Like the proverbial stubborn grass that defies the gardener’s sickle – quick to sprout after every cut, the lexicon of public conversation has undoubtedly grown with a raft of terms and phrases since the last compilation on the page. Consistent with our tradition, we shall be undertaking an update – an induction, if you like – of the new entrants today, the first in the New Year.
“To be forewarned is to be forearmed”: At normal times, the spectacle of a cleric bearing arms would appear abominable, even heretical. Lesser mortals could be forgiven if they lacked faith and surrendered to fear. Certainly not a Pastor or Reverend Father.
For the clergy to bear a rifle would, therefore, likely be interpreted as doubting God’s sovereign words to guard and protect His children, always. If the shepherd would succumb to fear, what becomes of the flock?
But these are surely abnormal times. Nothing tells the story of an emerging ecclesiastical oxymoron today, perhaps better than the image of a Reverend Father with a loaded rifle, much more ruthless AK47, slung on his shoulder ostensibly while conducting a church service, flanked by a company of soldiers in battle fatigue.
The powerful picture has been circulating on the social media in the past few weeks.
With digital clarity, it surely speaks to the palpable tension in parts of the North where Christian worshippers are increasingly coming under relentless attacks by those identified as Fulani herders but strongly suspected of harbouring darker sectarian agenda. Maybe, a counterpoise to Boko Haram’s sepulchral imagery of deranged Shekau with an AK47, against the grotesque backdrop of a black flag.
While responding to the recent killing of Christian worshippers in Southern Kaduna, the Archbishop of the Abuja Diocese, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, in what ominously signaled the hardening of position, stated that it was no longer conceivable to expect the faithful not to defend themselves henceforth.
Since the picture came un-captioned, it is difficult to tell where this happened. Regardless, its message is unmistakable: a steely determination to continue preaching the gospel in the face of mortal danger, exhorting people never to doubt God’s omni-potence in the hour of peril, never mind if the preacher’s other finger is firmly on the AK47’s trigger.
It obviously mirrors the season of danger.
…Omega Fire!: Chants of “Holy Ghost fire!” are common refrain when Christians are gathered in supplication to God Almighty in Nigeria. It is a powerful invocation of celestial forces against perceived enemies.
“Omega Fire!” surreptitiously joined the diary two days ago following the reported attempted arrest of the General Overseer of the Omega Fire Ministry Worldwide by DSS operatives in Ado-Ekiti. His sin? Commanding his faithful to kill any of the murderous herdsmen that dares come close to him or the church.
Apparently, like many Christian leaders unhappy at perceived official indifference to the continued mass killings of Christians across the country, balding Apostle Johnson Suleiman had reached his own tether’s end. No longer prepared to turn the biblical other cheek, the Auchi-based cleric is now ready for “action” or “Omega Fire!”
According to media reports, but for the agility of the Ekiti Governor Ayo Fayose who had graciously extended his now celebrated executive vigilante services to Pastor Suleiman, following a mere distress call to him in the small hours of Wednesday, the man of God would have been herded to DSS detention camp. (The cleric was in town on a two-day crusade.)
Like Rambo, Fayose, who once rescued the wife of a PDP chieftain in similar circumstance, stormed the hotel and personally led the Omega Fire Pastor to the safety of the Government House.
Coincidentally, in Ekiti, a stern law is already in place seeking to regulate herders’ conduct. Just as there remains a standing rule from Fayose himself expressly empowering Ekiti hunters to “kill any armed herdsmen before they kill you or rape your wives.”
To an extent, Suleiman’s threat, even if restated in Ekiti, could, therefore, be situated in the context of an exercise in self-defense against possible physical attack by the murder gang masquerading as herders. In the circumstance, we can only appeal to those with powerful voices like Suleiman to refrain from incitement to violence, out of a shared sense of civic responsibility. But that hardly absolves DSS’ glaring partisanship. Or this tendency to flex big muscles only against those who already could be described as the victims.
At this writing, DSS was yet to explain if the cleric had spurned any invitation for a “chat”. But everyone knows Suleiman’s address in Auchi, Edo State where the “inflammatory” statement was reportedly made. Why this new obsession with waylaying targets at night? Couldn’t the arrest wait till the morning? Couldn’t it, in fact, be deferred till Suleiman returned to his Auchi base?
Again, how come we hardly see this sort of “rapid response”, this razor-sharp efficiency, this fanaticism for law and order on the part of DSS elsewhere when armed herders are on their own rampage? Instead, the killer herdsmen thereafter get appeased with cash payments to “forgive” their victims.
Big puzzle indeed.
Grass-cutter: From the dawn of time, this species of rabbit has undoubtedly been the mouth-watering delight of bush-meat connoisseurs and patrons of pepper-soup joints by the street-corner. It is the wild rat, a mammoth rabbit, the jumbo-size of the regular domestic mouse house-keepers are familiar with. Perhaps more in recognition of its pre-eminence in the rabbit family than the ferocity of its canine on the grass, everyone got used to addressing this creature exclusively as “grass-cutter”.
But not after a little scandal exploded around the clearing of grass around some IDP camps in Borno and elsewhere in the North-East in which no less a political heavyweight than the Secretary to the Federal Government, the avuncular Lawal Babachir, is gravely implicated.
According to the findings of the Shehu Sani-led Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East region, Babachir allegedly helped himself to a chunk of the money paid to the firm in which he had a substantial stake before his current appointment and, worse still, is accused of being the sole signatory to its bank account until recently.
Suddenly, political adversaries and other mischief-makers have begun to see grass-cutter in a different light. So, the mere mention of grass-cutter anywhere in Aso Rock or Abuja today is now interpreted as a coded reference to the award of any murky contract.
Well, the good news is that Babachir, I am reliably informed, is hardly fazed by such side-talk, much less the outrageously malicious whisper of the uncharitable who go a step further by insisting they see some semblance between his sparse mustache and the whisker of that hunter’s favourite in the bush.
Accidental bombing: Over the years, hapless Nigerians have learnt to reconcile themselves to the reality of “accidental discharge” whenever a policeman extrajudicially shoots anyone dead. The standard official response is that, “It’s a case of accidental discharge”, a euphemism that the weapon mistakenly fired.
But when a whole fighter jet of the Nigerian Air Force chose to rain, not Manna, but bombs on a camp sheltering citizens displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency – like we witnessed at Rann in Borno State a fortnight ago, the language understandably changes to reflect the magnitude, the gravity of the catastrophe.
Acting on what turned out a false tip-off from an unnamed western power that absconding Boko Haram fighters had found a new sanctuary, the pilot supposedly on routine aerial patrol sadly ended up hitting the IDP camps not once, not twice, but – Lord – thrice!
Worse still, whereas officialdom tried to downplay the casualty figures by admitting between 50 and 57, independent sources including international relief bodies quoted figures in excess of 200.
Now, it does seem whereas police’s “accidental discharge” refers to killing of the innocent on a retail basis, “accidental bombing” describes killing of the defenseless and the traumatised on industrial scale.
God save us!
Jammeh: If mortal fear had gripped many quarters – both high and low – at the height of the recent political face-off in The Gambia, the reason was undoubtedly partly a reading of the name of her now disgraced dictator. The word “jam” surely conjures less-than-pleasant imageries. In street parlance, “to jam” means “to hit” something. To “jam wahala” connotes serious kerfuffle. Any motorist in an urban centre will, for instance, attest that “traffic jam” is no pleasant experience.
So, when a power-drunk dictator began to beat war-drums frantically and his name is derived from stressing “jam” to become “Jammeh”, the trepidation in the hearts of ordinary mortals could then only be imagined.
But history teaches us that most bullies and braggarts are in reality cowards seeking to hide their dark inadequacies in some coarse facade. Yahya Jammeh turned out to be no exception.
As they say, those who made a career of beheading others will hardly continue to sit easy at the sight of a sword-wielding stranger. Surrounded by ECOWAS’ far superior weapons of mass destruction, the brutal Jammeh, who had ruled the tiny West African country with an iron fist for 22 years, finally surrendered last Saturday. But not until huge costs had been incurred by Nigeria and others in mobilising thousands of battle-ready troops and dozens of fighter jets to Gambia’s shores.
Dramatically, not a single bullet was fired before the emperor finally fell.
So, the word “Jammeh” is now generally accepted as a synonym for empty boast or needless clowning. To play a Jammeh is to squander the altar of glory and instead offer oneself for international ignominy.
