Columns

June 23, 2024

Mocking Tinubu after slipping is un-African and barbaric, by Dele Sobowale

At home in Vanguard since 1987

“What you are, we were. What we are you will be.” Statement on a sign in an Italian cave in the 13th century

First of all, I want to express appreciation for the way Alhaji Abubakar and Peter Obi reacted to the incident. The sense of responsibility demonstrated by the two strongest opposition figures was the best part of the entire episode. For me, there was very little else of interest to see on television. I was in a building at Kakawa Street, near the Tinubu family home, when an alarm was raised by those watching the programme that the President had slipped on the Parade Ground. Predictably, the matter immediately ignited a storm of controversy – most of which need not delay us here.

I was shocked to the bone marrows that a few people, mostly young, who have suffered more than most Lagosians from current economic hardship, actually considered the matter funny. They mocked; they uttered cruel jokes and even mimicked the President’s movement when the slip occurred. I was appalled.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of it. Later, I discovered that the social media was flooded with similar cruel jokes by Nigerian youth and even a few adults. That, to me was heart-breaking. Has politics in Nigeria descended so low that people would make jests of an old man who slipped while performing an official national duty? It was certainly not Nigeria’s finest hour.

As everybody knows, I am neither a card-carrying member of the All Progressives Congress, APC, nor one of Tinubu’s die-hard supporters. Had he asked me in 2022 whether to run for office, I would have told Emilokan to forget it. Of one thing I was certain. Nobody could have succeeded Buhari without being in the predicament in which Tinubu finds himself now.

But, I am also a strict believer in accepting the outcome of judicial processes until they are changed. Whoever is the Nigerian president becomes the Father of the Nation and, must be treated as such.

Does that mean he should not be criticised? No. It means that our dissent must be civil language; not because of the man; but, because of the office.

From time immemorial, African tradition has taught us to give absolute respect to rulers irrespective of age. That injunction is doubly enforced if the ruler is an old man; because respect for elders is also enshrined in the African tradition. Tinubu, at 70-plus years, is old enough to be father or even grandfather to many of those who thought there was anything hilarious in that incident. How many of them would join those laughing if it was their own father who slipped?

From personal experience and those of other people over 70 years, I know that falling unexpectedly is one of the fears that we all have in common because the consequences can be devastating. I went to visit my doctor on March 6, 2020, feeling a sharp pain in my left waist. He thought it was problem of old age and gave me a potent analgesic. I stepped out of his room and immediately collapsed. I was paralysed from the waist down.

What was supposed to be, at most, one hour ’s visit for a minor pain turned into four months admission plus surgery for prostate cancer. I ended on a wheel chair for several months. Only rigorous physio-therapy sessions got me walking again – but not like before.

Of all aspects of my personal experience, falling in the presence of other patients remains the most embarrassing for me. Nothing funny about it.

THE JOKE IS ON THOSE STILL LAUGHING

“If you don’t die young, you will die an old person.” A sage in Chile in 1971. This article started with a quotation picked up from reading 13th Century European history. A small band of warriors had approached a cave slowly; they were not sure if enemies were lurking inside waiting to launch a surprise attack; or they could use it as a resting place themselves. What they saw was astonishing. Inside were hundreds of skulls and human bones – and a sign in bold letters saying: WHAT YOU ARE WE WERE; AND WHAT WE ARE YOU WILL BECOME. The same can be said to the young people laughing at Tinubu.

They should remember that he was once a young man too; and very agile. In a Nigeria, where life expectancy is still only 51, only a very small minority of people reach 70. Only those divinely chosen make it.

As one of the few exceptionally lucky few, I pray that most of the misguided youths who laughed at President Tinubu will live to be 70. They will discover that “agba soro da or it is tough to be old.” That was a lesson I learnt from one of my sages when I was still in the early

60s. I laughed then because it sounded hilarious.

Now 80, barely able to walk and climb staircases, I realise now that the joke wasonme.Oldageisno joke. You live for doctors and chemists; and your body aches all the time. And, God forbid you should stumble and fall. I can only pray that you find support from the younger ones around you.

PRESIDENT TINUBU MUST READ THIS

“The worst sort of disloyalty is the fear that telling the truth would be bad.” Robert Ardrey, 1908- 1980, in TERRITORIAL IMPERATIVE.There is bad news which some people in high office don’t want to disclose.I regularly receive messages, documents, photo-copies of reports from those wanting to blow whistles but lacking the courage or knowledge of how to go about it.

For the most part, they are ignored because peoples’ careers are involved and it is not always possible to verify the authenticity of the allegations being made. I certainly want to help fight corruption in government; but, not by engaging in widespread defamation of characters of innocent officials.

At any rate, I have always been guided by the statement credited to US Justice Louis Brandeis, 1856-1941, who said: “Better to let a thousand guilty persons go unpunished than to allow one innocent person to suffer injustice”. For that reason alone I have kept away from whistle blowing.

But, to every rule there must be an exception. And, my personal rule when acting out of character is to invoke another decision rule.

The issue must be monumental; and those bringing it to my notice must be very credible. Then I am prepared to take a chance. Below are few paragraphs from the copy of a letter sent to President Tinubu concerning the loss of N20 trillion by Nigeria through the alleged looting of Stamp Duty revenue. I called the sender to ask how the letter was despatched to the President. He told me that it was taken straight to Aso Rock; where it was collected and sent to the Mail Room. I laughed; because the President of Nigeria probably has over 5000 letters sent to him every working day. About 99.99999 per cent of them end in the paper- shredder – unseen by the President. This one might have suffered the same fate. Yet, this one is of vital interest to Nigeria; N20 trillion is a lot of money in any currency. The President must read it – even if, after reading, it still ends in the shredder.

There is more in the letter as readers would understand. The most important thing is for Nigerians to be aware that relief from crippling debt repayments might be possible if we pursue diligently every possible case of massive looting. A recent announcement told us that the FG is expecting to borrow $4 billion more; while applying for debt due to be rescheduled. We cannot continue to live on the begging bowl for God’s sake.