OCHEREOME

By Ochereome Nnanna

WHEN I was in primary and secondary schools, I fought a lot. Most of my fights were against injustice and bullies. I wasn’t always the strongest boy around, but I had enormous stamina and spirit. My mother knew her son very well.

So, whenever I was leaving home, she would call me aside and say: “Remember what I always tell you. The ‘weaker’ man is the stronger man. No problem is ever solved through fighting.” Years later, I came to live in Lagos. One of my earliest recollections was a fight between a commercial motorcyclist (Okada rider) and his supposed passenger, a man fully dressed in a suit and tie, and obviously hurrying for an appointment.

When he came down from the Okada, he got into an argument with the biker over the fare. He insulted the biker, and the biker gave it back to him with a two-handed waka (a made-in-Nigeria gesture of damnation) smack on his face. The suit man became so furious that he forgot his business. He landed a slap on the biker’s face. The biker went low and dive-bombed him. But he fell into a gutter full of grime. 

How do you break up a fight like that? By the time they came out of the gutter, all the fight had left the suit man. He was the butt of jokes of the crowd of onlookers that had  gathered. A time comes when one has to fight, no doubt. Fighting doesn’t have to be of the fisticuffs’ genre. A wise person chooses his or her fights.

You don’t fight for the sake of power shows. You fight to press home a point. But if fighting will lead to your defeat and humiliation, be wise: find ways to avoid it. But, because of anger and ego, the suit man got himself disgraced and probably lost the opportunity he was pursuing. Aisha Buhari’s saga with a student of the Federal University at Dutse, Jigawa State, Aminu Mohammed, is like the suit man’s fight with the Okada man.

Aisha’s ego was bruised by Mohammed’s tweet: ‘Mama is feeding fat from the people’s money.”  Seized by hubris, the wife of President Muhammadu Buhari decided to show her power. She sent security agents to look for Mohammed, beat him thoroughly, have him secretly arraigned in court, and send him to Suleija Prisons to smell rods and eat beans.

Something that should have gone almost unnoticed became one of the biggest scandals surrounding the president’s wife. The outrage was all over social media. It attracted the lush coverage of the media locally and internationally.

The biggest threat facing Aisha Buhari was the National Association of Nigerian Students, NAN’s, vow to embark on a nationwide mass action if Mohammed was not released in time to take his graduation exam on Monday, December 5, 2022.

Obviously, Aisha’s crisis management team was deployed to quench the fire. Mohammed was released “on compassionate ground” and coaxed to apologize. The case against him was withdrawn, and an apparently contrite Mohammed called Aisha “our mother”. What are the elements of this story?

Number one is the tweet. What is wrong with the tweet? Has Aisha not considerably gained weight now, compared to the trim, elegant and populist lady who walked behind Buhari into Aso Villa in May 2015? Secondly, every presidential family lives off the Nigerian people’s money.

Billions of naira is annually budgeted for the upkeep of the presidential family, and no account of how the money is spent is ever rendered. Thirdly, no notice is taken of the people’s worsening poverty in compiling the financial needs of the presidential family. Despite spiking the poverty level from 80 million in 2015 to 133 million in multidimensional poverty, as recently affirmed by the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, the first family has been living it up at the taxpayer’s expense.

Most of the time, Aisha lives in Dubai. Her husband gets his frequent medical fixes in London. Their children graduated in foreign universities, and we saw Yusuf Buhari kicking at a heap of currencies sprayed during his wedding. Aminu Mohammed was right. We, the poor, hungry and destitute, pay for the first family’s luxurious lifestyle. How I wish the case was allowed to continue. Lawyers, in my opinion, could have easily presented enough evidence to dismiss the libel charges.

Nigerian political officeholders always have the wrong perception of their status. When people vote you into power, it is as a service to them. The late President Umaru Yar’ Adua correctly called himself a servant-leader. He lived up to that billing until his death. His deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, declared that his ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian. When he lost his re-election bid, he conceded and went home a hero.

While they were in power, he and his wife, Patience Jonathan, were called all the dirtiest names in the world. Jonathan lamented that he was the most abused president in the world. He was called “clueless.” A Nobel Laureate called his wife “Sheppopotamus,” a reference to her massive weight gain. Nobody got arrested, beaten, tortured, jailed or even insulted.

You know why? Jonathan understood that he and his family were occupying the presidency at the people’s pleasure. While you enjoy the power and glory, you must also take the flak when it comes. As a president or wife of a president, you are not a monarch. Even the British royals get insulted every day. King Charles III and his wife, Camilla, recently got eggs thrown at them at a recent public engagement.

President Emmanuel Macron even got slapped by a bystander when he went to greet them! Nigeria is not one of these Arab republics with mediaeval cultural reflexes, where power belongs to some families and the rest are their subjects. This is the Federal Republic of Nigeria! Aisha Buhari humbled herself. Let it be a lesson.

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