Written by Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let me say emphatically that our dear beloved country has never been in short demand or adequate supply of useless rumours. We all love gossip of all kinds, mundane or sublime, plausible or outrageous. We enjoy junk and gobble up any news in sight, no matter how ridiculously far-fetched. I remember one hot story during the last Presidential campaign of 2015. Major General Muhammadu Buhari had left Nigeria to London. His main mission was to honour an invitation from the influential Chatham House. I don’t know if he had other reasons to visit London but rumour soon had it that he was brain dead. I had wondered why no one waited a few more days to see if he would surface and speak at his Chatham House engagement. There was so much hoopla and hullaballoo all over the place. At a stage, even I started believing the naysayers, such was the volume and monotony of the babble. A call from Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki rescued my sanity. He confirmed that the People’s General was going to honour his appointment and face a barrage of questions. APC was not yet in disarray at that time and the members worked in unison. The only problem was that there was no one on ground to handle the media fallout during and after the event. I told Dr Saraki I had just left London the day before and was back in Accra, Ghana. I promised to see what I could do.
My number one priority was to get fantastic coverage for the event and so my first duty was to contact our international photographer, Dragan Mikki, in Canterbury. It was already too late to seek and obtain media accreditation. Two, such an assignment would require the audacity and tenacity of a warhorse like Dragan who has the guts of a lion and the friendliness of a dove. Dragan would talk his way through the labyrinth of fire unhurt. Next, we’ll need to set up a situation office somewhere safe and private from where we can report the event live and control cyberspace. I had been reliably informed that the Director-General of the Muhammadu Buhari Presidential campaign organisation, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, was going to be in London and the hotel where he was going to stay was also disclosed. I decided last minute to return to London. For me, oju oloju ko le jo oju eni (another man’s eyes can never be as effective as one’s own). I had to make this sacrifice for my country even if I was not (and still not) a member of APC.
Off I went back to London and landed the following morning. Dr Saraki was stunned when information reached him that I had purchased my own ticket and headed back to London the day after I left the historic city. I had arranged a room at the Intercontinental Park Lane where Dragan joined me to plan a major media blitz. Amaechi was shocked to see me in the hotel. We discussed briefly before he drove off to Chatham House with Dragan Mikki in tow. I managed to set up a one-man riot squad in my room with blistering broadband internet in tandem. I was ready to blast the news to a global audience. Dragan was instructed to feed me with live and exclusive pictures as the event unfolded. Trust Dragan, he over-delivered.
First, he meandered his way through the extensive and elaborate security and got extraordinary shots of Buhari’s private meeting with former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. This was getting too good to be true. So “Buhari was not brain dead as widely speculated”, I soliloquised. My confidence returned in full force. Buhari actually wowed his captive audience as he answered most questions with as much candour and humour as possible. I was impressed and elated. My coming back to London was not a wasted journey after-all. There was a motley crowd of demonstrators gathered outside, ostensibly hired by the PDP ruling government to inflict as much humiliation and psychological damage on Buhari. Not wanting to take any risk, the British Metropolitan Police spirited Buhari out of Chatham House in James Bond version. He was ferried in a nondescript van to his modest rented apartment in Mayfair. I later got a call from Amaechi asking me to join the retired Army General.
I was delighted to join Buhari and company. Amaechi, Sirika, Farouk, Hadiza, Keyamo and others were present in the flat. Buhari was in a relaxed mood and he stood up to welcome me and pose for pictures. He obviously and definitely did not appear like a man who had any brain damage. That done, I plotted my exit from London and returned to Accra. Those who said Buhari was already a vegetable never explained if it was his ghost that spoke at Chatham House or if he had resurrected from the dead. And they certainly did not render any apologies to their misled audience. Sad.
Sure, Buhari has suffered health challenges, like all mortals, since winning the election and becoming President. He is after all in his seventies and has had a long and chequered military career. He has been away on long absences for medical treatment and constitutionally handed over power temporarily to his Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. The bad news is that the rumours that dogged him in 2015 have been upgraded each time he’s had to travel. As usual, Buhari has been killed on social media many times, all to no avail in the physical realm. The most charitable ones have declared him to be in coma claiming a few members of the Buhari cabal have been ruling by proxy, whatever that means. Anyway. The truth, as we have been told by the Acting President, Professor Osinbajo following his whistle-stop visit to the President in Abuja House, Kensington, London, is that President Buhari is hale and hearty, albeit recuperating from an undisclosed ailment, and is due to return home shortly to the consternation and chagrin of his detractors.
That latest rumour about Buhari vegetating in London thus seemed to have been debunked in one fell swoop by this sudden trip of Professor Osinbajo to London for a quick but meaningful meeting with the once ailing but now “recuperating President.” A few things became clear to me. One, President Buhari is still unwell but not as bad as being rumoured. Two, the visit was a masterstroke, as President Buhari offered Acting President Osinbajo a chance to discuss with him directly instead of listening to emissaries and dealing with third parties. Three, Buhari shows himself as loving Nigeria more than most people are willing to acknowledge by stylishly displaying a synergy between himself and his deputy. Four, the meeting is a warning signal to over-ambitious elements who may wish to be opportunistic by attempting to seize power through the backdoor. Five, it looks like a less than subtle ringing endorsement of Osinbajo as the man in charge and a super warning to would-be plotters to stay off. Six, this is a team that is thriving on the trust and respect that the President and his Vice have for one another. Seven, Buhari is confident he would recover fully and return to work as soon as his health permits. These are my personal thoughts and my prayers are with the President.
As for those accusing Osinbajo of being squeamish and not working at full capacity out of fear, they should understand that the worst thing a man can be accused of disloyalty. If one thing is clear from the debacle unfolding before us, it is that Professor Osinbajo is a man of integrity who is not given to playing the kind of games that politicians are renowned for. Indeed, by his simple mien and resolute commitment to dealing with the task at hand, he is outsmarting and defeating those who wish him and the administration ill. If I were in Osinbajo’s shoes, I’m sure I’ll be very careful to avoid any suspicion of disloyalty. I therefore respect Osinbajo for his principled stance and temperate character. His boss has constitutionally transferred power to him as Acting President and there is nothing more to be desperate about. Buhari’s taciturnity is the reason many think and talk for him. But he has demonstrated, even in ill-health, that he wants no division in his government and Osinbajo remains his major ally. Contrary to the rumours being spread by unscrupulous elements in the polity, Osinbajo is demonstrating great courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity. His opponents grudgingly understand this but would like to paint the picture that his sure-footedness is borne of timidity and trepidation for the unknown rather than the steadfastness and adeptness of a man who knows what he is doing and where he wants to be and is prepared to be tactful and cautious to achieve the goal of a prosperous and corruption free Nigeria.
Nigeria has more to gain in an atmosphere of peace and unity. Those who harbour Presidential ambitions should pursue their dreams responsibly and within the realm of the Constitution. It is pointless flying futile kites, in flights of fancy. No amount of silent whispers and poisonous innuendos can destroy something that has the heavenly seal of approval. Whilst it is anyone’s right to aspire, it’s certainly not anyone’s space to destabilise a government that is beginning to gather steam and ready to fly.