An Absentee President In A Season of Coronavirus, By Festus Adedayo
Why is Aso Rock pushing Nigerians to their limit like this? Is it such an impossible task to tell Nigerians that Buhari suffers from some disability, which will make his cognition of the process of talking to Nigerians difficult? And does the Villa think Nigerians don’t know already?
If citizens of the world didn’t know that they lived in a global village, the COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus disease, has demonstrated this starkly. Virtually all parts of the world have paused on account of the ravaging pestilence, with very earth-shaking implications for the global economy. Even world leaders with war-like inclinations have come to realise, to their shame, that the virus is killing more people than bullets and an armoury can at the war front. In this global shutdown, Nigeria has also wriggled herself into its consequences.
As barrels of crude oil become ten-a-penny in the global market, its impact for a Nigerian economy with its monolithic colour, a kick-and-follow economy that is cobbled together by shoe strings, becomes very scary. And when individualising a people who are used to milling around one another becomes a solution to the ravaging virus, dictating that the people go back into their individual cocoons, Nigeria and an egregious Africa are suffering the virus’ aftermath more than other societies. Our locus of social joy like owambe parties have to go for the anger of the virus to subside; the euphoria of religion, sustained over time by people gathering together to worship, has to be deflated and our togetherness has to be prised apart because the virus demands isolation. It has been long since the globe felt a blow as total and consequential as this.
The coronavirus affliction statistics are benumbing. As of now, the world is battling with 284, 712 cases of those already affected, with worldwide fatalities from the virus is surging past 11,842. The death toll is said to have surpassed 5,000 in Europe – Italy, Spain and Germany – reporting a steep rise in the number of infected. As at Saturday, according to a Johns Hopkins University in the United States data, over 277,000 infections in the world have been recorded and a number of 88,000 recovery made of victims. It is so bad that Armageddon preachers are harvesting tonnes of converts into their teaching that the end of the world has indeed come.
In Nigeria, figures being bandied still look too unrealistic and incomprehensible, taking into consideration who we are and what we are – a statistically inept people. As I write this, Nigeria has had 22 cases. Right now, no cogent case could be said to have been scientifically apprehended. Due to the proximity of the coronavirus to hay fever in its presentation, as well as to some other similar ailments, anyone exhibiting symptoms similar to that of the disease is immediately bundled into quarantine. But anyone who knows the ancient lackadaisical attitudes of Nigerian governments and people, as well as the porous Nigerian borders would know that some things just don’t add up on the coronavirus infection figure in Nigeria. For instance, there are several unmanned Nigerian borders where land migrations occur almost every hour. There is a direct flight from Sudan to Kano and other airports other than Lagos. If you add these to the fact that the average Nigerian self-medicates, we jolly well could have figures of the infection that are far more than the official statistics has given.
The pestilence of silence from Buhari is perhaps more catastrophic than the coronavirus. It is so loud that it gives credence to strong permutations, rumours and indications that sieve in that Buhari is gravely incapacitated and Nigerians may just be contending with a James Hadley Chase’s Make the Corpse Walk effigy.
In the midst of these grim realities, world leaders are giving hope to their constituents. In Africa, leaders of Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and other lesser countries are giving the pet talks that coaches give their footballing sides at moments when the balls are not hitting the nets, to their people. Not only have those presidents been giving succour to their people by articulating what their governments have done so far to defeat the deadly virus, it is at moments like this that phrasal nuggets come out of their lips. “Together, we shall overcome,” “this virus cannot break our will to live,” “humanity is stronger than Corona” are some of the phrases that citizens of the world have heard from their leaders which give them hope and a can-do spirit to defeat this deadly epidemic. In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari is, as they say in the Army, AWOL from his own people. He has always been anyway. Mum is the word from a man who was ostensibly elected by millions of Nigerians to be their burden-bearer. Except in photo-ops where he is shown in bubbling moods, Nigerians have recorded sparse or nil interface with their president since he was sworn in. He doesn’t speak to them, they have no moment whatsoever with him, except from the omnibus press releases issued from the Villa. It is so bad that even journalists who cover the Aso Villa, cannot say the last time they heard the Nigerian President speak at functions.
