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Adeniyi vs Abati

Of Wailers, Counter-Wailers and Buharideens by Olusegun Adeniyi

One early morning in May last year, about three weeks to the inauguration of the victorious Muhammadu Buhari as the new president, the then First Lady, Mrs Patience Jonathan, descended the staircase into the presidential living room and muttered quietly but to the hearing of the few top government officials who had gathered waiting for her husband: “For dis same country wey we dey; we get president wey don die patapata; yet, im own loyal people say president sabi rule from anywhere. But for my own husband…”

Even while the former First Lady may not have completed her statement, the message was not lost on her audience that their loyalty was being called to question. But if Mrs Jonathan imagined at that period that she had seen any disloyalty, I wonder how she would be feeling today. I am not so sure many of our businessmen, especially those ones that are perpetually “into oil and gas”, are still trooping to the residence of the Jonathans. And I would be most surprised if madam is still holding court, receiving those shameless politicians who were fawning over her, including those old enough to be her father or mother yet were addressing her as their mummy!

Incidentally, her husband was more circumspect about the fate that could befall him outside power. Speaking at a thanksgiving and farewell service in his honour on 10th May, 2015, just 19 days before he handed over, Dr Goodluck Jonathan said: “Some people come to me and say ‘this or that person–is he not your friend? Is it not your government that this person benefited from? This is what the person is now saying.’ But I used to say, worse statement will come…I used to tell them that more of my so-called friends will disappear.”

I have not seen the former president for a while (even though I intend to seek him out, again) but he must today be a lonely man, considering how many of his friends of yesterday may have voted with their feet, now that he is in the political valley. Where are the GEJites, the Transformation ambassadors and promoters of those cash-and-carry groups that seized the airspace to tell us “No Jonathan, No Nigeria”? Even the old man who pompously declared himself to the world as father to the former president has more or less publicly disowned his “son”. Such is the ephemeral nature of power in our country yet most of our public officials hardly ever learn, as they carry on as if they own tomorrow.

I have seen this hubris again and again and it begins from intolerance of criticism, however well-intentioned before graduating into being surrounded by sycophants who would say only what the leader wants to hear while demonizing those with opposing views. The lesson never learnt is that when public officials begin to dance only to the music of time-servers, then they are already in trouble because those are usually the first to leave when things go wrong. On such a day as this, that is a lesson that will serve President Buhari.

Exactly one year ago today (31st March, 2015 that is!), the nation was on tenterhooks as we awaited the announcement of the presidential election result. Even though Buhari had such an unassailable lead at the polls that he had practically won, to the extent that in Nigerian politics two plus two does not always approximate to four, there were apprehensions of a looming catastrophe. To compound the situation, we had a certain Godsday Orubebe throwing tantrums at the results collation centre as Nigerians and people across the world watched on television. But Jonathan saved the day by recognizing that the market was over. He took an unprecedented step (in our country) to call and congratulate Buhari. I know it is now fashionable to belittle the gesture but it was a big decision that saved our nation from an impending national crisis the end of which nobody could foretell.

Yet, hardly had Buhari settled down in office when he started facing a barrage of criticism of his own from those who didn’t want him as their president, and did not vote for him at the polls: The displaced Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) politicians who had lost their patronage, the Christian bigots whose opposition to Buhari stemmed from no reason other than that he is a Muslim, the ethnic irredentists who hated the idea of another “Hausa-Fulani” man in Aso Rock as well as those who genuinely did not believe Buhari has what it takes to be a democratic president in today’s Nigeria. For this group of critics, presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, baptized them with the moniker: Wailing wailers!

Since action and reaction, according to a law in physics, are equal and opposite, it was no surprise that a new group also emerged that became known as the “counter-wailers”. This also comprises an amalgam of different interests: Those who voted for Buhari because they believe in his capacity to make a difference in our lives, the millions of Nigerians who were disenchanted with Jonathan and wanted him out not minding the replacement, the All Progressives Congress (APC) propagandists and the network of cyber activists that fought for “Change”, even when all the promises contained in their glossy campaign documents have now been disowned by their man. This group had (and still has) a one-liner argument for every criticism: corruption is fighting back!

