The Social Media Line In The Sand, By Sonala Olumhense

There was a lady in Enugu that the great singer Joe Nez did not seem to like very much.

The first words of his song about her are “Fat, fat as a cow,” and even before telling her story, Mr. Nez pounds down that line four times, like a Serena Williams first serve. It is a song about his landlady in the ‘Coal City’ as a young man, and he gave the song that title.
According to Mr. Nez, a fascinating artiste whom I first saw twanging his guitar on this song on television in the 1970s, the woman had asked him to be her boyfriend.
“I said, Mama, you’re too fat for little Joe Nez,” he protests.
He explains: “You have to see my landlady: she’s fat as malu [cow]…”
Mr. Nez, not stopping there, and not explaining if he had actually used the words “too fat,” publishes her robust measurements:
“Waist 44, chest 44, legs 44…she’s 44 years old
“She sat like humpty-dumpty, at the bedroom door…”
You got the message she was a big lady, and was perhaps not very pretty. But: “waist 44, chest 44, legs 44…?”
It is clear Joe must have been considerably younger, and to a man in his 20s or 30s, age 44 on a woman can be anything from upsetting to intimidating.
But “legs 44”? What part of her legs, and who measures those? Mr. Nez doesn’t say.
The lady’s profile gets worse as he denounces her as a “short, black, tall, white lady.”
At which point you begin to suspect that the artiste may have been smoking something, as you try to understand how the same “malu” is at once short and tall, and then black and white.
In any case, given that imbalance of forces, it is uncanny that she actually makes it anywhere near the bedroom door (his or hers) in the first place (or why he appears to have been reporting from within that bedroom, but that is another story).
Keep in mind that this is Mr. Nez’s account, and he appears to have been tortured for quite some time, and not necessarily for late payments.
“What am I going to do if I befriend my landlady?” he laments.
“She is gonna suffer,” he laments again and again, pausing to laugh at the preposterousness of it all.
“What am I going to do if I happen to befriend my landlady?
“What am I going to say if I happen to befriend my landlady?”
His verdict: “Not me, not me, count me out! What are you talking about?”
We do not know how Nez’s tale ended.Perhaps he simply fled that bed/room into an Ekene Dili Chukwu bus late one night on his way to stardom in Lagos, leaving a pile of unpaid rents.
We do not need to know. He sang in an era in which Nigerian artistes were not only powerful performers on instruments and on the dance floors, but at the microphone. Sometimes, they were more mass media than the mass media itself.
And that was in an era of the bullets, coups, the civil war, and military arrogance. It was the era of our first experiences of Nigerian corruption, atrocious governance and monkey politicians.
That is perhaps why some people never believed Nez’s landlady was actually some lonely rich spinster or widow in Enugu.
“Short, black, tall, white lady…
“Waist 44, chest 44, legs 44…she’s 44 years old
Perhaps Mr. Nez was issuing a warning about the Nigerian politician, specifically the house of ill-repute known as the Senate, loaded with former governors who used their office to buy a seat, high-profile looters, outlaws, scofflaws, child-bride enthusiasts, certificate forgers, currency manipulators, and sundry 419-ers.
What did the overpaid Senators do, in one week they did not betray their oath of office and band around their troubled leader on his way to yet another embarrassing court date? They began consideration of a desperate bill by which they would fine and then hurl into jail journalists and social media commentators who make “false allegations”. So determined were they that in just business days (as opposed to working days), the bill passed a second reading [not to be mistaken for anyone actually reading anything].
It is the job of journalism and its cousins to tell the truth. The corollary is also true: it is the job of journalism and its citizen-cousins to report and advocate a country where people who openly ask for votes to represent the people, are held to standards which demonstrate they are openly doing so.
Last week, Nigeria was on fire, as it began to emerge that while our soldiers were being slaughtered by well-armed Boko Haram militants, our political elite appeared to have been sharing the funds meant for their arms.
AIT founder Raymond Dokpesi reportedly explained that the N2.1 billion he collected from former National Security Adviser (NSA) Sambo Dasuki was payment for publicity and media services he provided for this year’s political campaigns.
Remember: Dasuki was NSA not to the Peoples Democratic Party, and not even to Nigeria, but to President Goodluck Jonathan. He was not the Minister of Defence and should perhaps not even have been buying arms; nor was he the Minister of Information or the Minister of Finance with some responsibility for publicity for the government. Somehow, he will explain in court, he was “paying” for a partisan election campaign!
Somehow, no Senator seemed to care about that crisis last week: they were hunting for social media activists to avoid being embarrassed.
While they were at it, the security services were making further arrests of people who allegedly drank of the waters of the arms scandal. Among them, former Sokoto State Governor Attahiru Bafarawa was said to have received N4.6 billion, a piece of largesse he first explained as having been for “spiritual purposes,” and then repudiated.
Nigeria’s Senators, too busy carting away truckloads of salaries and allowances, were not concerned last week about this political fire outbreak. They were keeping an eye on social media, with an eye to keeping a lid on corruption rather than on lighting a torch for transparency.
Senator Dino Melaye, who was last year advertising himself as an “anti-corruption” crusader, denounced online publication Sahara Reporters as “a threat to democracy with their continued act of insubordination.” He wanted the Buhari government to “write the US Government on their misinformation.”
Hopefully, our Senators will learn that the rule of law ought to apply to everyone, and that no specific laws should protect the most privileged.
The irony is that they know that if they advocate this, many of them may not be on this side of the prison door six months from now.
The current panic in the Senate, and in the klpetocracy, is a good sign. It is a reminder of the power of the media when it courageously pursues the cause of social justice.
The other is the power of the citizen who refuses to be robbed into silence, or having been robbed, also elects to be silent.
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• Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense

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