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With less than one week to Valentine’s Day, millions of young men and women all over the world are already plotting and planning what to do with (or more appropriately for) someone on that once-in-a-year day of orchestrated display of affection. The interesting thing about Valentine’s Day though is that as you grow older and look back, you realize the futility of it in the broken promises, the deceit, the incompatibility and all the other factors that trigger the end of most relationships the moment the day was gone. The same applies to the political arena.
In the build-up to the last general election, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (as he then was) commanded such adoration and admiration across the country that for a greater majority of Nigerians, he could do no wrong; and there were so many myths weaved around and about him. With the election initially slated for 14th February 2015, some smart guys quickly ‘Yoruba-nised’ the month of February to mean Fe-Buhari (love Buhari) and that became a campaign slogan. Today, times have changed so dramatically that his spokesman last week had to be joining issues with those who are already calling the president unprintable names while fellow former military leaders who endorsed him only three years ago are now urging him to simply complete one term and go home.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let us go back to the concept of love since we are in the season of Valentine. Of all the books about romance that I have read, only few compare with “The Art of Seduction” where Robert Greene interrogated the process of creating a romantic spell, breaking down resistance and ultimately compelling a target (of love) to surrender. The characters in this game of seduction, by his thesis, include the Siren, the Rake, the Dandy, the Natural, the Coquette, the Charmer, the Charismatic etc.
Relying heavily on the memoirs of great romantic men and women in history, including Casanova, Don Juan, Errol Flynn and Marilyn Monroe as well as biographies of others like Cleopatra, Josephine Bonaparte, Mark Anthony and John F. Kennedy, the author provided insights into how seducers gain mastery over their targets. It is a story of Kingdoms that have been won and lost; lives that have been ruined as well as political and professional careers that have been made and unmade, especially on the laps of women–from the mediaeval age to contemporary times. However, even when the book uses seduction and the power associated with it as a metaphor of sorts, it is very clear that Greene is thinking beyond The Other Room because, according to him, “creating love and enchantment becomes the model for all seductions-sexual, social, political. A person in love will surrender.”
Easily the most fascinating chapter in the book is where the author identifies what he described as the ‘Seducer’s Victims’ with the most gullible (not his word) being the ‘Idol Worshippers’, those easily bamboozled to throw their energy into causes they hardly understand. The way to seduce these types, Greene argues, ”is to simply become their object of worship, to take the place of the cause or religion to which they are so dedicated. With this type you have to hide your flaws or at least to give them a saintly sheen…mirror the qualities they aspire to have for themselves and they will slowly transfer their adoration to you.”
No politician in the history of electioneering in Nigeria has successfully approximated that thesis to cultivate a winning national coalition as Buhari did effectively in 2015 against an incumbent president. Even when he spoke for less than 60 minutes, if we add together all his campaign speeches, his mere presence was enough to galvanise crowds into frenzy. By the time his young and beautiful wife came into the picture, the election was lost and won. But less than three years in office, the president is now being assailed on both the social and conventional media by the same forces that helped to bring him to power; perhaps because, as Greene also warned, Idol Worshipers “make perfectly adequate victims in the short term, but their endless need to search will eventually lead them to look for something new to adore…”
That many of the young people who idolized Buhari in 2015 have moved on is no longer in doubt, but what I find amusing in the defence by presidential handlers is that they cannot feel the public pulse. While they list what they argue are Buhari’s accomplishments, they fail to understand that in statecraft, especially in a diverse society like ours, small gestures are sometimes more important that grand achievements and it is in the former that their principal is failing spectacularly. For instance, I don’t know how many roads Buhari can build in the South-east with his Sukuk Bonds that will erase the memory of “five percent versus 97 percent” gaffe. The message from that, to borrow from this season of Valentine, is simple: affirming love and respect to a partner (or, as it is in the case, a people) is far more important than the act of offering expensive gifts.
The greater lesson is that the pursuit of equity in the distribution of opportunities in a plural society is not only important; a deviation or even a perception of deviation could cause problems for any leader. And to the extent that there has been no effective counter-narrative to the popular one in town that Buhari is a parochial and sectional leader, it is no surprise that the president has lost many of the ‘Idol Worshippers’ outside his traditional base who were rooting for him in 2015.
