Adeleke and the modern Nigeria tragedy

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PHILLYYOUNG
27 SEP 2018
Thursday with Abimbola Adelakun aadelakun@punchng.com

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The All Progressives Congress is reeling from the shock that their party was almost entirely trounced by the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke (aka “the dancing senator”), at the Osun State governorship election last Saturday. Since the outcome of the election unraveled, their propagandists have been in a full attack mode, frantically calling our attention to the abomination that is about to be institutionalised if Adeleke – a man barely known for anything other than his public dances – becomes the next Osun State Governor. You can sense their panic in the messages they assail you with on WhatsApp, on social media networks, and the commentaries they pen in the media. To be sure, the only people who have a right to determine who leads them are the people of Osun State themselves. They are the ones who will live with their leaders for the next four years; we do not need to be magisterial about their final decision. That Adeleke has come this far, however, ought to teach the APC a lesson about their hubris and their hypocrisy.

Those complaining that Osun State is about to be led by a man who merely dances have a point about Adeleke’s non-qualification. I admit, there is something about watching the man dance that gnaws at my flesh. No, the problem is not the dance itself. People dance. Dance is good. Dance is liberating. Dance is part of human culture and there is nothing shameful about it. Politicians all over the world dance too, and they do so all the time. In Nigeria, our politicians dance on campaign grounds all the time. One of the sins recorded against President Goodluck Jonathan was that he went for a rally in Kano State shortly after a bomb went off in Nyanya and killed scores of people. He was pictured at the rally dancing and the backlash was harsh. People kept focusing on his dance, not the rally itself. Such is the power of dance to determine the direction of a society’s political culture.

In some other climes, politicians learn how to dances as part of their jobs. Because dance is also political, foreign leaders and diplomats take great care to do it right. Your dance could be used as an index of how seriously you take the culture of the people whose dance you are dancing. We still remember Bill Clinton dancing to Sunny Ade’s song and despite all the stereotypes of the arrhythmic nature of white men’s dance, he managed not to embarrass himself. When Barack Obama went to Argentina, he tangoed so skilfully on the dance floor he bought his country some goodwill. Of late, Theresa May was in South Africa and her attempt to do their dance resulted in some really ridiculous and awkward body moves. Dance is diplomacy and anyone who can do it right can score great political points.

People have hammered endlessly about Adeleke’s frequent dances but if dancing is his hobby, that does not – and should not- disqualify him from holding public office. The concern with his dance is the aesthetic vulgarity of it. The man dances with all of his body. When he is at it, you can see his face light up and his self-control button powered down. Typically, when people dance in public, there is self-restraint to the seeming spontaneity of their moves. They watch others watch them dance, and they therefore set boundaries on how their body moves. Adeleke’s dance moves are unrestrained and unmoderated; he is like a child at a party. When dancing, Adeleke comes off as a frivolous and self-indulgent person, a pure hedonist. He throws his mass in everyone’s face making you stare at the grotesque body movement.

We have yet to see a video of him debate critical national issues with his colleagues, only dances. We have yet to hear him speak on ideas and policies. One suspects he has nothing to say to anyone, and he will not be bothered to learn any issues. He is not cut out for the intellectual part of governance, just the theatrical part of it. If he ever becomes a governor, it is more likely he will never bother to find that necessary balance between being a serious-minded leader and being a relatable one who uses dance to bridge social connections. He will always wear the motley. Also, he is lucky to be related to a popular entertainer who has helped him turn his campaigns into a proper gaudy show. They jointly draw crowds to the campaign grounds to watch the carnivalesque spectacle of a dancing senator. One sings, the other dances. People go home entertained.

But here is the thing: After the hullabaloo over how a candidate like Adeleke is about to be enthroned as governor should come some introspection about the quality of the candidates who get to occupy our public offices. Adeleke’s candidature has been impelled despite his apparent vagueness partly because of the failure of our political culture. It is a peculiar modern Nigerian tragedy that our best products do not get a chance to rule us. They hardly ever even get a start in the political equation. In 2015, the whole of Nigeria was similarly bracketed by two barely distinguishable choices during the presidential election. Either way, we were going to pay as a nation.

Adeleke is barely educated on issues of governance but then, when a nation is ruled by someone like Muhammadu Buhari, candidates with even the most basal qualifications are emboldened to enter into the field of contest. Rather than be limited by their mediocrity, it propels them. Three years ago, those who claimed they would still vote Buhari if all he had in lieu of a certificate were a “NEPA bill” are now shocked that someone with an embarrassing school certificate like Adeleke will make it to power. The APC writers who criticised Adeleke for failing to attend the governorship debate forgot Buhari also ran from the debates in 2015 for about the same reasons as Adeleke did. There are in fact many convergences between Buhari and Adeleke; both of them symbolise political ineptitude, institutionalised vacuity, and the triumph of theatrics over competence.

If Adeleke has one genius, it is that he borrowed Buhari’s playbook. He has learned to come to the public square to contest and win by staging a persona that connects to people at the most primal level rather than any ideological engagement. Buhari managed to package himself as a man who would fight corruption because he had no use for material wealth, an attitude that has incommoded a vision of national prosperity. Adeleke was not the one who created the field of mediocrity in which all our politicians currently play; he is just exuberant enough to take things to an absurd extreme. And that is his sin.

Like the rest of Nigeria, the people of Osun are buffeted with undignified choices. We are constantly asked to choose between someone who has nothing to offer and somebody who has even more nothingness to offer. In such situations, we do not have a luxury of choices. There is only one choice regardless of which political platform he is running on. We, therefore, resort to other nuances of religion, ethnicity, and other identity categories to validate such non-choices. At this rate, when 2019 comes, we will still be in the same situation: holding up our noses and choosing between a visionless candidate and a myopic one. The APC brigand brigade has been trying to skew the Osun election as a choice between Jesus and Barabas but that is a lie. Adeleke could have well been running on the platform of the APC.

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