I was a rookie reporter when the late Sardaunan Katsina, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomassie, was the Commissioner of Police in Kwara State. On a National Day parade, the workaholic Coomassie suddenly slumped while taking the salute. He was elbowed out of the arena for treatment. It was the story of the day and yours truly led the front page of The Herald the next day, before going into hiding because the police were after me. It was a story neither Coomassie nor the police wanted reported or published.
Last week Joe Biden, the most powerful man on planet democracy stumbled three times and fell. It subsumed the original event he was attending and became global lead story. Biden is 78 and the subject of health speculation, yet people with no understanding of Journalism 101 were questioning that editorial judgment of news portals. The most strident howlers were Nigerians.
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In Africa, hired public servants remove their toga of mortality for the mythical allure of divinity. In John Magufuli’s Tanzania, reporting such an event would have tantamount to blasphemy. The 2015 Magufuli was a hero who curbed the excesses of evil servants, banned unnecessary foreign trips and spent money budgeted for wasteful ceremonies to be used to equip hospitals. That is not uncommon African leadership trait.
It was not to last as Magufuli’s was barely showboating. Ominous signs unveiled when journalist Erick Kabendera, wrote a critical piece on Magufuli. He was hunted, hounded and sent to jail on trumped-up charges. Idris Sultan, a comedian who face-swapped Magufuli on social media was charged under the notorious Cybercrime Act. Those were the initial signs that Magufuli was going the wrong road. Kabendera and Sultan were lucky, Azory Gwanda, another journalist covering killings in Tanzania simply disappeared, never to be seen again.
Just weeks before he drew his last breath, Magufuli’s government arrested four journalists who reported his sickness and hospitalization. His regime denied the report swearing that he was at his desk working for Tanzania, obviously invisible to the ordinary eye. Nigerians are familiar with discredited information managers, who under Umaru Musa Yar’adua convinced us that a Nigerian president elected by Nigerians need not be physically present within the nation’s borders to run the country.
Yar’adua’s sickness would lead to the shameful doctrine of necessity where Nigeria’s irrational legislature adopted an interview granted a foreign news medium as sufficient evidence to transfer power to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan. The same doctrine provided cover for General Muhammadu Buhari’s long absence from Abuja in the early days of his first term.
Of course in America, Joe Biden’s slip and fall was the story on all major news outlets. Americans earned the rights to know the truth about the state of their president’s health. Anyone who has experienced the boisterousness of North American wind knows it could torpedo a moving van.
In journalism, it is no news when a fly perches on wound. It becomes news when the person with the sore kills and snacks on the fly. Aberration is always news. There is no reason to engage in social media slugfest with regime apologists on news judgment. The job of the editor is to cure the hungry palate of the average news consumer with mouth-watering dishes of the mundane and the abnormal.
John Magufuli moved from being a no-nonsense elected leader to an emerging dictator. Africa is filled with his type. With his sudden death, Tanzania dodged a dictatorial bullet. Ours is a continent that ‘elects’ leaders to fix our problems who then requests us to look up to the hills for help in solving our problems. In his stolen second term, Magufuli pandered to his religious side like a man exorcised of rationality.
He abandoned logic to endorse to ludicrous theories; from denying the science of viruses to leading his citizens into asinine rituals. Magufuli was on the road to becoming Tanzania’s megalomaniac Yayah Jammeh who cured every disease in the world with his magic wand, chants and incantations. Magufuli moved from being a charismatic leader to an idiotic despot. He pandered to his own whims and danced to the tunes of praise singers.
With COVID-19 ravaging most parts of the world, Magufuli enrolled in the school of covidiocy. The man, who once converted excess funds to furnish hospitals, returned to build containerised kilns to smoke out a deadly virus – a pure descent into absurdity.
While Israel, the traditional home of Jesus Christ, and Italy the traditional homestead of Catholicism were scientifically battling COVID-19, Magufuli, a convert declared that the Holy Spirit cannot inhabit the same body with any disease. It would have been understandable if he belonged to the pentarascal cults that feed their flock on a mixture of motivational speeches garnished with a tincture of out-of-context scriptural texts. But he was a Catholic and modern Catholicism is not antithetical to science nor does it subscribe to new age hocus-pocus.
After two weeks of conspicuous absence during which Tanzanian propagandists assured citizens that their president was working hard at his desk, they finally admitted that he succumbed to a heart attack. Apparently, the Holy Spirit couldn’t inhabit his mortal body and coronary thrombosis.
The Magufuli, who appeared like a welcome comet in a dark firmament of dictatorship in 2015, rigged himself in last year by banning independent observers from the elections. He disguised it to look like an attack on neo-colonialism while laying the foundation to become an irreplaceable messiah. Unfortunately, the death that did not spare the first true Mwalimu has harvested the soul of the fake one and given his position to his deputy, Samiat Suluhu Hassan as scriptures would have put it – his position, let another take! All this happened before his draped casket opened for the usual fake eulogies and national drivel that makes the living that are powerful fear nothing. Clowns unsubscribed to the science of social distancing or mask wearing paid their last respects.
While Africa has largely been spared the monumental harvest of deaths from COVID-19 only fools’ play smart with a deadly invisible virus. Very few conspiracy theory subscribers have lived to celebrate their idiocy for long.
There will always be a space for the dogma that organised religion feeds its adherents; the impact becomes devastating when political leaders subscribe to it. This is true as it was in the days of Copernicus as it is today. Those who abandon science and cling to dogma lead their people to the edge of peril.
In the 21st Century, we make a fool of ourselves if we ignore the contribution of science to life and human survival. When God said he had finished creation after making man, he was being clairvoyantly prophetic. It behoves of us who are infused with the breath of the divine to take creation to the next level by improving living conditions and life and not to bury our rationality, which is the greatest of all talents.
Magufuli came, he saw, he had the capacity to conquer and earn a pride of place for himself in the pantheon of great modern leaders – unfortunately he fell way off the mark. It is shameful in death to gloss over his media misanthropy or how he misled his citizens.