If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny. When, in the distant future, we sit with our grandchildren (if we’re lucky enough to live that long because at the rate things are escalating…) and tell them stories of today, they’ll laugh at us. “Grandpa you’re such a liar; nobody could be that dumb!” Because whether we recognise it or not, what we are living through is a…
It’s been said that Nigeria is this weird and wonderful place that always appears to be teetering on the edge, about to fall off but somehow always manages to pull itself from the brink. This school of thought proposes that it’s because of the resilient nature of the Nigerian people. I agree that we have an uncanny way of flirting with absolute disaster yet never actually following her home, but I have a different take on the reason.
Tragicomedy is a literary genre that blends aspects of both tragic and comic forms. Most often seen in dramatic literature, the term can variously describe either a tragic play which contains enough comic elements to lighten the overall mood or a serious play with a happy ending.
Remember that last part, we will come back to it later.
The theory has proven itself over the past month or so. First was the case of the Honourable Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, who has been accused of using a forged national service exemption certificate to secure public office. As most all Nigerians know, she has still not responded to the allegations and her employer, the president, through his equally Honourable Minister of Information and Culture brushed it off by stating that the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is an arm of government and since they have spoken, the government has therefore spoken. But let’s put aside the obviously flawed logic behind this uncultured stance by our propaganda chief. The NYSC, of course, only stated that the accused minister had applied for an exemption but they will need to “carry out every test” before saying anything more. The presidency’s follow up statement says that “A formal letter was written to the NYSC and the outcome of the investigation is being awaited.” As Nigerians are fully aware, a matter “under investigation” is a way of saying “let’s just forget about it.” Someone (sorry, can’t remember who or where) made the point that the self-acclaimed anti corruption administration of Mr Buhari can afford to be so callous because they know very well that if you keep silent on a matter for long enough, Nigerians will move on and forget about it. In other words, the tragedy of the occurrence translates so easily into comedy that we have a good laugh and then wait for the next punchline.
A tragi-comedie is not so called in respect of mirth and killing, but in respect it wants deaths, which is enough to make it no tragedy, yet brings some neere it, which is inough to make it no comedie.
⁃ John Fletcher
To my understanding, Mr Fletcher here implies that a good tragicomedy requires enough deaths to make an impact but not enough to cause outrage and revulsion, and it also needs enough ridiculousness to make it ticklish but not quite funny. Thus you have a piece of work that’s not quite a tragedy but not quite a comedy either. That perfectly sums up the Nigerian situation where you’re not exactly revolted enough to act but neither are you tickled enough to ROFL. It’s a delicate balance and, with distance and hindsight, could help budding writer to examine Nigeria if they need ideas on how to structure their stories. Even if you don’t get the intricacies perfectly, the characters alone will keep your readers riveted.
And like every good comedian knows, once you have your audience laughing, you need to keep them under your spell or risk losing them altogether. Consequently, before the tragicomedy of the minister’s certificate had completely faded away, we were treated to the entertaining news of mass defections of lawmakers, two governors and, recently, an ambassador from the ruling party. Some of it we saw coming, some were unexpected but overall, good show.
Indeed one might be inclined to think that by appointing (there was no election and no other candidate, after all) the famously boisterous Mr Oshiomhole as chairman of the ruling APC party in the midst of the biggest problems it’s had since inception about 4 years ago, the powers in that party were clever enough to give us a character whose every utterance would be sure to entertain. Even when it doesn’t elicit laughter, it’s at least provocative, amusing, entertaining and slightly ticklish. Eminem would be proud. I mean come on, if you had to contend with an agitated dog and/or a pouting cat, Mr Oshiomhole is the one man you’d not want on the scene unless of course you had a dull day and were in need of a good laugh and a possible YouTube video.
Now, because it’s election season you know it’s Buy 1 Get 2 Free so we’re now getting treated to a dose of impeachment fever. In Imo state the deputy governor is facing impeachment because the governor wants to be succeeded by his son-in-law while the deputy governor believes that he should be the next in line. The senate president (who recently defected from the ruling party to the opposition) and the Inspector-General of Police gave us an episode worthy of Game of Thrones where the former is said to have evaded a police siege in order to announce the defections. The story is that the presidency found out that he wanted to begin impeachment proceedings against the president and so they plotted to begin the same against him once he was in police custody. Whether that’s actually true or not is anyone’s guess, but it does make for great television. It’s now in stalemate as the senate has gone on recess until September. Next the Benue State governor, who also defected from the ruling party to the opposition along with most of the state legislators, had impeachment proceedings begun against him by 8 out of 30 lawmakers, the rest of whom were locked out by the police.
To cap it off, the same presidency that ignores court orders and uses security forces to clamp down on anyone of any prominence who speaks against it puts out a statement saying that it respects the constitution, principle of separation of powers and everyone’s right of association. My grandchildren will never believe me.
It’s a Wrap
As an aside, we should also hold the National Assembly as equally guilty for either failing in their duties to thoroughly screen the minister, or maybe the rumours are correct and they were aware from the start. Either way, if they felt truly deceived like the rest of us do, the lawmakers would have been screaming blue murder and threatening everything weapon the constitution contains. Their deafening silence will go down in history as an admission of either devilish cunning or gross incompetency.
So are we a tragedy with enough comic elements to lighten the mood or a tragedy with a happy ending? We’re certainly not Thailand. My conclusion is that we are living a tragedy with enough comic elements to keep us passive and entertained. Which is exactly how our political masters like it because an entertained people is a passive people. So when you see a Nigerian shedding tears for their nation, it’s worth asking; are they tears of pain or laughter?
As bonus reading I highly recommend this piece about a book by Neil Postman called “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, written by his son. It discusses how we avoided the infamous “Big Brother” scenario from George Orwell’s book 1984, but are hurtling headfirst into the future Aldous Huxley predicted in his book Brave New World. Here’s an excerpt:
Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.
Until next time.
In the state of Osun, the governorship candidate of the People’s Democratic Party has been taken to court by parties challenging his eligibility based on the minimum required educational certificate. The candidate’s counsel is reported to have “stressed that one needs not pass the Secondary School Certificate Exam (SSCE) and that only prove (sic) of education up to the level is enough to make one eligible for a governorship position.”
Read into that what you will, I’m too choked up with laughter.