Sunday, October 18, 2020 2:45 pm
By Dotun Adekanmbi
Most of my friends know where I stand on matters of politics. I am an unapologetic sympathiser of the All Progressives Congress (APC) but I’m not a card-carrying member of the party. I also don’t wear my ‘loyalty,’ which is not blind, on my sleeves like Lauretta Onochie, the President’s Personal Assistant on Social Media, whose partisanship and propensity to abuse the ‘enemies’ of the President are currently being rewarded with a Commissionership in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). That nomination stinks. I tend to support the APC because it mildly approximates to my belief in value-added, maybe welfarist politics as embodied by the late elder statesman, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Everyone knows that he made a positive mark on the political history of Nigeria. You might not agree with him but, love or hate him, you ignored him at your own peril. Members of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) are able to tell the story better.
Some of my friends taunt me that I am a ‘Buharist,’ that is a dye-in-wool supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB). I’m not. But since PMB was the candidate thrown up by the party in the 2015 and 2019 presidential elections, how could I have disagreed with the choice? At any rate, he was, for me, a better choice for the party in 2015 than former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. And I do not dislike Atiku because of his perceived ‘vaulting ambition.’ He has every right to aspire to the Number One job in Nigeria.
As a business journalist, I simply did not like his footprints in Corporate Nigeria; not especially with his involvement in Intels at the Onne ports in Port Harcourt. People who know would know why. In 2019, I particularly did not like the way he allowed former President Olusegun Obasanjo to rubbish him in the name of endorsing him for the presidency. He should once more view the video of his visit to his former boss and seek to redress the collateral damage done to his reputation, if, as expected, he plans to make another bid for the presidency in 2023. Whether he repairs the damage or not, I believe he will contest. And lose again. But I won’t bet on that. This is Nigeria. Anything can happen.
In 2015, I also believed that Buhari was a better candidate than then President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. In 2011, I rooted for GEJ during the presidential elections because, like most other people in Southern Nigeria, I felt it was unjust to deny him the ticket just because the ‘North’ needed to complete an 8-year presidential cycle. Whoever said a President or a Region MUST do two terms? Globally, re-election is the reward for good performance, not an opportunity to repeat failure. I felt GEJ had been properly trained to be President, what with his apprenticeship as a Deputy Governor, a Governor and a Vice President. No other candidate came better recommended. Besides, I felt that he, being of a minority ethnic stock, was better placed than most to restructure Nigeria. He was elected. Then he began to manifest amazing evidence of weakness that made Obasanjo to describe him as the weakest of the ‘women’ that ran his government. He was content with being a president who was only in office but not in power. He became what my people call ‘Olowo Serve Yourself’ (profligate) as he presided over a bazaar. Little wonder, he became the ‘lord and saviour’ of wheeler-dealers in the political space. I became so dispirited that I easily bought into the description of him as ‘a drunken fisherman from the Creeks’ by the ‘owner of Lagos,’ Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Thus, for me in 2015, it was ‘anyone but GEJ.’ It may have been a harsh judgment but it is the way it is.
When the APC raised PMB’s hand as its flagbearer, he appeared to be a more tolerable alternative. His record in governance was not exactly sparkling, not the least because he seemed and still appears not to be enamoured of freedom of expression. How could I have easily forgotten his remarks on press freedom on his assumption of office in 1984? “I will tamper with it,” he said confidently. And he did, courtesy of the infamous Decree 4 that made it an offence for journalists to report the truth ‘in every material particular.’ But, to his credit, he was perceived as a doer, one who had a vision to cleanse all the ‘jagajaga’ of indiscipline in national life. That image of a no-nonsense General endured because, in truth, Nigeria of that period was an Augean stable that needed cleaning and deep cleansing. With the way Nigeria was in the Fourth Republic, 1999 – 2015, we felt he was purpose-suited to clear the rot. Literally, to parody the late Gen Sani Abacha’s ‘campaign’ theme, ‘Nigerians Earnestly Yearned for Buhari.’ His many supporters vouched that his ‘body language’ or the presentation of mere ‘NEPA bill’ instead of a certificate was sufficient to fetch him the coveted seat in Aso Villa. Even the otherwise contemplative late Prof. Tam David-West put his reputation on the line for Buhari as a miracle worker.
