Atiku and El-Rufai’s Body Bag Nationalism, By Festus Adedayo
What could have prompted Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai to make such very volatile comment attributed to him in a Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) interview programme last week? Could it be due to a boldness acquired over the years in the uncharted field of Nigerian politics? Could the governor, famous for his brutal deployment of words and blood-soaked imageries, be weaving a tapestry whose end no one can claim to know? Was he using that grisly image of body bags to illustrate the innumerable number of the dead we have buried as a country in the last three years? Knowing fully well that he is one of the apologists of President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC), was el-Rufai on an assignment like a typical insurgent’s errand boy who, strapping a detonating device round his body, lets loose his fuse, caring less if the fierce bomb tears him into mounds of flesh in the process? Simply put, was El-Rufai on an assignment to bite the bullet for the APC? Or, was he a mirror of the political frustration of the government in power about the likely result of the presidential election that will take place this Saturday?
Curious and curious still. No one can claim to understand what drove the governor of Kaduna State that Tuesday, or what he was driving at. It is becoming curious by the day why el-Rufai chose that frightening path and what emboldened him. I have heard people make allusions to blood being a dominant imagery of heroism in his part of the country; how Sir Ahmadu Bello made similar reference to blood spillage, in an interview with a BBC reporter in the early 1960s, if Nigeria didn’t assimilate the tenets of Islam. The other recent inference to blood and cadavers was from Muhammadu Buhari, then a presidential aspirant, who had invoked the spirits of baboons and dogs if an upcoming election was not in his favour. Speaking in 2012 in Kaduna as presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), while addressing delegates from Niger State who had come to pay him a courtesy call, Buhari had warned that if the election was rigged in 2015, there would be massive spillage of blood. “If what happened in 2011 (an alleged election rigging) should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood,” Buhari had boasted.
At the NTA interview, El-Rufai too had warned foreign governments not to intervene in the forthcoming elections, submitting that those who do that would go back to their countries in body bags. “We are waiting for the person who will come and intervene,” he had begun. “They will go back in body bags because nobody will come to Nigeria and tell us how to run our country.” Confronted by the widespread conflagration that was provoked by that unguarded statement, the short-statured governor, a few hours after the statement, attempted to beat a retreat by escaping into the blankets of semantics and diatribes. He riled at imaginary literally-challenged persons who didn’t understand the drift of his English. “Any fair-minded person with modest familiarity with the English language and unimpaired comprehension can understand it… What it is is a powerful defence of sovereignty…”, he had said.
Now, my confession: Sentence upon sentence as I write this, I struggled not to call that riposte by el-Rufai idiotic, or better still, the intent behind the rebuttal a manifestation of gross idiocy. God forbid that I should use such strong word on the governor of a Nigerian state. In degree, el-Rufai’s rebuttal even carries more thoughtlessness than the actual accident of tongue that birthed the body bag statement. First, the word “body bag” would make any normal human being but el-Rufai shrink and shudder. Not sure of the mode of their earthly passage, the mere mention of death or its agencies makes any human being go sober, even if momentarily. It is a reminder of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart’s rendition of the Igbo wise-saying that an old woman feels uneasy when dried bones are mentioned in a proverb. Body bag is a solemn evocation of the gory picture of the brutal cutting down of persons in their prime by military juntas; an imagery of a field of blood and mindless slaughter. It is a replication of Buhari’s 2012 call to anarchy and self-help. For a governor of a Nigerian state to now attempt to cloak that blood-soaked imagery in the shawl of nationalism and parcel the blood curdling imagery in a pouch of sovereignty is the unkindest cut of all. It reminds one of Adolf Hitler lifting up the flag of German nationalism by promoting his Aryan race while, behind the veneer of the flag, laid the blood-wet body bags of 17 million Jews slaughtered in the dinghies and streets of Europe.
If this un-guardedness has the capacity to make any sane person shudder, it is of no weight in comparison to what emerged in tow from Nigeria’s seat of power shortly thereafter. “We have taken note of the clarification to a reported earlier statement by the Governor of Kaduna State concerning opposition call for foreign interference in our domestic affairs and to say that latest statement by him should rest the issue for good. There is nothing more to sneeze at. The governor spoke strongly in defense of national interest,” President Muhammadu Buhari had replied. Magisterial in self-conceit, self-righteous in its national transgression, stiff-necked in its calamitous stubbornness and apparently lacking in the understanding of the weight of the bomb of incivility that el-Rufai detonated, that statement made me come to the painful conclusion that Buhari and his government have finally purged themselves of every redemptive tendency and locked selves in combat with the rest of sane humanity. Rest what issue and for what good? That the governor of a Nigerian state threatened the mindless killing of foreigners and that diffident and shameless statement should put all issues to rest?
