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The season of hyperbole

By Douglas Anele

Why are some members of the ruling cabal in Nigeria so obsessed with political power that they are willing to hang on to it at all cost, even if they are too old, too sick and intellectually and morally unprepared for responsible leadership? What is the attraction of power such that even supposedly well-educated people with big academic titles and designations “bow and tremble” before presidents, governors, top traditional rulers and religious leaders?

These questions were triggered by the hyperbolic and effusive  notice me expressions of joy by highly-placed government officials, prominent politicians and others to the seemingly contrived and sudden return of President Muhammadu Buhari to the country after spending forty-nine days in London for the treatment of an undisclosed ailment.

From television footages, pictures and reports in several national newspapers, it is evident that prominent Nigerians worship power and behave like factotums before the president. I know that humility is an important virtue that should be cultivated by everyone; I also understand that the positions of president, governor, traditional ruler and others deserve respect.

However, there is a world of difference between genuine humility rooted in dignity and self-respect and fake humility that belittles and ingratiates oneself in the presence of a powerful person because of some past favours or in anticipation of future benefits.

When I looked at newspaper pictures of President Buhari being received by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, minister of health, Prof. Isaac Adewale, and Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, I was amused because their body language and facial expressions bespoke of subalterns ready to do whatever their master demanded.

In fact, the picture of Prof. Adewale, former Vice Chancellor University of Ibadan, shaking hands with the President in the March 11 edition of Saturday Telegraph is the most telling of all: Adewale was smiling like a schoolboy overjoyed by the privilege of shaking hands with the principal of his school for the first time. I think that a self-respecting person can show gratitude and appreciation for favours received from the President without all the fawning theatrics displayed by some of his appointees.

Now, I am an atheistic humanist who values human life more than anything in this world; therefore, I believe it is a good thing that President Buhari returned home alive, and I wish him quick and full recovery. But hypocrites pretending to be more catholic than the Pope, behaving publicly as if they loved Buhari more than members of his immediate family, have transformed what ought to be a simple welcoming occasion into a theatre of the absurd where all kinds of bizarre claims in cloud-cuckoo-land are made.

According to media reports, whereas Mrs. Aisha Buhari responded in a measured and mature manner by expressing her happiness and gratitude to Allah for the safe return of her husband, the Vice-President and Alhaji Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, deliberately hyperbolised by saying that today is a day of joy for Nigerians, Africa, and the world because of the President’s return – as if the event is a matter of continental and global significance, which it is not.

Even here in Nigeria, especially for millions of struggling compatriots mostly in the rural areas, his coming back is inconsequential because they were busy with the fundamental challenge of survival as the ugly effects of economic recession bites harder.

Moreover, given the diminished stature of Nigeria in the international arena caused by decades of mediocre leadership, the assertion that Buhari’s return is a day of joy for Africa and the world is nothing but sycophantic nonsense. Katsina state governor, Aminu Bello Masari, deluded himself when he described the return of President Buhari as the best gift that Nigerians have had this year.

He did not provide any evidence for his outlandish claim. Most Nigerians are indifferent to whether Buhari came back forty-nine days or forty-nine weeks after his departure from the country. What matters to them is the struggle to find jobs or, for those working already, to manage their meagre income to enable them cope with economic hardship.

Anyway, for some people in government or near the corridors of power in Abuja, Buhari’s absence was a blessing since it allowed them to manipulate and make a lot of money from certain ad-hoc voodoo economic policies oftentimes disguised as “special intervention funds.”

Hence, Buhari’s return, to this category of parasites and scavengers, is a curse, a regrettable inconvenience that they have to deal with or endure until the President travels again for “follow up tests.” Alhaji Atiku Abubakar also played to the gallery like the others by declaring that “The return of the President at this time would put an end to the uncertainty and the conspiracy theories that attended his fifty days absence.”

Abubakar seems to have forgotten that Buhari’s return is likely to generate more controversies given that the frail and emaciated President himself admitted he merely feels better, but would require further follow-ups within some weeks, and that “Nigeria will continue whether we are here or not…,” thereby hinting at the possibility that his condition might deteriorate.

Thus, contrary to Atiku Abubakar’s overconfident declaration, heated arguments would rear up concerning the reasons for, and the timing of, President Buhari’s return when it is obvious that he is not fully fit yet and would soon travel out again for more tests and treatment. Did Buhari return based on his doctors’ advice or because he was pressured to do so in spite of their recommendation?

If he would travel back to London soon why didn’t he stay on till all the necessary follow up tests and treatment are concluded? The way I see it, the manner in which officials of the presidency handled the whole thing is tardy, opaque and convoluted, and the controversies surrounding it will continue until the crucial facts about the President’s health status are made available to the Nigerian people.

Rumours, innuendos and speculations thrive when there is deliberate attempt to hide or mutilate the truth. President Buhari’s fitness for the difficult job ahead of him is a matter of urgent public concern. As a result, pretending that all is well when there are good reasons for thinking otherwise is disingenuous and counterproductive.

Meanwhile, while I wish President Buhari hundred percent recovery from the health challenges he is going through right now, his return and quick resumption of duties at this time is ill-advised and potentially disadvantageous to his wellbeing. First, going by what I saw on television and newspapers, he is not fully fit physically to carry out the demanding functions of President now.

He is so frail, so emaciated and was unsteady when he alighted from the helicopter that brought him from the Air Force Base in Kaduna to Abuja. I am not a medical expert and, like most Nigerians, I do not have reliable information on the exact nature of his ailment and what his doctors found out.

Still, based on Buhari’s frail appearance and “body language,” I believe that he should have stayed out of the headaches of governance and allowed the Vice-President to continue as Acting President until he is fully fit. Maybe the President’s handlers and top leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) wanted, in their own words, to shame those with a death wish for Buhari by pressuring him to return.

But is that enough to warrant potentially worsening his health condition with the arduous task of presiding over a fractious, economically anaemic and crisis-prone Nigeria? Does our ailing President still have anything to prove to anybody at this stage? Whose interest is he serving by clinging on to power at a time when there is a cloud of uncertainty about his fitness?

To be candid, President Buhari’s health condition seems serious despite the impression created by his subordinates, APC leaders and himself that the worst is over. If I were his son, I would have pleaded with him to resign so that he can take good care of his health without the stress of office, because no position in this world is worth risking one’s health.

Looking at the matter from another perspective, despite the modest achievements recorded since his “second coming” in 2015, Buhari made a mistake by allowing political chameleons like Alhaji Bola Tinubu and Rotimi Amaechi convince him to contest for the presidency again. The failures of his government have sullied his reputation – perhaps irreparably.

 


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