[Ongoing Concerns] NATIONAL DISTRACTION COMMISSION

by Tolu Ogunlesi

(first published in NEXT in January 2009] 

Forget all evidence and gossip to the contrary; this present Government loves Nuhu Ribadu! And contrary to reports that they want to “finish” him, I am pleased to let you know that they will do no such thing!

All that the Yar’Adua administration was interested in (and which they have succeeded in doing) was redeploying Mallam Ribadu from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (and by extension, the Nigeria Police Force) to the newly-created National Distraction Commission (NDC), where they have since found him immensely useful as a ‘Brand Ambassador.’

This Commission is charged with (according to the bill that created it) “creating, regulating, reinforcing and institutionalizing significant National Distractions with a view to ensuring that citizens and the mass media are kept occupied to such an extent that they are left with no time or energy to ask relevant questions about the future of the country.”

The Government created this Commission in 2008, when it realized that the Obama Season would not last forever.

I know you’re now thinking: What the hell does Obama have to do with a newly-created Nigerian government parastatal? 

Simples. As long as Obama remained a ‘leading contender’ for the most powerful office in the world, the Nigerian Government did not need to unveil a National Distraction Commission. No! All through 2008, as Bro Barack ‘inspired’ his way towards the White House, people the world over forgot their problems. Hunger and AIDS and Global Warming all took the back seat. Nigerians, ever in need of reasons to jollificate, organized Obama-themed parties. They stayed glued to CNN and BBC, mesmerized by Obamagic. In their vicarious identification with America they consigned Yar’Adua to the dustbin of irrelevance. Good riddance, eh? They stopped allowing themselves to be disappointed by him. They unhitched their expectations from a green-and-white babanriga and instead affixed them to a purplish-blue designer tie.

Was Yar’Adua happy? Of course he was. He no longer had to carry the burden of his people’s foolish, unrealistic, unfair, nonsense expectations. He could disappear for three weeks confident that only a few people would miss him, because the bulk of his subjects had relocated to a virtual estate somewhere in suburban Obamaland, free from the terrorism of PHCN and armed robbers.

Yar’Adua could add PLC to Nigeria’s name for all Nigerians, sorry, Naimericans, cared.

But, as they say, whatever goes up must come down. It dawned on the Nigerian Government that all those millions of virtual visas that Obama had issued to Nigerians earlier in the year contained an expiry date.  November 5, 2008.

They realized they would need new ‘Weapons of Mass Distraction’. And in a fit of proactive and creative thinking the (in)famous kitchen cabinet decided that a new parastatal, devoted solely to this all important task, was the answer.

Yar’Adua’s government is one that understands the importance of ‘Distraction’. Which is why it is Number 4 on the 7-point agenda, behind Abdication, Banality and Confusion (in that order).

Ergo the National Distraction Commission. The commission has since been busy. Its first official action was to unveil Nuhu Ribadu as “The Face of Distraction 2009”. The Mallam has since gone on to grace the agency’s many billboards and print and news media advertisements.

And Nigerians are now busy talking. Ribadu this, Ribadu that. Why shouldn’t they talk, when the NDC is flooding the streets with original copies of its bestselling ‘Ribadu’ action movies – “No Induction”, shot in Kuru; “The Dismissal” and “No Going Back” shot in Abuja. And we hear more are currently in production. (“The Handcuff”?)

The months ahead are going to get even more interesting. If past performance is any indicator of the future, our government is cooking exciting surprises.

Don’t say I revealed this to you: I hear that if the NDC had had its way, Prof Dora Akunyili would not have been appointed Minister of Information and Communications. Their reason: “she was not controversial enough”. In other words, her appointment would not generate enough “opinions and counter-opinions necessary for the purposes of grand distraction” across the country.

Their recommendation?

Igwe Dapo Oyebanjo. Also known (by a few people) as D’Banj.

Brilliant stuff! Just imagine how cool it’d have been, to have Government press releases issued as hit singles. To enter Swe Bar and find a band of half-tipsy upwardly mobile young men and women dancing yahoozee to the lyrics of the 2009 budget.

To watch the NTA network news on a Wednesday and see D’Banj emerge from the Executive Council Chambers, harmonica in hand, and declare: “My name is D’Banj. My Jamaican friends call me Ski’banj. The President calls me ‘Minister Banj!’”

No long ting!

My CNN piece: Who was behind the bombing in Nigeria?

By Tolu Ogunlesi

(CNN) — On Friday a car bomb exploded at the United Nations compound, in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, killing at least 18 people and injuring several others. It is the latest, and most ambitious in a series of bomb explosions that have hit the city in the last year.

The last one, in June, targeted the police headquarters in Abuja, killing two people.

Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group (sometimes referred to as “the Nigerian Taliban”) has been claiming responsibility for these bombings. “Boko Haram” translates loosely as “Western education is forbidden/sinful.”

The group holds all government authority in contempt and wants to establish a Sharia state in Northern Nigeria. Boko Haram has been in existence for several years, proselytising, and running a mosque and religious school, but did not rise to national prominence until it attacked police stations and prisons in parts of Northern Nigeria in July, 2009.

In retaliation, Nigerian security forces launched a ruthless crackdown. Hundreds of people were killed; the Boko Haram camp destroyed, and its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, arrested. He would later die in police custody, and a number of officers are currently facing trial. (Some of the group’s anger is traceable to what it claims is the highhandedness of the Nigerian police and military).

U.N. Secy.-Gen. condemns Nigeria attack
 

U.N. office in Nigeria bombed 

The violence perpetrated by Boko Haram is typically cast by the international media as evidence of tensions between Nigeria’s “predominantly Christian South” and its “predominantly Muslim North.” There have also been suggestions that the Muslim North is unhappy that a Southern Christian is president, at a time when, according to the terms of an informal North-South power-rotating pact in the ruling party, a Northerner ought to be president; and that Boko Haram’s activities are a manifestation of that unhappiness.

At best this is an oversimplification of issues, and at worst dangerously misleading.

Continue reading, HERE

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My previous CNN.com articles:

We will fight for the soul of Nigeria (March 11, 2010)

The Nigerian president’s ‘Obama moment’ (July 5, 2010)

‘Africa needs to drive a harder bargain with China’ (September 10, 2010)

When will North Africa’s revolutions spread south? (March 3, 2011)