This brings me to a very critical intersection in the analysis of El-Rufai’s body bag statement. No one can claim not to know Nasir as a certified bootlicker of power. He grovels before powerful men like ants cling round the pee of a diabetic. He is a fawner of office, deploying his miniature stature to meander past contours of power like a salamander slithers past the contour of darkness. As I asked earlier, could El-Rufai be reflecting a manifest apprehension and fear?
The feelers for the Buhari government from saner countries across the globe are very ominous. In 2015, these same countries gave ostensible support to him, in clear abandonment of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. The European Union, while reacting to el-Rufai’s body bag misadventure, had said: “We are aware of the comments by the Governor of Kaduna about non-interference by foreigners during a talk show on the elections Tuesday February 5. The EU only deploys an election observation mission when it is invited to do so by the authorities of a country…While the security of EU observers is of paramount importance, and will remain under constant review, EU observers will continue their work across the country in the run-up to – and beyond – the 16 February election”The US’ comment was similarly not defrosted of the usual diplomatese as it warned Nigerian political leaders of severe sanctions if they make inciting comments. Apparently delivering his country’s take on el-Rufai’s absurd tongue troubadour, its ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington, had warned Nigerians not to be deceived by politicians who issue illegal directives in the name of President Buhari. “If anybody asks you to do something that is not right and says the boss wants you to do it, or the person at the top wants you to do it, don’t believe him; because the person at the top is saying, and I think honestly saying, they want to win a fair election. There is a reason not to believe them, because we all know that citizens are responsible for their own actions,” the envoy said.
Shunned of its ostensible diplomatese, sources say that the Buhari government had been apprised of cogent evidence of the international community’s backtrack from supporting it and the el-Rufai statement was an assignment on the Federal Government’s behalf to warn world powers that it could relapse into the Sani Abacha defiance of the west and the rest of the world if they continue on their path of stymying support for Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election. The international community, privy to the inner workings of the Buhari government, was said to have seen through the veneer of government’s claim to anti-corruption fight and has incontrovertible evidence that the Buhari government was no better than the one it ousted. There is a very strong claim that many foreign governments are in support of Atiku Abubakar. El-Rufai was thus a mere Man Friday who had embarked on the assignment of biting the bullet for the Buhari government.
Like el-Rufai however, every Nigerian should be apprehensive of what fate will befall Nigeria this weekend. Last week, I critiqued my standpoint and that of Professor Wole Soyinka on where Nigerians should migrate electorally this weekend. I took pains to unclothe my suspicion that where the Nobel laureate publicly claims to belong may actually be a covert ploy to populate where not many people know he belongs. Innumerable times, I have acquainted Nigerians with how none of the two dominant Nigerian electoral theses, one of which is likely to gain ascendancy this Saturday, is desirable for Nigeria. To be specific, I acquainted Nigerians with my personal belief that neither Atiku Abubakar nor Muhammadu Buhari is good enough to pilot Nigeria further at this critical point. Some people have labeled this standpoint defeatist, escapist and pacifist as even the dumbest watcher of Nigerian polls knows that one of the two above will certainly carry the day on Saturday. For the last time before the election, reasons for my standpoint deserve restatement. In doing this, I do intend to deploy what philosophers call deductive reasoning to arrive at what, in my opinion, is desirable for Nigeria. And I state it under-leaf:
My first premise is to state that, for a country that needs a personal example in leadership, especially with the level of rot in the polity, Muhammadu Buhari, is comparatively the most desirable leader that Nigeria needs. If you check his antecedents, especially his near-ascetic disposition, you cannot compare his uprightness with any Nigerian leader, dead or living. He came into power vowing to confront the incubus of corruption, security, economy and install good governance. My take however, about four years down the ladder, is that he has failed woefully on all the scores.
Flowing from the above, my second premise is that, since 2015 when he became president, Buhari has critically injured the moral thesis above in many very critical ways. One is through his health, which is however due to no fault of his. Today, what we have in Buhari is a mere specimen, going by his recent disgraceful interventions in the public. Health-wise, no sane country should parade that effigy currently on display as its leader. In saner countries, the system will not allow a man of that level of mental grasp and health situation to go for an election; it will adopt political euthanasia to get rid of him from the list of the contestants; or else it will be accused of attempted murder. What that means is that, a vote for him would be an opportunity for some faceless vermin to continue to suck Nigeria’s blood endlessly.
