From The Great Trek To The Great Speech: The Making Of An Unusual Hero – By Lawson Oviasogie

buhari in london alone

There are some simpletons who are of the view that the emergence of a Change mantra is but a rejection of Goodluck rather than an acceptance of Buhari. While it is largely true that all men of good conscience were unanimous in rejecting Goodluck, it was also evident that there was only one man that could have succeeded in dislodging the incumbent from the Rock. Buhari may not be ‘a man for all seasons’, he is certainly the man for this season. After all, “a man called upon to be a hawk must be able to catch chickens”.

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The Dauran, often derided as the odd one out and often threatened by the established economic and political elites bent on maintaining the status-quo, has managed to reinvent himself and now provides a platform for Nigerians to dream again.  Now, that is no mean feat considering the abyss to which we have been plunged by years of misrule exacerbated by banal rent-seeking and cut-throat political clientelism. President Buhari goes to Aso Rock today as an unlikely hero and a common denominator in the country’s hope for redemption. The March 29 general election may not have been officially dubbed “Buhari grand finale”, the mood, as he took his oath of office two months later, surely bears comparison: his was a tale of persistence, courage and infinite belief in the innate  capability of man to reward integrity and honesty. As he transversed the landscape spreading the message of hope and change, his aura captured the world’s imagination.

Great leaders are viewed from two prisms: Those with the gift of charisma and power of oratory or those with the capability to disarm you with sheer sincerity. The former, Buhari lacked in abundance; the latter, he possessed in abundance. Nigerians believed him and took up his fight to ensure that for the fourth time running, he is not left bloodied again via a chastening defeat by the same cabals and circumstances that reduced him to tears in his last outing.

Muhammadu Buhari is no doubt a natural leader, just not, in popular opinion, a particularly pan-Nigerian specimen. He is sometimes bracketed as another of a band of fair-weather, ethnic fantasistas. He is more fittingly dressed in the garb of a dour, gaunt, rustic disciplinarian with a poor sense of oratorical prowess. His performance at the inaugural ceremony has, to all intents and purposes, confounded that theory. Showing none of the suavity of a prodigy he has however epitomized the emblem of progress. How did the transformation come about?

It started from mere change in nomenclature from GMB to PMB. Not necessarily a significant leap of faith but it signaled intent to open up the mind space to communal manifestations. Surrounded – even prodded – by brilliant and progressive minded political heavyweights, Buhari has managed to sputter more inspiring speeches in six months than any other public officer has managed since independence. There is a case, perhaps, for arguing that there is a pattern to this suddenness in style and substance, attitude and attributes, craft and graft. Buhari’s Chattam house speech in London was a subtle reminder of what to expect. His acceptance speech following Jonathan’s so-called concession phone call was laced with poetic devices alien to a retired general more famed for actions than words. To be sure, it was he (more appropriately, it was through him) we heard of the surreal phrase, “you voted for change, now change has come”. The deeper element of personifying the abstract noun change as if it was something you could hold was simple but elegant! He killed it when he said, in acknowledging the role of the electorates, “In a more profound way, it is you, Nigerians that have won”. Profound!

In all of these you could see the imprimatur of the sorcerer from Bourdillion. Just like his electoral victory of March 28, 2015, the masterstroke of May 29 was not a mere psychological victory built on sand. It was firmly planted on the platform sprouting from the same source Lai Mohammed conjures his Press Statements and where the Jagaban himself produces his own masterpieces. “I would like to thank the millions of our supporters who believed in us even when the cause seemed hopeless ……….I thank those who tirelessly carried the campaign on the social media”. His mention of the media in his address is instructive in that it acknowledges the increasingly pivotal roles the media (especially social media) plays in forging opinions and setting agenda. It was not so long ago that the media demonized and depicted Buhari in negative shadows. Just recently, the media in a bizarre volte face mirrored him as the hope of the entity called Nigeria. Recognizing the media as a double edged sword, the President made passionate plea to the fourth estate of the realm to, among other call, “exercise its considerable power with responsibility and patriotism”.

