Buhari, Tonto Dikeh and Other Stories

2

TUESDAY WITH REUBEN ABATI

“Thank God President Buhari is back in the country. I feel some kind of relief.”
“What is your own? Are you his son? And what is wrong in a man taking some time off work and returning 10 days later.”
“But you will agree with me that private visit to the United Kingdom more or less heated up the polity and generated considerable anxiety. Too many people became lawyers. When some people quote the Constitution like this, you will think that they know it all. And then those ones who call themselves Constitutional lawyers…”

“I think I have told you this before. There is nothing called Constitutional lawyer. There is no such special category. No lawyer has special rights over the Constitution than other lawyers. Every lawyer uses the Constitution. It is the basic law upon which every other law rests. It is like a work tool, like a mason’s square. It is even like you saying there are stethoscope doctors. Every doctor uses the stethoscope. It is like saying someone is a public affairs journalist. I am yet to see a private affairs journalist. If you know one, let me know.”

“Yes, I do. I definitely know some journalists who like to poke their noses into people’s affairs, whether public or private. It is about time someone began to give such journalists a bloody nose.”
“It is always so easy to blame the messenger, and preach to the media.”
“Well, someone you know very well, just did that. Femi Adesina has been busy mocking the opposition, saying the online journalists who wrote stories speculating that President Buhari could extend his stay in the UK have been put to shame and the hogwash that they fed the public has been exposed as fake news.”
“He was very specific. He talked about the online media.”

“What is the difference? In fact, you are likely to get more information from the social media these days than from the mainstream media. Is that why Femi should be giving everyone a lecture on press freedom and the need for responsible conduct?”
“He has a point there. And I will advise you not to push the point too hard. Indeed, the kind of things some people write on social media in this country, if you are on the other side, working for either the President or any other high-level government official, you are likely to fight back, except that certain things are just not worth paying attention to.”

“So, are you now recommending censorship?”
“No. I am making a point about the nexus between freedom and responsibility”
“I disagree. The people in government should also be told about that nexus. The President exercises the freedom to go on private visit, and then he comes back, and someone asks him about the security situation in the country and all he can say is that he noticed that the Inspector-General of Police has lost weight, so he must be working hard. Has anyone bothered to brief him about the kidnap of the traditional head of his own village and his Aide de camp’s father in law?”
“I actually thought the President displayed a good sense of humour there.”

“Humour? After how many persons have been killed across the North West within ten days? Who cares whether or not the Inspector-general of Police loses weight or not. We want him to protect Nigerians and get the job done?”

“Try and be nice a little bit. The man has only spent 100 days on the job as Inspector-General of Police, and he has lost weight trying his best.”
“Okay, may be by the time he spends a year, he will have no weight left at all. Who is that doctor saying people lose weight when they work hard?”

“ I think we should try to encourage people who work for this country. I disagree with you. And you can’t blame the IGP for anything. Nigeria’s security problem is far more complex than something anyone can solve in 100 days. You should know that. By the way, the Katsina State Commissioner of Police has been asked to relocate to Daura. That is based on the Inspector General’s directive.”

“Eye service. Eye service. That is what we do in this country. The last time some persons were kidnapped in my own village, nobody directed the State Commissioner of Police to relocate there. The Inspector General of Police should consider himself lucky he is not from Sri Lanka. When people were killed in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday and it was established that the police chief and the defence Minister had failed to act on prior intelligence notice, they were both asked to resign, and the President didn’t crack jokes. Bet with me…”

“I don’t bet. I don’t gamble.”
“You don’t know what you are missing. Let’s bet…you will see that all these our service chiefs and heads of security agencies will soon be given National Honours by the Federal Government. Just bet with me.”
“You can’t punish a person for the failure of the system. I support the present Inspector-General of Police. Are you aware that one police officer has been redeployed from Lagos state to Ebonyi state, Abayomi Shogunle, the ACP in charge of Public Complaints Response Unit for publishing insensitive tweets on his twitter handle, calling some women prostitutes. ”

“And the police told you he was transferred because of tweets? And how is transfer to Ebonyi state being interpreted as a punishment? Did he tweet on the official twitter account or his own private twitter account? Please don’t insult the people of Ebonyi State. Any police officer can be sent to any part of the country. What I condemn is eye service.”
“I am talking about freedom of expression and responsibility. Even when you are free to do private things, as a public officer, you must be responsible enough to make sure that your private choices do not violate your professional responsibilities.”

“I really don’t get your drift. You talk from every corner of the mouth. One day, you will say the President is entitled to a private visit, another day, you’d say a police officer cannot crack jokes on a private twitter account. Nobody knows where you stand. If a President can do private things, then a security officer can also do private things.”

“You should be careful and stop comparing apples and oranges. You are too fond of it. And this is the problem with Nigerian democracy. Every one likes to talk. If you talk like this about some Presidents, you’d see what will happen to you.”

