From Washington to Abuja

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 The international background to the return of President Mohammadu Buhari to Abuja was the culmination of the tragic theatre of the absurd that the presidency of Donald Trump has come to represent for the United States. I crave your indulgence to wax metaphysical. Trump returned to Washington from his eventful seventeen days holiday on Monday August 21st stewing in a broiling crisis entirely of his own making. His return coincided with a unique astronomical phenomenon that had not been witnessed in America for over a century.

‘Hey, there’s a total solar eclipse happening Aug. 21, 2017. You might’ve heard about it. It’ll be the United States’ first coast-to-coast total eclipse in almost 100 years… Total solar eclipses occur when the New Moon comes between the Sun and Earth and casts the darkest part of its shadow, the umbra, on Earth. A full solar eclipse, known as totality, is almost as dark as night’. As imageries go, few expressions can better capture the nightmare of Trump Presidency for America appropriately than ‘as dark as night’. Can it be a coincidence that the total eclipse darkness of Monday, August 21st has not occurred in the US since the precedence of another uniquely dark era-the First World War, 100 years ago?.

I had cause, earlier on in his Presidency to make the following remarks ‘America appears to have sleep walked into disaster and the resilience of its normative political order is being put to hard test by the new normless sheriff in town. The consolation is that America has an inbuilt sturdy mechanism of anticipating and containing a rogue President. How America manages to egg this bull out of its china shop is going to remain a classical case study in rogue leadership management. Of equal concern is how God’s own country descended from the Olympian heights of the noble exceptionalism of electing Barack Obama, its first African American President, to the valley of the base level perversion of electing a serial pathological liar, devious racist and sadistic philanderer as Obama’s successor; a dialectical reversal from progress to regression’.

Not long ago, former President Olusegun Obasanjo offered his own perspective ‘The fact that America can produce a Trump in this day and age, it means Americans are as human as we are, I am not justifying what African leaders are doing. If our leaders are doing wrong, we should say that they are doing wrong. Trump has come so that America can be humbled, and we can also learn that lesson,’

A recapitulation of the historic events as they transpired is best captured in the motion for censure (of Trump) by a coalition of members of the House of Representatives. It reads as follows:

‘Whereas on August 11, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, a gathering of white supremacists, including neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members, and other alt-Right, white nationalist groups, marched through the streets with torches as part of a coordinated ‘Unite the Right’ rally spewing racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry and hatred;

Whereas on August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, a car driven by James Alex Fields, Jr. rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 20 others; Whereas President Donald Trump’s immediate public comments rebuked “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and failed to specifically condemn the ‘Unite the Right’ rally or cite the white supremacist, neo-Nazi gathering as responsible for actions of domestic terrorism;

Whereas on August 15, 2017, President Donald Trump held a press conference at Trump Tower where he reasserted that “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and attempted to create a moral equivalency between white supremacist, KKK, neo-Nazi groups and those counter-protesting the ‘Unite the Right’ rally;

Whereas President Donald Trump has surrounded himself with, and cultivated the influence of, senior advisers and spokespeople who have long histories of promoting white nationalist, alt-Right, racist and anti-Semitic principles and policies within the country; Whereas President Donald Trump has provided tacit encouragement and little to no denunciation of white supremacist groups and individuals who promote their bigoted, nationalist ideology and policies;

Whereas President Donald Trump has failed to provide adequate condemnation and assure the American people of his resolve to opposing domestic terrorism: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
‘Does hereby censure and condemn President Donald Trump for his inadequate response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017, his failure to immediately and specifically name and condemn the white supremacist groups responsible for actions of domestic terrorism, for reasserting that “both sides” were to blame and excusing the violent behaviour of participants in the ‘Unite the Right’ rally’.

Back in Nigeria and unlike Donald Trump who had been saying all the wrong things and wilfully fostering divisiveness amongst Americans, President Buhari has been politically correct in sternly rebuking separatist tendencies and laying down the law albeit in the overstatement that ‘the unity of Nigeria is settled and not open for negotiation’. On account of its brevity and the passion it has generated, Buhari’s speech is similarly reproduced hereunder.

