Of a truth, Nigeria is a very great country. Each time you are downcast, wondering why providence was this unkind to have herded you among this lot, something to cheer just juts out from the dark to brighten your face. It tells you that Nigeria may not be a lost case after all. The past years have been very dispiriting for those who trade opinions about how society should be run through public commentaries in Nigeria.
You ask yourself repeatedly if it makes sense to engage in this ritual of soliloquy when those who are to interrogate issues you raise do the converse. It will seem that the first qualification that men about to take over power/office do in Nigeria is to sacrifice their ears to the god of office. Apart from the language that changes, Nigerian writers battle same issues, over and over again. Sometimes, we go into our archives, change names and places and, fittingly, conversations of ten years ago, including their recommendations, still look evergreen. Famous novelist, Ifeoma Okoye’s Men without ears seems to reinforce our despondence. Are we talking to men without ears?
Perhaps because of the plural nature of our society, Nigerians talk in Babel. As good as it is to have plural opinions on issues that affect our common destiny, so that there could be multiple perspectives, we reason from the cusps of the multiplicity of our tribes, religions and tongues, otherwise called self. Nigeria is absent from our reasoning. Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa and the 180 tribes or so define our thoughts. While the American talks from the perspective of “the love of country,” the Nigerian’s falcon cannot see Nigeria, the falconer. There is mutual suspicion because the spiritual essence of nationhood is not present in Nigeria. This is why it would be very difficult to get an aggregate opinion about how Nigeria can move forward. Sorry, I digressed into federalist thinking.
In a Nigeria where it is almost impossible to confront the fire-spitting eyes of the dragon or the honey-drooping face of the bee and yet speak truth to the power in these creatures, on Thursday last week, Catholic Bishops of Nigeria confirmed that there are still some Nigerians or groups of Nigerians who are bold, courageous and will speak the truth, no matter whose ox is gored. Not fazed by the enormous power of life and death tucked in the scabbard of the Nigerian president, nor his limitless power to turn paupers into wealthy barons, the Bishops, face to face with President Muhammadu Buhari, told him catholic truths. The truths they told him ranged from the collapse of the goodwill upon which Buhari rode into office, his generally perceived nepotism – “imbalance in government appointments” – his favoritism towards Fulani herdsmen whose massacre of Nigerians is threatening to return the country to the trenches of civil war, among many others.
Judging by past and recent history in Africa, the Bishops ran a great risk to their persons. What they did for Buhari in articulating series of governmental failures that dog his government, Harun Al Raschid, the Caliph of Baghdad, did at great personal inconvenience. The story is told of how the Caliph disguised as a beggar, wearing tattered and dirty clothes, with a Malacca cane which he leaned on, and walked into the heart of town in order to discover for himself what his subjects thought of his rule. In disguise, he heard crude criticisms of his administration which his coterie of hangers-on would never have told him. He went back to his fortress to put into action all the inputs of the people of Baghdad that his covert disguise had given him benefit to hear.
Leaders in history always have clutterers and clatterers. Absolute rulers have even more. Cruel despots like Pharaohs of Egypt, Roman Emperors like Caligula and Nero had so many of them. So also totalitarians like Hitler and Stalin.
Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, formerly known as British Nyasaland, never liked the audacity the type that the Bishops exhibited. Trained medical doctor from the University of Chicago, for 30 years, his autocratic rule in Malawi was without compare. At the height of power, he once told visiting foreign businessmen to Malawi: ”Nothing is not my business in this country. Everything is my business. Everything. The state of education, the state of our economy, the state of our agriculture, the state of our transport, everything is my business.”
Banda also maintained a vice grip on Malawi through massive imprisonment of those who offered different views of how government should be run. When his government collapsed, he, John Tembo – his finance minister and controller of the Malawian Central Bank for several years – as well as two former police officers, were arraigned for the death of three Cabinet ministers and a parliamentarian which occurred in 1983. Bludgeoned to death, allegedly on Banda and Tembo’s orders, they had had the guts of the same hue as the Catholic Bishops’. Not less than 6,000 Malawians who told truth to power were said to have been killed under Banda’s order.
Because they are hamstrung by the system from hearing raw truths and authentic views about their governments, leaders can be likened to prisoners in a cage. No matter the physical exhibition of valour which many of them flaunt, they are indeed simpletons. This is why they are easily captured by the most audacious praise singers. Due to their vulnerability and desire to hear authentic public views and perceptions of their reigns, fawners and flatterers gain ascendancy easily in the hearts of rulers. In the process, rulers are made caricatures of tyrants.
