CounterPoint With Femi Akintunde Johnson
It is somewhat curious that the January 5, 2020 ‘State of the Nation’ address broadcast a little over an hour on African Independent Television, AIT, was essentially collapsed into a one-tablet-cures-all condensation by the Nigerian media: that President Buhari should have a successor in place towards 2023!
Of course, the broadcast under review was by Dr. Tunde Bakare, the Serving Overseer of the Lagos-based Latter Rain Assembly (now renamed The Citadel Global Community Church). Periodically, the pastor and some kind of politician, puts an elaborate televised proclamation that is self-styled “State of the Nation” address.
Perhaps, it is not fair to imply that all the Nigerian media slept facing the same direction on this matter as only New Telegraph and Leadership newspapers towed a more robust path (unless I missed one or two others). The blogging chatterboxes, expectedly, simply sunk their teeth into the succession beef, splattering stews of conjectures all over the blogosphere. Some even inferred that Bakare was needling Buhari to pick him as his successor. The likelihood of that as a political exigency or deft partisan calculation was left to the imaginations of their readers.
As usual, the Presidency would not be found wanting in stoking political wildfire…a day after the broadcast, the president’s men were trumpeting their principal’s aversion to any succession plan directly involving him, insisting that the president would not “impose” any successor on Nigerians in 2023, in spite of the need to watch keenly over his enduring legacies. Maybe a calmer reading of the speech would pinpoint who could have shot himself in the foot. The Presidency or Bakare?
This is where my worry lies though: the media is expected to set agendas – not to set heads against each other. It is a notorious irony that while the media flourishes in the atmosphere of reading and writing, majority of its practitioners, arguably, hate reading… especially long-reads. So, it is not difficult to situate the “one-way” syndrome exhibited by the media in its attraction to the sensation of succession – an idea framed as the third leg of a pivotal subplot within more robust and ennobling ideas…in a long read.
Admittedly, Bakare’s epistle is an eloquent nightmare for many of our over-worked news editors and reporters – what with the intimidating challenge of wading through more than 5,700 words, formatted over 40 paragraphs, running across 27 pages!
The good pastor cannot, in all sincerity, say he was misquoted; yet, deep in his heart must remain a restless ache that the message has been disfigured, the import misdirected, and the essence mangled, unfulfilled.
However, my desire today is to plunge into the multi-layered treatise, themed “Unveiling The True Enemies Of Nigeria”, and attempt to turn my readers’ heads towards the more salient issues raised, wherein he proposed important palliatives, and made confounding reiterations of our stubborn problems. Perhaps, the Presidency and stakeholders, startled by Bakare’s scorching admonitions, can get off the Pontius Pilate high horse, and confront the ogres awoken.
The very long “Introduction” (about eight pages of 1,666 words) is essentially the bolts and nuts he used in welding Nigeria’s chequered trajectories of the diverse nationalities which cobbled some sort of nationhood that has endured all sorts of fissures in these 100 years (from 1920 to 2020).
So we don’t fall for easy excuses and cheap propaganda, his preliminary argument is to identify those who are NOT the enemies of Nigeria: it’s not the British who left us almost 60 years ago, and have morphed from masters to partners; it’s not self-determination groups and agitators, if their “activities are for the public good and within the ambit of the law”; it’s not those who challenge government… “champions of our democracy”….
After a cogent 542-word introspection, high on contemporary examples of civil challengers and civic champions, Bakare submits: “You may dislike their methods, you may not like their politics, they may be thorns in your flesh, but mustering the apparatus of governmental force against those who criticise the government by the words of their mouths or the strokes of their pens is nothing but a petty path of vengeance that will eventually boomerang…”
On the grumblings in government circles over the mounting spectre of social media disruptions, he argues: “the fact that some persons have deployed this tool in ways that have been less than honourable does not justify the attempted clampdown on freedom of speech by some legislators who major in minors. I, too, have been a target of social media vitriol. I have been misrepresented, maligned and falsely characterised by mischief-makers on social media, but I will not support the suppression of the most potent tool for citizen engagement in the 21st century through a misguided Social Media Bill….”