The new President gave Nigerians hope with his first pronouncement at Eagle Square on May 29, 2015 when he said: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” We clapped. New dawn, we chorused. But our eyes began to clear when it took almost a year for him to assemble a lack-lustre cabinet. Then followed a medley of missteps. Lopsided appointments. Clannish disposition. Evident nepotism. Blame game. Playing Nero as the empire burns. Selective justice and disobedience of court orders. Consistent lack of awareness of critical issues in the polity. Unheard of domestic squabbles on the home front in the Villa. Obvious side-lining of die-hard supporters. Commotion in APC’s house. Winking at clear incompetence of appointees. Excuses. More excuses. And many more excuses. Mr President clearly belonged and still belongs to nobody except himself and his ambition. Worst of all, his inability to get most citizens to truly believe in his administration has now got people mooting a strange craving for GEJ’s return to power. Tufiakwa!
Oga Presido’s people say he’s working. Do I need a pair glasses to see that? Do I need a pinch of my skin to feel his presence? As things stand, the President’s men appear to be the only ones seeing his good works. Maybe that is why they are having such a hard time justifying them or convincing the rest of us to accept them. It needn’t be that way; it needn’t be that hard. But it is that way and that hard because the President’s men miss one very important marketing fact: value is always from the perspective of the receiver, not the giver. Like the blind Bartimaeus in the Bible, we may be ‘blind’ but Mr President needs to do something positive fast to make Nigerians ‘see’ without being told what, ordinarily, should stare us in the face. What we currently see with our open eyes is not pretty. We dare not try to use our inner eyes. That would be worse. And we are dealing with perception issues here. A baby reputation manager will readily tell Mr President and his team that his administration is having a tough time managing perception because what he ‘thinks’ is at variance with what he ‘does’ and what he does is clearly out of sync with what his team ‘says’ he is doing and thinking. If everything is this badly jumbled, how on earth can the Villa expect citizens to sing along? That would be akin to compelling people to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.
One of my mentors in perception management once told me of a simple solution, derived from her culture, that could be of use to Team Buhari. She said: ‘if your drum is not being heard in the market place, that’s the time to dance the hardest.’ You know why? Because your turbocharged dance will compel people to pay more attention to you. Once you grab their attention, the rest should be easy, if you know what you are about. Right now, Mr President’s drum is not being heard at all and his dance is not impressive. So bad is the situation that popular opinion says that elections 2015 and 2019 only helped to demystify his credentials as Nigeria’s Messiah and that his leadership capacity is, perhaps, barely good enough for the position of a Local Government Councillor. And that is putting it mildly.
To my friends applauding that I have joined the crowd of wailers, sorry to disappoint you. I have not. True, PMB ‘don really fall my hand’ but mine is a simple wake up call to say that injury time goals could be sweeter than any scored in the full course of a game. I will not denigrate the President for leading the wrecking crew that sent your ‘saviour’ back to the Creeks. On the contrary, I will call him out for derailing the dream of greatness we had and still have concerning Nigeria. Since the tracks are still intact, we can correct our course, except, of course, if Mr. President has made up his mind to crash the car with his exit in 2023. Should that happen, some of his critics would then be able to say to the rest of us: ‘but we told you so!’ And rightly, too. It must never happen. Believe it or not, Nigeria will stand tall in my lifetime.
‘E shock you?’ You don’t have to agree with me. But I’ve said my own. I am the hunter. I have killed the lion as many times and in as many ways as I please. Tell your own story the way you want. Let your lion skin, roast or hang the hunter as it tickles your fancy. It is your prerogative.
Dotun Adekanmbi is a biographer and a former Editor of Business Times