Some days ago, a picture of President-elect General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) bolted upon the Internet. The now famous picture shows General Buhari on a breakfast table with his deputy, Professor Yomi Osinbajo. But that was not the story. The attraction was our incoming President was having breakfast with, of all things, a sachet of Milo choco beverage. The social media went agog with the ardent Buhari supporters shouting ‘Eureka – the change has come. The prophet is here’. To these people, no explanation that the setting of the picture was a hotel, where the serving is traditionally a one-off sachet of beverages, or that a tin of Milo beverage actually costs less than a thousand naira could make any difference.
The Milo saga is telling. It is a pointer to the Prophet Nigerians want as their leader – even if they transgress a million times everyday. The leader has to be superhuman. Performs miracles. Discomforts himself and probably treks about in Abuja. We conveniently ignore that the N30 sachet of Milo we see on the tray may actually cost a thousand naira or more, depending on who made the purchase and how. So, instead of asking for the President to use a bicycle – which a Nigerian leader may budget millions for its purchase and maintenance, we should ask for prudence and celebrate it. A leader should, as a servant of his people, have all the comfort entitled to his position within reasonable expenditure. But of course the Nigerian Boss – here, the citizen, can actually be very cruel.
A few days back, the office of the President-elect issued a terse statement announcing Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to not disrespect traffic rules. The statement did not only make the announcement as simply as it should be. It did two other things. It tongue-lashed the habit of riding over traffic rules by big men in convoys, something that has become part of the elaborate ‘big man’ culture in Nigeria. Second, the President-elect also strongly advised his co-travellers in the incoming dispensation to borrow his leaf.
I did not clap at this piece of news. This is not because I cherish any moment I am herded off the road by overzealous police pilot vehicles paving the road for some approaching VIP. It is one nauseating culture, no doubt, especially because, like many things in Nigeria, sirens and police escort have become such a bastardised privilege. But I am not really comfortable with the presidential order. Generalisation is a terrible human pronouncement. And in everything, there should be allowance for future adjustments. I would have therefore hailed the news if Buhari were to qualify this order to his security attaches, like stopping “needless abuse of traffic rules”. I wouldn’t want him to reverse himself any soon.
Now imagine the President returning to Abuja in the morning of a working day after a visit to Lafia, the capital of Nasarawa State. Or coming from Marina House in Lagos to the airport on such a day. Or still, dashing to the Abuja airport around 5pm, after the close of work.
Just like maintaining a modest presidential fleet (another near impossiblity is the president flying with commercial airlines!), creating way for a President who has the whole of Nigeria waiting for, is a needful infraction.
We cannot afford to have the country brought to a stop because the President is trapped in a traffic snarl, waiting to obey the law or stranded over Arik flight’s delay. The president of a country as populous, vast and complicated as Nigeria needs to race against time. It is not wise to have traffic rules obstruct matters of State. Obeying the law, like the sunnah in the Islamic tradition, is vast and the more important ones are those to do with character – being honest in the open and in the dark, steadfastness, being fair and just and being humane. We can wave the shunting!
Additionally, I don’t think, despite the ‘yes sir’ syndrome, the security personnel around the president and their bosses up there will just go by this demand of the President-elect. There should be some resistance and attempt to explain the implications. This is a security hazard that the country cannot afford to stake. Late Murtala Mohammed had tried it and the result was nasty. We should not be seen retracing that path again.
Even as an ordinary citizen, my experience in traffic snarls, specifically in the aftermath of the Nyanya and Bannex bomb attacks in Abuja, was nothing nice. Driving to the city centre from Karu then was always a solemn and prayerful exercise. No one knows which car will blow up in the hundreds of cars milling slowly through the military checkpoint. No one was sure who will fetch explosives to the roadside in the name of harmless luggage and trigger it off.
The President should not expose himself to obvious hazards and wasteful waiting just to be seen to be disciplined and a stickler to the law. His dining table should have tinned Milo. He should maintain a reasonable number of presidential jets and he should run fast across all the traffic hold-ups. He needs to be well nourished and mentally comfortable to run the affairs of this cantankerous country
Abdulaziz writes from Zone 3, Wuse, Abuja. Twitter: @AbdulFagge email@example.com