This Buhari government’s hubris is unprecedented in the dialogical history of Nigeria’s heads of state and the people. Even General Sani Abacha, with his suspected deficiency in communication, at a conservative estimate, dialogued with Nigerians more than Buhari does. The situation is so bad that recently, a photograph of the president commissioning a project was shared on Twitter. When enlarged and scrutinised, it showed that the one-sentence statement Buhari was meant to make, recited off-hand by people with flowing cognitive abilities, was gummed to his front. Which gods did the Nigerian people offend to arrive at this gory and unimaginable pass?
The pestilence of silence from Buhari is perhaps more catastrophic than the coronavirus. It is so loud that it gives credence to strong permutations, rumours and indications that sieve in that Buhari is gravely incapacitated and Nigerians may just be contending with a James Hadley Chase’s Make the Corpse Walk effigy. Last month, the polity was jolted when a secret memo dated December 9, 2019, from the national security adviser, Babagana Monguno, was leaked. It indicated that Buhari might have over time been mummified from what happens in the security of Nigeria, and by inference, from the governance of Nigeria as a whole. The memo accuses Buhari’s chief of staff, Abba Kyari, of what it called undue and dangerous interference in matters that border on national security. Monguno alleges that Kyari gives directives to service chiefs as if they emanated from the president, warning that the “Chief of staff to the president is not a presiding head of security, neither is he sworn to an oath of defending the country.”
The need to give hope to the people at this trying times apparently forced the Senate to resolve at plenary last Wednesday that Buhari must address Nigerians on the raging virus. While urging the federal government to shut down all international airports, with the exception of Lagos and Abuja airports, so that the disease could be adequately monitored, the Buhari government was to adhere to the latter advice only and ignored the former. The call came through a point of order raised by Danjuma Goje, a former governor of Gombe State, and was supported by Senators Oluremi Tinubu, George Sekibo, Sam Egwu and Emmanuel Bwacha.
This absolute flight of discretion, apparently borne out of the need to shawl Buhari from a public interface with his failings, suspected to be associated with a cognition challenge and disorders associated with this, have made Buhari and his minders to fester in their self-righteousness. It is getting to the level of an absurdity of Albert Camus’ hue.
With a suddenness akin only to the spread of the virus at issue, the Villa upbraided Nigerians who wondered why their usually absent president had to extend his vacation at this time of a raging calamity. To senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, Garba Shehu, asking the Nigerian president to speak words of comfort to the people who allegedly elected him into office at this low time in their lives was ‘populist advocacies’ ‘cheap and sensational’, which he said are unnecessary at this time.
“Populist advocacies such as the one accusing the President of ‘complacency’ simply because he has not made a television address by ranking members of our respected parliament are cheap and sensational. These are not the times for populism and cheap politics…We also plead with Nigerians not to see this most peculiar of times as one to be politicised or seen as an opportunity to regurgitate grudges against the government or the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). North, South, East, and West – all Nigerians must unite to fight this plague, irrespective of religious or ideological affiliation,” he said.
Now, if this is the reasoning of the Nigerian presidency, we have a far greater calamity meandering into our open bodily parts than the coronavirus. So it is sensational, it is politics and it is divisive to have a man who volunteered to preside over Nigeria address his people? It is sensationalism for him to tell Nigerians who are united in their resolve to banish the coronavirus pestilence from their borders that there is no cause for alarm? Of all those members of the Presidential Coordination Committee that is chaired by the secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), which of them did Nigerians elect who can effectively gauge their sorrow and apprehension? More importantly, is it rocket science for a president to address his people?
This absolute flight of discretion, apparently borne out of the need to shawl Buhari from a public interface with his failings, suspected to be associated with a cognition challenge and disorders associated with this, have made Buhari and his minders to fester in their self-righteousness. It is getting to the level of an absurdity of Albert Camus’ hue. In their rationalisation and legitimisation of the absurdities of the Buhari presidency, the Villa is unwittingly confronting Nigerians with a Buhari whose rule bears a striking resemblance to the absurdity that the Greek myth of Sisyphus connotes. Camus, in his philosophy of the absurd, espoused these absurdities too. Sisyphus, so says the myth, pushes the rock up to the mountain top and immediately he gets to the top, rolls the rock back down the valley, till the end of life. Aso Rock keeps rolling to and fro the Buhari boulder to the top of the mountain and down the valley, hoping this will shroud the reality of his challenges from the public. Why is Aso Rock pushing Nigerians to their limit like this? Is it such an impossible task to tell Nigerians that Buhari suffers from some disability, which will make his cognition of the process of talking to Nigerians difficult? And does the Villa think Nigerians don’t know already?
