The Kaduna trip was some kind of twisted fun from start to finish. I got to Kaduna late because my 11:05am flight on Air Peace from Lagos to Abuja became 4:05pm, 5:45pm, and eventually we boarded at 7pm and left Lagos by 7:20pm. The road to Kaduna from Abuja is a sad reminder of our insecure lives. The Nigerian Army mounted road blocks at intervals. Are those really effective? How many soft targets are protected in Abuja and our major cities? I got to Kaduna quite late. To my dismay, the Governor-elect was at the lobby to receive me in his campaign T-shirt and sneakers. “I can’t believe you did all this for me Bamidele despite the fuel scarcity and all. I am so touched…”, he said. I did not mind my tired oily face, we took pictures, and he left. Was I humbled? Thoroughly! I freshened up and went though my facebook messenger. I got lots of requests for invitation to the lecture. My thoughts were fixed on the Pius Adesanmi Lecture. Did he consider the cultural imperatives of Northern Nigeria? Did he include popular memes to enthrall the audience? Wrapped in my thoughts I began drifting away at around 3:00am on May 28th. I woke up to the alarm at 6:30am and the day began.
Our security was guaranteed! We were ferried around in a bullet proof Mercedes G-Wagon. I have never been in one, and each time, I need help to open the door lest I break a arm. It later occurred to me I could tone my flabby biceps and triceps by opening the door just four times a day. Oh Germans! I now know why Angela Merkel wears trousers everyday. It is easier getting into a Molue than that truck. I pull up all my bonafides as if spoiling for a street fight to gain entrance each time we needed to get anywhere.
Echoes From The Inauguration Lecture
I got in through the VIP route following Prof. Pius Adesanmi closely behind. I shook the hand of anyone in Kaftan or Agbada and bowed for the district heads and anyone in turban. No one refused shaking my hands and that was re-assuring. I saw “Senator-elect” Shehu Sani afar in his suit. Will he ever change? Has he any Kaftan and cap in his closet? General Martin Luther Agwai, former Chief of Defence Staff who headed Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) and was fired for mentioning ‘change’ at the Obasanjo book launch was the Chairman. He made a short impassioned speech, Pius’ citation was read and the lecture began. The crowd was an eclectic mix and it stirred my worries that the hall was filled with a crowd too political for an intellectually themed lecture – “Building Rome In a Day With One Kobo: El-Rufai and the Challenge of 21st Century Kaduna”. From his inauguration team’s choice of guest speaker, Mallam Nasir, Kaduna’s Governor-elect seemed poised to steering robust policies under intellectual cover. Was this necessary in a country famous for anti-intellectualism and a dead reading culture? I sat confused!
I looked around and questioned how the invite was distributed in my brain. I did not see the Facebook/Twitter crowd with whom he engaged long before he announced his ambition and after. I could not get invites for those who asked me, after all I was an invitee. The lecture wore on, I did not get a feel that there was any hunger in the audience for intellectual reflections. The politicos were in their own world chattering over God knows what. Is this format the best for this crowd? This is not the engaging, political and rabidly partisan Facebook/Twitter crowd? This is not the university crowd? I kept questioning and affirming my convictions and priors. As the lecture zeroed in on the “brokest” nature of the treasury to be inherited, and the need to harness human capital based on the integrity of the leader, the audience woke up, the applause rolled in. But then was it the crowd or the hall? Was I wrong? Was I hasty? The hall was oven hot! Water was served at room temperature inside used paint buckets! Don’t we deserve cold water to cool us down in this bakery? I was scandalised! I could not internalise it. Is this what El-Rufai can offer given his world class education and exposure? Why are we like this? Why can’t we be organised and benchmark good practices for once? These were my thoughts as the lecture wore on. I had no idea I hadn’t seen anything yet. It was the wickedness of failure at display. El-Rufai kept his cool…smiling through the incipient baking of our bodies.
I fanned myself with the hard, glossy pamphlet. It developed dog ears at first and later crumbled like disused aluminum foil. Amoeboid patterns of sweat formed on the caftan of the guest speaker as he pranced around in a semicircle doing his thing. The lecture ended and it was question time. In all, six questions were taken and one stood out. A young man who was well spoken, self-assured, and had good syntax but was illogical in his contribution was all charging! I will paraphrase him ‘…we must encourage our incoming governor? How can you say Kaduna State has one kobo? We have money! We have ten billion! Our governor will govern Kaduna and do well…’ He went on and on. As educated as he seemed, he missed the logic in the theme. He had no idea of metaphors. The logic of building human capital from human resources, the way Lee Kwan Yew did in Singapore despite their lean natural resources, did not resonate with this man. He was a spectacle in ignorance. He presented the archetype of those Mallam Nasir will have to educate before he can move Kaduna State forward. In the words of my friend Mallam Hassan Mohammed to whom I narrated the story, “he managed to summarise himself as an idiot.” In this man I found the exacting nature and the insipid value of ignorance. Mallam Nasir rose to speak after. He apologised for the hall we sat in. He said it was the best Kaduna could offer. Really? I was not only aghast, I was scandalised! I began to psyche myself for worse things and of course, worse things came.
