Mixed metaphors: Hollowness in high places

*Gbajabiamila, Lawan

Sonala Olumhense

First, I congratulate Nigeria’s 17 Southern states which on Tuesday made a major proclamation about the insecurity in Nigeria and banned open grazing of cattle in the region.

At its meeting the Southern Governors’ Forum (SGF), troubled by the insecurity and tottering state of Nigeria, offered urgent recommendations, including a demand that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) address the nation, the convoking of a national dialogue, instituting a state police system, and Buhari’s notorious practice of nepotism.

They were swiftly supported on Wednesday by federal legislators from the South, and on Thursday by members of the northern minority caucus in the House of Representatives.

Meeting with journalists on Thursday, Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State also supported his southern colleagues, although he did not address the question of cattle grazing directly.

On that, he had declared his support of AK-47 rifles and other weapons for Fulani herdsmen, saying that “society and government failed to protect them.”

Mohammed, referring specifically to Benue State and the uproar over violent herders, accused Governor Samuel Ortom, of having “started all this,” explaining: “If you don’t accommodate other tribes, we are also accommodating your people in Bauchi and other places…Has anyone asked them to go? We have not because it is their constitutional right to be there.”

For his part, Governor Ortom applauded the resolve of his southern counterparts, saying that anyone who opposes the ban on open grazing has a hidden agenda.

In Thursday’s interaction with journalists, Governor Mohammed surprisingly criticised nepotism in the Federal Government, as well as its handling of the economy.

“What they are best known for is the blame game.  They are not even fighting the corruption they claimed to be fighting,” said the former minister, whose corruption trial is on suspension during his governorship. “There’s more corruption; perceptions are built that there are sacred cows; there are gods in this country who cannot be touched.”

The key problem last week was not the SGF’s announcement.  It was that they seemed to think, contrary to every evidence, that President Buhari would act on their words to halt the drift towards chaos.

Address the nation?

Pushed to the brink, Buhari is certain to make a speech.  That is not because he believes in anything but because he has speechwriters and because he has propagandists and sundry defenders of the status quo who will set him up in front of TV cameras.

The truth is that not since Buhari ran for office has he shown interest in, or capacity for engaging the nation in conversation.  If he ever had the confidence to speak to Nigerians in a public and unscripted setting, he has somehow lost it.  Better still, he believes he can ride the charade.

In this regard, observe how Buhari, “speaking with State House correspondents” following Eid prayers at the presidential villa last Thursday—according to a presidential press statement—asked Nigerians for “more understanding.”

But the Channels Television video shows no conversation with journalists at all, only a rambling soliloquy with one microphone that fills the discerning viewer with great hopelessness.

The statement authored by Buhari’s spokesman did not descend low enough to report that those in attendance at the Eid included Ahmed Lawan, the President of the Senate, and Femi Gbajabiamila, the Speaker of the House: two men who have reduced the legislative branch of the government to a miserable branch of the executive.  I guess that to have admitted the presence of both men, and that they spoke to journalists, would have confirmed that both arms of the government are now in bed, full-time.

But the two men apparently addressed the press as such, one believing he is Femi Adesina, and the other, Garba Shehu.

Lawan dismissed the call of the SGF for the restructuring of the country.  His “reasoning”?  Elected officials should not be leading such an agitation.

Besides, Lawan said, the worsening security situation in the country is a result not of Buhari’s incompetence, but of the “lack of a functional local government system.”

Gbajabiamila must have been nodding his head like a well-fed lizard.  He told the journalists that elected leaders and state governors lacked the voice to lead the restructuring agenda unless they had accomplished the agenda in the states.

And this is despite the fact that the House, which he leads, and at his instance, has scheduled a national security summit (its third since 2018), for all of next week, following a Special Ad Hoc Committee on the subject which he set up on March 17.  That work is strongly related to the subject of restructuring, with some Reps saying they will consider the option of impeaching Buhari if nothing changes after the summit.

Lawan’s characterisation of the NGF as an “agitation” confirms the attitude and position of the executive.  And Gbajabiamila’s statement on restructuring in the states means that next week’s security summit is meaningless even before he hosts it, and that the legislature has neither the heart nor the mind to work for the people.

What the NGF has achieved, in my view, is better than what it thought it was doing, and that is to drive the concept of leadership.  Not only does Nigeria lack leadership, officials in high places routinely lack the heart to work for the people.  I call it hollowness in high places.

That said, all the wisdom in the country is not only in the South, nor is all the malice and incompetence in the North.  Members of the SGF are as responsible for the decay and chaos in the country as their counterpart politicians in the North.

In this respect, there is a nugget to be identified in the tragic words of Gbajabiamila: southern governors have the light of the nation on them, and they must demonstrate—not by words but by example—that they are capable of true service.

The governors must leave Buhari’s insufficiency and insouciance behind and work not simply for the South but for the country.  They must now swiftly develop legislation not only against open grazing, as they have agreed, but for ranching as the acceptable economic template, and demonstrate how they propose to support those who wish to take advantage of it.

Southern governors ought to reject and abandon Buhari’s negativity and neuroses, and work with their willing northern colleagues as well as ranchers and investors to develop this economic template.

In the end, the challenge of the moment is to find creative ways of surmounting our problems, beginning with the menace of insecurity.  Southern governors must understand that the time has come when only results of effort and character will serve.  And if they are criticising Buhari’s nepotism, they must demonstrate that they do not suffer a similar affliction in their states.

Words and pretensions are not enough.  Do the right thing, or history will number you in the same column as Buhari.


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