shot Zuma into a fit. Indeed, he immediately sued Zapiro for the sum of £700,000. Massive reactions followed it, ranging from the condemnatory to the laudatory. ANC, SACP and ANC Youth League pilloried it as “hate speech,” “disgusting” and “bordering on defamation of character” and then petitioned the South African Human Rights Commission for redress.
All over the world, the Lady Justice is sacred, representing the divine order, law, and custom. It is also an allegorical persona depicting the moral force of the judicial system. Originating from the Ancient Roman goddess called Justitia, her attributes are a blindfold, scales and a sword. When a leader is depicted to have raped this personification of justice, they violated the deity of goodliness in society.
As the Bulama cartoon interpretatively represented a Buhari who was a mere decorative effigy in the presidential office, effete and absent in the life of an ordinary Nigerian, in his own cartoon, Zapiro depicted the rape of the South African justice system, as well as other institutions by Zuma. “He (Zuma) is raping the justice system and they (Zuma’s political allies) are complicit in that,” said the cartoonist in an interview. By this time, Zuma, a notorious polygamist who had six official wives as president, many more by unofficial account and 22 children from the liaisons, was a kingpin of lechery. The court had recently discharged him of a rape romp with an HIV-positive AIDS activist, who was the daughter of his friend. Though Zuma pleaded that the sex was consensual, he however admitted that he had unprotected sex with the lady. He then stunned the world when he maintained that he had “showered afterwards to cut the risk of contracting the infection.” The shower tap Zapiro placed on his head represented this bombastic claim.
If a Zapiro sketches that cartoon in Nigeria today, replacing Zuma with Muhammadu Buhari and those groveling assembly with fawners of the current administration, he will more fittingly be describing the serial rape of our country. Buhari has raped virtually all institutions and systems in Nigeria to a point that they lack energy to saunter on.
In 2006, Buhari presided over a literal rape of the Lady Justice. This he did through a nocturnal raid and assault on Nigerian judges’ homes, spearheaded by goons of the State Security Service (SSS). Hiding under the façade of fighting corruption and protecting “national interest,” at the end of the raid, seven judges, including two of the Supreme Court, were arrested. Recently, similar attempt was made on Justice Mary Odili of the Supreme Court. Reacting to the 2006 raid, Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka linked Buhari’s 1984 autocracy and current civilian dictatorship, freezing the time and space between them. “Here we go again! At his first coming, it was ‘I intend to tamper with freedom of the press’, and Buhari did proceed to suit action to the words, sending two journalists – Irabor and Thompson – to prison as a reward for their professional integrity. Now, a vague, vaporous, but commodious concept dubbed ‘national interest’ is being trotted out as alibi for flouting the decisions of the Nigerian judiciary. President Buhari has obviously given deep thought to his travails under a military dictatorship, and concluded that his incarceration was also in the ‘national interest’.”
Either as surrender, disdain or a cold reaction to this rape, Nigerians no longer complain about the pains they undergo under Buhari. They seem to have given up. In the process of terrifying their victim, narcissists display cold indifference. Could we have offended Buhari so terribly by rejecting him at the polls three out of the four times he attempted to be Nigeria’s civilian president and as recompense for our sins, in seven years, he decided to give our sufferings a narcissist cold shoulder?
This can be the only logical rationalisation of his brutal indifference to the Nigerian pains. As we speak, Nigerians are going through an orgy of excruciating pains of monumental proportion. Fuel scarcity has become a national affliction, forcing citizens to live the prehistoric life of apes while scavenging for fuel. In Lagos this weekend, an absurd package of litres of fuel as souvenir to guests became a fitting icing on our cake of shamelessness. Nigerians, owners of one of the world’s hugest soils where crude oil is found, go to church to testify to the goodness of the Lord for providing fuel to power their cars.
Electricity is as scarce as the proverbial excrement of the masquerade. The president is absent in their lives and doesn’t seem to care a hoot. It reminds me of a short story written by late South African writer and investigative journalist, Can Themba, entitled ‘The Suit.’ The story explains this presidential narcissism from Buhari to the people who voted him. It was the story of Philemon, a middle-class lawyer who had an adulterous wife called Matilda, both living in Sophiatown. Devoted as Philemon was to Matilda, the latter was always fond of turning his home into a tryst immediately he leaves for his office.
