Friday, August 6, 2021 12:01 am
By Chris Anyokwu
“Nigeria for Nigerians”. The phrase sounds like President Donald J. Trump’s extreme, alt-right isolationist policy, a strand of which was the “Make America Great Again” battle-cry. But Tunde Bakare’s “Nigeria for Nigerians” declaration is not a variation on Trumpian triumphalism, his attempt to sunder the world. However, Bakare’s declaration (some would say outburst) is pregnant with meaning and that is what we intend to find out in this article, namely: to deliver his assertion of its (hopefully) multiple “children”.
People have wondered: but why does Tunde Bakare care so much? As we say in pidgin English: Na only him dey for Nigeria? It is not clear why he’s so consumed with the idea of Nigeria. Perhaps, we might need to investigate his family history and background to find out why. And, perhaps, it has to do with his education, his profession as a lawyer and clergyman. Maybe we should seek the answer in his personal temperament. It is, also, not unlikely that he is simply acting out a prophecy on his life, a prophecy given by a relative, say, his uncle, aunt, Dad or Mum. Or, even an important visitor to their home during boyhood. These things happen, trust me. We must also not overlook or discountenance the shaping influence of a single life-defining event in his life that might have made up his mind for him, making him say to himself: “It’s me and this country, Nigeria!” Is it not possible, fellow Nigerians, that a combination of all of the above has gone into the forging of the person we all know today as Pastor Tunde Bakare? As long as I can remember, Tunde Bakare has been at the bridgehead of popular (some, again, would say populist) struggle, of agitation for radical change and the improvement of the quality of life of the Nigerian citizen.
He has seized our collective imagination for over two decades with his tele-evangelism and campaign for ethical revolution anchored – it has to be conceded-on Biblical principles and paradigms. One is always fascinated and intrigued hearing him quote both from the Holy Quran and the Bible with accustomed facility and sometimes sing Muslim songs with such unaffected self-identification. You could sense the lingering hold his childhood religion, Islam still has on him. What does one say about his dress sense, with everything tailored to fit? If anything, his refined and polished sartorial taste would endear him to you even if you quarrel with his politics; his religion. His public persona is arguably unassailable combining as he does his training as a legal luminary, businessman, motivational speaker, and, more importantly, pastor. Tunde Bakare thus commands a deeply respectable sense of gravitas. His word carries power and power waits upon his word. To be sure, his cult following stretches from here to across the Seven Seas. It didn’t, therefore, come as a surprise when he joined politics. We can only speculate as to who and what led him down that path. Perhaps some members of the inner-circle in his church; perhaps his close associates and perhaps – you guessed it! – God spoke to him to throw his hat into the ring, that charmed circle of Nigerian politics, a veritable vortex or cesspool which usually makes mincemeat of hitherto clean characters. Hence people say politics is dirty and should therefore be left for dirty people. Crucially, herein lies the dilemma of Nigeria. If politics is left to dirty people, should clean people complain if and when the same dirty people lead everybody to the bottomless pit? Isn’t it because of the Holier-than-thou standoffishness of the clean ones that has brought us all to this present sorry pass?
From Independence in 1960 to date, haven’t the so-called dirty people been leading us down the slippery slope to perdition? But, on the other hand, what a risk of corruption, of falling from grace, the clean, the righteous run by “joining them”! Is it worth it, after all? Is the vexed and embattled soul of Nigeria worth staking one’s eternal destiny? This is the unspoken, underlying fear of the conservative arm of the Church in Nigeria. It is not particularly clear whether or not, for instance, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo got Pastor Enoch Adeboye’s nod before he “joined them”.
The VP’s storied political adversities are proof of the risks attendant upon dining with the Devil, with or without a long spoon. But there’s a growing liberal, if not permissive tendency, almost a restless, vociferous and in-your-face movement in the latter-day church today. This new-fangled “mixed multitude” seems intent upon storming the Bastille; upon seizing political power, especially at the centre, by the scruff of the neck; upon diluting the burgeoning Northernisation (with religious overtones) of power.
