In all the trade of war, no feat is nobler than a brave retreat. – Samuel Butler
As news broke Sunday morning that Innocent Idibia, popularly called Tuface, one of Africa’s most decorated music talents, had withdrawn from the mass protest he called, and vilification poured in from Nigerians who would gleefully watch another man put his head down for the breaking of a coconut, a flurry of ideas about human beings and their impossibility hit me. And this brought back memories of an article I read on history.com sometime last year.
Titled, “7 Brilliant Military Retreats”, the article spoke about seven leaders of war who took tactical retreats which, with the benefit of hindsight, were lifesaving. One of them was America’s General George Washington.
According to the article, a few weeks after the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, Washington’s army got into a tough fight known as “The Battle of Brooklyn” in which it suffered a “disastrous defeat” with some 9,000 Americans caught midstream.
The piece reads: “Washington ordered his men to round up all the flat-bottomed boats they could find. As drenching rains fell on the night of August 29, he used his hastily assembled flotilla to silently ferry unit after unit across the river to the safety of Manhattan. The regiment of Massachusetts fishermen that manned the boats used rags to muffle the sound of their oars, and campfires were left burning to deceive the British. Many Continentals had still yet to be evacuated from Brooklyn by sunrise, but luckily for Washington, a dense fog rolled in and masked the final stages of the withdrawal. By the time the British finally realised what was happening, all 9,000 colonists had slipped away along with most of their equipment and artillery.”
Someone would ask if the situation with Tuface was war and how it relates to this story. But, it is war! Aside from the fact that life is war and that there is a time to advance and a time to retreat in every war, taking on government in Nigeria is war on two fronts!
Successive governments here have not found the grace to submit to the supremacy of the people. Those we elect constantly turn the coercive instrument of state, sustained by our sweat, against us. They spare no gear in their arsenal. They tackle us psychologically with ceaseless propaganda, half-truths and outright deception. And when these fail, they employ physical intimidation by deploying the services of security agencies; you get threats, arrests, sabotage and all sorts just in the desperation to silence opposition.
Concerning democracy, Nigeria currently seems to be walking backwards like overburdened ants. Elections have been conducted and won with strong fists; political parties have been driven to their deaths, as citizenship has become increasingly shy and beaten. Agencies of the state have also continued to lend themselves to the manipulation of executive authority in that deceptive “voice of Jacob, hand of Esau” manner.
And this last point is understandable in the Tuface case. Without the adoption of this subterfuge, the world would have screamed at the irony that a group of people, who attained office on the wings of protests and protestations, would inhibit popular expression.
So, while the Nigeria Police was speaking from both sides of the mouth, allowing, disallowing and finally supplicating on why Tuface should not actualise his decision to lead a protest in demand of good governance and amelioration of the hardship in the country, the Federal Government played the innocent child who only knows to suckle. But we saw through the cacophony within government.
The second point of war in taking on government concerns the attitude of the Nigerian people. Consider the volume of opposition that visited Tuface’s January declaration of his intent.
Now, it would be welcome, acceptable even if these reactions were based on the principles of the protest, but no! A lot of people went personal and deprecating, questioning the qualification of a Nigerian, who works and lives here to lead a protest against the government that serves him.
Now, here is the thing: Quite a number of Nigerians are so star-struck with President Muhammadu Buhari that what his government does or does not achieve would make no meaning to them.
That the honcho of an administration evangelising change would, after close to two years on the saddle, seek medical attention abroad instead of building the system at home, that we are talking about an economic direction in the second year of the administration, that top players in government have been repeatedly accused of corruption without repercussion, that freedom of expression is in systematic jeopardy mean nothing to hardline Buhari supporters.
To a majority of them, those “wailing” about the meagre achievements of this administration are an impatient lot, who do not understand that it could take forever to rebuild Rome. Incidentally, this group has the loudest voice; they are most articulate and omnipresent on social media and are ready to shoot down unfavourable ideas. Anyone who dares to confront such reasoning from a number of the very compatriots on whose behalf he plans to protest is facing no mean war.
So, when the state turns against you and a sizeable number of your people see no sense in your venture, even blackmailing that lives might be lost in the cause of your protest, common sense calls for a tactical retreat. This was all that Tuface did!
Critics of the musician’s capitulation have lamented the self-abortion of a very rotund opportunity to attain the heroic or revolutionary status, but was Tuface motivated by those prospects?
Some have drawn illustrations from the doggedness of the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, but they forget that these men were born into families with streaks of rebellion and that each of them went on to hone their capacities becoming identifiable non-conformists in their 20s. Did Tuface, now in his 40s, set out to become the latest revolutionary in town?
My reading of the situation is that, the man just realised that hope built on Buhari is gradually fading away and decided to draw the attention of government and his compatriots to these issues when redemption is still possible. A citizen needs not aspire for heroism when armed with his nationality to pursue such protests. And while trying to deconstruct this, we must realise that an idea is not an event. Some people are born to move ideas while some are born to actualise those ideas!
In all of this however, it will be unfortunate to imagine that Tuface did nothing for us by calling this protest.
Most important for me is the reawakening of Nigerians to the reality that, as former French leader, Charles De Gaulle, once said, politics is too serious a business to be left in the hands of politicians. Unless the Nigerian citizen rises up to defend his rights to life and fair treatment, politicians will take advantage of the people forever. It is indeed what politicians are called to do and only an alert citizenry can save a country from their shenanigans.
Tuface steered up the spirit of nationalism and events have shown that there would be no end to this even if traditional leaders of such protests are now too reluctant to stand against the government that they helped bring into power. But here, again is where we miss it. Genuine love for the emancipation of a people is loyalty to nation and not loyalty to transient administrations. However, if those who should speak on behalf of the people are too cozy in bed with government, help will come from most unexpected places and voices will rise in protest against misgovernance.
Even if the protest did not hold, news already travelled all over the world and the administration got the message “loud and clear.” But thank God for prominent Nigerians like Prof Chidi Odinkalu, Mr Charles Oputa, Ms Yemi Adamolekun, Omoyele Sowore, Comedian Seyi Law and others who ventilated the view that Nigerians will no longer be taken for granted.
Credit: Niran Adedokun