Motola Jalade-Ekehinde is one of the most accomplished actresses in Nigeria’s movie industry, Nollywood. Her position as a United Nations World Food Program (UNWFP) ambassador exposes her to the excruciating economic realities in Africa and has made her become a voice for the masses in spite of her position as a celebrity, wife, and a proud mother. She reminds me of the character Titubi, the ebullient daughter of Alhaja Kabirat in Femi Osofisan’s play “Morountodun”. In the play, Titubi repudiates her upper-class echelon, undergoes a radical transformation, and identifies with the poor masses against government’s intransigences. Omotola’s recent observation about the conditions in the country, captured in her Twitter handle, has rattled the Nigerian State, unsettling those mired in fanatic delirium in their support of the present power machinery.
I first met Omotola in 2002 in Enugu at the set of the movie “Blood Sister”, directed by my friend Chidi Chikere. My close contact with her revealed a vocal, young woman, a keen observer of situations, always ready to give an opinion. She lacked the pretentious grandeur which most celebrities hang on their necks like a medal. At close quarters, I was convinced that the young woman will accomplish more in her life given the professionalism she displayed in the movie. Given my career pursuit in the academia, I bid good bye to Nollywood and never met Omotola again. When she was honoured in 2014 by the Nigerian State with the award MFR, people agreed that it was a crowning glory to a worthy citizen. As a philanthropist, she has continued to identify with the plight of the masses. I was not surprised therefore, when I read her latest twit calling the attention of the government to the searing conditions in the country. Unfortunately, her twit has attracted vile, indecent remarks from some Nigerians, which for the sake of decency, I would not reproduce here. The twit reads:
“The country under your watch is Hellish! @ProfOsinbajo @MBuhari @NGRPresident The lack of money in circulation, now coupled with the continuous assault and killings by uniformed men will make this country implode!!! It’s unbearable! Do something! Insecurity! Fear and desperation everywhere”.
As a man of letters, inexorably committed to critical engagement of the written word, I have several times read the above twit in its remote and immediate context. After much effort, I came away with the conviction that the actress was only exercising her democratic privilege of freedom of speech. Alas, many people, who are unfortunately warped in their appraisal of the Nigerian situation, have gone to war with the actress, going beyond the accepted levels of good behaviour to vilify her.
Now, let us quickly interrogate the content of her twit without bias. First of all, she says that the country, under President Mohammadu Buhari and Yemi Osinbajo is “hellish”. But the enlightened mind, free from mental laziness, knows that a hellish situation is a difficult, unbearable, and painful one. When the masses, those who form the base of the social structure, wallow in poverty, when cost of living in the country is a nightmare, when unemployment is the current bull in our China shop, when the youths resort to desperate means of survival, then we can agree with Omotola that the Nigerian situation is hellish.
The second phrase in her twit which has drawn the ire of many people is “no money in circulation”. Some Nigerians, who pretend to comprehend the written word, have interpreted that phrase to mean that the actress no longer collects free money from the government as she used to do when PDP was in power. This kind of interpretation indicts examination bodies who issued such people certificates with a credit pass in English Language. In simple terms, “no money in circulation” means that the Nigerian economy is stifled and therefore, the availability of funds is limited. Our stifled economy, as a result of lack of proper economic policies, is the reason why many companies are folding up, it is the reason why many families are relocating abroad and it is the reason why there is real, palpable hardship in the land. “No money in circulation” means that foreign investors are fleeing the country due to poor business climate. Therefore, to insinuate that “no money in circulation” means that Omotola does not get patronage from the government is a demonstration of the lowest level of human comprehension.
The third phrase in the twit reads “continuous assault and killing by uniformed men”. This point perhaps captures the most contemporary reality in Nigeria given the many deaths in the land through extra-judicial killings. It was reported recently that a young man, who went to watch a football match, was killed through a police stray bullet. It was also reported recently that a young girl was killed by a police officer in Ajegunle area of Lagos. Also, a medical doctor at LUTH, who just bagged a PhD, was recently shot at Idi-Araba on his way to work. A business man in Festac was also reported to have been shot by unknown men while driving into his house. These are known and reported cases. There are other unknown and therefore unreported cases of indiscriminate killings in the land. Indeed, I do not see how Omotola has breached the law by pointing out a reality that confronts us.
The last point in her now famous twit is “fear and desperation everywhere” which occurs as a consequence of its preceding point, “insecurity”. At the risk of sounding extremist, one can say that one of the problems confronting Nigeria now is insecurity. Nigerians are massacred with a consistency that offends the sensibilities. The latest incident in Zamfara State paints a gloomy picture of the Nigerian condition. In a big way, life has completely lost its sanctity within the body politic. When these incidents happen, they are flimsily reported in the media and the next day, we go about our businesses as if mosquitoes were killed. Here, we are talking about the lives of the citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, those the President and his vice swore to protect. As a result of the foregoing, millions of Nigerians live in fear and febrile anxiety. Given the above scenario, how did Omotola offend the gods in her twit.
I expect the presidency to thank Omotola for her insight, then come up with a reply showing that they are aware of these issues and empathize with Nigerians in all their sufferings. The presidency should responsibly outline their efforts to steer the ship of state in the right direction and ask Nigerians for support since the country belongs to everyone. This is what the presidency ought to do instead of attacking Omotola and in doing so, embarrassing the power structure before the whole world. Omotola has thrown a challenge to the presidency, let them take up the challenge and react positively.
Dr. Adiele writes from Lagos via [email protected]