The president returns
After some 50 days away from his beat as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari returned to his seat last Friday. Genuine patriots were naturally disturbed by his prolonged absence and were glad he returned walking on his feet. The de ja vu feeling was not healthy for the nation. Added to it was the confusion caused by the contradictory statements by some of his aides on the reason for his prolonged absence. In an attempt to protect their boss (which is their legitimate duty) some went overboard. Our President was neither hale nor hearty. He was not simply vacationing. He had succumbed to the adversity of ill-health which could befall anybody, young or old. As a forthright person, the President immediately declared his health condition publicly: he had never been that sick as he was while in the UK. He even reportedly mentioned a blood transfusion experience. That struck a chord with sincere, genuine people. In my view, it is a chord that his handlers ought to have deployed in his absence.
President Buhari is a mortal being like all of us. At 74 years, he could fall ill. He could be susceptible to ailments that come with age. Indeed from Age 50, the human body begins to experience some challenges ‘naturally’ or usually associated with aging. Added to this is the stress of office. The President’s official work schedule and the rigours of public office are not a tea-party. They could make a 40-year old man look 60. Ask ex-President Barack Obama why gray hairs suddenly took over his head. It is thus uncharitable for anybody to dance in the streets of social media and wish the President evil, conjecturing all wicked scenarios and concocting fake news reports about his transition. It is evil. It is devious. It has its consequences. How did we as a people degenerate into this cultural malfeasance?
The President’s absence showed that our institutions could work. To show trust and confidence in the machinery of the State, the reins of authority were constitutionally transferred to the Vice President, who became Acting President. We thus avoided a repeat of history. When he needed an extension, the President sent a written request to the National Assembly. However, this was not enough for cynics. On the contrary, it fueled their theory of indefinite incapacitation. How did we lose the trust between the governed and the governors? Some even mischievously called for his resignation!
If the truth must be said, the lacuna of a failure to give a true situation report fuelled doubts in the country. Fortunately, the President candidly said he is likely to return to the UK for more tests and treatment. The best we can do is to pray for him. Whatever the situation, the country needs Buhari, the nation needs a Buhari. His physical presence at Aso Rock or his physical shadow while being treated outside the country is necessary for the current spirit in the country. It takes courage to confront the issues which he has routinely faced in the short time in the Presidency. He may not be perfect, he is not perfect, we are not perfect too; Nigeria is not perfect; things are certainly extremely difficult in the country for most people. But Buhari is not the cause. He is part of the process of national healing. And this we must recognise.
In times of crisis though, leadership takes the blame. Prophet Moses who led the Jews out of captivity was insulted while the journey was still on. They even abandoned the God who brought them out of slavery and created a god for themselves. In all extant literature on the subject, leaders who take bold steps could also become targets of insults. Bob Marley’s “How long shall they kill our Prophets/ While we stand aside and Look” is very instructive here. That is the reason the President’s aides should take the insults, tirades and cries in their stride. When people are frustrated they look for the head of the place and vent their anger.
The real reaction is to confront the dominant issues head on. Inflation. Hunger and anger in the land. The value of the Naira. Restiveness in the Niger Delta. Power supply. Boko Haram. In the physical absence of the President, his surrogates drove the vision of the Presidency. That should be the dominant narrative. Without a Buhari there would be no Osinbajo in the Presidency. It is a joint ticket. So we must wish them well. No one should drive a wedge. ‘I will rest this weekend and resume on Monday”, the President said. Good gesture. Frank. Truthful. Necessary. A successful leader is a man with trusted and dependable associates. It’s not the man who does everything by himself.
In all of this the infantile menace of social media brings to question the very essence of communication. How did we as a world create a channel in which LIES could pass for TRUTH? What can we do about obvious distortions and outright fabrications being transmitted in the open space? If this challenges the very essence of our culture, how can we as a country deal with it? Control? Regulation? How do we deal with our teenagers watching pornographic films in class while classes are on? How do we deal with a site that deliberately sets out to tell lies about the health condition of the President of the nation in order to create insecurity? It is true that some schemers would be calculating how to make political gain out of the President’s health condition. Let such people remember the story of late Chief R.B.K. Okafor and the great Zik of Africa!
Mr. President, I welcome you back home. Like your aides, disregard the truly sick ones who peddled false stories in your absence. They remain your children though, your constituents. You mean well for the country; that is what matters. But in your next rip, let the true narrative get into the public space. It is my view that there are more people who want you alive and well than those who think otherwise. May your health be fully restored! May your aides carry out your vision whether you are physically present or not. Your name is now synonymous with the grand effort to raise the country out of the quagmire of unethical behaviour and corruption. Saanu!