When the situation in any home, clan or country becomes extremely precarious or serious or tragic, we need men and women who have the innate or acquired capacity to make us laugh. Sometimes we laugh at ourselves or the situation or the object of scorn. In drama it is called ‘comic relief’. The atmosphere in our dear country right now is grave, very grave and uncertain. Loss of jobs, vanishing millions of naira and dollars, horrible pictures of slavery from Libya, carpet crossings, total number of voters exceeding the registered voters, eating of one’s words without shame, sudden deaths, suicides by jumping into the lagoon from the Third Mainland Bridge, ritual killings, fatal motor accidents, kidnappings, the cults boys significantly named Badoo of Ikorodu, and armed robberies all combine to create an atmosphere of sorrow in the land. It is a situation which Fela Anikulapo-Kuti once described as ‘Suffering and Smiling.’
People walk along the streets and mutter to themselves. Some hold conversations with imaginary friends. In the midst of these, we need to laugh and laugh real hard. Laughter is good medicine. It is cheap to get; cheap to give. It makes us happy and removes stress from our lives. Sometimes the cause for laughter comes from a man or woman who occupies a serious position in life. You see, when a clown occupies a serious position, his actions could provoke laughter, sometimes at the expense of real progress. I have always loved Mr. Bean just the way we used to look forward to watching Charles Spenser in Some Mothers Do Have Them. Donald trump makes us laugh in the tradition of Dino Melaye, Barkin Zuwo, Sam Mbakwe, Robert Mugabe, Idi Amin Dada and the inimitable President George Bush of Bushisms Memory! In the pantheon of past leaders therefore, both local and international, we have so many distinguished clowns of different calibers.
Somewhere in the heartland of Igbo country, south east Nigeria, there is an officially tragic clown of great proportions whose actions and inactions have generated ripples of intense scorn and laughter across the country. Some of his antics have also been felt in post-apartheid South Africa where compatriots of that once-beautiful country have handed over their President to Clown IMO for safe keeping. This elected clown occupies Government House Owerri and claims to be a representative of the hopes and aspirations of the suffering people of the state. Indeed, with him in Government House, standup comedians have been out of job. But the tragedy is that he was not elected to entertain the people with filthily nauseous jokes conceived and executed with state funds. How and why did the people of that state deserve such a monstrous figure in Government House?
The ribald and the profane all come together in the arsenal of Clown IMO. First was his decision to build the statue of President Jacob Zuma in the state capital. This was at a time when President Zuma was insanely unpopular among his people. When he invited Zuma to visit, critics who were willing to give credit to vestige elements of sanity in Clown IMO thought he wanted to strike a deal with the President. As we know, there are thousands of Igbo business men (legal and illegal) doing things in South Africa. Quite a number had been caught in the past doing drugs or Yahoo Yahoo. Some innocent Igbo men and women have been victims of xenophobia. Some lost their lives in waves of vicious attacks in the last one year. A roundtable in Imo State with the visiting President would have meant helping to secure the lives of the innocent business men of Igbo extraction in Johannesburg or Cape Town. But alas what transpired was a gaudy display of small-mindedness through statues in open scorn of the hunger that ravages the state.
While we were reeling from the smell of the infamy that was the erected statue, then came an announcement that Clown IMO had appointed his sister as Commissioner for Happiness and Couples Fulfillment! Is this real? And this man wants to be President of Nigeria! Now I imagine that the clowning from Number One is not enough for the family. He has to appoint his sibling to be part of the merry party. Does the State have a House of Assembly who stands for the people? What are they doing? A man who has not paid salaries to workers for months uses state funds to build statues and appoints Commissioners whom he does not need. There is silence in the state. Is there a spell of voodoo that has dazed the people into stupor? For added measure he has nominated and gotten the House of Assembly to back his son-in-law as the next Governor of the State! Donald Trump has set the bar!
I think back to the Second Republic and remember the Governor who was a jester par excellence. When found with a humongous amount of cash, he answered that the money was ‘Government money and it was found inside Government House. Chikena! When asked if his state had any mineral resources to help develop the finances of the state, he was reported to have acknowledged the abundance of Coke and Fanta in many shops in the towns and cities. To the question of running mate in the election, he answered that his opponent had been chasing him all over the place! ‘Don’t mind that boy Abubakar Rimi. He has been running after me since this election started.’ There was a military administrator who used to mix Yoruba and English: Who build this ‘gada, for example?
There was yet another Governor who loved crying. He was called the ‘Weeping Sam’. His face wore the expression of permanent sorrow, adding to the fun of watching him cry. But he was serious-minded. I also remember a politician who used to hit the campaign floor with such meaningless expressions as ‘When the come comes to become the come then the come will become the come’, or ‘we in NPN are men of timber and caterpillar, iroko and obeche’ or there is ‘accord concordia between our party and NPP’. But the clowning of the politicians of the Second Republic is nothing compared to Clown Imo’s.
Governance is serious business. Even when we clown in Government House the core responsibility of government must remain in focus. The future and lives of millions of youths are at stake in whatever government says or does. It is therefore not funny that somebody is making a joke out of governance. To complete the joke, Clown Imo has appointed his younger sister Commissioner for Happiness and Couples’ Fulfillment. In defending the appointment, Clown Imo referenced UAE where a Minister of Happiness was appointed. I do not know the background to such an appointment. Suffice it to say that the UAE is sufficiently endowed with resources to make her people happy.
There are enough facilities to make the people happy, even if out of the conservative culture of the Arab country they become reticent about deploying western tools to create happiness. Happiness Ministry is certainly not one of the needs of Imo State. Job creation, guaranteed security, employment opportunities, investment opportunities, regular payment of salaries and creating an atmosphere where business will thrive should occupy the mind of anybody who sits inside the sweet comfort of Government House Owerri as governor!
Hope Eghagha wrote this article for The Guardian.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.