Some Nigerians are not happy today because Buhari took away their status as a god of creation. But they were first a god of death, an Egyptian Anubis. In one face time, they lost their dual divinity. The one they killed puffed back to life. The one they made melted into a smoke of oblivion.
Goodnight Jibrin. Daylight to PMB.
The man even gave them a quote with both mathematical and literary evocations: a dot in a circle. He smiled, defied, sometimes defiled logic. He was also sometimes stoic, avuncular and paternal, if paternalistic. However, he was mostly unfazed by the impudence of camera.
The Arise team led by Prince Nduka Obaigbena – the duke – wanted to poke and caress, to make him uneasy and set him at ease simultaneously. In a delicate balance, they tested while knowing the man could be testy. He was eyeing 80 with the instinct and breeding of a soldier. He was a toddler at democracy. They were not supposed to spend more than 30 minutes, according to the arrangement. But the quarry did not mind. He was battle-ready. But Femi Adesina was ill at ease. He wanted PMB under his shadows. He did not want them to ruffle his principal.
But the defiant one was the duke himself, ignoring Adesina as he and his folks kept teleguiding their barbs. Then Adesina turned it into a roforofo moment. He planted himself in front of the camera. The war was over. Arise gulped down 42 minutes.
I wonder how much more the president could have said that he had not said, and those who questioned the professionals should tell me what else they wanted to hear other than the airing of his positions on herdsmen, merit, violence and order, on federalism, on his cousins on the other side of Lake Chad, on his ultimate ambition to mull among his mooing mammals.
We were stunned not a few times, even when we knew it. As poet Samuel Coleridge noted, “anticipation is more potent than surprise.” Especially when he expressed his romance with ancient documents. That makes him our first true historian as president. Now that we have abolished history from schools, we have a president with attachment to preternatural details. He mines the memory of man-mammal embraces. He wants to scoop documents about routes, men with sticks and beasts coursing through 19th century byways of trees and shrubs. He is also a historian of the law, except that he seeks the memorials of laws and forgets the new ones. Not for him the Land Use Act. Facts are sacred, especially artefacts.
But more telling is that a day after the interview he vaulted into the 21st century. He launched a modern landmark, a railway line that moves a million times faster than the herder even when herder and cow are on steroids. The Lagos-Abeokuta-Ibadan rail line contradicts an ancient gazette. Amaechi’s trains blaze forward; gazettes gaze backwards. But he abides both. In the words of the American poet, he is at peace with the conflict. Walt Whitman wrote, “Do I contradict myself? Yes, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”
He is a man of two routes, the one with animals cantering on. The other on wheels whirring and buzzing into the future. One past, the other fast. The old one a farce of blood and tears. The one is what Walter Raleigh called a “monument to dead ideas,” while the other is monumental. What does he say when a grazing route meets his Second Niger bridge, or rail track or even one those mighty expressways that Babatunde Fashola (SAN) is sweating into being?
Paradoxically, the word popped out of his austere lips. “Do you want me to contradict my attorney-general?” he asks with pithy disdain. Abubakar Malami was swamped by critics when he said southern governors could not implement a ban on open grazing. Some thought the lawyer was on his own tangent? We know better.
We know that when Garba Shehu rattled off a line against Governor Rotimi Akeredolu over an order asking the herders out of the forest reserves, he was not a dog out of the leash. He has been an obedient servant.
On federalism, we saw a conundrum. He asked Obaigbena to define federalism, and he obliged and adverted to the devolution of powers. Clearly Buhari’s definition of federalism is different from the classic. His men should now pen down his new theory. While we are talking of the centre ceding power to the states and regions, he wants states to shed power to the local government. He is protecting the unwieldy centre, and the interview revealed a man with deep malice against governors. An irony because governors have been bowing to him like a monarch. The first whiff of protest was when the southern governors grunted in Asaba. If he wants the states to go lean, it is because he wants them to lean on the centre, and make a unitary bear of the Nigerian state. If anyone is to defrock itself, it must be the centre first. Give the powers to the states, and the states can now see that not only one part is giving.
We cannot deny an equalisation of rhetoric on the northwest and the southeast, invoking the language of language on the upstarts of both regions. Even by a stretch, some in the southeast could even say a dot is more important than a circle rather being defensive regarding themselves being tarred as dot. Without a dot, there is actually no circle. At any rate, he was not referring to all Igbo. He was railing at IPOB.
On the army and MDAs, he says appointments were based on merit, and only those who deserve it get it. That is not a federalist spirit. It will mean that only those from a section of the country are blessed with lopsided intelligence and competence. The others trail. Even if that were true, the constitution frowns on it in principle. Hence cabinets are based on balance, or else a man can fill his cabinet from a few states. The cabinet principle of balance is supposed to guide appointments to the parastatals. Same should happen in the military. If the law insists on balance in the cabinet, it is silent on the MDAs because it wants the president to follow its lead.
I wonder who the two governors were who the president berated. In an open democracy, they would speak out and let us into their response to the scolding. The president is not the boss of any governor. He is a first among equals. That is why we say the president has to beg governors over land, because the states own their lands. So, when a president says the governors should keep peace in their domains, he was speaking on the area the law gives him powers. He passed the buck to the governors, although he controls the police, military, including the DSS. What he should hold he let slip. What he should let go, he grabs.
On the northeast, I am one of the few who have no objection to rail lines so long as they end on our borders. But rather than expatiate on the need to revive the commercial beehive of old on the Lake Chad region, he went maudlin about cousins. When Winston Churchill was trying to lure Americans into the Second World War, he invoked his American mother. “I have a latch key into the American heart,” he crooned. Buhari’s case is different.
It is clear that the interview revealed the president as the man in charge. Many say his men were forcing their views on him. We know that there might be a chicken cabinet, but the chef is Muhammadu Buhari. He dictates the ingredients. They may make it spicier, or overfill the plate of rice. But the menu is basically the appetite of the chef in chief. Any principle they espouse in public only parrots their principal.
The president is out of the cocoon, but his aides have always been inside.