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Buhari meets Awo


Buhari-sketch-CopyThe spectacle of Muhammadu Buhari in Ikenne last week at the final burial ceremonies for Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s much-treasured wife, HID, almost defies definition.

Not even the fact that Awo’s grandson-in-law, Yemi Osinbajo, is the Vice President, could douse a sneaky suspicion that Buhari had come for some kind of atonement or quell a palpable rumination of an interesting kind: Were Awo to suddenly show up from somewhere in that house, his trademark glasses perfectly perched on his nose and hands in pockets, what would President Buhari have said in answer to the simple question: how do you do, Muhammadu?

After all, this is Awo’s home, the cradle of great ideas, the training camp of the most hardened combatants in the battle for democracy. And here is Buhari, the autocrat, well, self-proclaimed converted democrat, in the ultimate democrats’ shrine, before the Chief Priest himself!

Life is indeed full of ironies! And none could be grander than the pageant of Buhari standing before Awo.

The history is too well documented of all the haranguing the late sage was subjected to by the Muhammadu Buhari-led junta which torpedoed democracy in 1983. Awo’s home was raided, his passport was seized, he was called names and all of his associates were sent to detention in some of the nation’s most notorious prisons for sins not committed. Some of them did not survive the trauma for too long.

But the real intriguing irony of the Awo-Buhari engagement is that when Buhari took over on December 31, 1983, his maiden speech was a mere echo of some of the things Chief Awolowo had told Shehu Shagari and his government for months about the downward spiral of the nation’s economy, for which he was publicly and mercilessly derided by members of the commanding heights of that government.

“It is true that there is a worldwide economic recession. However, in the case of Nigeria, its impact was aggravated by mismanagement.” This was one of the flagship statements Buhari made in his maiden address to Nigerians in summation of the ineptitude of the Shagari Administration and the reason he seized power, adding, for effect, that the ousted government also could have been helped but it ‘disregarded’ the advice of appropriate agencies as well as well-meaning citizens.

How true! Awo had warned and proffered solutions. Shagari had ignored his counsel and his government mocked the old man. The economy, true to Awo’s prediction, soon failed. And Buhari seized power.

Yet, the military regime gave neither Chief Awolowo, who had consistently spoken of the rudderlessness of the ship of state, nor his lieutenants any preferential treatment, let alone credit. If anything, Awo and his gang were especially marked out for humiliation by the junta.

And until he showed up in Ikenne a few days ago to bid HID farewell, Buhari was not known to have ever openly appropriately acknowledged the Awolowo phenomenon, before or even after his passing. Whereas, if there is any leader Buhari should seek to be like, it must be Awo.

Perhaps, very few people have paid better tribute to Awo than Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, the other dictator who took over from Buhari and who once used the most appropriate words to locate Awo within the context of Nigeria’s history.

Awo is the main issue in Nigerian politics, he said in a moving goodwill message to the sage on one of his birthday events. ‘’You are either with Awo or against him.’’

Even if he would, as most people say of him, go on to prove himself a pretender with devious motives, Babangida demonstrated a good grasp of history and etched in the memory of Nigerians the image of one of the nation’s builders in words that were simply incontrovertible.

On the contrary, Buhari, either out of inferiority complex, guilt or some inexplicable strange reason, often appears in denial of a fact of Nigerian life: that Awo, even in death, remains the main issue in Nigeria’s governance and politicians of whatever hue want to swear by his name. In planning, in disciplined leadership, in sound economic management, in thoughts for the people, the sage was beyond compare. The standards he set remain the aspirations of even the best of the best after him ever since. And he still lives as the greatest advertisement of visionary leadership Nigerians now yearn for. Indeed, it can be safely said that as far as governing Nigeria is concerned, you either do it Awo’s way or do it the wrong way.

M.H McKee said wisdom is knowing the right path to take. Integrity is taking it.

Now with a second chance, a gift with which Providence can be notoriously stingy but which it has graciously bestowed on Buhari at the helm of Nigeria’s affairs, would he be wise enough to know the right path? And is he humble enough to take it? He has gone to the shrine. May he lead with the wisdom of the Chief Priest.

So, were Awo alive to receive Buhari last week, with HID on hand to lay out the sumptuous dinner for which her kitchen was renowned and with the policy workshop dining with Awo was reputed to be, what would the man who knew Nigeria so well, who had done more work in preparation for fixing Nigeria, the perennially ailing giant, have told this President?

Because little has changed for the better about the Nigerian condition since the time of yore, the contents of Awo’s earlier letter to President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari would still have been at the core of his message to President Muhammadu Leko Buhari.

Poverty ravages Nigeria. Unemployment is higher now than ever and the nation reels under the yoke of debt. With oil prices at rock bottom, even President Buhari says the nation is broke. While a huge debate has ensued on that, no one can deny that the ship of state is at the mercy of the winds, tossed perilously up and down mid-sea. Those in power are so pre-occupied with themselves and they care little about the people. The government says much, does little while the tribe of the deprived swells into an overwhelming majority.

Were Awo able to grant Buhari an audience last week, his unparalleled rigour and meticulousness would have been on display as he asked questions on the President’s vision, on the true meaning of his government’s policies, if there is any, and demanded answers that go beyond platitudes about fighting corruption or catching thieves.

He would have asked Buhari if he knew the enormity of the powers at his disposal and how to use those powers for the people’s good. He would tell him that he is in a vantage position to strengthen Nigeria’s unity by institutionalizing respect for the country’s diversity. Buhari would have heard from Awo what it means to lead with a spirit of inclusion, help those who have been cast out or left behind, feel the pain of the hurting and provide a soothing balm for them.

Awo would have told Buhari that his current job demands clarity of vision and boldness in execution. But he can only be bold in his vision if he has not run for the Presidency so many times over a period of 11 years only for the sake of being President. That Buhari can only be bold and courageous in governing Nigeria if his true desire would be a permanent residency in history and not in Aso Rock.

The old man would, of course, have marveled at the accident of circumstances that propelled Buhari to democratic power. And the deep thinker that he was, he would have underlined the joyful irony that his own life-long progressive ideas constituted the fuel, even if a bit adulterated, for the special purpose vehicle Buhari rode to power.

But Awo would have said this: When you are a beneficiary of too many pleasant accidents, and you fail to end such accidents with a clear purpose or vision, you are a tragic accident waiting to happen.

From the endless blundering of the immediate past Administration to the seemingly unusual alliance of strange bedfellows that made the ruling party, to the thirst of the people for change, which a 72-year-old reformed autocrat appeared the most credible to assuage, so far, it’s all been one pleasant coincidence after the other.

Buhari must, however, seize history by the scruff of the neck and mould it so Nigerians do not end up unnecessarily exultant over a really tragic accident waiting to happen.

Even if he wouldn’t admit it, and, by the way, he acknowledged the cheers of the crowd with a clenched fist instead of the two-fingered victory sign Awo would have preferred, as he took in the ambience of the statesman’s home even in the frenzy over his wife’s burial rites last week, Buhari could not have been deaf to the strident voice and wise words of Awo on what to do about Nigeria.

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