By Festus Adedayo
In what seems to affirm that he wears controversies like apparel, vice presidential candidate of the All Progressives Party (APC), Kashim Shettima, leapt into yet another at the twilight of last week. On Thursday at the 96th-anniversary celebration of the Yoruba Tennis Club in Ikoyi, Lagos state, Shettima was quoted to have said that Nigeria needed the “hospitality” of General Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s despotic military ruler; Nigeria’s own contribution to the list of infamous rulers who ruled the world with infernal ruthlessness.
As the controversy over what he actually said raged, Shettima came out with a clarification: He actually said that in 2023, Nigeria needed a president who possessed “a dose of ruthlessness and taciturnity”. Nigerians have since been engaged in dissecting what lay atop the mind of a man who could be the country’s vice president. “We need a leader with a dose of ruthlessness and taciturnity of General Sani Abacha… Nice men do not make leaders… There is no one, with all due respect, that fits this better than Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu,” he said.
In a subsequent clarification made on his Twitter handle, Shettima claimed that the report that he attributed hospitality to Abacha didn’t only quote him out of context, it was the continuation of an “obsession with distorting one’s views to settle partisan scores”. What he actually meant, maintained the former Borno state governor, was that Nigeria needed a ruthless president in the mould of Abacha so as to address the insecurity menace it faces. “I never attributed hospitality to Abacha in my speech. I did a rundown of our past presidents and played up the taciturnity and a dose of the ruthlessness of a Sani Abacha to show we need strongmen to deal with the non-state actors who’ve turned Nigeria into a vast killing field,” he continued.
Shettima’s pontification and equivocation about Sani Abacha remind me of this subsisting theory about the intrusion of the dead into the lives of the living and how the dead, whose lives were terminated abruptly, can, through the transmigration of souls, continue to fulfil their abrogated destinies in another form. At a point when necromantic pundits submitted that President Muhammadu Buhari had but few hours to live and could not return alive from his UK infirmary where he had gone to receive treatment, his return spurned the major theory that he had in fact died in the United Kingdom. Continuing the theory, a lookalike Jibril or Jubril of Sudan was procured as his placeholder. Of all his sins against the “state”, Nnamdi Kanu’s most unpardonable against Buhari will seem to be that he took this necromantic pontification to a soberingly believable height.
A couple of weeks ago, unknown to him, I presume, medical practitioner and activist, Mahdi Shehu, also provoked the concept of death or what the Yoruba call akudaaya. I will explain it presently. On an Arise TV interview programme, Shehu had flogged what was, in the opinion of the APC and its 2023 presidential campaign team, a dead horse by raising a couple of critical questions that border on the educational and health history of Bola Tinubu, the party’s presidential candidate. In the TV interview, Shehu submitted that Nigerians are in search of the identity of the true Tinubu. Some fundamental questions, he said, were in urgent need of answers.
“We have searched the secret file of Bola Tinubu and we are asking, Bola Tinubu, please tell Nigerians, what is the name of the primary school you attended? Who were your classmates, dead or alive? If you can’t remember them at least you can remember the name of your own headmaster. If you can’t remember them, tell us in which town, maybe the school has been overrun by reconstructions of Lagos state or Ibadan or Oyo, Ondo. Who were your mates in secondary school? What is the name of the secondary school you attended? Who was your mathematics teacher, you said you were a good mathematics student?” Shehu had asked on and on.
Was Shehu suggesting that the APC presidential candidate was an akudaaya? Or put differently, will a suggestion that Bola Tinubu is probably an akudaaya answer to the hovering spirit of his APC-irritating questions? A few weeks ago, Dele Alake defended these same Shehu allegations with outright lies and spewed disingenuous concoctions in the laundry of this Lagos contraption in a glib intervention on a Channels TV programme. Rather than that laborious journey of untruth, couldn’t he have manoeuvred out of the bundle of lies by simply embracing the akudaaya phenomenon and stating simply that Tinubu died after those primary and secondary school years and just transmigrated into a new soul? As I will state underleaf, there are people who live today and who are presumed to be akudaaya. The akudaaya phenomenon lacks empiricism, though supported by long-held beliefs and assumptions. Alake would have been more believable if he entered the world of nil empiricism to support his drudgery than manipulating Nigerians’ knowledge of an issue that is raging in the public domain.
