…… Continuation from last week……..

After discussing the use of invective in election rally songs in Lesotho, I am turning to an example from northern Nigeria recorded in 1983. This will give my readers a chance to brush up their Hausa (the main language of northern Nigeria and adjacent areas of neighbouring countries).
I must first acknowledge that I have taken the English translation of the song from a fine book by William Miles called Elections in Nigeria: a grassroots perspective (there’s a copy in the NUL library for anyone who wants to follow it up). I shall quote some comments by Miles on reactions to the song, that are supported by my own observations, as I was living there at the time. In 1983, Nigeria was governed by the NPN (National Party of Nigeria) under President Shehu Shagari, and he was seeking re-election. Under his leadership Nigerian politics had become more corrupt than ever before (although I never heard anyone suggest that Shagari was personally corrupt, he certainly allowed the rot to flourish).

We also have to bear in mind that northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim (I’d guess at least 80 per cent of the population) and the song begins with an appeal to Islamic hegemony (and in reading these opening lines of the song, remember that Shagari and his NPN were seeking re-election): “God [Allah] is the ultimate ruler, he appoints his own ruler, / Once he appoints his ruler, No one else may overthrow him.” In other words (and the song is explicit about this later on), if you vote for the opposition and depose Shagari and his party, you are an infidel and God will condemn you.

Of course these assertions are not coming from nowhere. The idea of the caliph being God’s appointed ruler (hence the idea of the caliphate—and Sokoto, near which city the song was recorded, was a mighty caliphate) is enshrined in the Quran. My point is not to argue against that principle, but to argue that it does not sit very comfortably with the principles of competitive multi-party politics in a secular democratic State such as Nigeria.

From this point on the song is largely taken up with invective, growing harsher as it proceeds. The opposition are “illiterates, all old, poor people” (as if non-literacy, old age and poverty were moral defects). Then: “they are bastards, an evil congregation / There isn’t a decent person among them.” One’s chief concern here, as with the stigmatization of “the aged” aimed at opposition leaders in one of the songs I discussed from Lesotho, is that invective of this kind if socially divisive.

What if your grandfather supports a different party from yourself and is non-literate: does that make him in your eyes a member of an evil congregation? (“sorry, grandad, can’t talk to you any more, you’re just a bastard.”)

The song goes on to exploit religious intolerance, with the claim (totally without foundation) that the opposition are Islamaphobic, and with their leader castigated as a dog (especially offensive in the Moslem context). Worse, he is charged with being a cross-dressing homosexual or “Dudu” (“His mother wears a cloth wrapper. His wife wears a cloth wrapper. He too wears a cloth wrapper”) and, worse still, though the invective here is desperately far-fetched, he is “a slave to Jews.”

At its most venomous, the song declares of opposition campaigners and supporters: “Any NPP [opposition party] stalwart is a dog. As for me, if he dies, / Let him not be buried. Burn him in fire. The ingrate dog.”
In the final part of this piece on election rally songs, next week, I shall be turning from the songs themselves to the way audiences at rallies react to them. It seems this reaction is quite different in Lesotho and in northern Nigeria, but I shall be asking readers for their comments on what I have to say about that.
(To be concluded)

By: Chris Dunton

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