And then, there is a third group that has been dubbed the “Buharideens”. To members of this group, Buhari is almost like a god who can do no wrong. Irrational to the point of fanaticism, you also get a sense that the only reason this group would defend Buhari, and attack whoever as much as criticize him, is just because he shares the same faith and ethnic affiliation with them. Buhari is a Muslim or a “Hausa-Fulani” man and to them, that is all that counts. This group reminds one of the Ijaw triumphalists of yore but where are those characters today?

Now, when you look at the three groups, what I find interesting is the shifting grounds. As at June last year, Buhari’s first month in office, the population of the “counter-wailers” and “Buharideens” far outnumbered that of the “wailing wailers” on the internet. However, even before one of his ministers told Nigerians he doesn’t give a damn whether or not we sleep at fuel stations because he is not a “magician”, the popularity of the administration had begun to shrink such that if a census were to be conducted today, I will not be surprised if the “wailing wailers” carry the day. That is why I believe the president and his handlers should be worried.

The challenge of the “wailing wailers” is that it is a population that can easily grow as it draws from those who voted for the president believing there is going to be a “Change” but may now be feeling they were traded a lemon for an orange. These usually are fickle supporters who can easily change camp, depending on how the administration’s policies (or lack of one) impact on their economic well-being. Therefore, the lesson for Buhari is that if he continues to fritter his goodwill such that he is left only with the “Buharideens”, then his presidency will be endangered. For that not to happen, he needs to pay more attention to why many of the “counter-wailers” of yesterday are gradually joining the “wailing wailers” and what exactly the issues are.

For sure, President Buhari is living up to his reputation by exposing the mindless looting of public funds that went on in the last administration. And by that, he is fulfilling his campaign pledge to fight corruption. Even the most implacable foe of the president will concede there is more sanity in the system today regarding transparency and accountability. Buhari has also shown greater resolve in taking the battle to the Boko Haram terrorists who are practically on the run and can only hit soft targets. But as commendable as these are, at the end of the day, Nigerians will still ask themselves if their lives were better or worse under his watch.

Given the astronomical fall in the price of crude oil for a nation that is virtually dependent on petrodollars, it was always going to be a challenging period for Nigerians, no matter what the administration does. But a hungry man, as a Yoruba adage says, has no temperament to listen to any sermon. The problem really is that there is not even any “sermon” going on since the government is very deficient in policy articulation and flexibility while there is practically no citizens’ engagement or strategic communication. For a government that was ushered into power with such an unprecedented public goodwill, that is a real shame.

With the national currency on a yo-yo and the situation at the fuel pump getting worse by the day, the list of the “wailing wailers” is growing against the background that the federal government has not come out with a coherent economic policy to address their challenges. And when critics point this out, the cheap blackmail is either that they are part of the corruption network “that is fighting back” or they are simply “wailing wailers”. That is not going to sell for long.

At the end of the day, what President Buhari must realise is that the long honeymoon is expiring, especially as we move towards the one-year anniversary when more questions will be asked. The administration should therefore be worried that those who effusively campaigned for it just about a year ago are now making common cause with the “Wailing Wailers”.

It’s time to put Nigeria first, by Reuben Abati

This commentary is inspired by Olusegun Adeniyi’s “Of wailers, counterwailers and Buharideens” (ThisDay, March 31). In that piece, the ace journalist and public affairs commentator successfully defines the tri-polarities governing public responses to the Muhammadu Buhari administration.  The take-away is that the biggest challenge that Nigeria faces at the moment is political partisanship, which has divided the country into the camps of rights and wrongs and a fierce and bitter contestation over who is right or wrong.

One year after the last Presidential election that led to the exit of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), after 16 years in office and power (sorry, the 60 years project failed) and the exit also, of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, there is now a bitter fight out there on the streets over whether or not Nigerians took the right decision by voting for change, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Muhammadu Buhari. President Goodluck Jonathan’s over 12.8 million supporters have proven to be loyal and indeed that they exist as a serious, organised political force.

They have wasted no muscle, saliva or emotion in slyly reminding Nigerians generally that the electorate didn’t think properly about the choices they made in the 2015 general elections. President Buhari gained 15.4 million plus supporters in that election and they too are not ready to abandon their choice. And as Adeniyi brilliantly points out, you have the Buharideens, whose devotion to the incumbent is at the level of passion, religion and ethnicity. Adeniyi forgot to mention the Jonathanians (I wonder why) who, afraid of persecution, have since laid low strategically, but are now beginning to show their hands, as a new contest for the public mind begins, close to the first anniversary of the Buhari administration in power.

My tentative take is that there is too much ego, passion and self-righteousness out there on the streets. Add the reverse triumphalism of the defeated PDP. Well, scratch that. Add opportunism. You may scratch that too. Add didn’t-we-tell-you-the-change-you-sought-was-nothing-but-one-chance? Now, scratch that and replace with the other group saying you-thieves-should-go-hide-your-heads-in-shame. Hmmm, scratch that quickly and replace with all-of-us-na-barawo-una-go-see-wetin-we-go-do-to-you-when-we-come-back. Now don’t scratch this completely, leave some of the ink, and replace with there-is-no-vacancy-here-na-joke-una-dey-joke-because-we-know-corruption-is-trying-to-fight-back. Now, come on, scratch everything and replace with the realization that Nigeria today is entrapped in a vicious power game, a muddled integrity game and a desperate one-upmanship, my-car-is-better-than-yours game. It is as if the election has not ended, it is as if we are still in the season of political campaigns.

I blame the APC strategists for allowing things to remain at this level. They have failed to see the need to move quickly from campaign to governance mode. They are also behaving as if they are under the spell of Karma. The PDP wailers are tying them down, with taunts, forcing them to still campaign after the election. They have now pushed them to become defensive, the exact place where the PDP was more than a year ago, but it is worse, as the APC and its agents have become irritable. The result is that the APC and its government are beginning to over-react to every little provocation. They used to accuse the Jonathan government of being reactive rather than pro-active (I never agreed), but that is what they are doing now, and it is worse according to current testimonies. They who used to be regarded as the masters of this kind of game are losing grip of it.

Today’s men are thus making precisely the same mistakes we made, if we may charitably say so, and if they continue this way, and do not quickly change the narrative, their tactics and their strategy, they may with their own hands unwittingly prepare the grounds for the hobbling of their own government.  They have already made one big additional mistake, which the Jonathan government didn’t make: they are forcing the people to look back. They are forcing the people to check the dictionary for the meaning of change and to start asking simple questions. They are practically motivating the people to be nostalgic. The kind of compare-and-contrast narrative that is determining prevalent sentiments is ironic at all levels.

There may be no magic to governance, but there is certainly serious magic in statecraft. Mr. President, the past is in the mirror.

A fellow that should professionally qualify as an idiot even asked the other day: who is thinking for this government? The truth is that there are always people thinking for government but they are mostly the wrong people, exploiting primordial advantages rather than natural and trained gifts.  But the worse that has happened in the shape of an own goal is the APC fighting itself.  This is too Karmic, and too much of a repetition of recent history, to be true. When Asiwaju Bola Tinubu called out Dr Ibe Kachikwu on the management of the lingering nationwide scarcity of fuel, and the latter’s response to public angst – that was a deadly own goal.

When the administration puts Senate President Bukola Saraki in the dock, and treats him like a renegade, that is another own goal. The seemingly intractable scarcity of fuel and foreign exchange and the rising cost of everything is the biggest own goal, in addition to the open denial of promises made to the people. In our time, there were persons who used to wonder whenever certain things occurred if the Jonathan government was not under a metaphysical spell; perhaps, it is possible for a government to be under spells: man-made and induced.  We have been told, for example, that government is not a magician, credited to Kachikwu, the Minister of State for Petroleum/GMD NNPC but is anyone aware that another government spokesperson had actually said President Buhari never promised to perform magic, weeks before Kachikwu echoed the same point?. Check that, and reflect on the point about magical spells.