Kaduna has been the seat of Northern Nigeria government since the 1960s. That Kaduna is what it is, is not only shameful but like all else, it is a slap on the face of Northerners and on the face of Nigerians. I was unimpressed. By the time I got to Kaduna, my inbox was full. People wanted to see me in flesh and blood. Our Facebook (Pius and I) crowd from Kaduna and Abuja zoomed into our Hotel. Pius’ refrigerator had only Amstel Malta and some juice. We got an opaque plastic bag and an assistant, Damola went in search of Heineken and anything to charge us. Anyhow, he came back without Orijin! I knew my enemies caused that to happen. At that point I was beginning to experience withdrawal symptoms from lack of caffeine. I drank Amstel Malta in resignation and by the time the fest was midway, we had missed Mr. Toyin Alabi – the General Manager of Liberty TV who had been outside the hotel for long, waiting for me to answer my phone! I called him frantically and we got into the studios at 3:20pm for a 3:00pm programme! We were introduced to Alhaji Ramalan who, with the help of his employees, has created a veritable competition to state owned television in just three years.
At the inauguration lecture, NTA was barely there. Liberty TV had a huge presence with its crew. The interview was an hour long. We (Pius and I) had difficult questions fired at us. We answered without fear. I no send person! I’m not looking for votes. No need to lie. An hour flew by quickly, I was surprised! They were very professional. We left the studio happy and satisfied that we had lent our intellectual support to the people of Kaduna State. We went straight to our hotel. Life is good! Our Facebook friends kept coming in. Mallam Hassan and his lovely wife brought us loads of Kilishi and shredded meat. Three of our visiting friends spoke to us at length about Kaduna politics. We got to know of how Yero accidentally became governor, the Sambo connection, Emir of Zazzau’s unfortunate gamble and many more. Matter of fact, one of them predicted there could be chaos at the swearing-in ceremony if the Emir attended. Was it that bad? I asked? “Yes, o! That Emir is unpopular, I don’t know how and if he can redeem himself. You know they don’t apologise.” We were thoroughly educated. When Pius left my hotel, I stayed back in the lobby and chatted up many hotel guests and visitors to gauge the prevailing mood and expectations of Mallam El-Rufai. I was astounded about the political sophistication of the people of Kaduna State, given their suggestions, insight and analysis. I knew we may have to send a memo to Mallam Nasir someday soon on the words on Kaduna streets.
The State Dinner
It was morning on the following day, May 29. I woke up refreshed but not in the mood for any outing. I fetched our invite and it read 8:00am for the Swearing-in. Ha! Kilode? I can’t make that! I put a call through to Pius, whom I woke up. We decided we should both keep quiet and stay in our rooms unless we are called or sent for. We agreed that if by 7:30am no one calls us, we would just relax until the inauguration dinner. By 12noon, my phones went bat shit crazy with calls. My inbox was swamped with messages! People wanted to know if we were safe. Safe from what? They heard the governor was stoned and pelted with sachet water at the parade ground and had to run away. My husband called in from the United States. Quickly, I put a call to my parents and sister to assure them of my safety. This story and many more exaggerations and outright lies revealed the ugly underbelly of Nigerian journalism. Most reporters are patently lazy, inordinately biased and most often inattentive. I am a writer, I am ashamed of those who reported false information just to tarnish Governor El-Rufai. I suggest they wait for the sensational and the ridiculous because it will come. Politicians can’t help themselves. If they survive scandals, they can’t but put their foot in their mouth. Yes, they should wait. He will make his own mistakes, and he can be pummeled and brutalised by whoever wants their pound of flesh. But to report fake news is totally irresponsible! The Emir of Zazzau, openly supported former Governor Yero. There is no love lost between him and Mallam Nasir. At the parade ground, the youths pelted him with anything they could find. They argued, since he never wanted El-Rufai, he shouldn’t be attending the inauguration. Unfortunately, they had no idea; their actions reflected badly on their Governor more than the Emir. It is unfortunate they resorted to violence. Nigerian youths have been bred and raised in a violent culture. No one in this atmosphere of change should be pelted with objects or subjected to inhuman treatment for his or her political beliefs or choices. We must look at ways to engage and eschew violence. If we were violent when the elections were postponed we wouldn’t be here with President Buhari or Governor El-Rufai. Pius and I were happy we weren’t at the venue. As usual, the organisation was a study in disappointment. My only hope was the dinner. I was prepared for a cocktail, in the end, they could not even manage a mocktail! Was I disappointed?
