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Recently, Justin Trudeau was in the province of Quebec for a townhall meeting with citizens. He has been holding townhalls across Canada. An Anglophone Quebecois woman asked him a question in English, he responded in French saying he preferred to respond in the official language of the province.
Although French is the language of Quebec, there is an Anglophone minority in that province. English and French being the two official languages of Canada, the Anglophone minority woman deserved to have her question answered in English.
The national outrage was swift and major. The Prime Minister was condemned everywhere. Such was the intensity of the nationwide condemnations of the Prime Minister that I almost exclaimed Yorunigerianly: “ki ni Trudeau gbe ki ni won ju gan sef?”
Why were Canadians so aghast? It was said that the Prime Minister had disrespected a citizen. And by disrespecting a citizen, he had disrespected his office.
Trudeau has since been writing profuse letters of apology. He has apologized to the woman in question. He has apologized to Quebec Anglophones. He has apologized to Canadians.
Yesterday, I read another apology and nearly exclaimed, again Yorunigerianly: “wo, ogbeni yi ma f’idobale pa wa jare.”
I intend to draw heavy conclusions from this situation in the light of ongoing scenarios with President Buhari in Nigeria, sorry, in London.
I have been intrigued by the idea that respect for the highest office in the land starts with the occupant of the said office. I have been intrigued by the fact that Canadians are saying that respect for the said office and respect for the citizen are two indissociable elements of the political lifeworlds we refer to as statehood and nationhood.
In other words, as Prime Minister or President of a country, respect for your office – the highest office in the land – starts with you. To respect your office, you must start by respecting your employer – the citizen.
When these two fundamental prerequisites are met, a powerful symbolism emerges which automatically makes the people respect your office. For it to be respected, the highest office in the land must first be made respectable by the occupant.
From Obasanjo to Jonathan via Yar’Adua, I have written treatises on the Nigerian presidency. The most enduring of my reflections on that branch of the Nigerian state is, I believe, my essay, “Why the Nigerian Presidency is not Respectable.”
I wrote that essay in 2012. Its salience has returned to me as aides and supporters of President Buhari have intensified the familiar and sanctimonious calls we’ve been through with every President since 1999: “respect the office of the President!”
I call this category of compatriots Citizen Abobaku. We took civics to Citizen Abobaku during the respective tenures of President Buhari’s predecessors. I am afraid we must continue that task of civic engagement of Citizen Abobaku today.
The first thing to note is that throughout our recent experience with democracy, whenever Citizen Abobaku has been at his loudest, condemning his compatriots for not respecting the office of the President, it means he has run out of excuses, rationalizations, and justification of the incumbent President who disrespects that very office by: 1) continuously disrespecting the citizens, his employers; 2) reneging on campaign promises or failing to fulfill them.
Calls for respect also means that Citizen Abobaku has never really learnt to separate Nigeria from the person and body of the incumbent President he supports.
If we witnessed this scenarios with every President since Obasanjo, it has been raised to a level worthy of a Nobel Prize by President Buhari, his administration, and Citizen Abobaku who has been all over the airwaves taking umbrage at compatriots insisting on their right to be respected by President Buhari and his handlers.
If Citizen Canadian insisted on and got an apology from the Prime Minister for answering a question in the wrong language, can you imagine what would happen if this Prime Minister, knowing that he was ill and going to take care of his health in another country, wrote a letter to Parliament asking for a rest and recreation leave abroad instead? It would have led to so many problems at so many levels.
First would be the problem of not trusting the national health facilities under his supervision in Canada and going off to another country’s health facilities. Second would be the problem of who exactly is paying for the health safari. Third would be the most serious problem of all: lying to your country’s parliament to conceal the real reason and purpose of your trip. That is lying to the people. That is disrespecting the citizen. That is disrespecting the office of the President – the very office you occupy. Any single one of these itemized problems is an impeachable offence.
A combination of all of them would create not just impeachment but possible investigation and prosecution – in serious democracies. Ask our friend, Sarkozy in France. The former President is now facing prosecution for concealing certain aspects of the disbursement of his campaign funds. He is on trial for more than corruption. He is on trial for disrespecting the office he occupied and disrespecting the citizen through concealment of his activities.
Because Nigeria is never satisfied with little absurdities, the National Assembly decided that President Buhari would not outdo them in disrespecting his office and the citizen. The Senate President and the House Speaker took off to London to visit the President. They reported him hale and hearty.
Before the London trip, the Senate President also twitted vociferously about his telephone conversations with a “hale and hearty” President Buhari. Then he returned from London and read a letter from the President to the Senate asking for an extension of the President’s extended tenure in London on medical grounds.
