Absentee president in a season of Corona Virus 

Absentee president in a season of Corona Virus 

Sunday, March 22, 2020 7:30 am

Festus Adedayo

If citizens of the world didn’t know that they lived in a global village, the COVID-19, otherwise known as the Corona Virus, has demonstrated this starkly. Virtually all parts of the world have paused on account of the ravaging pestilence, with very earth-shaking implications for the global economy. Even world leaders with war-like inclinations have come to realize, to their shame, that the virus is killing more people than bullets and armoury can at the war front. In this global shutdown, Nigeria has also wriggled herself into its consequences.

As barrels of crude oil become ten-a-penny in the global market, its impact for a Nigerian economy with its monolithic colour, a kick-and-follow economy that is cobbled together by shoe strings, becomes very scary. And when individualizing a people who were used to milling around one another becomes a solution to the ravaging virus, dictating that the people had to go back into their individual cocoons, Nigeria and an egregious Africa are suffering the virus’ aftermath more than other societies. Our locus of social joy like owambe parties had to go for the anger of the virus to subside; the euphoria of religion, sustained overtime by people gathering together to worship, had to be deflated and our togetherness had to be prized apart because the virus demands isolation. It has been long since the globe felt a blow as total and consequential as this.

The Corona statistics are benumbing. As of now, the world is battling with 284, 712 cases of those already affected, with worldwide fatalities from the blows of the virus surging past 11,842. The death toll is said to have surpassed 5,000 in Europe; Italy, Spain and Germany reporting a steep rise in the number of infected. As at Saturday, according to a Johns Hopkins University in the United States data, over 277,000 infections in the world have been recorded and a number of 88,000 recovery made of victims. It is so bad that Armageddon preachers are harvesting tonnes of converts into their teaching that the end of the world had indeed come.

In Nigeria, figures being bandied still look too unrealistic and incomprehensible, taking into consideration who we are and what we are – a statistically inept people. As I write this, Nigeria has had 22 index cases. Right now, no cogent case could be said to have been scientifically apprehended. Due to the proximity of the Corona virus to hay fever in their presentations, as well as some other similar ailments, anyone presenting with symptoms similar to the virus is immediately bundled for a quarantine. But anyone who knows the ancient lackadaisical attitudes of Nigerian governments and people, as well as the porous Nigerian borders would know that some things just don’t add up on the corona virus pestilence figure in Nigeria. For instance, there are several unmanned Nigerian borders where land migrations occur almost every hour. There is a direct flight from Sudan to Kano and other airports other than Lagos. If you add these to the fact that the average Nigerian self-medicates, we jolly well could have figures of the pestilence that are far more than officialised statistics.

In the midst of these grim realities, world leaders are giving hope to their constituents. In Africa, leaders of Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and other lesser countries are giving the pet talks that coaches give their footballing sides at moments when the balls are not hitting the nets, to their people. Not only are those presidents giving succor to the people by articulating what their governments have done so far to defeat the deadly virus, it is at moments like this that phrasal nuggets come out of their lips. “Together, we shall overcome,” “this virus cannot break our will to live,” “humanity is stronger than Corona” are some of the phrases that citizens of the world have heard from their leaders which give them hope and a can-do spirit to defeat this deadly epidemic. In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari is, as they say in the Army, AWOL from his own people. He has always been anyway. Mum is the word from a man who was ostensibly elected by millions of Nigerians to be their burden-sharer. Except in photo-ops where he is decorated to be in bubbling moods, Nigerians have recorded sparse or nil interface with their president since he was sworn in. He doesn’t speak to them, they have no moment whatsoever with him, except from the omnibus press releases issued from the Villa. It is so bad that even journalists who cover the Aso Villa cannot say the last time they heard the Nigerian President speak at functions.