After the maelstrom of who are not the nation’s enemies, the Pastor waxes lyrically on the “true enemies” of Nigeria. Here, I have to deliver massive cuts to avoid the knife of my editor for exceeding space limit: “…The true enemies of Nigeria are those who, paraphrasing the words of George Washington, seek to build their greatness upon their country’s ruin…. As it is with the leadership, so it is with the citizenry… In Nigeria, the vast majority of our people regularly take turns perpetuating the cycle of corruption either as beneficiaries or benefactors. These enemies in citizens’ clothing are those who choose to be spectators while the nation goes down the drain on their watch; those perverts on the pulpit who hide under togas of godliness to manipulate the vulnerable; those economic behemoths who window dress their underhandedness with ‘filthlanthropy’; those who are perpetually “not on seat” because they can’t “come and go and die;” those who rob, rape, raze, pillage, abduct, murder, dismember in the name of hunger or misguided rage; those who sell their votes or connive with political bandits to short-change their children’s children; those who partake of loot and celebrate looters from the same ethnic group or religious organisation; those who say of the looters, ‘We know say na thief, but this thief na our thief’.
“At the local level of government, the true enemies of our nation are those agents of oppression who place excruciating multiple tax burdens on often defenceless Nigerians – the petty traders, okada riders, keke drivers, bricklayers, pepper grinders, carpenters, vulcanisers, mechanics and other artisans…
“At the state level…are those state governments that feed fat on unaccounted-for security votes…; those who paralyse local governance structures in such a manner that discredits genuine arguments for restructuring and devolution of powers….
“At the zonal level, the enemies of Nigeria are those who have perverted their influence and turned the states within their zones of influence into personal estates…
“At the federal level, the true enemies of Nigeria are in every arm of government. In the judiciary, they are judges who pervert justice and auction judgements to the highest bidder. In the legislature, they are those legislators who rob the nation “under the guise of constituency projects” and are quick to pass laws that undermine our national freedoms… In the executive arm… are those who deploy the machinery of state against hapless citizens; those who serve self rather than the people….”
Zeroing on the presidency, Bakare suggests three pivots that could birth a worthy legacy for the Buhari persona, and provoke the stirrings of a truly new and progressive Nigeria. Understandably, only the last leg of the three pivots captured the imagination of the media. Here are some cut-outs of the two critical pivots. Deconstructing Barrack Obama’s iconic uppercut to African despots while visiting Ghana in July, 2009 (“Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions”), Bakare affirms: “A strongman is different from a strong leader… Africa does need strong leaders; men and women who will build strong institutions. Therefore, providing strong leadership must be the first pivotal agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government in the next three years… It means now, more than ever, being not just the Commander-in-Chief but also the Unifier-in-Chief of an increasingly fragmented and disillusioned populace; to offer hope, inspiration….”
The second pivot is hinged on the mainframe of strong leadership: “We must strengthen institutions of justice by adherence to the rule of law and respect for court judgements…We must also strengthen institutions of accountability by enforcing transparency in government revenue and expenditure….”
The third pivot is where the robber missed the road. We don’t need quotes to make that clear. In spite of extensive borrowings from the succession paradigms of Deng Xiaoping, Nelson Mandela, Lee Kuan Yew…our agenda setters still muddled up the prairie, and substituted successor for succession as holistic approach to legacies of quality, committed and responsible leadership cadre.
Here’s a parting shot, a warning for Pastor Bakare: When next you give your broadcast, you may spend as long as you want on air – fervently dividing and delivering the word as you’re led…when it’s time to deal with the media, it is advisable you munch your text equivalence to far less than a quarter of your speech. You see, those copious Biblical passages and parables you so much love to contextualize your statements, to the media controlled by a tribe deeply irreverent and devoutly irreligious, that’s all mumbo-jumbo embellishment. This angst will often enable them to miss the spine of your arguments, and set you on a path that you have not envisioned. Simply put, less is much better. And less stressful.