By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
A fight between the dog and the baboon must be one of those very rare encounters in the Animal Kingdom. Animals fight over territory, food, mates, and in defence of their lives, or of the young. It is very hard to foresee the two animals fighting over any of the above because on most of items, the paths of the two animals hardly cross.
In Africa and particularly in Hausaland where this near impossible idea was contrived as a proverb, such a fight can only happen under the influence of man when in hunting he sets the dog to catch the baboon or its baby. In that case, that fight would surely be one to witness.
The dog uses its power of speed and strong canine teeth, the baboon his powerful shoulders, limbs, claws, hands, and under extreme conditions, his teeth. And this condition is extreme – a fight for his life or that of his baby. So we better assume that the baboon will deploy his entire arsenal.
The camera of kare jini biri jini Hausa proverb often pictures a very fierce and inconclusive fight between two contenders. We can picture the dog first barking incessantly, with its jaws wide open hoping to scare the baboon into submission. The well-built baboon, on the other hand, is not a coward. He would not jump up the trees to escape the attacking dog; he would not fly. He turns wild too, flexing his muscles, beating his wide chest and destroying the surrounding shrubs to intimidate the dog. He jumps at a branch, breaks it and hurls it at the dog, but the carnivore remains recalcitrantunder the command of his master, barking, barking … and now ready to charge.
And the fight ensues and continues for several minutes and, perhaps, hours…
As the proverb depicts, the fierce fight ends inconclusively with both parties sustaining deeps cuts and innumerable browses. Each contender was lucky to survive it and returns to its shelter licking its wounds. The dog gives up hunting for that day, returns home and is granted a sick leave by its master. The baboon keeps his life and his baby and remains in his territory or migrates to a safer one. The only conclusion reached was that the dog learned to avoid the baboon henceforth, while the baboon learned to include the dog among its dangerous enemies in the Kingdom.
In the above, I have tried to capture the proper context and scenario of the proverb. It simply connotes a situation where the fight for something is fierce, where you give your challenger a good run for his money, but where despite the ferocity of the contest, its outcome was not conclusive. In short, when you tell your contender that za a yi kare jini biri jinni, it simply means the battle will be fierce. In the case of Buhari, he was promising his supporters from Niger State that 2015 elections will be fierce; or put in another way, the PDP wIll not have it easy. Simple.
How this simple statement translated into a political missile that says Buhari is promising a bloodbath come 2015 remains one of those sad stories in our practice of journalism.
Let us have a re-read of the mistranslation:
“If what happened in 2011 (alleged rigging) should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.”
Does this reflect the proper context and meaning of the Hausa proverb kare jini biri jinni that we explained above? No. That is because, among other things, if by the time both the dog and the baboon are soaked in blood, both would have been dead, a picture which the proverb never envisaged. It would have been better for the reporter to say, “Come 2015, I promise you, the fight will be fierce.”
Here, I must say that the words of Buhari were misinterpreted, perhaps deliberately, to entertain the Nigerian public with a sensational story that will keep the presently near-static mill of public opinion running once more, or to invent a weapon to knock him down again in the ring of 2015 presidential contest.
But, to be fair to the reporter also, it was a mistranslation that I think was informed by the history of the General’s consistent call for mass action since 2003, of CPC’s unguarded campaign utterances in 2011 and how they were widely believed to have inspired the post election violence that year, and of the strategy of the General’s supporters of the ANPP especially in Bauchi state in 2007, a la his doctrine of protect your votes, a kasa, a tsare, a raka.
These were the elements in the background that also informed the supporting and opposing comments which trailed the publication of that mistranslated proverb. Nigerians became divided overnight into three camps.
The first group – Buhari’s opponents – jumped at it saying, “Aha. There we go again. This notorious and bloodthirsty coup plotter is still dreaming of a bloodbath.” If Buhari, by his statement, was serving such opponents with a notice of an impending doom, they did not heed to it. They did not show any sign of repentance from the sin he is accusing them of. Instead, they continue to direct their accusing fingers at him.
On the other hand, his supporters, the second group, to me, showed the most disheartening response. They did not take the pain to verify and analyse his statement. Not a single one of them came over to say that he was misrepresented. Have they done so, it would have cooled the atmosphere and reassured us. They adopted the mistranslation, in situ, as if it were right, and presented an alibi, saying, “Only election riggers are be afraid of Buhari’s statement. Would there be a bloodbath in 2015 as a result of rigging, it is the PDP that should be held responsible.”
The third group, we the onlookers, are terrified that we will be disastrously caught in the crossfire, once more, as it happened to hundreds of Nigerians during the 2011 elections, when, especially in Southern Kaduna and Bauchi state, the lives of the innocent were lost and thousands of people displaced to date across Northern Nigeria.
Here was a corper medic, for example, riding an ambulance in Toro, stopped and hacked to death by the very people he came all the way from the East to serve after his long and tedious training as a doctor, at a place where he had nobody to protect him except the mores of civilization. His sin was simply that he did not belong to the ethnic group or religion of Buhari, the opposition presidential candidate. The mob on that fateful day was found wanting in those mores, defective in conscience. That is how many like him paid the ultimate price across the state.
And there was a primary school girl in southern Kaduna, witnessing her primary school teacher hacking her father to death in Zonkwa, Southern Kaduna, for no crime but that the father belonged to the religion other than that of the incumbent President, Goodluck Jonathan. She never thought that the savage gene of the teacher would overcome the etiquette of civility that her familiarity with him would engender. On that fateful day, humanity was lost, the feeling of civilization was gone, and no guarantees were kept. Months after that massacre, the girl would tell her story to the ears of a deaf and dumb nation that allows the assassin teacher to walk the streets freely, earning his salary. That is how hundreds of the like of her father died and thousands of her type continue to suffer as the politicians behind the crimes remain unscathed.
To date, nobody is man enough to directly or remotely claim even a vicarious responsibility for those atrocities. The PDP that is accused of rigging the election refused to admit that it rigged it in the first place. Instead, it shifted the blame to Buhari, citing what it called his “inciting statements” at his campaign rallies. Buhari and his supporters, on the other hand, returned the blame to PDP, with three reasons: he was a victim not a partaker in the violence; the dastardly acts were carried out not by his supporters but by hoodlums who did not spare him either; and that it was in fact the ruling party that instigated the violence in the first place by rigging the elections. So did the trading in blame continued until our father, Justice Ahmed Lemu, inconclusively closed the chapter.
His panel came up with an ingeniously ambivalent verdict, saying both Buhari and the PDP are right. It said it is true that Buhari inspired the violence but it is also true that PDP’s rigging machine provoked it. In effect, the report claimed, there is an egalitarian share of the blame. Case closed. Court!!!
With that we return to our churches and mosques to pray that may God have mercy on those departed souls! And may he protect us, the living, the onlookers, the ordinary citizens, from the evils of power – of its keepers and seekers alike.
I was caught by the same fever when I read the mistranslation in English. I wondered how Buhari could make such a statement after his widely condemned “lynch them” directive of 2011. But when I heard his actual words in Hausa two days ago, I quickly understood that he said nothing unusual, for it is proper for politicians to inject hope in their supporters. Telling a delegation of such supporters that his party will put up a fierce fight next time is just one of those confidence preserving measures.
With this, I hope our journalists will in future show a better sense of responsibility in their reportage. They should use their brains not their minds. We are tired of hearing Buhari mistranslated by a section of the media. More importantly, however, our politicians on both sides of the divide, should refrain from any contemplation of violence or cheating, or asking their followers to take the law into their own hands, whatever the situation would be. If they think that winning an election is a religious duty, then they must not forget that none of our two dominant religions call to violence as a means of winning power or as a reaction to defeat. In Islamic tradition, the injustice of forty years is preferred to the fitna (unrest) of a day.
The government and INEC must do their best to ensure free and fair elections in 2015. The electoral body has two years ahead to fully prepare for it and get rid of imperfections. Let there be a clean fight that ends in a clean winner and a clean loser. If the government is not ready for this, my dear friend, Professor Attahiru Jega, should throw in the towel. The defeated in this case – whether baboon or dog – must accept defeat and allow us live in peace.
If our advice is not accepted, we shall then pray that may our compassionate God deliver us from the evil of that day, when the dog and the baboon fiercely slug it out in the court of Nigerian election. We pray that He restricts their evil to them. And on that day, neither the dog nor the baboon should not return home clean. We are tired.
Oh Lord, answer our prayer.
Let all peace-loving Nigerians say Amen.