By Nseobong Okon-Ekong

In the heat of the campaign leading to the 2015 presidential election, Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo who was then a running mate to President Muhammadu Buhari deepened the favour of mainstream acceptance for their joint ticket by canvassing for votes in the most unlikely places. Osinbajo, a law teacher and clergy was seen in market places and commercial buses in Lagos trying to win the support of the populace. While many were still grappling with his novel method of appealing for backing, Osinbajo increased the surprise element by visiting the New Afrika Shrine to continue his crusade for wider participation in the ballot. It was a courageous enterprise to have a pastor visit a supposed sanctuary of sinners and demons.

It is arguable if Osinbajo’s stride on the streets of populism created impetus for latter day champions of anti-elitist agenda like Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State who started drooling gbegiri soup from both sides of his mouth, eating a meal of amala and roasted corn on the roadsides of Ado Ekiti to prove his love for the masses.

Since the Buhari/Osinbajo team won the election, devotees at the Shrine have hoped against hope for an Osinbajo return. Chances are that Osinbajo has since become possessed by urgent anxieties that have distanced him from the Shrine. It is possible that he has been reminded of his Christian realities that he should never go near a temple that covets worship of ancestors. Whatever Osinbajo did or did not do at the Shrine, he did for his principal and himself.

President Buhari’s perception managers can only deny to their jeopardy that his image is in tatters, badgered on all sides by political opponents and sometimes, self-inflicted, ill-timed actions and comments. But it looks like an unseen hand keeps turning the odds in favour of Buhari by offering him frequent opportunities to redeem himself.

Unfortunately, lack of imagination to convert half-a-chance to political capital has been the bane of Buhari and his handlers. A mighty prospect to emancipate himself knocked on his door again with the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to the New Afrika Shrine this week. Buhari and Macron were at the African Union meeting in Mauritania. They continued their conference later at the Aso Rock Villa in Abuja. The Nigerian capital city is filled with reminiscence of Mr. Macron’s tour of duty at the French embassy.

Apparently, it was a period that afforded him an opportunity to visit other Nigerian cities including Lagos. It has since emerged that Macron joined the throng of worshippers at the Shrine, an iconic centre of culture built in memory of the progenitor of Afrobeat music, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, by his children.

Macron has been famously quoted saying, that, whatever happened at the Shrine remained at the Shrine. Whether he smoked a joint or two and masturbated on the gyrating backside of Femi Kuti’s sexy dancers remains in the realm of conjecture. What is not in doubt is that Macron cherished the Shrine experience and wanted to relive it, when the opportunity came through an evening of African cultural showcase packaged by Trace television.

This is where PMB missed the bus!

He lost a chance to accompany the youthful French President to the Shrine. To be sure, Macron loves the company of elderly people. His wife Brigitte is 65 years. There is every indication he would have got on well with the 75 year-old Nigerian President. Mr. Buhari lost the opportunity to take back the love of Nigerian youths, many of who bear a grudge against him for allegedly describing them as a lazy lot. In the gaping absence of Buhari, it was Macron who advised Nigerian youths at the Shrine on the importance of politics and why they should take it seriously.

The only mention of Buhari at the Macron visit to the Shrine was a routine courtesy delivered by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State.

Where are Buhari’s spin doctors who made him wear a suit, an Igbo attire and toy with an iPad in make-believe photos during campaigns leading to the 2015 presidential election? Some may argue that the Buhari brand should not be associated with Mary Jane and every thing his military government fought against. That would be taking the argument to a boringprosaic level. The world has moved on. Military dictatorship is dead and modest use of Marijuana is getting increasing official acceptance around the world.

We can only imagine the huge favour that would have accumulated to him had he accompanied Macron to the Shrine on a night populated by a diverse mix of leaders drawn from the media, business, ICT, public service, banking and culture-all young and some in their middle-age. Buhari missed an opportunity to meet these influential Nigerians in an atmosphere with no restrictions.

An appearance by Buhari at the Shrine would definitely have added a huge gain to his political capital, even if he was going to stutter in his speech.

Perhaps, Buhari could have been persuaded to fool around on stage, dancing or toying with a musical instrument. The French President entered the Shrine looking prim and proper. By the time he left, his jacket and tie were off and his shirt-sleeves rolled. He was sweating from the different robust engagement with the crowd. Imagine how good and pleasant it would have been to see the human side of Buhari, all convivial and approachable.

Buhari lost a chance to show the world his forgiving spirit. It is true that the irreverent Fela had openly derided him in the past. In the monster-hit recording, Beast of No Nation, Fela mocked Buhari, calling him, animal in human skin. But the teeming crowd of Fela devotees and the global media would have witnessed one of the most emotional reconciliations that could have shot up Buhari’s rating instantly, if he had the good judgment to visit the Shrine with Macron.

Osinbajo must repeat his 2015 visit to the Shrine. This time, he must bring Buhari. This is a consideration Buhari’s re-election campaign managers, Rotimi Amaechi and Festus Keyamo should be interested in. It is a cheap route to win over 18 million votes for PMB in the 2019 presidential election.

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