For example, when Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria’s Vice President held the fort in the briefest of Buhari’s absence, tongues had begun to wag. People were alleging quite invidiously that the Pentecostals had taken over the Villa.
Names were mentioned; faces shown. Needless to add, the growing role of religion in Nigerian politics is becoming extremely concerning by the day.
The foregoing excursus only serves to provide a context to Tunde Bakare’s recent outburst that he was going to start a movement tagged “Nigeria for Nigerians”. Was Nigeria not for Nigerians before now? Is any foreigner contesting the ownership, the title deed of Nigeria with bona fide Nigerians? This is a very grave question, indeed. But so far what we have witnessed here in the country is a general attitude of cavalier insouciance typified by casual dismissal of the Bakare noisemaking. The political elite typically cannot be bothered as they are already jockeying for 2023 and the electorate itself is bemused by it all. Without going into details, it is reasonable to assume that Tunde Bakare is as concerned and worried as most patriotic Nigerians are about the unchecked influx of foreigners into Nigeria, since the Buhari-led government threw our borders open with the “No-Visa-Required” entry requirement.
Both religious and political leaders from the north have told us that the terrorists wreaking havoc in our forests, farms and towns in the south are foreign Fulani herdsmen. Katch Ononugu, an opposition politician once declared on Channels Television that he once encountered some of these French-speaking terrorists sowing mayhem across Nigeria. Furthermore, the Emir of Muri has hit instant stardom by urging Buhari’s security forces to rein in these same aliens, threatening to order them killed should these terrorists invade his emirate. With the federal government’s drive to electronically and digitally register all Nigerians on the NIN programme, the worry remains that these foreign elements who have infiltrated our midst could be registered as well. We should bear in mind also that Bauchi State Governor has also declared that Fulani people from other countries are welcomed to Nigeria and should be accorded rights of citizenship.
Is it not instructive and curious also that the word “Maradi” now enjoys wide currency in Nigeria? One wouldn’t be surprised to hear people asking if Maradi is the new capital of Nigeria. That’s how far we have travelled towards the pitiless heart of Sahara. And we have got roads and railway lines to show for our new-found Sahelian brotherhood. There is so much to say on this but we should reserve it until the appropriate time and place. One truly empathises with Bakare regarding his “cross”. Here’s a man who dumped ethnicity and other divisive factors to identify with PMB as his running-mate in the early years of Buhari’s presidential ambition. Even when PMB became president and started his trademark nepotistic appointments and ethno-religious policies and programmes,
Tunde Bakare never tired of defending him, spinning alibi after alibi in order to absolve him of blame and urging Nigerians to be patient with him. It is not unlikely that Bakare must have privately approached PMB, beseeching him to take pity on Nigerians and give his administration a human face. PMB probably must have shooed him off his imperial presence, trampling his advice underfoot. Now, Bakare appears to have laid down the marker and drawn a line in the sand as far as his relationship with Buhari is concerned. A lot of people have derided Bakare calling him a noisemaker. They say he cannot be trusted, that he is known for sudden volte-face, oftentimes citing divine instruction. But who can question God? Thus they fear that he might not be able to rally the troops this time around. Besides, some argue that he ought to APOLOGISE to Nigerians for his role in foisting PMB on them. Should he or should he not apologise? That’s the question. Nasir el-Rufai has said that the root of Nigeria’s crisis is the lack of elite consensus. He has hit the bull’s eye. But one likes to think of Nigeria as a game of soccer played by politicians and the ball is the electorate, the longsuffering Nigerians. So, as the intra-class squabbles among our rulers gather momentum and steam, all we can do is: siddon look, and pray. Previously, Bakare came with the Save Nigeria Group, this time, it’s Nigeria for Nigerians. And he says: It’s fire next time!
Chris Anyokwu, PhD, writes from University of Lagos.