Now to the clincher, “having just a few minutes ago sworn on the Holy Book, I intend to keep my oath and serve as President to all Nigerians”. The next words from the President’s set jaw were the legend that got everyone squirming in their saliva. “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”. And the whole world caught fire. Social media platforms practically got bombed with the punch line, each participant weighing in with their own interpretation of whatever they thought he meant. In my brief spell in that noble profession of pedagogy, I tell my students that words have no meaning except in the context in which they are used. The literary/figurative device used here is paradox; where you place two opposite ideas side by side in a way that seems obtuse at first glance but at closer scrutiny carries deeper meaning.

It is just as well that the President has made an open declaration of fidelity to the larger Nigerians. On that score, I agree with him. He belongs to everybody as he bears with him the popular wishes and aspiration of a beleaguered nation dogged by years of despoliation and irresponsible government. Unlike successive government who rigged their ways to power ably teleguided by vested cabals, Buhari campaign was hijacked by the electorates who made the project theirs. It was a movement that swept aside everything in its path; warts and all. Buhari belongs to all other players within the political class who subsumed their own interest for the overall good of a common goal. He belongs to all those who put their name and reputation on the line by boarding the Buhari wagon. He belongs to the South east and South south people of Nigeria who didn’t vote for him but “contributed to make our democratic structure truly competitive, strong and definitive”. And because he belongs to all these categories of people (somebodies) and more, he cannot belong to nobody. The days ahead will give the truest meanings of the memorable phrase of belonging to everybody and not belonging to everybody in one breath.

While the jury is still out on the polemics or the socio-political dialectics inherent in key aspects of the 1,909 worded inaugural speech, the niggling reminders are all too ever present. Corruption, insecurity, rot in the oil sector, poverty, power, unemployment, impunity, criminal gap in wages between the workers and public servants, etc are some of the basic malaise we still contend with and these are the exact reasons for which a Muhammadu Buhari was elected to Aso Rock. Nigeria is sick and in dire need of a shot in the arm. For some reasons, Nigerians are convinced that GMB have the will and strength of character to administer the much needed prescription. That way, to use his very words, “Nigerians will not regret that they have entrusted national responsibility to us. We must not succumb to hopelessness and defeatism. We can fix our problems”. A quick fix would do just fine. Expectations are sky-high, legitimately so. From famine to feast in 100 days is a steep rise but Nigerians holds this government to a higher standard. For starters the CDD has set up, a platforms for tracking all of his promises and party manifesto. There is no hiding place for the reformed general!

I will proffer some useful suggestions. For one, the President must set up a crack team of Aides and Ministers placing premium on merit over any other consideration. Appointment must not be used to dispense political goodwill or gratification. More strikers on the field leading to more goals is overly reductive logic, but that is exactly what will happen if the President puts his best soldiers out on the firing line. Never in our lives may we have a Wike as Minister for Education. Corollary to this is the imperative for the President to display a bit of what the Spanish call ‘mala leche’, referring to a mean streak or some nastiness in a bid to rid the nation of saboteurs and criminal elements cycling the political landscape.  It is a trait that separates good Presidents from great ones. There is hardly a DIY manual on leadership, but there is something to be said for an organic natural flow to tackling a well-documented problem. The best chefs are hardly those who read cookery books but those who write them. Some visceral aggression is needed to stem the tide of retrogression.

While literary agents are still angling over whether Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” or Julius Caesar’s “tide in the affairs of men” is a befitting riposte to a grand speech, there is no doubting the fact that it takes great courage to quote Shakespeare in an inaugural speech. The jury is already out on Buhari few days in office. Were the President to withstand the weight of expectations, he would need more than just the courage required to draw parallel with the works of an art maestro. He would need the visceral steel of personal conviction and also the help of all Nigerians to deliver on the promises.

Lawson Oviasogie

National Assembly Complex, Abuja  09051167809

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