On this particular day, Philemon was told of the escapade of his wife again. Rather than his wont of leaving for home late in the evening, Philemon went home midday. As the lawyers say, he caught his wife in flagrante with the lover. In the melee that ensued, the lover scampered out of the window but forgot his suit. To effectively deal with Matilda the narcissist way, Philemon then concocted a strange and bizarre punishment for her. He spelt out a routine where Matilda had to behave to the suit which he hung on the shelf as a honored guest. This involved treating it with utmost respect, feeding it, providing ample entertainment for the suit and taking a walk with it, while discussing with it as an animate object. In conceptualising the punishment, Philemon reckoned that this treatment would serve as a bitter and constant reminder to Matilda about her adultery. Remorseful, psychologically beaten and humiliated, Matilda eventually died of shame of her adulterous escapades. So, is Buhari giving us the Maltida treatment by keeping mute about our various sufferings under his government?
Except perhaps during the Nigerian civil war – please let me know if I am wrong – Nigerians had never felt this acute level of governmental rudderlessness. I have this terrible hunch that Buhari enjoys our sufferings and pains. Did Nero do anything worse when he courted global disdain for fiddling while Rome burnt? The decadent and unpopular Emperor Nero, a music connoisseur, not only fiddled with his accordion while his people suffered, he was renowned to be an ineffectual leader in a time of crisis. Nigeria has its Nero in Buhari.
Last Tuesday, as the pains of the fuel scarcity entered its third week, with no end in sight but scurrilous bite on the people and their personal economies, responses being only endless vacuous promises of intervention by government, the Minister of Petroleum jetted out of the country. His trip took him, first to Kenya to participate in the Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Environmental Programme, (UNEP) from where he was to proceed to his London infirmary for two weeks. Queer as it may sound, Nigerians don’t even know what ails their president and only God knows how much of their patrimony has been pumped into repairing the cracks on his health. Without any explanation to anybody however, the president suddenly jetted back home on Friday. Media reports said he will jet off to the infirmary today. And all of us have lived happily thereafter.
To Nigerians, Buhari seems to be an unhealed sore on the foot which its sufferer has grown used to. Since 2015, like Zapiro’s cartoon on Zuma, he has raped the Nigerian Lady Justice serially by inflicting unjust sufferings on the people. While engaged in the romp, the Lady Justice’s hands are held down by a coterie of political, social and economic accomplices. For every Julius Malema, Mantashe, Nzimande and Vavi complicit in Zuma’s rape of the Lady Justice, you have Yemi Osinbajo, Bola Tinubu, Abubakar Malami, Godwin Emefiele, Lai Mohammed, the governors, ministers and a legion of regime supporters paid pittances to shout his Hosanna on the social media.
Nigeria and Nigerians’ fate under Buhari continue to sink. In 2015, Buhari met the dollar at N197 but it is today N573; N250 a pound sterling and it is N750. Northeast was a challenge that brought him into office and chased Goodluck Jonathan out but right now, Buhari has deregulated and democratised insecurity across all zones of Nigeria, so much that if you are moving from one point to another in Nigeria, you must fast and pray to come back in one piece.
The Nigerian economy is in its worst shape ever. People do unimaginable things to stay afloat, including pawning their children for cash. Experts say the naira is as worthless as the Zimbabwean dollar. No thanks to Buhari, death is the cheapest commodity on sale in Nigeria today. A grim warning to US citizens on the country’s Nigerian embassy’s website should explain the precarity more succinctly. Apart from warning citizens not to travel to Borno, Yobe, and northern Adamawa states due to terrorism and kidnapping, avoid Bauchi, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, and Zamfara states due to kidnapping, refrain from visiting Coastal areas of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, and Rivers states (with the exception of Port Harcourt) due to crime, kidnapping, and maritime crime, the US also warned in its country summary that “violent crime – such as armed robbery, assault, carjacking, kidnapping, hostage-taking, banditry, and rape – is common throughout the country. Kidnappings for ransom occur frequently, often targeting dual national citizens who have returned to Nigeria for a visit, as well as U.S. citizens with perceived wealth. Kidnapping gangs have also stopped victims on interstate roads.”
So, where do we go from here? It looks like we both have given up; Buhari on the possibility of his being able to administer Nigeria successfully and Nigerians, on his capability of providing any modicum of leadership. A pointer to this may be his speech in Nasarawa State, a couple of weeks ago. There, he had said he was in a hurry to become an ex-president. With the assemblage of fawners queuing to take over from him, there doesn’t seem to be any hope that we will not be victim of another rapist of the Lady Justice, post-2023.