By Rotimi Fasan
BY the time you’re reading this the planned anti- and pro-Buhari protests would (might?) have come and gone. While the anti-Buhari protesters were the first to announce their intention to protest against the rising cost of living and the generally dolorous atmosphere that has pervaded governance since the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as president, the pro-Buhari demonstrators were out to celebrate what they obviously consider the achievements of the Buhari administration. The protesters have not articulated their mission in such clear terms but it was clear towards what direction their protest was geared. Clearly, their plan is largely reactive and meant to counter the narrative of failure, ineptitude and insensitivity that is being levelled by an increasing number of Nigerians against the government.
While the anti-Buhari or, perhaps better put, pro-people protesters have been invited into the street by popular singer, Innocent Idibia (Tu Baba or Tuface idibia) and a coalition of civil society groups, the other group of protesters doesn’t appear to have a face, known or unknown. Its emergence looks contrived and hastily arranged by supporters of the fumbling Buhari administration. It looks like a rented group of motley crowd which harks back to the days of dictatorship when military leaders in Abuja rented crowds of so-called supporters and bussed them to state-sponsored rallies often meant to perpetuate their stay in power. Both Ibrahim Babangida and especially Sani Abacha earned high grades for this. Their tactics would be adopted by different categories of politicians that have emerged since the military returned to their barracks in 1999.
Tuface’s star power had ensured that his planned protest, slated for February 6, remained in the news before he caved in to pressure to call it off. His co-conveners chose to go on with the protest originally planned to take place on February 5. The date was later re-adjusted to February 6 to coincide with the earlier planned return to office of President Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari had in the last two weeks been on medical vacation in the United Kingdom. Indeed, Tuface’s call ‘to arms’ was made after the controversy that trailed the latest trip of the president peaked. The president had at first travelled to the UK on a ten-day leave that has since been extended sine die to give him more time to attend to his health. But there had been speculations that there was more to the president’s health than was being revealed. It was being said that the president might have been nursing a terminal disease or was in fact dead. The situation was not helped by the fact that next to nothing was being done to address the rumours about the health of a president and an administration whose upper lip appears to get stiffer by the day.
Neither President Buhari nor his minders thought it fit to say or do something to quell the rumours about his health. Perhaps, the president believed that his media assistants had said enough about the reason for his trip to stave off the urge for more news by Nigerians. He therefore considered further requests for information as unnecessary meddlesomeness by adversaries. But his silence was not helping matters in the least. If anything it has been fuelling the rumour mill even more as one senior government official after another hops on the next available flight to visit with the president and wish him speedy recovery- from what really? And the claim by his minders that he has a right to his privacy is just nonsense in the light of the fact that there was a President Umar Yar’Adua whose health issues were so badly managed and kept secret to an extent that became dangerous to national security. If not for anything else but the fact that Nigeria had trodden the path that Buhari and his media managers appear to be walking us through again, the president owes Nigerians both an explanation and an apology for his silence, more so now he has extended his leave. It is simply irresponsible to be silent in the manner he and his media experts have been.
Nobody is asking them to splash the president’s medical history on the pages of Nigerian newspapers. But he owes it as a duty to Nigerians to provide far more information about the workings of his administration than he has been doing. And the blame for this rests squarely on the shoulders of the president who seems to be keeping his media assistants and managers in the same information darkness in which he keeps the rest of the country. Those haranguing the president’s media managers ought to show them more consideration as their work is by no means helped to say nothing of it being made easy by their principal.
It was therefore in this atmosphere of news blackout, the absence and seeming ‘abdication’ of the president, with the concomitant sense that his government has lost direction, that Tuface issued his call to Nigerians. Somebody must be seen to be in charge and accountable to Nigerians, the would-be protesters seemed to be saying. That another group would immediately after call for a counter protest to support Buhari speaks to the reactive and contrived outlook of their mission. It all reminds one of the outworn tactics of the hired hands of a bygone era- the Association for Better Nigeria, the Youth Earnestly Ask for Abacha etc, etc.
To be sure, the Innocent Idibia/civil coalition group is nowhere considered innocent in government circle. It has been label led a hireling of anti-Buhari elements. It is supposedly in the pay of politicians opposed to the Buhari administration. It was this chaotic scenario of allegations and counter allegations, threats of attack and the spoiler role being played by the Buhari group of supporters that the police needed to further muddle up the situation and make it all look like one of ‘two fighting’. It has not issued permit for the protesters, it said. The protests, it further said, could lead to a breakdown in civil order. It therefore couldn’t guarantee the safety of the marchers, it concluded ominously.
A responsible government may in this situation in which we have found ourselves pay attention to the narratives coming from its supporters and critics. But a responsive leader will address the concerns of the latter first for by so doing he would be meeting the expectations of all.