Second critical prong of my belief that Buhari is a No No for Nigeria is his irredeemable nepotism. For a country as diverse and vast as Nigeria, an ethnically biased leader of Buhari’s hew can unwittingly fire the salvo of a civil war. Third is that, unless as a propaganda weapon, corruption cells are multiplying in the corridors of power under Buhari, far more than ever. He flourishes in publicly advertising a war where none exists, whereas what his government does to corruption is to daily have an incestuous affair with it. Except for some shows labeled corruption flagellation, as confirmed by Transparency International itself recently, the cancerous cells of corruption bequeathed by Jonathan have wriggled themselves into the marrows of Nigeria, with a rapacious finish almost unknown in the history of this country. If you doubt, check Femi Falana’s recent revelation of the criminal diversion of funds by the Buhari government through the Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Alien Card (CERPAC). This is just a miniature of the rot and Buhari doesn’t seem to know nor is he abreast of, nor seized of any response to it.
Fourth is that insecurity is perhaps at its corrosive zenith in Nigeria today, going by government’s feeble response to the Boko Haram insurgency. Never in the history of Nigeria have we been more divided than this, perhaps ranking on same level only with the teething days preceding the Biafran war. And let no one be persuaded to believe that barren epistle of selfish politicians who bifurcate the problem of Nigeria simplistically as one between either the APC or PDP. The mix of the maggots is so clinically located among the two political parties that, to say sweepingly that PDP destroyed Nigeria or that APC is redeeming the country is a vacuous argument. Which PDP or what APC are we even talking about? The PDP of Rotimi Amaechi or the APC of Audu Ogbeh? Those two examples will glaringly let us know of the barrenness of the road of that argument. The distinction is either tenuous or non-existent, paving the way for the need for a solemn argument which will judge individual politicians by their involvement in the near-collapse of Nigeria.
This election, rather than being a vote for or against Buhari and the APC, is a referendum on Buhari as a leader and the fare of his APC. It is a referendum on the woeful performance in their cardinal programme of 2015. It is this failure that is giving fillip to and propelling Atiku Abubakar and his PDP, two near-pariahs until recently. Many who couldn’t stand Abubakar a few months ago, today think that he should be allowed to prove his mettle. On all scores of governance indices, Abubakar holds greater hopes for Nigeria than the current assemblage under Buhari. His recent interview with Kadaira Ahmed on an NTA show reveals a leader with greater mental promise who is alert to issues, far more than Buhari and his sordid waffle on same programme. The upswing in Atiku’s acceptance recently has opened the window on his candidacy and how, since leaving government in 2007, he has demonstrated greater readiness for office than Buhari has ever done. With a network of friends and associates all over Nigeria, Abubakar is not likely to lead Nigeria blindly into the closed-mindedness behind the dangerous nepotism demonstrated by Buhari in the last four years.
The only score that we should fear in Atiku Abubakar is his pedigree and disposition towards corruption. It is indeed a cause for worry. But, if you place a leader who peremptorily mouths anti-corruption like Buhari but who, in reality, is surrounded by Rottweiler and sharks baying for blood, for whom national budget is comparable to fresh flesh and sweet-smelling blood, side by side an Atiku who will most probably come into office to prove his mettle, especially about widespread belief of his favourable disposition to corruption, my personal opinion is that the second option will be most desirable for a people like Nigeria. If we have a president with high mental presence, grasp of the economic challenges at issue and a hunger to make a difference, we will be on our journey to a new country.
The above clearly points to a Hobson’s choice for Nigeria this Saturday. Leaders like Soyinka should have roused the nation up to a Third Force before now, so that we would not be in this kind of bind of having to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea as we match to the polls on Saturday. Buhari is unarguably a No No for anyone who is not consumed by the potential benefits accruable from political party alliance and filthy lucre derivable from his support. This is not because Buhari is not a comparatively desirable personal moral beacon but because he is too immorally locked in horns in dalliance with immoral corruption kingpins who are the pall that a potentially great Nigeria carries on this interminable journey to sanity. The Buhari moral blade advertised in 2015 is dead. Can you imagine an anti-corruption persuaded president lifting up the hands of Abubakar Ganduje, in spite of global recrimination against his alleged corruption? All things considered, Buhari is undesirable for Nigeria at this critical juncture. In this dilemma, I will grudgingly but surely seek out Atiku Abubakar from the ballot paper.
Festus Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist.