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Tinubu’s June 12 Fall: Humor, Karma, Compassion

By Farooq A. Kperogi

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s harmless trip-and-fall mishap at the Eagle Square in Abuja during this year’s June 12 Democracy Day celebration simultaneously got camps of people who exulted in emotional triumph, who laughed in self-satisfaction, who lamented the state of the president’s health, and who sulked at people who exulted, laughed, or called attention to the president’s health.

Although the president is obviously ravaged by the infirmities of old age and possibly ill health, his fall obviously wasn’t triggered by any of these. It appears to be caused by a mere missed step or a trip over his flowing agbada. Fortunately, his fall was benign. I hope his minders learn from this and let him dress more appropriately next time.

But even if his fall was prompted by ill health, it is presumptuous to make any connection between the prospects of his longevity and the state of his health. Some of the most fragile people on earth can turn out to be longest-living people.

Take, for example, former Kaduna State governor Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, who was so infirm and so sickly during his governorship that most people thought he wouldn’t survive his first term.

He not only survived his first term, but he also won a second term, and has outlived many of the people who said he was a walking corpse. His deputy, Stephen Shekari, who looked visibly healthy, unfortunately died in 2005 during their second term.

Our compassion or ill will do absolutely nothing to shorten or lengthen people’s lifespans. And there is neither reward nor punishment for our attitude toward people’s ill fortune or good fortune in spite of what superstitious people would want you to believe.

Nature and its vagaries are inexorable. They are insensitive to and unswayed by human emotions. Coincidences, happenstances, serendipities, flukes, etc. aren’t laws of nature. They are freaks of nature.

But while it is valid to fulminate against the celebratory tone that some people took over the president’s physical misfortune, it is helpful to situate its context and understand its utility.

Vast swathes of Nigerians are being roasted alive, like never before, by the heartless, self-centered, and anti-people “economic reforms” of the president. In its June 11 report on Nigeria, even the New York Times characterized the economic crisis Nigeria is going through now as its “worst crisis in a generation.” That’s a significant admission from one of the institutional mouthpieces of the West.

Yet Tinubu and his minions insist that they won’t change course, that Nigerians must learn to live with superhuman pain for a supposed deferred gain that I am certain will never come. Plus, it’s a pain that the people inflicting it and explaining it away are totally exempt from.

Predictably, there is so much bottled, combustible rage welled up in the minds of people who are struggling to stay alive, who are almost giving up on living. Two viral videos give expression to the untamable fury that most people feel toward Tinubu, the immediate source of the mass anguish in the land.

One is a protest video of intensely enraged women in what appears to be Lagos some weeks back. Some of the women in the video said in Yoruba—and with stone-cold, deathly seriousness—that they wished they had a chance to physically meet Tinubu so that they would pummel him mercilessly for the unendurable hurt that his policies are visiting on them.

The second video, which trended a few days ago in Hausaphone social media circles, shows teenage boys in a northern Nigerian city (possibly Kano) stoning a poster of Tinubu affixed to a wall while “Labbayka Allahumma labbayk (translated in English as, “Here I am, O Allah, here I am”), a prayer invoked by pilgrims in Makkah while stoning the devil, plays in the background.

People whose staggering misery has led them to desire a physical confrontation with the president and who stone him in a symbolic eruption of rage as the representative of Satan in Nigeria would find tremendous emotional release in his fall and physical hurt. To deny them this harmless, no-cost joy is to hurt them doubly.

In psychology and literature, we talk of something called catharsis, which refers to the process of releasing and thereby providing relief from strong or repressed emotions. Catharsis serves as a crucial psychological alternative to violence by offering safe and constructive ways to process and release emotions. It is said to foster emotional well-being and reduce the risk of aggressive behavior.

In other words, for millions of Nigerians who have been pushed to the very precipice of existence as a direct consequence of Tinubu’s pigheaded implementation of IMF’s people-annihilating “economic reforms,” his fall on June 12 was cathartic, that is, emotionally satisfying.

Don’t deny them the mentally purging sensation they derive from this by guilt-tripping them as being hardhearted, especially because Tinubu wasn’t hurt.

Senator Shehu Sani has told Nigerians that Tinubu is the patron-saint and chief financier of protests in Nigeria. Now that he is president and causing the exact conditions that inspired past protests that he funded, there is no one to protest. Cathartic satisfaction from his karmic physical fall is all that severely grieving people have now.

Additionally, humor is the oxygen of democracy. As my friend Professor Moses Ochonu also pointed out in his Facebook status update a few days ago on Tinubu’s fall, comedians in the United States feast on the literal and metaphoric missteps of leaders, especially presidents, and citizens lap it up.

“In the US, where I live, late night hosts and comedians have jobs partly because the foibles, quirks, gaffes, and public physical failings and awkwardness of the president and other leaders are fair game for jokes and laughter,” he wrote.

Power confers an appearance of superhumanness, of invincibility, and of perfection on people who wield it. An occasional fall from this illusion of transcendence from familiar human weaknesses is often great grist for the humor mills.

President Gerald Ford is perhaps the most famous U.S. president for his falls. He slipped and fell multiple times during his presidency, including a notable fall while disembarking from Air Force One in 1975.

In 2003, President George W. Bush fell off a Segway. He also experienced a minor fall while running in 2004, which caused a scratch on his face.

Most people know that President Joe Biden has had a few notable falls, including tripping multiple times while boarding Air Force One in 2021 and falling off his bike during a ride in 2022.

The UK has also had its fair share of prime ministers who fell. For example, “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher had a fall in 1988 while walking at her official residence, 10 Downing Street.

In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown slipped and fell at the Cenotaph during a Remembrance Day ceremony. Another British Prime Minister, John Major, fell and injured his knee in 1995 while jogging.

And Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison famously fell during a football game in 2019.

In all these cases, citizens laughed at the expense of their leaders. People weren’t guilt-tripped for laughing. No leader is entitled to any citizen’s unearned sympathy.

Thankfully, Tinubu appears to recognize this. He joked that he didn’t fall but merely observed the Yoruba tradition of dobale, that is, the physical gesture of prostration or kneeling as a show of respect to elders and people in positions of authority. It was good-natured, self-deprecating humor.

It reminds me of a popular humorous quote in America when people fall: “I did not trip and fall. I attacked the floor and I believe I am winning.”

Unfortunately, some people who have no capacity to appreciate the nuances of humor, irony, sarcasm, and satire missed it and thought Tinubu told a barefaced, face-saving lie in the aftermath of his embarrassing fall! That’s such clueless humorlessness.

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