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Lessons from George Orwell about Current Phase of Buhari’s Fascism

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi I have immersed myself in the study of the ontogenesis and manifestations of fasc...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I have immersed myself in the study of the ontogenesis and manifestations of fascism since Buhari started to bare his ferociously fascist fangs. One of the world’s most insightful writers on fascist totalitarianism is George Orwell. As he himself pointed out in his 1946 essay titled “Why I Write,” “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism….”

His most famous works, Animal Farm (published in 1945) and 1984 (published in 1949), were not just devastatingly searing fictional critiques of totalitarianism, they also offer enduringly accurate insights into how absolutist fascism works.  The significance of Animal Farm to understanding Buhari’s monocratic excesses are already too obvious to deserve expounding.

Orwell’s 1984 is the most helpful in unpacking the unfolding phase of Buhari’s next-level fascism. In this phase, the regime wants to not just impose ironclad strangulation on basic liberties; it also wants to exercise absolute control over the limits of the meanings of everyday words and expressions. I call this intangible but nonetheless visible forms of symbolic fascist violence.

 Words and expressions such as “revolution,” “terrorism,” “terrorist,” “treason,” “soft target,” “defeat,” “technical,” “hate speech,” etc. no longer mean what they are universally understood to mean in the Anglophone world; they now only mean what Buhari and his fascist honchos want them to mean, as I will show shortly.

In Orwell’s 1984, we learn that the fictional totalitarian country of Oceania invented a new language called newspeak, which strips words of their habitual significations, constricts the semantic boundaries of existing words, narrows the range of vocabularies people can use, and privileges, indeed insists on, the meanings the state imposes on words and expressions.

All fascist regimes understand the power of language in birthing, nurturing, and naturalizing tyranny. Orwell recognized this fact in another famous, oft-cited 1946 essay titled “Politics and the English Language.” That is why the Buhari regime now wants to impose limits on what words can mean and not mean. Take, for instance, the increasingly variable and arbitrary meaning of the word “terrorism” in Buhari’s Nigeria. Every organized resistance against the government is now “terrorism.”

The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), whose mode of campaign for separatism is demonstrably non-violent, was formally declared a “terrorist” organization and proscribed.

 Shiite Muslims, who have remained remarkably pacifist and restrained even in the face of the unjustified extra-judicial mass murders of their members and the continued incarceration of their leader in spite of several court judgments to release him, have been declared “terrorists” and their organization “proscribed.”

The regime labeled IPOB and Shiites “terrorists” only because of their sustained, constitutionally guaranteed civil protests against the government, which will go down in history as the most thin-skinned collection of boneheaded crybabies.

Omoyele Sowore’s nationwide #RevolutionNow protests, for which he is being illegally detained, were also declared “terrorism” and“treasonable felony.” Ironically, between 2013 and 2014, many of the founders of the APC vigorously lobbied the US government to not designate Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization. On June 10, 2013, Lai Mohammed said Goodluck Jonathan administration’s proscription of Boko Haram was overly broad and did not “pass the Constitutional test.” Buhari is also on record as saying that military action against Boko Haram was an attack on the “North.”

To this day, the Buhari regime has never officially declared Boko Haram a terrorist group let alone proscribe it. On the contrary, Boko Haram’s captured members are often washed up, deodorized as “repentant,” and even enlisted into the Nigerian Army, which explains why our soldiers are now sitting ducks for Boko Haram terrorists.

Murderous marauders known in the Nigerian news media as “killer Fulani herdsmen” or " armed bandits" have been called “the fourth deadliest known terrorist group” in the world by the Global Terrorism Index, but the Buhari regime has said absolutely nothing about this group much less designate it as a terrorist group. If anything, members of the group are being featherbedded and emboldened by the regime.

But harmless, unarmed, defenseless groups who resist the regime’s tyranny peacefully are quickly labeled “terrorists,” detained, harassed, and ultimately “proscribed.” This is particularly interesting because Buhari rode on the crest of the wave of civil disobedience to climb to power. In fact, in 2011, during a stump speech, he did actually commit what amounted to a terroristic incitement to violence when he unambiguously told his supporters to extra-judicially murder political opponents.

  Ku fita ku yi zabe. Ku kasa. Ku tsare. Ku raka. Ku tsaya. Duk wanda ya taba ku halaka shi!” he said in Hausa. Rough idiomatic translation: “Go out and participate in the election. Cast your vote. Protect it. Accompany it (to the collation center). Wait for it (to be counted). Whoever tempers with (the vote) kill him!”

And scores of people, including youth corps members, were extra-judicially murdered in several parts of the Muslim North as a direct consequence of his incitement. That was real terrorism for which he was never brought to justice. Terrorism is defined as "the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims."

Similarly, although Buhari, Bola Tinubu, and many APC henchmen had used the word “revolution” in the past to characterize their resistance to the reigning government, the word is now practically banned in Nigeria. It can now only mean what the government wants it to mean. By “revolution,” Sowore clearly meant prolonged mass protests that would so overwhelm the government that it would be compelled to accede to the demands of the protesters.

That was precisely the sort of “revolution” Buhari praised in Egypt and which he enjoined Nigerians to emulate. The Arab Spring was not a revolution through the ballot box, as his defenders are insisting; it was a series of unrelenting, organized mass protests that caused the deaths of many people. It was its aftermath that birthed the pretense to democracy that was quickly thwarted in the country.

Any intelligent person knows that Sowore’s isolated references to overthrowing the government weren't literal. In media law, it’s called rhetorical hyperbole, and it’s not actionable.  Calling someone a “criminal,” a “thief,” a “fraudster,” a “conman,” etc. is mere rhetorical hyperbole, but saying they stole “500 billion naira in 2018” is a specific, verifiable fact and may constitute grounds for libel.

