By Donu Kogbara
THERE can be humour in serious matters; and I nearly fell off my perch, laughing till tears came to my eyes, when I heard that the zany, iconoclastic entertainer, Charley Boy Oputa, is heading a new “movement” known as #OurMumuDonDo!
I just LOVE the name of this pressure group because it is not only witty, cheeky and funny on a simple level, but very appropriate, given how docile Nigerians can be.
While senior bureaucrats and APC politicians are doggedly insisting (in public at least) that there is nothing untoward about Mr President’s prolonged absence, OurMumuDonDo members are doggedly insisting that he should either resign or return from a medical sojourn that has dragged on for three months so far.
And let’s face it: Charley Boy and his fellow protestors definitely have a point.
On two separate occasions this year, President Buhari has spent several weeks in the UK, sorting out unspecified health problems.
During his first stint at a London hospital, the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, invited me to comment on complaints from increasingly vocal critics who were a) annoyed by the government’s secretiveness and refusal to tell the world exactly what illness Buhari was suffering from and b) saying that any leader who needs to take so much time off work is too frail for a super-challenging job and should quit being head of state.
When I went on air, my response to these critics was that Buhari’s subordinates and family were not legally obliged to provide us with details about his ailment, that most Nigerians are obsessively discreet about their personal and professional frailties and that most of the Nigerians who were loudly demanding total transparency from Buhari’s camp were being hypocritical because they would be equally un-transparent if they or their nearest and dearest were sick, especially if admitting to physical or mental incapacity might lead to a loss of money and power.
I adopted this stance on the BBC programme for two reasons based on my experiences: Firstly, because I am extremely straightforward by nature and am always being advised, by my relatives and Nigerian friends, to be MUCH less open.
Secondly, because when my late father, Ignatius Kogbara, was a National Commissioner at INEC’s Abuja Headquarters, he developed a heart condition and decided to resign from INEC because he lacked the strength to handle his responsibilities robustly and thought it would be morally wrong to cling to a job he could no longer excel at.
But instead of praising or at least understanding Daddy’s laudable decision, almost everyone around us was horrified by his determination to hand over to someone who could pursue INEC’s agenda more dynamically and productively.
He was widely regarded as stupid for being so honest and urged to grimly hang onto the job at all costs, even if he couldn’t find the energy to do it well. His pals constantly reminded him that INEC wasn’t trying to sack him and urged him to delegate his most arduous duties to an intelligent sidekick.
But he insisted on going home to Port Harcourt, where he quietly passed away a few months later. And I’m so very proud of his unselfish and honourable conduct, which is so unusual within a Nigerian context.
In this sense, Buhari is just another typical Nigerian. Ditto his acolytes. Their lips are firmly sealed. Information is being released on a strictly “need to know” basis. Even if he can’t perform presidentially, resignation is unlikely.
And while I continue to believe that critics who are also typical Nigerians should not throw stones at him (some of the folks who have roundly criticized me and my father for excessive openness and altruism in the past are now roundly criticizing Buhari for not being open or altruistic enough!), I have had a change of heart.
I think that though the President’s men (and women) are not legally obliged to come clean with details, they should do so anyway because being frank with the millions of voters you are supposed to be leading is the right thing to do. I also reckon that if Mr President is not strong enough to return to full-time work this month, the Nigerian electorate should ask him to step down and rest.
Long story short: Charley Boy – who is not a typically secretive Nigerian, by the way – is not being unfair when he says that OurMumuDonDo! Long story short: I campaigned for Buhari and really warmed to him when I met him. I am also a fan of his feisty wife, the First Lady Hajiya Aisha.
In other words, I am not approaching this issue disrespectfully, uncompassionately or as an enemy bristling with malice. I just think that enough is enough. I’m based in London and every day, I receive anxious enquiries from Nigerians who want to know what is going on and assume that I know what is going on.
For the record, I don’t have a clue what is going on! I am as much in the dark as 99.9 per cent of Nigerians and foreign observers. And I think that the resounding silence around Buhari’s health and continued tolerance of his absence needs to end asap.
OurMumuDonDo is a peaceful protest that has angered the police who lashed out on Tuesday. It has been reported that there were brutal floggings, unnecessary use of tear gas and wanton destruction of journalists’ cameras. But the undeterred demonstrators say that no amount of intimidation will prevent them from demanding explanations. And I think they are right to stand firm.