In his after-sickness speech, President Muhammadu Buhari seemed to embody the main character in Wole Soyinka’s play, King Baabu. The man morphs from a soldier to a king of democracy. He tries, as Buhari did in his speech, to foist the contradiction on us. A monarch hectors, orders, clads himself in the regalia of the superior.
But by using the phrase “dear citizens,” he unveiled, in a Freudian moment, the basic cartoon of king cohabiting with democrat. Citizens connote equality. “Dear” invokes affection. But when “dear prefaces citizens,” the word “dear” bears the haloes of affectionate fellowship. “My” however decapitates everything. It connotes ownership.
No one is anyone else’s citizen. If he said “dear citizens,” then he threw a hand of fellowship. “My dear citizens” means he owns the citizens, even if it is dear to him. That was where the Freudian moment carried feudal arrogance. That is paternalism, where the leader sees his fellow citizens as beneath him. The French colonies treated its subjects that way in the 20th century, and so bad was it that West African citizens played children in joining Charles de Gaulle to form an army. They became colonial subjects helping their masters to stop another force from becoming masters of their masters.
I would have dismissed this as the speech writer’s and the president’s lack of linguistic finesse and naivety. But the presidency has not recalibrated this expression. So, I take it that they mean what I analysed. Or maybe out of sheer cussedness or arrogance, no one wants to own up to a grammatical perversion.
Yet that was not what irked me more in that speech of laconic fuming. It was the wrong use of symbolism in reference to the Ikemba. He said Biafran leader Emeka Ojukwu spent a whole weekend with him in Katsina, and they resolved that Nigeria’s unity was non-negotiable. Ojukwu never said in public that Nigeria’s future was non-negotiable. He pledged allegiance after he returned from exile and until his death to the unity of Nigeria. It is not the same thing as saying that Nigerian unity was non-negotiable.
Ojukwu always re-echoed, until he died, that he would fight again for Biafra, if circumstances recurred. The president was wrong to invoke a voice without a witness. No one was there when they backslapped in his Daura home, when they slurped fura or their throats flushed with lumps of tuwo. That atmosphere of bonhomie did not mean they did not hold different views.
Leaders in history who held diametrically opposed positions can still sweat affably on golf courses. President Richard Nixon pivoted his foreign policy on weaving personal relationships with leaders of adversarial nations. Nixon tried to defreeze the Cold War by paying visits to Mao Tse-tung in China and Leonid Brezhnev of the Soviet Union.
In his memoirs, Nixon writes plenteously about how they broke the ice, sharing meals, yarns, the picturesque ambience of his vacation home, etc. This was in spite of Nixon’s natural aloofness. When Brezhnev died, Time essayist Roger Rosenblatt wrote about their relationship: “How he must have relished pawing Nixon who hated to be touched.”
He also described the Soviet leader as “genial, brutal, boring.” Yet the world cruised into a phase of peace as against his boorish predecessor, Nikita Khrushchev. His main envoy Henry Kissinger had many memorable moments with Mao. So familiar were their conversations that Mao once waxed philosophical about his maker coming to take him soon. Kissinger railed gleefully: “A dialectician of materialism invokes a deity.”
It did not make Nixon or Kissinger less of capitalists, nor Brezhnev or Mao less of communists. So, having a weekend did not make Ojukwu a lover of Nigeria without preconditions. Unless both did not have deep and intellectual interactions and decided to paper over the cracks.
Winston Churchill did not like Charles de Gaulle much. But in the omen of Blitzkrieg into France, Churchill flew to Paris and flew the French man back to London. But the French, aloof in spite of being a refugee guest, did not want Churchill to tell him what to do with his Free French campaign. Yet Churchill and De Gaulle managed to get along.
When leaders meet, they don’t always get along. De Gaulle’s France was being saved by American military might, but de Gaulle shunned a meeting with American President Franklin Roosevelt. He met with him another time, and even if they did not like each other, they left the meeting with a look of meretricious good feeling.
So, who knows if Ojukwu merely wanted to coat that meeting with polite rhetoric! We never have tapes of such meetings and we will do well not to distort what happened, especially when they run counter to popular information.
Hence, I believe it was wrong for the president to use Ojukwu to make the case against restructuring. Ojukwu has never disavowed Biafra. His army was defeated, not his heart. This writer has often supported the philosophy of Biafra, not the way and manner it was executed by the Ikemba, whom I thought was an opportunist. The same way I oppose IPOB, whose leader, ethnic entrepreneur and rabble rouser, is taking advantage of a people seeking a meaning in a country of poor leaders.
The president cannot wish away the call to restructure Nigeria merely by hectoring in his angry speech. If he thinks all is well with Nigeria, he must be living in a different country. Just like the Roman leader Caligula, who thought he was such a hero because he was adored in the early days of his reign. He started to replace the statues of great Roman leaders with his.
Buhari’s followers swoon and carp and drink water from unsanitary ground in homage to him. Those same people cannot pay their bills in hospitals and secure good education. We have to make the distinction between hero worship and human woes. In the same speech, he equated the herdsman and farmers, yet the herdsmen rapine farmers and their goods. They invade, kill, maim and rape farmers. Farmers are not the hostile ones. To speak of farmers- herdsman clash is rhetorically wrong. It connotes moral equivalency just like Trump equates white supremacists with antifascist protesters. The attackers are the offenders.
I expected an update on his health, and we had nothing. We paid the bill, and we need to see the accounts. That speech is an example of how not to write a presidential speech.