Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Hilarity and the Nigerian Condition

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Hilarity and the Nigerian Condition

Article excerpt

The Politics of Suffering and Smiling

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the late maverick Afro beat musician, still enjoys critical immortality not only for his trenchant social analysis of the Nigerian and African predicament, but also because of the protracted relevance of his analysis. In his album--Shuffering and Shmiling (Suffering and Smiling--1978)--he lamented the pathological timidity of a followership that allows citizens to acquiesce in the mis-governance of Nigeria, especially through the instrumentality of religion. What then is the politics of this "shuffering and shmiling"? It is this: That the elites, both spiritual and political, are complicit in the disenfranchisement of the Nigerian underclass. Thus, for Fela,

   Every day my people dey inside bus
     [My people commutes daily in the bus]
   Every day my people dey inside bus
   Forty-nine sitting, ninety-nine standing
   Them go pack themselves in like sardine
     [They pack themselves tight like canned sardines]
   Them dey faint, them dey wake like cock
     [They faint and daily wake up like cock]
   Them go reach house, water no dey
     [When they get home, there isn't water]
   Them go reach bed, power no dey
     [When they get ready for bed, there is no electricity]
   Them go reach road, go-slow go come
     [When they get on the road, there is unceasing traffic jam]
   Them go reach road, police go slap
     [When they get on the road, there is policy brutality]
   Them go reach road, army go whip
     [When they get on the road, there is army brutality]
   Them go look pocket, money no dey
     [When they check their pocket, it lacks purchasing power]
   Them go reach work, query ready
     [When they eventually get to work, summons and queries are waiting]

All these compilation of woes would suggest a recipe for revolution. This is because this is the way "E dey happen to all of us everyday [they happen to us everyday]". Yet, about thirty seven years after Fela made his diagnosis of our common situation, the desired revolution had still not occurred. Rather than react radically, we have only been able to manage a complicitous cheerfulness enabled by the otherworldly hope of a better deal in the hereafter. Why is this cheerfulness wrong?

Let me illustrate this question with a somewhat bittersweet experience. The "somewhat" would appear to be the eventual key to answering the question. Some few years ago, I had to deliver some amount of money to someone in Lagos, Nigeria. I dropped at Ojuelegba and was making my way towards Lawanson, my destination. All of a sudden, a plainclothesman accosted me and surreptitiously flashed a battered identity card signaling he was a "policeman". The normal fear of the police forced me to standstill in spite of my suspicion of his identity. I moved to the side of the road where I saw about three other pedestrians undergoing a similar "stop and search" experience. The "policeman" then commenced a thorough search of my bag, and it didn't take him too long to discover the money I had with me. Again, in spite of my fear, I thought it shouldn't be a crime to have such an amount of money with me. I was wrong!

The "policeman" subsequently further "discovered" a "fake" receipt for a desktop I recently purchased. Not minding my explanation about the provenance of the receipt, I was immediately bundled into a commandeered van where I came face to face with stern-looking, gun-toting others. One of them looked at me seriously and said: "You no know say na serious crime to carry a fake receipt around? [Don't you know it's a serious offense to carry fake receipt about?]" I promptly replied, with my heart already looking for a way out of my chest, that it wasn't a fake receipt but one I was issued when I purchased the computer system. My explanation was cut short with a gruff: "You know what to do." I actually knew what to do in such a compromised situation, yet I was so confused that I blurted out: "I don't know what to do! …

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