This Buhari government hubris is unprecedented in the dialogical history of Nigeria’s Heads of State and their people. Even General Sani Abacha, with his suspected deficiency in communication, at a conservative estimate, dialogued with Nigerians more than Buhari. The situation is so bad that recently, a photograph of the President commissioning a project was shared on Twitter. When enlarged and seen at close quarters, it showed that the one-sentence statement Buhari was meant to make, recited off-hand by people with flowing cognitive abilities, was gummed to his front. Which gods did the Nigerian people offend to arrive at this gory and unimaginable intersection?

The pestilence of silence from Buhari is perhaps more catastrophic than the Corona virus. It is so loud that it gives credence to strong permutations, rumours and indications that sieve in that Buhari is gravely incapacitated and Nigerians may just be contending with a James Hadley Chase’s Make the Corpse Walk effigy. Last month, the polity was jolted when a secret memo dated December 9, 2019, from the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, was leaked. It indicated that Buhari might have overtime been mummified from what happens in the security of Nigeria, and by inference, from the governance of Nigeria as a whole. The memo had accused Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, of what it called undue and dangerous interference in matters that bordered on national security. Monguno alleged that Kyari gives directives to service chiefs as if they emanated from the President, warning that “Chief of staff to the president is not a presiding head of security, neither is he sworn to an oath of defending the country.”

The need to give hope to the people at this trying times apparently forced the Senate to resolve at plenary last Wednesday that Buhari must address Nigerians on the raging virus. While urging the federal government to shut down all international airports, leaving Lagos and Abuja airports so that the disease could be adequately monitored, the Buhari government was to adhere to the latter advice only and ignored the former. The call came through a point of order raised by Danjuma Goje, former governor of Gombe and was supported by Senators Oluremi Tinubu, George Sekibo, Sam Egwu and Emmanuel Bwacha.

With a suddenness akin only to the spread of the virus at issue, the Villa upbraided Nigerians who wondered why their usually absent president had to extend his vacation at this time of the raging calamity. To Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, asking the Nigerian President to speak words of comfort to the people who allegedly elected him into office at this low time of their lives was ‘populist advocacies’ ‘cheap and sensational’ which he said are unnecessary at this time.

“Populist advocacies such as the one accusing the President of ‘complacency’ simply because he has not made a television address by ranking members of our respected parliament are cheap and sensational. These are not the times for populism and cheap politics…We also plead with Nigerians not to see this most peculiar of times as one to be politicised or seen as an opportunity to regurgitate grudges against the government or the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). North, South, East, and West – all Nigerians must unite to fight this plague, irrespective of religious or ideological affiliation,” he said.

Now, if this is the reasoning of the Nigerian presidency, we have a far greater calamity meandering into our open bodily parts than the Corona Virus. So it is sensational, it is politics and it is divisive to have a man who volunteered to preside over Nigeria address his people? It is sensationalism for him to tell Nigerians who are united in their resolve to banish the Corona virus pestilence from their borders that there was no cause for alarm? Of all those members of the Presidential Coordination Committee that is chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), which of them did Nigerians elect who can effectively gauge their sorrow and apprehension? More importantly, is it rocket science for a president to address his people? 

This absolute flight of discretion, apparently borne out of the need to shawl Buhari from a public interface with his failings, suspected to be associated with a cognition challenge and disorders associated with, have made Buhari and his minders to fester in their self-righteousness. It is getting to the level of absurdity of Albert Camus’ hue. In their rationalization and legitimization of the absurdities of the Buhari presidency, the Villa is unwittingly confronting Nigerians with a Buhari whose rule bears a striking resemblance to the absurd that the Greek myth of Sisyphus tries to connote. Camus, in his philosophy of the absurd, espoused these absurdities too. Sisyphus, so says the myth, pushes the rock up to the mountain top and immediately he gets to the top, rolls the rock back down the valley, till the end of life. Aso Rock keeps rolling to and fro the Buhari boulder to the top of the mountain and down the valley, hoping this will shroud the reality of his challenges from vision of the public. Why is Aso Rock pushing Nigerians to their limit like this? Is it such an impossible task to tell Nigerians that Buhari suffers from some disability which will make his cognition of the process of talking to Nigerians difficult? And does the Villa think Nigerians don’t know already?


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