I bring up these points merely to provoke further thought.  In the last one year, certain specific lessons have been learnt, and you don’t need a Ph.D to know this, just check with the ordinary man on the street. Lesson one: change doesn’t mean transformation. The change of form is not the same as the change of content or style. Lesson two: politicians are the same, no matter the label. Lesson three: it is not easy to run Nigeria. The challenges, year after year, government after government, party after party, are basically the same.

Lesson four: it is easy to criticise; it is not as easy to govern. Lesson five: every party or government in power has skeletons in the cupboard and ghosts in their courtyard. Lesson six: the contest for power in Nigeria is a permanent struggle at the heart of the national question. Lesson seven: Nigeria is a country in search of good men and heroes. Lesson eight: the love of government, religion or the kinsman, is not the same as patriotism. Lesson nine: truth can be relative. Lesson ten: politicians in Nigeria are who they are: whores. Lesson eleven: small things matter most.

These propositions are organically contradictory to the extent that they provoke further interrogations. They could generate egotism, unnecessary contestation, bile and argumentation. We do not need that right now. Those who voted, not necessarily for the APC, but for Buhari saw him as a game changer and a statesman, who having nothing at stake other than love of country, will move the country forward. The grievances in the land are directed at him. The people may not know APC but they know Buhari. They placed their bet on him. They want answers from him. Olusegun Adeniyi says he should not lose the popularity that brought him to power, but he does not tell us how. I suspect that the answer lies in President Buhari insisting that Nigeria must come first. The Manichean approach to governance that has remained dominant for almost one year has divided the country right down the middle, vertically and horizontally, creating camps of disaffection that government does not need. The effect may not yet have been seen, but it is that latent effect that will on the long run, determine the fortunes of the Buhari administration.  The time has come for President Buhari to take another look at the tea leaves and ask the forces of division to put Nigeria first.

He came into office as a legacy figure and statesman.  He assumed office not as a man seeking history but as a man of history. His remit is to deepen that history and his credentials as a legacy figure and statesman. Those who are reducing his tenure to a competition with the immediate past as justification and platform miss this point and they have seen enough contradictions on display to realise the limitations of their strategy just in case there is one. There is only one valid strategy for a man with Buhari’s antecedents: sustained connection with the popular will.  President Olusegun Obasanjo managed that very well during his first term (1997 -2003) and President Goodluck Jonathan is gaining back whatever he may have lost – his individual heroism and the failure of the APC ‘s post-election tactics, have shed useful light on his achievements in office via the force of inevitable comparison.

I believe that the Buhari government has reached that moment when it must review its house-keeping tactics. One option is for the President to move beyond the APC and run a government of national unity. He must search far more widely for meaning, purpose and inclusivity at the levels of thought and policy options.  He needs to run a government that shows that it has since gone beyond elections, and seeks to build a nation. One year is gone, so he has very short time. The best assessment of the last one year in office cannot even be done by him, his staff or pundits. He only needs to listen to the anonymous man on the street from Kano to wherever.

The people will always speak, and they must be heard, and as the Buhari government approaches its first year in office, the people are speaking louder than ever. Nigerians may be implacable, but when they begin to murmur, it is better to listen.  If anyone tells President Buhari that it is the PDP making such noise, let him not believe such persons. If they tell him there is a Jonathanian cabal fighting him, he should tell such persons to try another line because that particular song is beginning to sound too familiar. There may be no magic to governance, but there is certainly serious magic in statecraft. Mr. President, the past is in the mirror.
Adeniyi vs Abati Adeniyi vs Abati Reviewed by Emeka Oparah on Friday, April 01, 2016 Rating: 5

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