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Nothing to discuss today

By Abraham Ogbodo
17 September 2017   |   3:55 am
These are perilous times. What constitutes a red line is so elastic and imperceptible that being careful alone is not enough safeguard.

The Editor of the Guardian, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo

These are perilous times. What constitutes a red line is so elastic and imperceptible that being careful alone is not enough safeguard. Avoiding crossing one in the current times could be as difficult as walking through a minefield. There is a noose called hate speech that can come around the necks of writers. Yet, silence is not a solution because people will say, ‘oh he has compromised’ if one remains still. And so today, I am searching for what to write that will keep me within bounds. I had thought of doing something on the Python that has been dancing in the Southeast, but something tells me to stay clear so that I am not accused of supporting terrorism.

My good friend, Femi Adesina announced on Friday that President Buhari would leave the country today for the US to attend United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York and would return through London. Adesina didn’t say if the President would just be stopping over in London for a night or two; or scheduled to start his third medical vacation. He just said: “return through London.” He had also spoken with some gusto and was like saying, “I have always told you doubting Thomases that Mr. President is hale and strong enough to take on all tasks. You can see now, he is flying 12 hours across the Atlantic to the US and will return almost immediately through United Kingdom, which even increases the flight time to about 14 hours.”

Good. But if I write that having stayed away from the homeland for almost the better part of his two years and four months presidency, Buhari shouldn’t jet out again so soon for any reason, including attending United Nations meeting in New York, I will be accused of hate speech. Sincerely, apart from the desire to be part of a global crowd of heads of government, I do not know how the UN meeting and a side talk with US President Donald Trump as revealed by Mr. Adesina will change things at home.

For instance, is the engagement going to teach President Buhari new tricks on how to manage the issues of discontent in the polity? If the answer is yes, I am hereby contributing my next salary to the fueling of the presidential jet that will take him to and from the United States through the United Kingdom. It is a very small sacrifice to make for the good of this great country and I know of many others with far fatter salaries that are ready to contribute to the cause. We only need to be convinced.

Mind you, I am still searching for what to write on today. One of the reasons Buhari gave for consigning the 2014 Confab report to the dust bin was that the conference was staged with big money at a time university teachers under the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) were on strike. It was a most patriotic thing to do. Why, in all sincerity, should former President Jonathan, acting like a drunken fisherman, spend so much to stage a talk show while Nigerian youths, the next leaders of this country after all the old men must have had their turns, were out of school because government failed to make it possible for their teachers to work?

I do not think Buhari’s concern for the youths of Nigeria has diminished. It follows therefore that all matters and imminent matters of strike of university teachers and workers, doctors and so on will have been resolved before the President leaves today for the US to join his colleagues for the UN meeting. If otherwise, from whom do I seek permission to express my humble views so that I do not write hate speech?

Another matter is also bothering me. I may also attend an international meeting some day and if in the course of events a colleague, from say Afghanistan, ask to know what has been ailing the Nigerian president and how much has been spent to contain the ailment, what should I say? If I call Lai Mohammed to give me the answers, he will say that the narrative on the President’s illness and what is costing Nigeria to keep him alive is being controlled for security reasons. If I turn to Femi Adesina, thinking both of us have come a long way and he would for old-time sake oblige, he is likely to say the President’s health is a private affair and the arising medical bills from his treatment abroad can be picked by quarters even unknown to the state.

You know journalists are very inquisitive. Another colleague from Kenya may ask what it cost government to rout those daring rats that took over the President’s office while he was away for 105 days in London on medical vacation. Mallam Shehu Garba would be needed here. It was he who propounded the rat invasion theory. But I doubt if he would be forthcoming. He is likely to direct all enquiries to the ministry of environment, which supervised the fumigation for the specifics of how much was spent and how many rats were liquidated in the end.

Should I write on that today or I jump on the bandwagon called ‘restructuring’ and use the opportunity to ask why the APC, which had restructuring as a key item in its party programmes is constituting a committee headed by Mallam El-Ruffai to define restructuring? The party is making the whole thing look like an English Language comprehension lesson in which ‘restructuring’ happens to be among the new words, which have to be explained thoroughly by the tutor to aid understanding of the entire composition. What will happen if I say this? Will I be accused of further heating up the already heated polity?

I am still searching for what to write on today. There is this unresolved knot between the Department for State Security (DSS), the Senate on one side and the Presidency on the other side, which is making the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu look like an illegal operator. Now, If I ask why the Presidency or more specifically, President Buhari has not settled that matter before going to New York, won’t people say that corruption is fighting back?

Yet if I decide today to join Magu wholeheartedly to fight corruption and ask for the full implementation of the report of the panel that investigated the grass cutting contract and the massive dollar recovery in Ikoyi, the same people will say I am blackmailing the Federal Government. If I dare a little more to ask what became of the case of the half a billion naira kick-back in the fine buy-back deal involving a telecom major, I could be branded a terrorist. And so, what should I write on today and be safe?

Everybody knows that it is the APC that is generating the heat in the system but nobody is saying it for fear of being branded hate speaker. If it is not the presidency versus the legislature, both controlled by the APC, it is the presidency versus itself. Other times, it is the presidency versus the judiciary. If I decide now to write that the APC is a ruling, rolling and an opposition party rolled into one, people will say I am an agent of the PDP out to discredit the APC and weaken its electoral chances ahead of 2019. What exactly should I comment on today? If I advise that President Buhari should be allowed to retire to Daura and not be burdened with a second term if he pushes through to 2019, people will say I am behaving like the Jews who conspired and killed the saviour that God sent to them.

As it is, I am not too sure anymore of what constitutes first-degree felony like terrorism in Nigeria. And so, as a wise man, I have advised myself to remain neutral today. Maybe something concrete and less controversial may crop up next week. Make una nor vex.