There has been a raging debate on what drove President Muhammadu Buhari or what the President drove to the Abuja venue of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA’s) 58th Annual General Conference on August 26, 2018. Don’t get me wrong: the President must have been driven to the event in a long convoy of SUVs, cossetted on all sides by security aides. However, the question at issue today is, was President Buhari driven to that event by the devil, patriotism or the demonism that is often the driving force of despots?
If you break the flurry of arguments and analyses of his speech at the NBA event into their brass-tack, a consistent query from within you will emerge as to what actually resides in, or what resided inside of the President as he made the controversial speech at that event. Before we answer those seemingly metaphysical questions that some will swear are beyond the purview of our short human sight, let us collectively go on a voyage as recent as the last century. The journey will enable us answer the above questions.
Ever heard of Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini? He was born July, 1883 and died April 28, 1945. Mussolini was an Italian journalist, politician and leader of the National Fascist Party, later on becoming, until 2014, the youngest Italian Prime Minister, a position he occupied from 1922 to 1943. He was expelled as a leader in the Italian Socialist Party called PSI in 1912 on account of his anti-party acts through his advocacy of a military intervention, rather than the neutralism which the PSI stood for. Having been wounded in World War 1, Mussolini was eventually discharged in 1917 and his views, like Buhari’s, again began to tread a very dangerous path. For instance, he advocated nationalism as against the socialist bent of his party. He founded the fascist movement which stood against egalitarianism but revolutionary nationalism. His reign began by eliminating all opposition to him, empowering the secret police to embark on sting operations in Italy. He outlawed strikes, enacted fascist laws and transmuted into a brutal one-party dictatorship. He had hitherto constitutionally led Italy until 1925, when he shed himself and his rule of all pretenses to democracy and bared his totalitarian fangs. Defeated, Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, were captured in April, 1945 while fleeing to Switzerland and were summarily executed by firing squad on April 28, 1945, with his body hung upside down.
If you hadn’t heard of Mussolini, you must have heard of Adolf Hitler. Leader of the German Nazi Party, Hitler was also a demagogue and politician who, as Chancellor, reigned from 1933 to 1945 and administered Germany as Fuhrer (leader) of Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1939. He also fought in the WW1 and while in prison, wrote his first autobiography entitled Mein Kampf (My Struggle). In 1924, after his release from prison, Hitler became really very popular among the people by attacking the Treaty of Versailles and promoting Pan-Germanism, anti-semitism and anti-communism with charismatic oratory, just like Buhari did at the NBA conference. To him, communism and international capitalism were Jewish ideologies and this won him so many converts. As fuhrer,he motivated Germany along racial ideology and he was responsible for the genocide of at least 5.5 million Jews. Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945 at the approach of the Soviet Red Army.
Coming back home in Africa, there was the man called Idi Amin Dada. Born in 1923, Dada ruled Uganda with iron fist as a military despot from 1971 to 1979. In the early years of his rule, like Buhari at that NBA conference, he espoused pro-western relationship and got a considerable support from Ugandans and the Israeli. All of a sudden however, Amin shifted his friendship to despots like Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and attracted huge sympathy of East Germany and Soviet Union. His rule was characterized by gross human rights abuses, extra-judicial killings and gross corruption. A total of between 100,000 to 500,000 people were reportedly killed under him. Amin’s overreach in 1978 into the Kagera Region territory of Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere was his last straw as the Nwalimu drafted troops which promptly invaded Uganda and captured the capital, Kampala. Amin had to flee into exile where he died in August, 2003.
I went the whole hog to bring out leaders in history who transmuted into despots, so as to show that the road to hell is sometimes paved with good intentions. In that controversial NBA speech, President Buhari had said: “The rule of law must be subjected to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest. The law can only be optimally practiced in a Nigeria that is safe, secure and prosperous. Our apex court has had cause to adopt a position on this issue and it is now a matter of judicial recognition that; where national security and public interest are threatened or there is a likelihood of their being threatened, the individual rights of those allegedly responsible must take second place, in favour of the greater good of society.”
Expectedly, the president has received unprecedented barbs on account of the above. Why the barbs became unsparing was his unflattering rule of law credentials. Buhari, you will recall, was one of the most despotic military rulers in Nigeria, coming only on the heels of the late General Sani Abacha. His three years-plus as a civilian leader have even been salted by some dosage of intolerance which verges on despotism. For instance, his administration has filibustered on all fronts in obeying court orders in respect of the release of the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, citing all manner of nebulous clichés to keep the man in a detention reminiscent of gulags, demonstrable symbol of the lawlessness, slave labor and tyranny which the Mussolini era represented.
By definition, the rule of law implies the authority and influence of law in society. It is the equality of all before the law, as against the ascendancy of monarchs and emperors in earlier centuries. It presumes that all members of society, not minding their earthly attainments or facts of birth, are equal to the lowest in the face of law and both are subject to same legal codes. By contrast, national interest/national security implies that the security of an amorphous and inanimate entity called the State is in need of protection and as such, it must be safeguarded from instruments capable of limiting its inviolability. In Nigeria, national security was deployed extensively by the military, with the ruler made to personate the State. Many were jailed or hauled into detention to protect the so-called national security. The military ruler was not expected to go into details nor explain. Just defence of national interest. In the 21st century globe however, national security has gone beyond this narrow confine to approximate even non-military dimensions. It now includes economic security, energy security, environmental security, food security, cyber security, among others. What that means is that, even when a government is unable to provide food for its citizens, it is endangering national security.