State dinner, inauguration dinner, any dinner, I had an idea what to expect. I was hoping for a pre-dinner gathering of who is who, where we would share reasonable introductions and discuss the political atmosphere. I was worried about what to wear. I gave no thought to the dinner while preparing for my trip. I had thought I would attend the lecture and leave but changed my mind. I am a believer in culture and I dressed appropriately in the tradition of my hosts to the lecture. I decided I was going to wear Lapaya to the dinner on seeing the very regal Aisha Buhari in one at the Abuja swearing-in ceremony. I had no extra Lapaya with me, and I considered it bad form to repeat the one I wore the day earlier. I called Lagos and told my cousin to send me two Lapayas from my closet and courier it through an outfit at MMA2 on the next flight to Kaduna. By the time I made up my mind, it was a few minutes past 1:00pm. The last flight to Kaduna leaves Lagos at 3:50pm. It was a public holiday, right? My cousin got there at 3:17pm. They had closed the manifest, and my Lapayas couldn’t be sent. No more flights to Abuja either. He went back home. My mum and a few friends convinced me to wear Iro and Buba, and support it with a veil. I had veils in surplus. Besides it is my signature look anywhere in Nigeria whenever I wanted to stay incognito.
We were ferried in a different car to the dinner venue. Sam Aruwan, an aide of Governor Rufai, was very dignified, polite, courteous, deferential and professional. He took us in, through the security gate, straight to the “high table.” The table setting was pedestrian. It lacked colour, coordination and finesse. It looked like what an apprentice event planner who absconded after two days of training would put up. The tissue paper looked like you could see tree branches on it. The folds were unartistic; even my grandmother couldn’t do worse. The chafing dishes had no chafing fuel underneath them to warm the food. The salad was exposed! The meats were covered with aluminum foil. The only good things were the cutleries. They weren’t even silverware. We were lucky not to have those spoons light enough to slice the tongue if mishandled. They were stainless steel. A man and woman questioned who sat us down at the table until Sam told them we were guests of the Governor. They were not polite, I think they were deliberate in their crudity.
Thirty minutes later, the high table was swamped. Everyone felt they should be given a chair there. Seated behind us where about a hundred people. I saw ladies as young as 21 seated behind us. It was rowdy – a security nightmare. No checks were conducted on us before we entered the venue. We just entered! And so it was for all those people seated besides us. I just kept calm. In between, my friend who was in Eko Hotel for Ambode’s inauguration was pelting me with tantalising pictures via whatsapp! I was getting angry, and getting hot and flushed from the inside. I tossed aside my veil while Pius and I engaged in meaningless banter. We kept wondering what happened to our friend. Is money the problem? Lack of know-how? Organisation? What? Our friend had the best education, exposure, anything anyone could hope and wish for. What went wrong? We asked ourselves so many questions. I knew I could do better than what was on display. Children’s harvest in my parents church is better organised than what they called the inauguration dinner. The governor came in, national anthem was sung and we sat down to the programme. A lady read a poem no one listened to. She got no aplause for a well written poem. Poem at night with the real grassroots politician in attendance? That was pushing the envelope! I got a break with the cultural dance. It was good and nicely choreographed. There was a remarkable similarity in the beating of the drums, the rhyme and the dance. I would not have missed a single beat and a wiggle if I came down the stage to join them as a Yoruba woman. They had talking drums, the pitch and amplitude was not as clear as the Yoruba Gangan but the similarity is striking. They left the stage and Mallam El-Rufai spoke for less than five minutes. He appealed for understanding and shared sacrifice. He told the audience, his government will not share money and neither will they tolerate waste. He said they will work 20 hours a day, seven days a week to get the job done. He told them, some of them will be offered jobs that will not pay much but he enjoined them to accept the offer in the interest of Kaduna State.
