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Buhari and ‘the writing on the wall’

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My concern today centres on the consequences of ‘the writing on the wall’ that our leader, Muhammadu Buhari may not bother to read at this time. He doesn’t seem to like anyone raising any alarms around him, even if it they are of national security dimension.

For the purpose of clarity and clarification as the late Maitama Sule would have noted, the expression ‘the writing is on the wall’ is used whenever an inevitable result or imminent danger has become apparent. What’s the origin of the phrase ‘The writing is on the wall’? The classical expression is also sometimes expressed as ‘the handwriting is on the wall’ or as ‘mene mene’. The first of those variations is an obvious synonym but what does ‘mene mene’ mean? This is a shortening of ‘mene mene tekel upharsin’, which is of Aramaic origin. If your Aramaic isn’t strong enough, you can get some guidance from the ancient word, Daniel 5, in the story of Belshazzar’s feast. To cut the ancient story short, Belshazzar was indulging in a drunken revelry and debasing sacred temple vessels by using them as wine goblets when a disembodied hand wrote ‘mene mene tekel upharsin’ on the palace wall. 

On the face of it, and using a literal translation, this appeared meaningless. The expression seemed to mean ‘two minas, a shekel and two parts’ or alternatively ‘numbered, weighed, divided’. None of this meant much to Belshazzar, who decided that he needed further interpretation and sent for the Jewish exile Daniel. It then became clear that the phrase was an elaborate wordplay, relying on the fact that each word can denote a different coin, and the third word can be interpreted as ‘Persia’. Daniel’s interpretation, as recorded in the first easily understood English version of the Bible, the King James Version, 1611, was: 

And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing: 
MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

The point of the moral tale was that Belshazzar couldn’t see the warning that was apparent to others because he was engrossed with his sinning ways. The subtlety of the biblical wordplay is now somewhat lost on those of us who don’t speak ancient Aramaic.
Thus, ‘Writing on the wall’ began to be used figuratively, that is providing warnings where no actual writing or walls are involved, from the early 18th century; for example, Jonathan Swift’s Miscellaneous works, 1720: 
A baited Banker thus desponds,
From his own Hand foresees his Fall;
They have his Soul who have his Bonds;
‘Tis like the Writing on the Wall.

This is not about the interpretation of the ancient and clairvoyant Daniel. It is perhaps why Michael Ben Zehabe in The Meaning of Hebrew Letters…noted:
“If this letter system works, it should be reproducible and consistent. If this letter system works, it should be demonstrated in biblical narrative—with consistency. It has. It does. It will. For instance: Daniel interpreted the handwriting on the Babylonian wall. (Dan 5:1-31) The question has always been,
“What method would produce the same interpretation?”
If you will pull out your Strong’s Concordance and translate those same four words, you won’t get the same results that Daniel got. Was Daniel using a different method than modern Christians? Yes, obviously.”

However, in his autobiography, Mahatma Ghandi issues this caveat:
“It is also a warning. It is a warning that, if nobody reads the writing on the wall, man will be reduced to the state of the beast, whom he is shaming by his manners.”

Erik Pevernagie reinforces this in his own seminal work on this expression ‘writing on the wall:
“In the rough-and-tumble play of politics, dog-whistle messages are copiously dispatched over the heads of the grassroots people that cannot see the writing on the wall and have to remain in the cold, like dumb puppets on a string”.

Shahenshah Hafeez Khan kills it when he concludes the whole matter that:
“When the writing is on the wall, closing & hiding the book will have very little impact on the outcome, neither will be walking away or shrugging the responsibility that the message is directed to others, it always takes efforts and determination to clean the wall.” 

This is just to tell our leader that there is indeed a ‘writing on the wall’ he should read at this perilous time when the dogs that have always warmed up to his arrival, wagging tails especially in the northern states are beginning to bark – to welcome him. Our elders have warned that when the dogs begin to act like that we should be careful in that vicinity in that the dog can even bite. I noted earlier that our leader doesn’t often read warning signals. This time, he should swallow political and military pride and read the current ‘writing on the wall’: that it is not well with the country people elected him to run at this time.

