Not until Muntader al-Zaidi’s act of suicidal daring was the world jolted to shoe-throwing as a form of Arab expression of deep social anger. Visiting President George Bush was only beginning to warm into a joint press conference with the Iraqi leader in Baghdad in the winter of 2008 when the shoe missile came rocketing from the Iraqi journalist in the gallery.
Seeking to make light of the grave embarrassment after ducking, chuckling Bush was famously quoted as remarking that, “This was a size 10 shoe he threw at me, you may want to know”, soon after the assailant had been wrestled down and bundled down the hallway by secret service agents.
Culturally, hurling shoe at someone is Arab expression of grave insult. So, the nationalist in the journalist wanted to thumb down Bush for perceived emasculation of Iraq in that decade in pursuit of what turned out phantom Weapon of Mass Destruction. A ritual gesture that resonated well that winter across the entire Arab world increasingly made to feel humiliated under America’s vaunting supremacy.
In Abeokuta last week, we saw a rehash of the Iraqi script for an entirely profane cause. Without fear, without respect, unruly party stalwarts threw missiles at President Buhari as he tried to stamp his patriarchal authority at APC campaign rally. So spontaneous was the assault, so intense was the heckling that a column of bodyguards with fierce look had to form a cordon, thus framing momentarily a portrait of presidential vulnerability.
Nothing could be more defiant, more irreverent of Nigerian sovereignty as embodied by PMB.
Cynically, host Governor Ibikunle Amosun would then urge the thugs in Yoruba to stop and “don’t disgrace me before our father… (T)his sort of negativity is what they always wanted to happen” in a tone that sounded more like jest than an appeal to reason.
But it was too obvious their sole mission was to spoil what would have been the finest moment of Dapo Abiodun, the governorship candidate of APC.
Many saw it coming, though. Long before Buhari helicoptered over from an earlier political engagement in Ilorin that day, the Ogun governor, who has not hidden his bitterness over his anointed’s loss of the party’s governorship ticket, was sighted fraternizing with the “rebels” at the campaign ground. To the perceptive, it was too obvious from that moment that Amosun had much more concealed in his sky-high, “shalake” (machete) cap than readily meet the eyes. You don’t bring the cat to the gathering of the pigeons and not expect disorder.
If nothing at all, such patronizing statement to the rampaging thugs by Amosun surely confirmed his familiarity – if not complicity – with those who came to assault the president. By bringing battalions of the “rebel” Allied Peoples Movement (APM) to such assembly, it was clear Amosun sought to forcibly enlist his illegitimate children in APC family meeting. Even after the community had said they found their presence abhorrent, they still would not stop grating the public ears further with the proverbial unsolicited song.
Not only Abiodun was targeted for embarrassment in the circumstance. The tumult and booing were also contemptuous of the usually self-effacing Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Ogun’s highest ranking political figure presently.
Nor could such low conduct be flattering of Aremo Segun Osoba, two-term governor of the state, who was also present and undeniably one of Ogun’s best in the last three decades on account of his tireless contributions.
So, what else could have goaded the provincial to saunter into the metropole in loincloth other than contempt for others who are urbane.
When Amosun whines, shouting himself hoarse today against “the Lagos godfather” like a schoolboy dispossessed of candy, people are left wondering whether it is not the same benefactor of yesterday, the one whose round specs exemplify embroidered broken shackle in the invocation of the motif of liberty, whose generosity had afforded him the incisors to dare and bite then rampaging OGD in 2011 and on whose back he rode comfortably to the Abeokuta Government House in 2011.
Well, it is one of the supreme ironies of life that the tramp we offer shelter in the hour of need, the one we gave teeth would later use same weapon to attack us, even without offence.
Taken together, the Abeokuta show of shame is undoubtedly another symptom of the deep fissures within APC, exacerbated by the mismanaged primaries. It is obvious that the ghost of the last primaries is still haunting the party, awaiting decent interment and proper repose.
Even at that, truth be told, President Buhari partly shares in the blame for a number of monstrous abberations since. The seed of confusion was inadvertently sown when he hosted APC’s governorship candidate at Aso Rock and in another breath, was sighted smooching the main contender in the same contest. At best, a mixed message is thus sent.