On Twitter, spokespersons of the Presidency have been at their arrogant best, raining insults daily on citizens who dare to insist on respect. I did not want to dignify the utterly silly Femi Adesina with a mention in this treatise but he is inescapable. In tweet after tweet, he has been calling his boss’s employers – Nigerian citizens – unprintable names. He says they prefer to embrace lies no matter how many times he confronts them with the truth.
Yet, his television appearances are an ode to shallowness and incoherence. He is never able to get his facts straight. Who exactly is he talking to in London? He will begin to dance kokoma and palongo around that question. I don’t blame him. He understands fully well that he is operating in an environment where power overwhelms and there is not enough civic consciousness to engage him.
Citizen Abobaku is always in line, screaming that the people must “respect the office of the President” by unquestioningly accepting the latest stomach-churning incoherent verbiage coming from Aso Rock.
This maxim needs to be translated into every Nigerian language: respect for the office of the President starts with the President, not with you. It starts with everybody he appoints in the Presidency to help him serve you as citizen. And the first requirement of respecting their office is to respect you.
The entire situation of President Buhari’s trip to and stay in London is an epic of disrespect for the Nigerian citizen. Apart from the original grand deception (for which the President deserves impeachment as far as I am concerned), every aspect of the trip has been handled as if the dissemination of information to Nigerian citizens were a privilege.
Lai Mohammed – bless his soul! – even opined that the President is a victim of his own forthrightness. Translation Nigeriana: it is not you people’s fault that you feel entitled to information about the President. Shebi it is the President himself who on reaching London initially let you know that he is seeing his doctors. Na una fault?
When Lai Mohammed and Femi Adesina are in a mode so contemptuous of citizens and they enjoy a drumbeat of support from a large fragment of their victims, how does one even begin to teach such citizens that they are owed daily press briefings on the President’s condition by the Presidency? How does one teach such people that they are owed regular briefings by President Buhari’s Nigerian doctors who would have conferred and coordinated things with his medical team in London before holding such briefings in Abuja? The citizen is entitled to these things. It is not a privilege.
R stands for more than respect. R also stands for resignation whenever you understand that you are no longer in the position to carry out the solemn responsibilities of any office, especially the highest office in the land.
In Nigeria, resignation from office is a taboo word. Mention resignation and the supporters, political, religious, and ethnic “owners” of the concerned public official enter into a demented public orgy, screaming and foaming. A Nigerian can pardon rape. A Nigerian can pardon genocide. A Nigerian will never pardon you if you so much as hint the resignation from office of a politician he supports.
One of the many untenable reasons he is going to mobilize against resignation is – you guessed right – the need to respect the office in question. This is why we need more diligent workers in the national civics enterprise. We need to decriminalize resignation in the national imaginary of our people. The idea that it is unthinkable for my man to resign from office gave us Yar’Adua. It gave us Danbaba Suntai in Taraba.
I am not saying that President Buhari is anywhere near these circumstances. However, there are 180 million lives at stake. Those lives do not live in Femi Adesina’s alternative universe of milk and honey all over Nigeria. A state is always more important than any single citizen and that includes the President. One month away, poorly handled, is enough ground for resignation especially if there is no telling how exactly you would be able to handle compound problems on your return: the economy, insecurity, Fulani herdsmen, etc.
Resignation is not leprosy. Resignation is not a crime. In certain cases, it is a moral obligation, an ethical one. Where there is a conscience, it is a decision to be taken in loneliness, away from heehawing opportunists capable of convincing Sigidi that he can swim successfully across the river Niger. Sometimes, resignation is the only way to respect one’s country and one’s compatriots. Sometimes, resignation is the only way to enter history in a grand fashion.
President Buhari, take a measure of your conscience. If you know that even in the best of health, you are overwhelmed, go ahead and resign without listening to the fawning voices around you. Many of your overwhelmed predecessors had a chance to resign. None did because they were admired into perdition and ignominy.
The other day, I heard Femi Adesina saying that it’s still early days for you. You are just in year two of a four-year tenure and you have two more years to deliver miracle. Silly talk like this is what I call admiring one’s boss to perdition and ignominy. Sadly, the majority of your support base speaks like this. That is not how it works. You don’t really have any time left.
Perhaps many in your support base cannot tolerate the idea of your resignation because they fear the chest-beating reaction of the Lilliputian promoters of the corrupt era of your immediate predecessor who are still prosecuting the 2015 election. That is why they can’t even criticize you for not only not prosecuting the anti-corruption war properly but for also harboring your own clan of corrupt aides and associates. That is a shame because it puts such people in your support base in the same infantilist and puny partisan boat as the promoters of the last order.
Anybody who sees Nigeria above such clowning partisan pettiness should be able to give you the advice I have offered you here: respect your office by resigning if you know you can’t go on.