Egbaland, May 6 and Ayinla Omowura
It is a shame that Egbaland, which Ayinla forced down the throats of the rest of the world, has not deemed it fit to immortalise him. Perhaps, it still sees Omowura from the prism of a thug and violent character, which he was. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Peter Tosh, Bob Marley and many other musicians who have equally passed on, bore some of the objectionable vices of Omowura while alive.
In a couple of months’ time, specifically on May 6, it will be 40 years since the death of the iconic Apala music singer, Ayinla Omowura. I have just completed a more than 500 pages book on the late musician, killed in a publish brawl, titled Ayinla Omowura: Life and Times of An Apala Legend. What is the plan of the people of Abeokuta, whose dialect, streets, ways of life and people that mattered, Ayinla forced down the throats of Nigerians and the people of the West Coast, through his music, for the memorialisation of this petrel? I volunteer the conclusion of the book for the people of this great Yoruba town to ponder on:
Forty years have passed under the bridge of the Ayinla Omowura phenomenon. Forty years of his death have not succeeded in obliterating his contributions to the musical narrative of Nigeria, especially in South West Nigeria. Arguably, his music attracts more love, adoration and veneration today than it did when he was alive. Unlike then when Ayinla was seen basically through the prism of his violent lifestyle and the frightening characters who surrounded him, many people have since seen beyond the aforementioned limitations of this Apala musician, to his musical dexterity and talent. Ayinla was a lay scholar, a prophet and ombudsman sent to the world on a mission. His list of fans has quadrupled since he died, with many seeking to understand the basis of many of his songs. Many of the songs are also evergreen, in terms of their predictions, analyses and contemporary relevance to life situations.
While in office, the ex-governor of Ayinla’s home state of Ogun, Ibikunle Amosun, was the only leader of the State to have remembered Ayinla Omowura. The administration decided to give the Omowura house at Ile-Loja, Itoko, a total facelift. The one-storey house was repainted, re-tiled and offered an image that befits the memory of a man who promoted Egba, Ogun State, their songs and culture to the rest of the world. Although the floors were then tiled to give it a modern touch, with Ayinla’s presence preserved for anyone who visits the house to still perceive the musical scent of where the musical prodigy minted those evergreen songs that have become the envy of the world.
It is a shame that Egbaland, which Ayinla forced down the throats of the rest of the world, has not deemed it fit to immortalise him. Perhaps, it still sees Omowura from the prism of a thug and violent character, which he was. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Peter Tosh, Bob Marley and many other musicians who have equally passed on, bore some of the objectionable vices of Omowura while alive. Yet, they are not only celebrated by their countries today, their memories are preserved for posterity. Why Egba people wouldn’t do this for Omowura, especially by establishing a foundation for him which will preserve his works and person, is still a wonder. Ogun State government, for instance, should have acquired his Ile-Loja home as a museum which generations to come would visit to feel the pulse of Omowura’s unusual musical verve.
Omowura’s family did well to preserve some of his memories. Inside the musician’s living room are his old gramophone, his reclining chair where he sat whenever he wanted to relax, his old television set and inside his bedroom is a 6 x 4 bed, his mattress and a few other household utensils that remind anyone who knew him of the earthly existence of “Hadji Costly.”
At the graveyard of Omowura, which also houses the resting place of his first two wives – Afusatu of the Ile Eleni clan and Tawakalitu Owonikoko – is placed a bronze bust of the 47-year old musician whose bubbling musical life ended in an unmitigated tragedy. It is a reminder that the Oluburo, a bird with an unusual brain for songs, voice and musicality, which Ayinla loudly proclaimed himself to be, not only had once lived in the house but has his remains inside that sepulchre.
Festus Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist.