At this point, I can no longer contain my curiosity about the Director-General of the National Centre for Arts and Culture, Otunba Segun Runsewe, and his obsession with Bobrisky. When Runsewe is not boasting about ruining Bobrisky’s birthday party, he gets on a soapbox to declare Bobrisky a “national disgrace,” “national disaster” and an “embarrassment to our country.” The other day he said Bobrisky started by “selling and using bleaching creams, but now he has grown boobs, bums, and hips.” Recently, he came up with another in his litany of complaints against Bobrisky when he declared the latter a health hazard. He then went on a nosey rant about women, their orifices, toilet diseases, and Bobrisky.
First, using his public office to single out an individual and gripe about the person is unethical and, in fact, borders on harassment. He is not a medical practitioner, and nothing about his office qualifies him to give invasive medical advice to women (or anyone) about their privates. If he is concerned about anyone’s health, he should take up the more urgent issue of hygiene in the few public restrooms across the country as an advocacy project. Second, Runsewe makes me wonder about him. If he has taken that much time to dissect Bobrisky’s body to the point that he notices the changes in “boobs, bums, and hips” and then proceeds to make a public announcement about restrooms and genitals, only God knows what else goes on in his imagination when he thinks of Bobrisky.
Runsewe has embarked on a self-righteous crusade against Bobrisky as if he has the sole commission to be the guardian of our moral galaxy. If he thinks Bobrisky’s antics are enough to “destroy the credibility of our country,” then you wonder where on the spectrum of national disasters he places the ruling class; the people who have the actual political power to influence the country’s destiny. How do you live in a country where you cannot generate electricity, education is comatose, poverty has become an epidemic, and all the indices show that you are a failing country, but your problem is Bobrisky? Runsewe also stated that Bobrisky should consider going into exile, and if he were caught on the streets of Nigeria, “he would be dealt with ruthlessly!” By which authority does Runsewe make all these threats? How soon before he assumes the right to declare a fatwa?
Runsewe’s phobia for Bobrisky, he says, is that Bobrisky will influence Nigerian youths with his lifestyle. You read that, and you wonder if the man listens to his own thoughts before he calls a press conference to announce them. If all the religious leaders who run the millions of mosques and churches in Nigeria have not successfully influenced public morals, how can Bobrisky—a singular individual with a social media handle—change the virtues of the entire country? You see, when people go on and on about other people’s sexuality like this, they make you wonder if they are not trying to drown some voices in their heads. If Runsewe is sincerely interested in the larger societal values, he should focus on that campaign and not target an individual.
I get that he is uneasy with Bobrisky, but he needs to lay off the harangue. How does the job of the DG of Arts and Culture, a sector that universally thrives when it celebrates non-conformism, dynamism, and envisioning of radical possibilities, gets reduced to the pursuit of an individual? Here is one hard pill that Runsewe should try swallow: Bobrisky is a woman. And how do I know that? The same way I can tell that Runsewe is a man. He claims he is a man; he looks like one, and he dresses like one too. The same can be said of Bobrisky. Bobrisky looks like a woman, dresses like one, and wants to be addressed as such. Those are the terms by which we relate with people every day. We address people according to their appearance, not according to what we think they should be or what we imagine is between their legs.
There is a Yoruba proverb that enjoins us to such courtesy. It says you address the calabash the way the owner of the calabash wants it addressed. That was our elders’ way of teaching us that imposing one’s subjective ideas on other people’s choices is bad manners. Idris Okuneye might have been a man, but Bobrisky is a woman. Besides, no law says one cannot switch one’s gender, so what is the obsession all about? I understand that like Runsewe, people are perturbed by Bobrisky’s self-transformation. Such sentiments are understandable given we live in a culture where we still battle bread-and-butter issues. A level of self-recreation like Bobrisky’s is unusual and quite radical, in fact. However, if we have to address such issues, we need to do better than the reductionistic approach of Runsewe, who has simplified complex philosophical, legal, medical, and bioethical arguments to his gut feeling on the matter.
By now, when we talk about the issues of gender and sexuality, one would expect our leaders to come up with sophisticated and deeply reasoned arguments, especially when they claim they are defining a moral trajectory for the society. They should have rested the convenient, yet meretricious arguments that some things should not be done because they do not fit into the norms of African culture. Culture is not static, and our African lives are far too dynamic for the suspect agenda that purports to box us into tiny boxes of how we should live or not. You cannot be living in a world where you use all the accoutrements of modernity and still hold on to specious arguments about how this and that behavior does not match African culture.
Should there be a law banning people—adults with fully functional senses, that is—from embarking on modifying themselves from their “natural” selves into something else? I do not think so. I doubt that legislations will ever be enough to ban the humans of this world from doing transformative makeovers, bleaching their skins, putting silicon in their breasts, injecting their rear-ends and other parts of their bodies to enhance its appearance, extreme tattooing, saline injections, and even seeking penile enlargement. The cosmetic surgery procedures that made many body modifications possible were developed for the noble cause of repairing bodily deformities before they were hijacked. To stop people from modifying themselves for vanity purpose would be to impede legitimate innovations in the field of medicine.
Watching the scale of extreme human transformation that is now possible with advances in science and technology, I have concluded that there is a predisposition in every human to be creators like God. They keep picking up the scalpel that Obatala dropped when he finished the work of molding humans to continue the process of creation by themselves. There is nothing Bobrisky has done with that instinct in him that more people will not do with themselves as scientific knowledge progresses and helps us to meet certain desires.
From those seemingly harmless self-transformations such as skin bleaching, humans will eventually graduate to using machines to augment brain processes to work optimally. By the end of the 21stcentury, they will be designing their babies to be born with pre-selected traits. With such breathtaking possibilities, our understanding of natural realities—the things that we have taken as infallibly true—will be forever altered.
In that glorious future of humanity, what Bobrisky has done will not even stand out. In that wise, maybe Runsewe’s fears are not totally misplaced that Bobrisky’s self-transformation is just the beginning of a looming reality that has come to stay. If his concerns are genuinely about the future, there are more useful ways to work at it rather than the constant harassment of an individual. He should stop seeing Bobrisky as a problem he—and he alone—was called to solve, but instead as an opportunity to develop and rehearse the ideologies with which we will confront the changes that are coming upon our world.