‘I am very grateful to God and to all Nigerians for their prayers. I am pleased to be back on home soil among my brothers and sisters. In the course of my stay in the United Kingdom, I have been kept in daily touch with events at home. Nigerians are robust and lively in discussing their affairs, but I was distressed to notice that some of the comments, especially in the social media have crossed our national red lines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation. This is a step too far’.

‘In 2003 after I joined partisan politics, the late Chief Emeka Ojukwu came and stayed as my guest in my hometown Daura. Over two days we discussed in great depth till late into the night and analyzed the problems of Nigeria. We both came to the conclusion that the country must remain one and united. Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable. We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble and when things get bad they run away and saddle others with the responsibility of bringing back order, if necessary with their blood’.

‘Every Nigerian has the right to live and pursue his business anywhere in Nigeria without let or hindrance. I believe the very vast majority of Nigerians share this view. This is not to deny that there are legitimate concerns. Every group has a grievance. But the beauty and attraction of a federation is that it allows different groups to air their grievances and work out a mode of co-existence. The National Assembly and the National Council of State are the legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse. The national consensus is that, it is better to live together than to live apart’.

‘Furthermore, I am charging the Security Agencies not to let the successes achieved in the last 18 months be a sign to relax. Terrorists and criminals must be fought and destroyed relentlessly so that the majority of us can live in peace and safety. Therefore we are going to reinforce and reinvigorate the fight not only against; ‘Elements of Boko Haram which are attempting a new series of attacks on soft targets; kidnappings; farmers versus herdsmen clashes, in addition to ethnic violence fuelled by political mischief makers. We shall tackle them all…

As a regular commentator and former presidential adviser on politics, it was the quality of the text of the speech that first struck me. It was a poor job and falls below par- as presidential speech writing goes. Second was the accurate identification and prioritisation of the theme of national unity and believe me I have no problems with the President taking exception to the somewhat careless and casual resort to secessionist talks ‘especially in the social media’

Beyond semantics, the reiteration of the imperative of national unity is a noble message to which the justification of national consensus can be legitimately ascribed-as the president did. But in the end, national unity and patriotism cannot be assumed or taken for granted. It has to be tended, nurtured, cultivated and earned. Emphasising this transactional nature is the prerequisite qualification that a nation must, apriori, foster a sense of belonging and goodwill.

It is in the knowledge that national unity is aspirational (and not a given) that constitutions are incorporated and designed with the objective of fostering the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers, of making this mission ‘the fundamental objective and directive principles of state policy’. Within this framework, it is a platitude to suggest that the leadership role of the national political elite in nation building is most crucial and decisive. And at the zenith of the political elite hierarchy is the President who is expected to personify this constitutional aspiration. And so then the question is-on the singular question of national unity, on which President Buhari is rhetorically uncompromising, how has he fared?

Partisanship notwithstanding, were the eligibility for the Presidency of Nigeria to be solely predicated on fidelity to national unity in deeds and precept, in and out of office, it is difficult to see General Buhari passing the smell test. Bearing this in mind, Wole Soyinka gave to candidate Buhari the qualified endorsement that ‘This persistent candidate seeks return, but let him understand that it can only be as a debtor to the past, and that the future cannot wait to collect. If this collective leap of faith is derided, repudiated or betrayed under a RENEWED immersion in the ambiance of power or retrogressive championing, of a resumption of clearly repudiated social directions, we have no choice but to revoke an unspoken pact….’

Yet as recent as few months back in an unprecedented manner, Buhari divisively and discriminately made a broadcast to the nation in Hausa language from his sick bay in London. Is this how to promote national unity? And as we speak, no clarification has been made of his decision to address himself solely to speakers of Hausa language in a message of goodwill to Nigerian Moslems and the nation in general- presuming that this conduct is even recognised as an error requiring mitigation in the first place.