There have been ‘writings on the wall’ our leader has been ignoring. We advised him several times in the beginning (2015) to set up a competent presidential bureaucracy. Specifically, we told him on this platform to engage an experienced and competent Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF), Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Chairman Federal Civil Service Commission since his Chief of Staff had operated largely in the private sector. This has been ignored till date. Barely a year ago, they recruited a somewhat reliable Chairman Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC). The second SGF may be a good man but he is quite inexperienced. Goodness in social intelligence alone is not a substitute for competence in public service. Curiously, there is an Acting Head of the Civil Service of the Federation at the moment, which is absurd.

What is worse, as I have also observed here, even the wife of the President has been drawing the attention of her husband to some ‘writings on the wall’ inside the presidential household. Perhaps, because she has been frustrated, she has been complaining to the nation about the influence of a strange cabal on her husband’s presidency. Her last public outing on this was when she reported to the nation about the presence of a powerful member of the cabal and a relation of her husband inside the presidential villa whose daughter once looked her menacingly in the face. She had then disclosed the role of one of the president’s reputation managers who she alleged had been working with the cabal to undermine cohesion in the First Family. Till date, that ‘writing on the wall’ of the presidential villa has not been read. No one has heard how Nigeria’s leader has addressed the First Lady’s grouse. But the president’s reputation manager at issue is waxing stronger in the same Villa.

Since 2015, there have been calls every week on the expediency of paying attention to restructuring of the federation. The Guardian (Nigeria) leader writers have been commenting (every week) on legalising and institutionalising return of federalism as the only way out of the country’s multifaceted and complicated challenges.. The president has since ignored this ‘writing on the wall’ despite his political party’s (Nasir el-Rufai) panel’s report on the expediency of federalism as an idea whose time has come. The 2014 report on the same issue by the previous administration has been confined to the archives by our President. He only appears to be reading ‘the writing on the wall’ on federalism because of the powerful resolve of Western Nigerian leaders and people who are bent on the Operation Amotekun as the unstoppable weapon of their protection since the Buhari magic has failed them.

But here is the thing, there is a new ‘writing on the wall’ of the Borno Empire that our leader should not ignore lest there will be an everlasting regret. As I was saying, the dogs that used to jump over him, excitingly wagging their tails to welcome him into Borno and Yobe states have begun to agonise as they now bark angrily to welcome him as they did last week in Maiduguri. A political journalist who should know, Babajide Kolade-Otitoju said publicly last week on the famous TVC Journalists Hangout that the reported booing of President Buhari in the area was unprecedented. That was a clear writing on PMB’s wall in North East. All told, our leader should read this latest contextual ‘writing on the wall’ as posted from the Auno massacre where they are now proclaiming. “We regret returning Buhari to power…You’ve disappointed us, we don’t want you… Those responsible for this negligence must pay for it… Our heart bleeds, this is national embarrassment….” The Borno State’s charismatic governor Babagana Zulum too furiously told the president, the Auno massacre could have been prevented by an organised army.

One of the most visible ‘writings on the Borno Empire Wall’ dropped last week from ’Dr. Musa Usman, a scholar who hails from the area. He used his social media platform to speak for his people. He lamented that what happened in Auno and other places was total negligence. He said, “It pains every Nigerian that a government that promised to secure the nation has failed to do so. There are so many questions begging for answers as regards this insurgency. The Maiduguri-Damaturu highway is not a meandering slope with sharp turns. It is a straight road with open spaces. At this time of the year, the area lacks any iota of vegetation. The road is not on the path of a thick forest.

And the road, if I am not wrong, is less than two hours drive. If the federal government cannot secure this little stretch of the road, then we are in a big quagmire. It is sad that security forces cannot comb the areas around the road for the insurgents. Despite huge resources, the military cannot develop a mechanism to check the antics of the insurgents. What pains us the most is the fact that nobody is going to be held responsible. And the situation is the same across the country, killings everywhere! If there is a conspiracy to thwart the gains of the Buhari government, as some diehards will say, what is the government doing to unravel the conspiracy? The buck stops on the table of the government! We deeply regret returning this government to power.

As it stands now, as it has always been, we will lick our wounds, tend to our injured and bury our dead. But God is watching! All those with hands in this calamity will pay for their sins. All those whose irresponsibility keeps this circle of violence going will equally answer for their inactions….”

The ‘writing on the wall’ is still fresh. The angry dog is still barking. The leader should read this significant ‘writing on the wall’ in February and ‘beware of the ‘Ides of March’. The Romans considered the Ides of March as a deadline for settling debts. But there are other consequences of the augury.


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