Nigerians associate the Yoruba word, orisirisi, with a pot of steaming pepper soup or egusi soup playing host to a medley of innards supplied by a cow whose neck kept a reluctant appointment with the butcher’s knife. Like most Nigerians, I’m a connoisseur of orisirisi when that word resides in her semantic environment, the pot of soup, and especially when she summons the help of a few bottles of Guinness stout to make her meaning clearer. Unfortunately, orisirisi doesn’t always get the chance to be exclusively about assorted beef innards and beer.
The rulers of Nigeria have transformed orisirisi into a curious philosophy of governance. Orisirisi leadership plus orisirisi followership equals orisirisi country. Thus, we are the world’s most prolific supplier of farce. Our professional comedians – Basket Mouth, Ali Baba, I Go Die – are infinitely more talented than their American counterparts such as Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, John Stewart, and Stephen Colbert. Nigerian comedians have to make people laugh in a situation where governance is a reservoir of high-quality orisirisi comedy. Why pay my hard-earned Naira to watch Ali Baba’s act when I can seat in front of my TV at 9 p.m. for the network news and laugh my heart out as the latest string of comedy from the circuits of power is relayed by the news anchor?
Take the new meaning we have given to government orders, edicts, and directives. Desperate to be seen to be doing something about his rule of law mantra, President Yar’Adua invented the practice of ordering the obvious. He started with Supreme Court rulings on electoral disputes. Anytime the highest court in the land annulled one of the PDP’s shameful gubernatorial heists and ruled that the rightful earner of the people’s mandate be sworn in, President Yar’Adua would immediately “order” the police and other relevant authorities to enforce the Supreme Court’s verdict in line with the premium his administration places on “the rule of law”. Local newspapers would headline these “orders” and “directives” without the slightest indication that they are aware of the fact that Nigeria must be the only country on earth where the rulings of the highest court in land stand in need of meretricious orders from the Executive arm of government to come into effect.
The contagion of needless orders and directives soon knocked on Mr. Goodluck Jonathan’s door. As soon as the Vice President stepped – or did not actually step – into his official role as Acting President, consequent upon President Yar’Adua’s well-deserved leave, Mr. Jonathan’s opening act was to “order” the swearing in of a new Governor in Yobe state, following the demise of that state’s Governor while undergoing medical treatment in Florida. Thankfully, only one newspaper reported the Vice-President’s order. Lawmakers in Yobe state understood that the Constitution required them to swear in the Deputy Governor immediately and not wait for some self-aggrandizing order from above. The way the Presidency is going about this business of ordering the obvious, I won’t be surprised if we start seeing presidential memos ordering the sun to rise in the morning and set in the evening.
Kwara state has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. The Kwara state Police Command arrested and paraded a goat before the media as a “robbery suspect”. While Nigeria’s commentariat at home and abroad agonized over that embarrassing indication of our backwardness, I waited patiently for official reaction. I wagered it would be more comical than the original incident. Sure enough, a report came from the Governor’s office. Governor Saraki, the report claimed, had received “intelligence reports” debunking the claim that the arrested goat was a human being who transmuted like one of the characters of D.O. Fagunwa. Law abiding citizens were therefore “ordered” – or was it “enjoined?” – to go about their normal duties and eschew rumour mongering.
No Nigerian man of power can resist the grandiose, absurd, and superfluous gesture, hence Governor Saraki’s request for “intelligence reports” over a goat! We are lucky he didn’t ask for classified daily briefings on the status of the goat. Mind you, the Kwara state Police Command, where the goat was cooling its heels in detention, is only two blocks away from the Governor’s office and residence. Yet, he needed “intelligence reports”, like he was dealing with a high-level Al-Qaeda plot! His handling of goat-gate is Nigeria’s orisirisi in full display. I won’t be surprised to read that following “further intelligence reports”, the Kwara state Government has sent a ten-man estacode-laden delegation to America to study how to prevent human beings from transmuting into goats. Hmm, orisirisi!