By FEMI ADESINA
I boarded a commercial airliner heading to Lagos from Abuja. I was already seated, and strapping my seat belt, when a young man approached me. He must have been in his late 20s, or at most, early 30s. I shook hands, greeted him warmly, and he slipped something in my palm. He went back to his seat.
It was a piece of paper, and on it was written: “Please, tell Baba we are with him all the way.”
My eyes became misty. I knew who he was talking about. My principal and Baba of the country, President Muhammadu Buhari, who turns 77 today.
“Please, tell Baba we are with him all the way.” What a message! What confidence! What love! And what reassurance.
At times, if you listen to the Babel of voices in the country, particularly on social media and some critical segment of the traditional media, you think everything is all wrong with the land. You think it’s all sorrow tears and blood, the regular trade mark of failed or failing countries.
The biblical prophet, Elijah, felt at a time that he was the only true prophet of God left in Israel. And he complained to God: they have all followed Baal, the strange god. I am the only one left with you.
But God gave him a tutorial: you only think so. I have for me in this land 7,000 other prophets, who have not bowed the knees to Baal.
That was what happened in that aircraft. The young man who slipped the note into my hand is like millions upon millions of quiet Nigerians, “who have not bowed the knees to Baal.” People who love President Muhammadu Buhari, who appreciate that he is here for such a time as this, and who believe that he is leading us to a new Nigeria, a land flowing with milk and honey. I believe. I am in the number of millions of people, who daily wish Buhari well, and pray that he will lead the land to fair havens, halcyon shores, before 2023.
If all the information you consume is from social media, and the critical segment of the traditional media, you will likely miss the correct pulse of the country. Let me share an experience here.
Some months before the 2019 general elections, I ran into Governor Nasir El-Rufai in the Presidential Villa, as he was going in to see the President. We greeted warmly, and I asked if he could please stop by in my office on the way out. He promised to do so.
What was my worry? The trend on social media, as to how the elections would go. I had a broader view of the reality, but I needed some reassurance. And I knew El-Rufai was analytical, and constantly had statistics at his fingertips. He’s not a first class quantity surveyor for nothing.
The governor turned up. I unfolded my worries, and asked for his opinion. He merely opened his laptop computer, and shared the result of a scientific research with me.
What did the research say? With large sample size from across the country, and painstaking state by state analysis, it stated that President Buhari was going to beat his closest opponent by millions of votes. And wait for this: the social media would account for just between nine and 11 percent of the votes. And wait again: that percentage would not go to one party alone. It would be shared between the two leading political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It turned quite prophetic.
The young man in the plane is among the millions of Nigerians who tilted the scale. They know that Nigeria is not where she should be, not yet, but it is not business as usual. There is one man who is laboring hard to turn the country right side up. He is Muhammadu Buhari, and the journey may be tedious, arduous and slow, but we are headed in the right direction.
Friends, Nigerians, countrymen. Yes, I have come to celebrate Muhammadu Buhari, as he turns 77 today. See the sycophant, the fanatic, some people would say. But do I mind them? I don’t. I have chosen my own hero, let them choose theirs. As we say in local parlance, ‘say your prayers, and let me say amen. No quarrel for church.’
I have said it before, and I say it again. I have followed Buhari since he was a military ruler, when I was an undergraduate, and if that regime had lasted for longer, Nigeria would not be in the doldrums that she found herself. It was a tough administration, but which was leading us on the right path. Till forces of reaction struck, and we were back to worse than square one.
You could imagine my joy when Buhari eventually emerged civilian President after 12 years of struggle. I didn’t think I was going to ever serve in government, but I found myself in it. Just because it was Buhari. More than four years down the line, have I changed my mind? No. Is it a perfect government? There’s none anywhere. But I still remain a Buharist, just like millions of other Nigerians.
I know many people who started with us in the Buhari camp, but who are now on the other side. Some were were lured away by the garlic, cucumber, onions and leeks of Egypt, while some others jumped ship because of the color of the currency they saw. Some others, who expected quick fixes, are now singing the Lord’s song in a strange land. Some others are vacillating between many opinions. But for some of us, it is the immortal words of Sir Walter Scott: “Other people’s resolutions may fluctuate on the wild and changeful billows of human opinions. Our’s, now and forever, are anchored on the rock of ages.”
Why are we dyed-in-the-wool Buharists? Is he a perfect, infallible man? Show me who is. So, why do we remain resolute, irrespective of what people on the other side see as foibles and failings of the administration? Many reasons.
