Less than a year into President Obasanjo’s first term in office at the end of military rule in 1999, he had served notice to Nigerians that he was intent on presiding over the affairs of Nigeria from the sky. President Obasanjo travelled. And travelled. And travelled again.
The mood of the nation was firmly against President Obasanjo’s excessive foreign trips. The trips got so obsessive that even if a country were to declare that she had no international airport to accommodate his presidential, one could not put it beyond President Obasanjo to offer to build and donate an international airport to such a country just to be able travel there on a state visit.
It is true that the ghost of Lemuel Gulliver, Jonathan Swift’s famous traveller, now inhabits President Buhari’s bedroom in the Aso Rock Villa. However, the first president to catch the Gulliver bug was Obasanjo. What every subsequent president has done since Obasanjo is to consolidate the gory legacy of irresponsible presidential globe-trotting. Yet, Nigeria has less than zero to show for one and a half decades of presidential waka-waka. The only visible legacy of these trips has been the ostentatious and irresponsible accumulation of a harem of twelve planes by the Nigerian presidency over the years.
As national resentment of President Obasanjo’s globetrotting became too strong to ignore, the lot fell on his Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, a certain Dr. Doyin Okupe, to explain to Nigerians why their elected President was spending more time in the sky than at home. In a series of press conferences in October 2000 (read: ThisDay, October 12, 2000), Dr. Doyin Okupe talked at Nigerians.
Such is the arrogance of government in Nigeria, such is the insufferable hubris of our government officials that they do not talk to the Nigerian citizen. They talk at him – when they deign to talk at all. They do not speak to the Nigerian citizen. They speak at him – when they deign to speak at all. Years of psychological injury have conditioned the Nigerian to consider it a privilege to be talked at by these buffoons in government.
So, Dr. Doyin Okupe spoke at Nigerians in October 2000 to explain why it was necessary for his boss to live in the presidential jet and visit Nigeria briefly only when he was interrupting a foreign trip. Okupe said that years of military rule – especially the Abacha years – had damaged Nigeria’s standing in the world. Nigeria had become a pariah nation. President Obasanjo’s frequent trips were meant to signal to the world that we were back. The trips were meant to restore global confidence in Nigeria, return us to consideration as a serious member of the international community.
Continuing in the characteristic condescending tone of Nigerian officials, Okupe wondered if Nigerians knew the meaning of trade, foreign direct investment, etc. President Obasanjo’s trips were to boost the confidence of investors in Nigeria – especially as he was about to embark on massive infrastructural renewal and power projects, all of which had been absent during previous military regimes.
Life is funny. Fast forward nearly a decade after Okupe talked at Nigerians to justify President Obasanjo’s foreign trips and you find President Jonathan ruling Nigeria from foreign capitals. President Jonathan’s trips were just as pointless, as wasteful as President Obasanjo’s trips. No, that is being unfair to President Obasanjo for Ebora Owu did not travel with five hundred-man delegations like the man from Otuoke. Reuben Abati had of course discovered the joys of talking at Nigerians for power instead of speaking truth to power for Nigerians. It was now his turn to see red and tell Nigerians they needed glasses if they couldn’t tell that it was blue.
On September 9, 2012, Reuben Abati published an op-ed entitled, “The Gains of Jonathan’s Diplomacy.” That essay was written twelve years after Doyin Okupe’s press conferences in defence of Obasanjo’s trips. Yet, in the opening paragraph of Abati’s essay, you encounter the word, “ignorance”, in describing what he considered Nigerians’ inability to grasp the necessity of his Oga’s one and repeated foreign visit. The rest of the essay is essentially a rehash of exactly the same reasons Okupe had corralled into the defence of Obasanjo’s trips. The same themes, the same keywords, the same phraseology, the same haughty arrogance and condescension vis-à-vis the Nigerian people they were talking at.
According to Abati, the Nigeria Jonathan had inherited was also a pariah nation, bereft of international confidence, foreign direct investment bla bla and more bla. If you are able to get past all the rote and the bla bla bla in Abati’s essay, all that is left are his choice instruments of reproach for Nigerians who dared to question the wisdom of so many trips: ignorance, selective amnesia, etc.