“What will happen to me?”
“In Russia, for example, they passed some bills recently making it an offence for anyone to insult government or criticise President Vladimir Putin. You cross the red line, you either go to jail or pay a fine for spreading fake news, and you cannot just say what you like online.”
“We have rejected red lines in Nigeria. Nobody can gag us. It can’t happen here. The people who spread fake news most are our government officials at all levels. We should gag government, not the people.”

“It is easier said than done. In Burundi, and that is here in Africa, three schoolgirls were recently detained for doodling on the President’s photo. In Uganda last year, Dr Stella Nyanzi, an academic, was charged to court for making comments about the right of President Yoweri Museveni to privacy. She was charged for cyber harassment and offensive publication. In Zimbabwe, it is also an offence to insult the President. Go and ask Terrence Mkhwananzi. What was his offence? He had the temerity to point at President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s portrait in public and accuse him of having a hand in the death of his father. In Rwanda, Tanzania and Indonesia, if you insult the President, you go to jail.”

“I don’t see what are you trying to say. You want fascism in Nigeria? We can’t even make comments again about the affairs of state?”

“Nigeria is probably the only country I know where people will open their mouths and abuse the President. Your President comes back from a private trip, instead of you to welcome him, you are saying the President should stop cracking jokes about the IG losing weight and get down to serious work. While he was away, you were all busy asking whose money he was spending on a private trip. One opposition spokesperson even said President Buhari was wandering all over the UK. Very soon now some of you will come and say President Buhari should relocate to the North West or Sambisa forest to deal with the challenge of national insecurity. Wh-a-t?”

“Yes. I can even say it. Where were you when they told us the President can govern Nigeria from anywhere?”
“I have said my own.”

“Nobody can limit our freedom as Nigerians. You keep citing countries where people cannot talk about the President. In case you have forgotten, in the United States, people abuse President Donald Trump and nothing happens. The only reaction is that Trump also goes on twitter to abuse people.”

“Okay I have heard you. But just be careful and I hope you know we are now in the season of Ramadan. I will advise you not to go to Kano. You know you like to go about eating here and there.”
“I don’t get it.”

“You mean you haven’t heard that in Kano, the Commander General of the Sharia police has issued a warning that any Muslim caught eating in public during Ramadan will be arrested. You will only be released if you can prove why you must eat in public while others are fasting.”

“And how does that apply to me? I am not a Muslim.”
“Okay, when they arrest you, you can go and prove that you are not a Muslim.”
“Even if I were a Muslim, you don’t force people. There is something called freedom of choice. In any case, I have no plans to visit Kano, except that I hear the Governor is giving out so many women as wives.”

“And the ones in your life, what have you done with them? During this period, just don’t post food anyhow on your Instagram page and keep saying you are a foodie. You may be guilty of encouraging people to eat.”

“I am not aware that people don’t eat at all during Ramadan. What I know is that you are required to fast and do everything in moderation, and to use the Holy Season to help the needy and seek the face of the Almighty and his blessings.”
“Oh, so you know. Fasting is very good for the soul and for the body. In fact I know some Christians who also fast along with Muslims during Ramadan. Some one like you will need to fast, so you can lose some weight and become hardworking.”
“That should be my private affair. I don’t like all this Godfather syndrome in Nigeria. People want to tell you what to eat, what to think, what to wear, what to say. No.”

“Well, I hear some Godfathers are being threatened too. Senator Saraki lost election in Kwara State. Governor Nasir el-Rufai who was in Lagos over the weekend was quoted saying he has retired all the Godfathers in Kaduna state politics and that is why he got a second term. He reportedly added that he can help the people of Lagos State put an end to the reign of Godfathers in Lagos politics.”

“I hope he knows who the Godfathers in Lagos are. He wants to come and do “O to gee” in Lagos. Has he heard of “O to ope”? And I hope someone was quick enough to tell him to return to Kaduna state and concentrate on Kaduna because Lagos politicians don’t seem to be in a hurry to get rid of their own Godfathers.”
“But he has a point. Nobody should be allowed to run Nigerian politics as if it is a private affair.”
“There is politics in everything though. Even in marriages and in every space where you find one or two persons coming together. Have you not been following the Tonto Dike story?”

“Tonto Dike? Who is that?”
“You can’t tell me you don’t know Tonto Dike.”
“Does she know me?”
“She is a Nollywood star. Her story has been trending There is also Regina. And Tiwa Savage. Okay, do you know Bobrisky?”
“Who is that?
“Bobo-to-risky! No wonder you are so uptight always. You don’t know what is going on at all levels. Who in this country has not heard what Tonto Dike said about her baby’s father and estranged husband?”

“I have not heard anything. I don’t do idle street gossip. I don’t talk about other people’s private lives.”
“These things are all over social media.”
“But wait a moment, how did we suddenly move so fast in this conversation to the disgraceful level of gossip?”
“It is not gossip. You should loosen up. Try and know your environment.”
“No. I won’t go there with you. I discuss ideas, not people. And I have been telling you: mind your own business in this country. And you should be selective about what you read online”.