Buhari is not a thief. Can you say the same of many past leaders in this country? No, you can’t. I’m not saying they’ve all been light fingered, but we know those who served us honestly, and those who stole the living daylights out of the country. They and their confederates.
When I then see a honest man, the Mai Gaskiya, should I not follow him? Should I not trek from here to China for his sake? I would even trek further from Beijing to Yokohama. Larceny and plunder have been bane of our country. That was why we were consigned in gross backwardness and underdevelopment. Now that I see a man who has come to make a difference, I choose to stand by him all the way.
We know people who were worth only thousands when they got into leadership positions in this country. But they came out in obscene wealth. In other words, they went not to serve the country, but themselves. And here is Muhammadu Buhari, a man who wants nothing from Nigeria, but who has come to empty himself in the service of the country. And some people say we are fanatical supporters? Yes, for the sake of our country. For the future of our children. For the good of ordinary people, we are Buharists.
Simplicity. President Buhari is a Muslim, a good one, and I am a Christian, trying daily to be a good one. I see him at close quarters. At home, in the office, in the country, out of it. What a simple man. He holds power with simplicity. He eats simply. Wears the most modest things. No swashbuckling, no ostentation. And when we talk privately, I love when he indicates that he’s in a temporal position, which he wants to use for the good of the larger majority of Nigerians. That’s why I’m a Buharist, and no apologies.
Abhorrence of corruption. I said it before. President Buhari is not a thief, and he cannot vouch for you if you are tarred with the brush of corruption. You will simply be on your own. There is the jaded talk of the anti-corruption war in the land being selective. Well, those who say that are merely operating from a mindset. No matter who you are, however close you can be to him, when it comes to corruption, this President speaks up for no one. That is why the anti-corruption agencies are making conquests. He tele-guides them in no way.
An eye on history. That’s where the President keenly focuses. He wants to be positively remembered as a man who came, who saw, and made a difference. That’s why the country is one big construction site. Roads, rail, airports, power, water projects, and many others. Nigeria must get a new lease of life, and history must record it that the revolution started under one man: Muhammadu Buhari.
A kind man. Don’t mind the names you hear. Tyrant. Iron fist. Military ruler. Violator of rule of law. Major General (as if he’s not one). And many others. But you know what? This President is a kind man.
In 2015, some months into office, a proposal was thrown up at a meeting. The civil service was unwieldy, the economy was down, and salaries were being paid through the noses. It may well be time to cut the civil service strength by half, since most of them were even idle.
But the idea didn’t sell. The President said if he had his way, not a single civil servant would be sent home due to rationalization. Things were tough enough for them, not to add loss of jobs. And so it happened.
When labor unions came some years later to agitate for higher pay, the President first balked. He said it was not sustainable, which was the truth. But eventually, he buckled, due to a kind heart, and new wages are being paid at serious cost to government.
Let me say this, with the presumed permission of the President. He kept the Service Chiefs he inherited in 2015 for a couple of months. And when it was time to let them go, he sent for me one afternoon. He gave me the names of the new appointees, and told me not to announce till the next day.
“I have informed the outgoing Service Chiefs some minutes ago. But I don’t want their families to hear the news over radio or television. I want them to get home, and break the news themselves,” the President said.
I told him we would not be able to keep the news under wraps till the next day, that it should rather be announced immediately. He looked at me, laughed, and said: “You have not been sacked before. That’s why you are talking that way. Me, I’ve been sacked from office before, and I know how it feels.” We laughed.
When the chief executive of a major corporation was also going to be replaced, he gave me the new name, and said I should not announce for an hour or two, so that the outgoing man would have received his letter, and not hear it from the media.
Many acts of kindness have I seen the President shown to many, and also to me, yet some people want to call him strange names. And I should believe it? I hear!
On this auspicious day, I celebrate our President. Cynics and scoffers would say why won’t you applaud him since you are part of the largesse of office. Yes, I hold office under the President, but I am yet to see the largesse. Maybe tomorrow. Or day after. And whether in government or out of it, count me among those who believe.
I am a Buharist. So are also millions of Nigerians. We thank God for bringing him our way. May his strength be renewed daily. He’s our miracle man, whom nobody could have predicted two years ago would still be with us today. We love him because he first loved us, and is serving us with all that is in him. Like that young man in the aircraft, “Please, tell Baba we are with him all the way.”
.Adesina is Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Buhari