It was time to eat and real yawa landed! Someone told us to proceed to the service table, and boy it was rough! Everyone wanted to go at once. There was no plan, no method! The pushing and shoving was comparable to what I experienced in Balogun market a month ago while shopping for a party outfit. I saw the governor pushed a little. We wanted to go back to our seats, we couldn’t. It was a regrettable evening. We finally got to the line, the flatware was Melamine! Melamine? Kaduna State house could not afford bone China? Even ceramic plates would have been better! The melamine plates has huge florals suggestive of prole taste in an environment that is expected to host the creme de la creme. I concluded I’m beyond surprise any more. The food was expectedly cold like a dog’s nose, dry and tasteless. I was embarrassed for Kaduna State. I ate the little I could and drank some juice from the pack in front of me. Immediately the crowd in the general area ate, they started leaving while the governor was still seated. It was unbelievable! By the time the national anthem was on, the crowd had thinned out significantly. I have never seen a thing like that, all my life. Before I looked up, people had grabbed my drinks and cleared anything found on the table that was edible or could be taken away. As I stood up, one gentleman helped himself to the chicken on my plate. The governor left and we followed. It was a tasteless event. If that crowd we were in were targeted by a suicide bomber, we would all have been dead! We got back to the hotel wandering if what we saw was not a trick. Were we wrong or hallucinating. The ceaseless pictures from my “tormentor” in Lagos proved I wasn’t delusional. We went to bed disappointed. Eager to get to Abuja and create our own excitement and enact the high point of our visit by ourselves.
Saturday, May 30th. The governor came to bid us farewell. I wasn’t there because I stayed in a different hotel and the arrangement was for Pius to pick me up on the way out. He was very embarrassed by the turn of events, I was told. His explanation revealed the secrets and the puzzles fell into place. The inauguration events was organised by the outgoing administration. Not once did they ask Mallam Nasir or his team how he wanted his inauguration presented. The Hall of the Holy Oven was chosen to embarass him. The governor said Asaa Pyramids hotel and several other places had better halls with superb air conditioning and decor. This was at variance with what he said publicly. Apparently, he did not want to rip the old administration. I disagree with that political lie, he should have just apologised and moved on. There was no need feeding us with inaccurate information about Kaduna State. The Yero administration created and managed the events in their own image. It was the wickedness of their failure that they projected on the incoming government so early. They starved Mallam and his team of invites. For the dinner, his wives did not even get invites for their friends and threatened a boycott. The crowd seated at the general area were 80 percent PDP folks. He apologised for everything.
Who is Mukhtar Yero, the former governor of Kaduna State? I got an earful! Philip Ikita described him well: “Kaduna lived up to the billing of the old capital until the petty scoundrel Namadi Sambo took over. Before Namadi, if you had any project listed in the annual budget, you could be almost certain it would be there by year end. During Makarfi’s time as governor, my representative of four years, from 2003–2007, kept his promise and nearly 100 kilometres of road were built from zero-level rural roads to tarred roads. Each year, my legislator assured us and it happened. In those years, as programme manager of a governance project targeted at about four Northern states, I researched and sought to get experienced bureaucrats that could build capacity in budgeting; the SSGs in my target states repeatedly pointed to Kaduna and Kano as the only states that followed and implemented budgets with reasonable responsibility (Katsina got a mention too). For the others, according to one of my SSGs, the governor wakes up and simply awards this and that contract whimsically, it was never on the budget! Patrick Yakowa tried to restore the proper process before he died – only for the ‘accidental’ Mukhtar Yero to plunge the state into a sorry state of affairs, lorded over by the despicable Namadi Sambo.” I heard these many times from Kaduna natives during my visit.
For me, it was an eye opener. I enjoyed the trip nonetheless and I look forward to return visits. I’m glad I wasn’t wearing Lapaya. Imagine one ugly step on a loose Lapaya wrapped around my neck! Our Facebook friends and followers made us the most influential visitors in town. They are an intriguing and emerging demographic that is destined to change Nigeria. For me, I am in full understanding that these “postethnics” are rabid and fanatical purveyors of postmodern Nigeria. They exist not only within the confines of Nigeria but also abroad with the unique primary key of patriotism. The scariest thing for me is in how they invest their belief in people like Pius and I. This time, this moment, presents the window for thinkers to consider how to galvanise these national spirits. They are the believers of El-Rufai and Buhari. El-Rufai represents the hopes and aspirations of the facebook and Twitter generation. This he must never forget. In Kaduna, my facebook family showed me the value of influence over power. I will take influence any day. I felt so good seeing my friends in flesh and blood. Meeting with them was the high point of my Kaduna visit and it made all the difference!
Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú maintains a weekly column on Politics and Socioeconomic issues every Tuesday. She is a member of Premium Times‘ Editorial Board.