I cited the history of despots in some parts of the world, first to joggle our memories on that nefarious route once taken by some rulers and also postulate that these rulers did not start all of a sudden to present with the face of a Dracula but began as innocuously as Buhari did at that NBA conference. It is even very difficult to understand Buhari’s beef. Political scientists have told us passionately that Nigeria is not a nation but at best, a nation-state. As far back as 1947, in his book, Path to Nigeria Freedom, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had dissected this issue. Nigeria, he wrote, is not a nation but a mere geographical expression. “There are no ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English’ or ‘Welsh’ or ‘French.’ The word Nigeria is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria from those who do not.” Nothing has changed since then. So if there is no Nigerian nation, whose national interest/security was Buhari proposing to defend? Because there is no Nigerian nation, Nigeria belongs to nobody and nobody sees any act done for the collective State as acts done for any of its components or individuals. Even Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill, (1806-1873) authors of Buhari’s utilitarian concept of “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” have been critiqued for their imprecision as no societies scarcely come to a consensus on what is “greater good of society.”
More complicating, as I said earlier, is Buhari’s human rights pedigree. Allowing him go the route of his proposal is to assist him grow the seed of despotism latent in him. There are fears that topmost on Buhari’s mind at that NBA conference was his craving to keep Dasuki and Ibrahim Yaqoub El Zakky Zakky – people he presumably nurses pre-office grouses against – in his gulag till Thy Kingdom comes. It is our collective responsibility to stop Mr. President from walking this fuhrer road, which though means leader in German, is symbolic of Hitler’s rule. This road is strewn with blood, manacles and shackles which Mussolini, Hitler, Amin and their progenies trod in the past.
The lifeless debate
There have been all manner of comments on the alleged statement made by America’s President Donald Trump about his Nigerian counterpart, Muhammadu Buhari. The highly influential Financial Times had alleged that Trump told some unidentified persons after his meeting last year with Buhari at the White House that he never wanted to meet a country’s leader as lifeless as Buhari again. If we conduct a semiotic analysis of that purported Trump statement, it does really synchronize with the flippant and unguarded character of the current POTUS.
Some have berated Trump for, by that statement, deriding Buhari’s health status which is in the global public domain. Some have also spoken about that statement’s racist inclination. But when it is realized that Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta just returned from a similar visit to the White House, what becomes clear is that even though a president with glaring racial bias, Trump will continue to play host to his ‘coloured’ colleagues all over the world.
My take is however to reason that Trump’s lifeless comment may not necessarily be borne out of Buhari’s recuperating frame and the feeble gait that comes with it. The lifelessness in Trump’s comment may just be Buhari’s incapability to connect with the American president at the mental level in conversation during the visit. This may not strictly be because of Buhari’s highly coloured ascent which even someone like me finds very difficult to penetrate when I listen to him, but due to the general suspicion about our President’s mental depth. This is why all of us must be concerned about what President Buhari tells his local and foreign guests because he is representative of us all. The Buhari we all know, unlike President Olusegun Obasanjo and even Goodluck Jonathan, doesn’t seem to measure up in terms of output and depth.
This is also why, as there seems to be an European scramble for Africa – both Theresa May and Angela Merkel were in Abuja to see Buhari – what is our President telling these people and how is he telling them? What is global estimation of his elan and mental makeup? That is why saner societies choose the best of them to represent the whole of them. I think this is an issue that should be more fundamental to us than the lifelessness of the President’s gait or health.
Kelani Yesufu on Olubadan’s 90th
Of all the tributes I have listened to in honour of the Olubadan of Ibadan, Oba Saliu Akanmu Adetunji, Aje Ogungunniso 1 on the 90th anniversary of his birth, none is as enrapturing as that done to his persona by the late progenitor of Yoruba Sakara music, Kelani Yesufu. Yesufu, the Egba music impresario, in company with Lefty Salami Balogun and others, is a renowned forefather of today’s Fuji music. Someday, I will bring you the cadence of Yesufu’s song as he paid unmatchable tribute to the then pestilence of the venereal disease called gonorrhea and how he had brokered truce between another Sakara music legend, Yusuf Olatunji, alias Baba Legba, and another Egba music great, S. Aka Baba Wahidi, in 1972.
Anyway, in his vinyl entitled Emu Oguro, Yesufu had sang about an accident the then young Adetunji was involved in on a journey from Lagos to Ibadan in which his car was a total write-off and how he escaped from the accident on a Monday morning in July, 1972. If Adetunji had died in that accident, no one would have been talking about him as the Olubadan today. By the way, Yesufu was one of the musicians who sang on the label of Omo Aje Records owned by the current Olubadan. The interventionist role that the Olubadan had always played in moments of crises was also captured in another track done by Dauda Epo Akara in the very early 1980s when Epo was accused of insulting the then Olubadan, Oba Theophilus Akinyele. Worried about what he called a frame-up, Epo the Awurebe music exponent, had ran to then Alhaji Adetunji to help buy him out of the impending trouble with the monarch. Here is wishing the Olubadan more years on the throne of his forefathers as he clocked 90th.