As I have argued in the past, for any Nigerian leader to succeed, he must be able to distinguish between, and sensitive to, ethnicity which promotes harmony in diversity and ethnocentrism which hinders growth and development. It was the late Ken Saro Wiwa who made a clear distinction between the two in his 1989 lecture at the University of Ibadan entitled “Ethnicity and National Development”. In his words: “Ethnicity is the fact of the ethnic group. It poses no danger to the nation. Ethnocentrism is the danger; it is the misuse of the ethnic group, of ethnic sentiments against other ethnic groups in a sterile competition.” A leader who cannot appreciate that and be deliberative in words and deeds is a sure candidate for failure.
President Buhari is a Fulani man and he owes nobody any apology for that; just as I consider it unfair that some people would assail him for any crime (real or imagined) associated with herdsmen. I also don’t understand why he should be held accountable for the stupid proposition of an attention-seeking professor in Kano that is making waves on WhatsApp. But then, the president has only himself to blame. For instance, following the recent tragedy in Benue State, his lack of empathy gave ammunition to his opponents who remember that on 14th July 2016, he travelled to Zamfara, dressed in army uniform, to launch “Operation Harbin Kunama”, a military offensive against cow rustlers and sundry armed bandits who threaten the lives and livelihoods of the inhabitants of Fulani hamlets between Dansadau area and Maradun – Zurmi axes of the state.
Although there is no sign that the situation in Zamfara State has improved (in fact,available evidence suggests it is actually getting worse, with several people being killed and communities being raided, almost on a daily basis), such a hands-on presidential response has been missing in dealing with other areas of conflicts. It may very well be his nature but staying aloof when the people, especially those that have always held him with suspicion, are hurting does not in any way help his cause. Nigerians expect their president to connect with them not only when our country is winning football matches (as Buhari’s handlers are ever quick to jump on with his small television) but more importantly in their moments of pain.
To compound the problem, some northern governors—smart enough to recognize that without Buhari raising their hands they cannot win on their own records—are making it look as if they love the president more than he loves himself by their desperate campaign that he must seek a second term. While we cannot deny Buhari his Constitutional right to seek re-election, should things continue the way they are in the country and he contests and wins in 2019, of what benefit is a hollow victory that history may not remember with kindness? Is that the legacy they wish for the president?
Therefore, if these governors truly love Buhari, it should worry them that under his watch, aside other existential challenges, the diversity which offers our nation unique opportunities for growth and development is gradually becoming in danger of being squandered through violent hostilities in which the protagonists use religion and tongues as markers to highlight and magnify our differences. Besides, there can be no bigger indictment than the fact that the president would be writing a letter to the Senate, controlled by his party, to dispute a resolution that questions his leadership on the Benue killings.
With his Defence Minister, Mansur Dan-Ali, making an irresponsible statement and his Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, behaving more like the head of the All Progressives Congress (APC) security wing than the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, how does the president expect to be trusted by a broad section of the country if he cannot call such men to order? The impression being unwittingly created is that these reckless public officials are speaking for him.
Meanwhile, I sympathise with Buhari because, given my experience in another world, things are not always what they seem and I am aware that presidents have access to the fuller picture on every issue. But to the extent that a crisis rooted in the politics of economic survival has been exploited to endanger inter-group relations in our country, he ought to have been more proactive in dealing with the challenge. He must understand that the moment a leader is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as being unable to rise above certain narrow and clannish interests, it is always very difficult to build the trust of all the critical stakeholders and without that trust, the society cannot advance.
While I wish all lovers, including those who have graduated to The Other Room, as well as the aspiring ones, Happy Valentine’s Day in advance, let me also use this opportunity to urge President Buhari to avail himself of the potential benefits of this season of love and mend his ways. Nigerians want a more caring, and fair minded leader. This is not asking too much of the president of a diverse, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation in the 21st Century.
Death and the Migrants
Following public reactions to my October 2015 Platform Lecture, ’If We Stay Here We Die‘, I started digging into the issue of irregular migration which last year gained traction with the burial in Italy of 26 female Nigerian migrants, “victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation,” according to Federico Soda, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Director for the Mediterranean. The book, which hopefully should be out by June, will detail not only the human tragedies but will also expose the actors that help these irregular migrants facilitate their perilous adventures across both the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea.
In addition to discounting the high probability of failure, what my interactions with IOM officials both in Nigeria and Italy (where I had a meeting last month) reveal is that most of those who embark on this dangerous exodus fail to consider the hazards of living as undocumented immigrants in their destination country even if they are successful. These include the probability of being detained, repatriated or framed for a crime they did not commit while the book explores the narratives that continue to drive our young men and women to undertake these treacherous journeys that most often end in sorrow and death for majority of them. It is a rather chilling but compelling story.