Abati’s essay was cut from the same cloth as Okupe’s twelve years before him. And when the same Jonathan felt that a certain bite was lacking in Abati’s ability to lie to Nigerians – he was a slow learner, given his more positive antecedents – Okupe was drafted in to augment the propaganda efforts. Okupe had been busy at the time yahoo-yahooing the governments and peoples of Benue and Imo states in contract jibiti.
Fast forward a few more years and we encounter President Buhari, determined to outdo the combined trips of Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan within one year of his own presidency. The Gulliver disease of the Nigerian presidency has now found its ultimate consummation in President Buhari. Enter Alhaji Lai Mohammed to defend his own boss. Via screaming headlines in today’s newspapers, Alhaji Mohammed assures Nigerians that President Buhari’s frequent foreign trips are to reverse Nigeria’s pariah status under Jonathan!
Of course President Jonathan’s trips were to reverse Nigeria’s pariah status under Yar’Adua and Obasanjo. Of course President Obasanjo’s trips were to reverse Nigeria’s pariah status under successive military regimes. It gets interesting. If you assess the coup speeches of Nigeria’s past military leaders like Bishop Kukah did during our outing at The Platform on October 1, 2015, you will discover that every new military dictator on coup day said he was setting out to reverse Nigeria’s pariah status under his predecessor. I am almost tempted to wonder in the tone of Lamidi the Ibadan roadside ‘forganaisa’: na who be dis paraya wey all of dem say dem dey find sef?
But, seriously, I have taken you down memory lane to explore Lai Mohammed’s and Reuben Abati’s regurgitation of earlier rationalisations of Nigeria’s irresponsible tradition of presidential trips so that we can reach certain conclusions about the condition of the Nigerian citizen. The first and the only condition of the Nigerian citizen is the insurmountable disrespect he suffers from his government. It is the sort of disrespect which places a question mark on the dignity and hence the humanity of the Nigerian.
In my analysis of President Buhari’s 2016 budget tragedy, I had written that the text of that budget speech is similar to every budget that has been read in Nigeria in at least the last twenty years. Such is the disrespect of the Nigerian government for the citizen that you are not worth the effort and labour of an original text. They just photocopy the text of the previous year’s budget, adjust the yams for inflation, add new yams, and change the title and that is it.
But if you think that only your elected officials disrespect you so crudely, what I have shown you in this essay is that you are equally not worth originality and effort on the part of even their aides. The aides also talk at you, regurgitating rote from their own predecessors. That is why Lai Mohammed is regurgitating Abati who was regurgitating Okupe. Between the three lie fifteen years of unimaginative and disrespectful regurgitation.
There is also something else I need you to think seriously about as a Nigerian citizen. You have never approved of the wasteful globetrotting of your president. You opposed the Gulliver tradition under President Obasanjo; you opposed it under President Jonathan; you now oppose it under President Buhari. But all three presidents have managed to ignore you, defy you, and do it all the same. President Buhari is even adding insult to injury by having Lai Mohammed tell you that they are restoring Nigeria’s pariah status inherited from Jonathan when we know that the last time Nigeria was a pariah state was under General Abacha. President Jonathan was a massively corrupt and ineffectual…cough…cough… who had to go but Nigeria was no international pariah under him. Lai Mohammed is spewing rubbish to defend rubbish.
But, the question is: why have three presidents and their aides been able to defy you so? The answer, my friend, is not blowing in the wind. The answer is clear. The answer lies in the civics that you despise and kick against and refuse to acquire. I know this because I encounter this national poverty of civics daily on social media. This is what your government is exploiting. They know that because you do not have civics, you will in all likelihood be the first to justify what they are doing to you. Look at it this way: do you think that Reuben Abati or Lai Mohammed or Femi Adesina will look at me and spew stomach-churning rationalisations of government mediocrity in my direction? Dem no dey look face? They cannot do it because they know that I do not lack civics.
Civics is the only insurance and guarantor of the value and dignity of your citizenship. Acquire it today and your life will change. However, it is not all bad news. Not all Presidential foreign trips have been useless in the life of Nigeria. Nigeria boasts one presidential foreign trip that is worthy of that name. Go to YouTube and watch the viral video of Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s state visit to United States in July 1961. That is the only foreign visit by a Nigerian leader since October 1, 1960 that we can all be proud of as Nigerian citizens. All the rest na wash!