(Meanwhile, whereas there are conflicting accounts on the actual number of luxury super cars taken and the quantity of cash looted in his last two weeks in power, a lie has been put to the claim that a cargo of $11 million was physically hurled into the private jet that ferried Jammeh from Banjul that Saturday night to an uncertain fate. Out of rare magnanimity, Nigeria’s Asiwaju Bola Tinubu had allowed his jet to be used to finally break the 48-hour stand-off.)
FRC code: Movie aficionados will certainly recall the American epic entitled The Da Vinci Code. The 2006 thriller explores ancient Christian mythology which the Roman Catholic establishment found too outlandish, if not outrightly blasphemous.
In the circumstance, the more controversial a work of art is, the higher its chances of commercial success. Little wonder then that it netted a whopping $224 million worldwide in its first weekend of premier and proceeded to gross a hefty $758 by the turn of 2006.
Eleven years later, a milder variant of The Da Vinci Code would seem to assail the Christian community in Nigeria and bears a more cryptic acronym, the FRC Code.
In principle, the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRC) code expressly seeks to compel heads of not-for-profit bodies, including religious organisations, to be more transparent in the rendition of their financial records.
But portions considered “intrusive” and “offensive” by the leaders of the Pentecostal sector of the Christian community, include those that prescribe term and age limits for their General Overseers. With the charismatic G.O of the most populous RCCG, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, dramatically tendering his resignation, thereby volunteering himself as the “martyr” of the protest against the FRC code, sectarian tempers naturally flared up across the country.
Jim Obaze, the rambunctious executive secretary of FRC, was the next casualty as he was booted out unceremoniously by President Buhari, with the enforcement of the code suspended entirely.
Soon, a new twist entered the narrative when the vocal Pastor Tunde Bakare, head of the Latter Rain Assembly and by no means an influential voice in the Pentecostal community, weighed in forcefully in defense of the FRC code, sensationally squealing that those preaching against it were actually money-launderers scared of the law and afraid of losing access to easy money.
Ever since, funereal silence has descended on the entire FRC business. The last time the issue popped up among some top players in the Pentecostal district in Lagos, one account quoted a prominent Pastor as reducing every thing to a joke by likening the FRC Code to an attempt to tamper with his own “stomach infrastructure”.
It was needless seeking any confirmation, to avoid further trouble.
Alternative facts: Anyone still doubting the power in a name should consider the example of Sean Spicer, the chief spokesman of the newly inaugurated President Donald Trump of the United States. Still wallowing in the triumphalism that has defined the Trump camp generally since their shock victory in the last November 8 polls, Spicer was all fire in his maiden press conference at the White House last Saturday.
However, what became news after that outing was not his hauteur nor the fact that he chose not to answer questions to his rather tempestuous briefing in what seemed a continuation of Trump’s self-declared “running war” with the media. Fresh dust was raised by his rather sensational claim that the crowd that witnessed his boss’ inauguration on January 20 was “the largest in history”.
But trust CNN not to take the line, hook and sinker in the circumstance. The sheer ugliness of that fat lie was soon exposed when the popular global TV channel flashed an over-view of the audience at the epochal Washington event. With the many empty patches in the broad canvass, it was crystal clear Trump and Spicer had, as usual, sexed things up.
Trust CNN still, another of Trump’s spin doctors, Ms. Kellyanne Conway, was soon cornered shortly afterwards on the same issue. In a moment of costly verbal indiscretion (mental exhaustion?) on a live programme, she cautioned the CNN corespondent not to “over-dramatise” Spicer’s comment, defending that her colleague was simply “giving the alternative fact”.
Like shark smelling blood, CNN thereafter made a sing-song of “alternative fact” for the rest of the day. Forty-eight hours later, it was an evidently subdued Spicer who showed up at another world press conference with a new spin. Clearing his throat, he clarified that his theory of “the biggest audience” actually referred to those physically “present and watching across the world”.
Well, perhaps the joke is actually on the rest of us. From the mere intimation of his name, it would completely be out of character if Spicer did not “spice” things from the outset.
Many thanks to Conway, “alternative fact” should henceforth serve as further annotation to “post truth” – a new word added to the English lexicon in 2016. Roughly put, post-truth refers to circumstances when the reality does not correlate with the objective facts.
Louis Odion is a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (FNGE).