So let me quickly dwell on the phenomenon of life after death, a subject that has engaged philosophy and religion over the centuries. Curiosity about what happens when a man dies is a universal phenomenon. To man, sudden cessation of life and living is absurd. Man thus wants to know what transpires after consciousness ceases. Man is baffled that maggots, decay and smell take over an otherwise admirable body. Greek philosophers, Plato and Socrates tried to offer an explanation. Plato, for instance, gave a clear demarcation between the body and the soul, submitting that there is an immortality of the soul. His argument is that because the soul is immortal, it survives death’s lieutenants – rigor mortis and decay – who feast on the body after the cessation of breath and collapse of the functions of all organs of the body. Pythagoras and Empedocles submit that people are reborn in accordance with the merits of the lives they live, whether as humans or animals and can be reborn as vegetables. This belief was rampant in Rome and Africa, giving birth to the concept of apotheosis. In apotheosis, human beings are deified after their death and given god-like status. In ancient Greece, some founders of cities like Romulus were elevated to the level of god at death. This led to the deification of Roman Emperors Julius and Augustus Caesar. In Africa’s Oyo Empire, King Sango became a deity at death and is today held as an ancestor.
Christian and Islamic theologians will hear none of those. After death comes judgment, they say. To them, the process of living and dying is a singular, mono-occurrence. African epistemology took that fear and curiosity of death to another plane. In Yoruba’s theory of knowledge, for instance, a few concepts were designed to answer this curiosity about the afterlife. The prominent ones among them are the theories of transmigration of souls called akudaaya and reincarnation afterlife. While akudaaya is a doctrine which holds that at death, the soul moves into another body, human or animal, the afterlife holds that at death, benevolent leaders, called ancestors, continue to live, superintending over the welfare of their offspring. Akudaaya is he who enters the town midday… no one knows his last place of habitat nor the bird that laid his last egg. Akudaaya has no family, no foe and is sired by nobody. Reincarnation on its own believes that after death, Plato’s immortal soul leaves the body and begins another life in another physical body.
Of all these, the theory of akudaaya has been held to be the most controversial. It is a phenomenon which describes how the dead return to life, appear to man to carry out unfinished assignments and most times, sojourn in another territory. Religionists are vehemently engaged in disputations about the existence of akudaaya because it nullifies the main foundation of their belief. To them, death is not only irreversible, it is the cessation of life. However, akudaaya affirms the continuation of life after death and a linkage between unfulfilled destiny and death by seeking to resolve the conflict between them.
There have been several stories of people having encounters with certified dead persons – and who have been affirmed not to be hallucinating – carrying out the usual physical interactions with them. At the point of discovery that they had once lived and died, the dead disappear into thin air. A journalist once undertook to go to a place that is the town of the dead and interviewed people there. They confirmed that the dead live their normal lives in the town. Nollywood movies escalate this ancient Yoruba belief by churning out films which affirm that the mysterious phenomenon is an everyday life narrative among the Yoruba.
Most often, the akudaaya are said to be dead persons whose lives were cut short prematurely and who seek fulfilment of their destinies somewhere else. The belief is also that the ori – destiny of the dead person while alive — got terminated abruptly by an individual or circumstance and so as to fulfil the corpus of that destiny, he relocates at death to another locale to fulfil that destiny. They thus reincarnate in another body but with similar physical features as they bore pre-death.
So even though the narratives are engaging, sometimes very logical and even temptingly believable, the afterlife phenomenon is still in the realm of conjecture. For science and its verifiable principles, akudaaya fails woefully. Science dwells on seven essential principles of verifiability and they are the principle of universal open access, the principle of open licensing, the principle of rigorous and ongoing peer review, the principle of supporting metadata, the principle of access by future generations, the principle of respecting various publication traditions and principle of grasping opportunities. Akudaaya cannot fulfil even one of those. It is however supported by age-long beliefs, tradition and norms.