It is easy to situate Buhari’s psychology in the hour, though. He seems sold on the promise by his party’s enemy to work for him in the presidential election. Apparently, the trade-off is for him to enjoin voters at such rallies to “vote your conscience in the other election”. But such convenient deal only imperils the party’s candidates in other elections, undermining the party’s larger interests in the long run.
To be fair, the spirit of justice surely obliges us not to feign incomprehension of the grave words Amosun has continued to express in parables. Of course, very familiar now is the salacious tale of how some little men in big offices had convulsed and constipated on a dollar binge over APC tickets during the party primaries on a scale that caught the likes of Amosun and their anointed completely unawares.
But that will still not be a justification for the show of shame in Abeokuta penultimate Monday nor can it excuse the grievous public assault on the office of Mr. President. The popular reading is that the old fakir from Daura is well aware of the lurid details of the the murky buying and selling that transpired and, on account of his fabled near psychotic aversion to barter of this nature, is only showing native prudence by waiting for the elections to be over before acting.
So, while it is quite legitimate for Amosun to seek a pound of flesh for his failed investment, he and his supporters should have exercised a little bit more patience for Buhari’s expected avenging scythe on the extant dollars debauchery and not carry their anger across the border of treason like they did recklessly last week.
The same apparition of mixed message is also manifest in Imo. When his campaign train earlier stopped in Owerri on January 29, Buhari had similarly romanced the candidate of the “rebel” party there. While the party’s position would seem a fierce denunciation of Okorocha’s monarchical aspiration – a progressive stand worthy of commendation, Buhari would rather cut a deal insofar his presidential stool is secured.
And those familiar with the semiotics of his much-touted “body language” would then argue that his open flirtation with the Imo Governor during the Owerri fiasco of January 29 was a coded quip that he was equally aware of the abominable story of dollars there and the trafficking of party tickets to the highest bidders.
Meanwhile, in Rivers, the dagger that stabbed APC in the back is still dripping fresh blood. It is a catastrophe of epic proportions that a ruling party is completely defenestrated from the ballot in perhaps the most strategic state in the Niger Delta, both at the state and National Assembly levels. It is a first in Nigeria’s electoral history.
All the facts considered, there is no doubt that if the spirit of compromise had been imbibed the crisis would have been averted. Egos were not well managed. And those who should tell the truth were either distracted by the aroma of dollars (or “Aroma-dollars”, as someone pithily put it) or busy negotiating venal trade-offs in self-interest.
Surely, APC will have to exorcise these demons after the elections to ensure the return of harmony and balance.
Before we crucify INEC boss
It is doubtul if INEC boss, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, would have had a rest of mind since last weekend. What with the torrents of barbs that greeted the last-minute shifting of the February 16 presidential polls to February 23.
Naturally, various conspiracy theories have since mushroomed with some either suggesting he is APC’s agent or PDP’s mole.
True, keeping the nation in the dark over the much-awaited polls till the eleventh hour is condemnable. But beyond that, it would appear nation is only back to a familiar sport – shopping for scape-goat for a crisis long foretold.
While it is now politically correct to abuse Yakubu, no one will addresss the odds INEC faced all along. Funds were released to the commission less than two months to the elections. Had the cash been received as and when due, perhaps the electoral umpire would have been able to mobilize printers and contractors on time and the materials delivered ahead of time.
In fact, a reliable source told me a cargo plane bearing some of the vital documents from Belgium only landed Abuja in the early hours of February 16!
The challenge is Herculean indeed. Overall, apart from the presidency being contested by record 72 candidates, also up for grabs are seats in 1,558 National, State as well as Local Constituencies in the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja). Over 84 million voters are expected, the highest in the nation’s histrory.
Another issue is the necessity to unbundle INEC. Going forward, it surely will be helpful to set in motion the process to streamline its functions after this general election. Given the nation’s exponential growth, sticking to the old template of election administration will only result in the kind of embarrassment of last weekend. For more efficiency, INEC should be reconfigured in a way that enables it focus essentially on its core manadate: conduct of election.
To this end, three successor agencies have been proposed. The first should cater for registration and regulation of parties, the second for electoral offences and the third for constituency delimitation commission.
Proposal for this has long been prepared. What remains is the political will to execute. For instance, part of the reforms is the formulation of legal ceiling that ensures that disputes arising from elections are dispensed with before the inauguration of the new dispensation. This is to ensure litigations don’t last forever or give custodian of a disputed mandate the unfair advantage of using public funds to fight their legal battle.