 Sowore and his group have no capacity to overthrow the government. It’s the government’s own acute self-consciousness of its transparent illegitimacy that is causing it to see threats in even the most innocuous forms of resistance. English philosopher Bertrand Russel had hypersensitive, illegitimate regimes like Buhari’s in mind when he said, “Freedom of opinion can only exist when the government thinks itself secure.”

While any physical protest against the Buhari regime is now “terrorism,” the definitional boundaries of the term “hate speech” have also been squeezed to now only mean any strong criticism of the government’s trademark incompetence and fraud.

But hate speech is conventionally understood as speech that denigrates or incites violence against a people on the basis of their social, cultural, ethnic, religious, etc. characteristics. Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation (= the fact of being gay, etc.):”

That means government or its officials can’t possibly be the target of hate speech for just being in government. But the point of controlling the meanings of the words we use is that the regime wants to invoke its invented meanings as linguistic justification for physical violence and the naturalization of fascism.

Nigerians must not only resist the Buhari regime’s repression, they must also fight its Orwellian newspeak, which excludes Nigerians from the power of naming. In his influential book titled Challenging Codes, Italian political sociologist Alberto Melucci, whose country birthed the original fascist ideology Buhari is enamored with, tells us that, “The real domination is… the exclusion from the power of naming.”

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  1. Hi Prof, this a message I sent you privately on Facebook but didn't get a response from you; Good day prof, I have been following you for a while now. I love the contents of your writings; grammatically & intellectually. But there is something I need you to clarify for me please. Now in 2015 you supported General Buhari against Goodluck, I do not want to believe you did that out of ignorance of Buhari's ineptness because if I could identify that he was not a good alternative to Goodluck then, I expect you to have known better. I myself was tired of the Goodluck adminstration but I knew Buhari was not the right alternative. I'm sending you this as a private message cos I do sincerely want to understand please.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thanks, Prof, for confirming my suspicions. I have all along felt that the present Government in Nigeria picks and chooses and misinterprets some words as it pleases it. I couldn't get round to placing a finger on the trick and explaining it. But you have done it brilliantly and academically in this article. Thank you, once again.

  4. Nigerians should stand up against Buhari, when all the civic right activists were all sitting in their comfort homes, some in abroad. Who's to take the lead? Its a shame when i have not seen activists like Shehu Sani, J Odumakin etc and veteran journalists like Prof Farooq Kperogi etc forming forces to champion this cause. All i have seen from them are Tweets.

    1. You don't challenge what you have little knowledge of. Prof Farooq Kperogi's writings impact more meaningfully than a street protest that is repressed and, eventually, achieves no purpose.
      If you understand the age-long maxim that the pen is mightier than the sword, you will not take such a position in infographic pretence.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Well it depends...

    4. "the pen is mightier than the sword",not in context to bringing about economy change in a country, especially in Africa. The only language african leaders understand to sit tight is "peaceful street protests" which we have seen in all part of the world. We've seen that successfully in Tunisia, egypt, senegal, Burkina Faso etc. Even Zimbabwe just for increased in fuel price, in Brazil for increased in domestic flower bread to mentioned but few. Of recent even in Nigeria, where the Shiites stage a protest that forced the FG to grant El-zakzaky bail for medical considerations, even though it has turn out to be bloody. So protest or whatever name you may call it, its the only available means now to push for change.

  5. Fantastic! Thank you for this amazing post. Loved it!
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  6. Keep writing. You have a mass audience. You are a severe pain in he neck of this corrupt, nepotistic, visionless and illiterate government.

  7. In the corpus of literary works, George Orwells 1984 is the wrong to describe Buharis regime, same way dystopia from the dictionary is wrong for the situation.

    Western media equate communist China 2019, to Orwells 1984 dystopia. Buharis Nigeria lacks the financial and intellectual resources it takes.

  8. From the inception of Buhari's administration, I have consistently aligned with the societal picture George Orwell's Animal farm projects because, Buhari and his ilks in government had and showed decipherable signs of the government's leanings. The Buhari's first term betray any doubts a keen observer would have had. The unveiling of the gruesome Next Level events of this infantile second term are not coming to me as a surprise in the least, infact I fear the days ahead would hit the nation even harder because, the president is a cold and hardhearted man who does not care about the plight of ordinary citizens, his cronies are not any better and as long as they can feed fat off the nation's purse while the president feigns ignorance, wailers and the suffering mass are mere alarmists and rangers. From choking of free speech, silencing of dissenting voices, incarceration of seeming threats and even murdering of patriotic individuals in different guides, ie the execution of the members of the police force in Taraba state. I will say Nigerians are in for a very long night of terror. Thank you Prof. Farooq Kperogi for lettering the thoughts and fears of concerned Nigerians.

  9. You missed the point. Drastic disease requires a drastic cure. Nigeria is infinitely more complex and potentially more volatile than your adopted country, the USA. Government firmness in dealing with troublemakers doesn't make it Orwellian totalitarian. As an academic, it's unfortunate that your comments on Buhari's Nigeria are often laced with florid exaggerations.I wonder if you'd ever venture into Nigeria before May 29, 2023! Feel safe in your self-imposed exile in the land of untrammelled freedom and leave us alone with our "dictatorship"!

  10. Wow! I think Prof. Literature is deep in your blood. Comparisons, countless of them can be drawn from Orwellian WORLD with Buhari's government.But one aspect I find closely relevant is the behaviour of Boxer, shallow, servile, gullible and naive character ever ready to believe and accept anything Comrade Napoleon calls for with many people blindly supporting Buhari. In the same vein, Outer party members who cannot see reality except through the eyes of the party. Orwell is so powerful writer that even in the context of our country his works are still relevant. It is absolutely timeless.


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