I am sure that immediately the Catholic Bishops left the President on that Thursday, there would be an immediate regroup in his presence of those whose job it is to pollute his mind. Having told him their honest and down-to-earth opinions about his government and telling him exactly what the ordinary man on the streets thinks of a Buhari whom millions of them bent over backwards to elect into office in 2015, Buhari’s coterie of flatterers would tell him to wave the advice off with the back of his hands. If Jama’atu Nastril Islam was part of Buhari’s spiritual counselors, for instance, little should anyone wonder if Buhari eventually waves the Bishops’ advice. To the organization’s Secretary General, Dr. Khalid Abubakar Aliyu, the Bishops’ visit and statement to Buhari were political. “This is political… As Nigerians, they are entitled to their opinion,” he had reportedly said. The President’s kitchen cabinet would likely do worse. The Bishops are card-carrying members of the PDP, they are likely to tell the President or that “Goodluck Jonathan gave them millions of Naira to disparage your government.” No government suffers appropriate dosages of such fawners and lickspittles.
One of the lickspittles of power is current Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris and the Force Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Yusuff. Yusuff, on national TV, had called a sitting governor, the Benue State governor, “a drowning man” and laws promulgated by the representatives of the people of Benue “bad laws.” Imagine how mistaken anyone can be to believe that the Nigeria police would implement this validly made law when its officers see it as bad law.
On the part of Idris, Immediately General Ibrahim Babangida released what he called his overview of ongoing events in the country, where he called on Buhari not to seek a second term, the IG ordered the arrest of the former despot’s publicist, Kashim Afegbua. Nigerians were shocked to their marrows. Common sense should have dictated to the police top cop that if there was anybody to be arrested, it should be Babangida himself as he never denied authorship of the statement. In any case, millions of similar views are traded on Nigerian streets everyday and he, the IG, would have needed to hurl so many Nigerians into jail. When some people alleged a gang-up of retired Generals against Buhari, this writer volunteered a dissent: There must be a gang-up of so many people in Nigeria against this government – opinion writers, market women, civil servants and a vast section of Nigerians who daily witness this dross called government on a daily basis.
There are however leaders in history who rose above the din of fawners and lickspittles. They take their time to listen to the sugar-coated advice of self-serving aides and selfish cabal who tell them what they love to hear. After listening attentively to these destructive elements, they eventually listen to the honest opinions of their pillows which these loyal companions say to them while they are all alone at night.
President Buhari still has a great opportunity to make amends and regain the goodwill he frittered recklessly by the wayside. First, let him dispassionately and personally review the speech of the Catholic Bishops and ask his bedside pillows, and not Mamman Daura, his Chief of Staff or even Yahaya Bello or Nasir el-Rufai, for advice over it. He should ask his pillows what they feel about a second term for a man of his age and health and ultimately seek the positive judgment of history, rather than the jaded voices of grovellers, fawners and lickspittles of power.
The sewage city
The capacity of the Muhammadu Buhari’s government to shock anyone is fast thinning out. Last week, even though it sounded very shocking and gnaws deeply into the marrows, this trend is fast becoming a typecast of the current government. The Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance, (NHS) Prof Usman Yusuff, was reinstated by government. He had earlier been suspended by the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, after his indictment in 23 allegations against him which bordered on fraud. An administrative panel was thereafter set up which was said to have found Yusuff guilty. The EFCC is also said to have begun investigations into his activities.
Buhari back-passed all these, including the opinion of his minister, whom he publicly ridiculed by this act of reinstating Yusuff. Spin doctors sprung up immediately. Adewole and any minister for that matter didn’t have the power in the extant laws to suspend any civil servant; Yusuff was unfairly suspended, and all that nonsense. Another of the spins said Yusuff was so important in the health scheme that he had to come back. The question the people keep asking is, if Yusuff were not a northerner, would Buhari have done this? If this perception is ethnic, how come Buhari has never done this for any other person outside his northern prism? Remember this was the same cant that was advertised in the defence of Abdulrasheed Maina of the pensions scam who was battling charges of corruption.
What all these underscore is that, we probably overrated Citizen Muhammadu Buhari and his so-called disdain for corruption. If the President could flagrantly give corruption a hug like this, then we have all arrived in the sewage city.