Shettima will seem to believe, in his nostalgia for Sani Abacha’s “ruthlessness and taciturnity” that though he died in 1998 in unexplained circumstances, the late despot can continue to live in our hearts and our polity as an akudaaya. It is curious that though Abacha is a pariah in the hearts of the world, judging by his unexampled notoriety and thirst for blood, today, he is a besotted jewel in many parts of the north. Recall that even Buhari frowned at labelling Abacha as a looter of the Nigerian economy. He has been too lip-tied to apologize for his blind, nepotistic northernism when Abacha began to cough out his loots in death. Shettima, the man who could be Nigeria’s vice president’s nostalgia for Abacha’s kind of iron fist rule is benumbing.
While APC apologists have trumpeted Shettima’s so-called brilliance, he appears to me as a loose cannon and a man whose mind is a bomb waiting to explode. That is if he is not a bomb thrower at heart. If you conduct a mind analysis on him, especially through his bombasts and off-the-cuff remarks, you will discover that he is just a whiff off Abubakar Shekau’s bloodthirsty notoriety. Same Shettima it was who, in June of this year, said that the president Nigeria needs is not one who possesses intellect, is cerebral or is nice. “Osinbajo is a good man; he’s a nice man. But nice men do not make good leaders, because nice men tend to be nasty. Nice men should be selling popcorn and ice cream. But he’s a very decent person,” he had said, to the consternation of his audience.
By repeating this same nonsensical argument again last Thursday at the Yoruba Tennis Club in Lagos, Nigeria must begin to take a more than passing interest in the constitution of Shettima’s mind. Do not forget the hovering allegation levelled by any less a person than an ex-president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, that Shettima has a dialogical relationship with terrorism. Allegations are also flying in high places that Shettima’s alleged kidnap of Chibok girls, while he was governor, was to remove the rug off the feet of the PDP government of Jonathan and that the girls were subsequently re-kidnapped by some Boko Haram elements. That was why, in an earlier comment, I asked that rather than make his religion an issue, Christendom should be bothered about the propensity of having as Nigeria’s vice president a professed romancer and believer in Boko Haram’s maniacal insurgency ideology.
But what exactly does Shettima mean by Nigeria not needing a nice person as president? Nigeria is in the turmoil it is today because its successive leaders have never been empathetic to, nor sympathetic to the people’s travails. If they did, they would be concerned about their plights. Muhammadu Buhari’s is worse because he seems to have breakfast, lunch and dinner with a single delicacy of the head of a tortoise. His queer taciturnity draws a thick blanket on his mind and people cannot sniff the odious sewage that emanates therefrom.
Yoruba say that anyone who is as unfeeling, soul-dead and without empathy as to be able to eat the meatless, bony, scraggy-looking head of a tortoise must have had their souls seared with a hot iron. That is replicated in virtually all Nigerian leaders. Surveying the Nigerian presidential aspiration landscape, what I can see is its virtual takeover by ruthless leaders. You can only possess a ruthless mind if you stole your country blind as the allegation of looting the Nigerian till that hangs on the aspirants’ necks like necklaces seem to be. There is actually no dividing line between Sani Abacha and Muhammadu Buhari. They are/were both taciturn but ruthless. Only a ruthless leader will drag a country to the precipice as Buhari has done and go to Imo state on a visit as he did last week asking that he be deified for having changed the destiny of Nigeria for good.
Going back to Shehu Mahdi, it will appear that the character he constructed in that interview on Arise TV could only have been an akudaaya. No real human being could assume such benumbing notoriety other than one who passed on at a particular stage of his life, transmigrated into another body with a different name and continues to live his past in the present. The questions Mahdi then asked about primary school attended, Mathematics teacher, classmates and all that would be irrelevant for an akudaaya. When Dele Alake embarked on that oesophagus defence by submitting that Tinubu sat at home to acquire the certificates he swore to on oath that he possessed in 1999, he forgot that critical cannon, the number one rule that liars must not run foul of; “a liar must have a very good memory”. All the mountainous lies about their principal being daily spun would have been needless if travellers on this mendacious boat had gone back to the ancient corpus of traditional Africa to say, simply that Tinubu is an akudaaya