THE QUINTESSENTIAL LOUIS ODION SEGMENT -Buhari's Speech: Changing sitting order in a stuck Titanic?
By Louis Odion, FNGE
The cartel of political prayer-warriors are bound to lay claims. But if anyone deserves credit for at least "fast-tracking" the return last Saturday evening of President Muhammadu Buhari to, as they say, continue his "good work" in Aso Rock, it must be the procession of contrarians who had laid a siege to Abuja and their comrades who barricaded Abuja House in London, regardless of official posturing to the contrary.
By openly declaring himself fit but waiting for the doctor's formal discharge, PMB had inadvertently made himself vulnerable to accusations of "moonlighting" away in London while the situation at home was growing precarious.
Carried away apparently by the euphoria that engulfed the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport the moment the presidential jet landed or maybe out of sheer empathy with a patient struggling to rise from the nadir, the media would effectively downplay the candle-lit vigil by the motley crowd of Nigerians who had assembled in front of Buhari's London camp and heckled the president all Friday night till the morning of the day he departed.
Had PMB not taken off that day, there was a certainty those pesky Nigerians, who had secured London police permit to so assemble and protest, would resume their heckling behind the nation's green/white flag with the prospects of the name-calling degenerating to an international embarrassment.
That could not be the kind of atmosphere you expect an old patient to convalesce effectively. His misery would only have been compounded.
But of all the spectacle that later unfolded in Abuja that day, the most unsettling must be the appearance of Governor Nyesom Wike. A political master-stroke no doubt by the wily PDP gladiator from Rivers against his rivals now holed up in Abuja. Political difference, he seemed eager to demonstrate, should not result in death-wish. (Not surprising, his bitter political foe and Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, was missing at the welcoming party.)
Expectedly, since Saturday, sycophants have been trying to outdo each other across the land in continuation of the culture of "eye service". Not helping matters are those whose deeds tend to border more on profanity than holiness by issuing loud statements announcing plans to fast or pray for Buhari, as if the creeds of all faiths do not already oblige genuine believers to always remember leaders in prayers as a matter of compunction.
The vitality of the king, we are already told, is the wellbeing of the community.
One governor declared public holiday for "thanksgiving" even though he had for a whole week lived in denial of a grave pestilence that claimed no fewer 60 people in his state.
Buhari's sudden return would, however, seem to have spoilt things for someone like Sat Guru Maraji, just when many were beginning to expect to hear the day he would make his own appearance in London. Long before the much revered Pastor E A Adeboye of the Redeemed Church wrapped up penultimate Thursday the flurry of of august visitations from Nigeria, the Ibadan-based mystic had relentlessly offered to heal the ailing president like "I cured IBB".
But while laying claims to omni-potence, it seems completely lost on the self-styled prophet that the same IBB has over the years continued to bear the pain resulting from an injury sustained during the civil war with grace and today cuts the perfect portrait of forbearance against the agonizing ravages of radiculopathy.
Well, we can only hope that with Buhari's return and gratitude formally expressed in his Monday broadcast for all the "prayers", such comical distractions will now stop.
Reacting to the same broadcast, however, embattled Rep Abdulmumin Jibrin (of the "padded budget" fame) said what he heard sounded more like a "coup speech". On the contrary, I thought I saw a president very much in a hurry to get back in Abuja groove and reassert his authority. Maybe, Jibrin was tempted to say that because the president evoked the picture of antiquity by not availing himself of latest technology in a teleprompter and instead chose to read a script, clumsily shuffling the sheets before viewers.
Anyone familiar with the production of television broadcast by a political leader will readily attest it can be very, very exacting indeed, much more for a recuperating septuagenarian.
In terms of content analysis, the speech was rather too fleeting to speak to the nuances of burning national issues the president obviously wanted to address.
Hopefully, as he gets more briefing in the coming days, the commander-in-chief will gradually get a fuller picture to enable him better appreciate the dangerous shape things assumed while he was away.
Perhaps the most memorable line in the broadcast was this: "The national consensus is that, it is better to live together than to live apart."
Clearly, Buhari, being a war-tested General, seems obsessed with only the security dimension of the national question. By recalling his extensive conversation in 2003 with Emeka Ojukwu, the now late Biafran folk hero, Buhari appears too eager to demonstrate to neo-Biafrans the futility of seeking to disinter the old sepulcher.
But the real challenge is the need to understand what could have led Ojukwu's political grandchildren into a nostalgia for the path abandoned 47 years ago. What this grave hour calls for is exquisite leadership skill to win back their trust and enlist their talents in the enterprise of nation-building.
Overall, it is reassuring to hear Buhari speaking firmly, restating his promise to tackle decisively merchants of hate, kidnappers and "farmers versus herdsmen clashes" (sic). But the president needs to understand that these are only symptoms of deep structural defects long detected in the federal union. What remains is to summon the political courage to fix things and guarantee the union's sustainability.
Issuing threats or deploying maximum force will, at best, only secure temporary relief. Without rooting out the cancerous growth, administering tranquilizers today is tantamount to the laughable futility of thinking that merely changing the sitting order in a Titanic in the face of an approaching iceberg will eviscerate the looming existential threat. As we read of the proverbial Titanic that succumbed in the Atlantic Ocean, clueless janitors were busy rearranging the decks even as the sybaritic band continued playing while the vessel was sinking.
In Buhari's absence, the Council of State directed the Inspector General of Police to explore the possibility of community policing. This could only have been inspired by the realization that the present policing architecture can no longer meet today's needs.
Hopefully, Buhari will also get to know in the coming days that even his party, All Progressive Congress (APC), has since realized the futility of living in denial that generally speaking, the national structure as presently constituted is sustainable. Apparently reading the national mood correctly, it has already raised an in-house committee to fashion its own response.
This inevitability was succinctly expressed by Tunji Bello, the Secretary to the Lagos State Government, in a keynote delivered at the Nigerian Bar conference which opened in Lagos on Monday. His words: "The practice of the current skewed federalism or what I call "military federalism" being camouflaged as genuine federalism must stop as most of the States are currently hemorrhaging socioeconomically.
"Even by logic, a federation derives its strength from its constituents. So, how then do we reconcile the recent proposal that the power to organize local government elections be taken away from the states and added to the functions of the national electoral body controlled by the government at the centre? If we say the reason is because the ruling party in the state tends to win all seats in council polls, what is the guaranty that it will also not become the turn of the party that controls the government at the centre to make a clean sweep of all the council seats as well?"
The ailment has been diagnosed; what remains is to cure it.