Monday, April 19, 2021

Presidential infirmity: The futility of cameo, by Louis Odion


Jaafar Jaafar
Jaafar Jaafar is a graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. He was a reporter at Daily Trust, an assistant editor at Premium Times and now the editor-in-chief of Daily Nigerian.
tiamin rice

In case they don’t yet know, budding spin doctors who conspired behind Aso Rock high walls to package ailing President Buhari to, against all wild expectations and cold permutations, make a dramatic office appearance on Tuesday should by now be patting themselves on the back for a distinction they, in all probability, never anticipated: letting the world of political strategy into a new tactic called “presidential cameo appearance”.

The new phrase undoubtedly lengthens the list of others elite words and terms that have cropped up lately as the nation grapples with recession amid the unearthing of cash in unspeakable quantity in the most unlikely locations.

So, today, consistent with our tradition on this space, we shall, in exercise of our poetic license, press the still button on otherwise nagging matters and proceed to define and contextualize the most notable of such emerging vocabularies, if only for the sake of the uninitiated.

Cameo appearance: In Nollywood, they call it “waka pass”. It refers to a brief role in a movie usually reserved for a known thespian.

Its political equivalent starring no less a mega-star than PMB himself would materialize in Abuja on Tuesday in what is turning a riveting national circus. Just as the three fabled three musketeers (OBJ, IBB and Abdulsalami) were regrouping in Minna with the conspiratorial stealth of old housewives to – what else – ponder and possibly strategize in view of growing uncertainty over Buhari’s health, the old wily infantry general from Daura opted to apply what, in martial parlance, is termed “preemptory strike.”

Against doctor’s reported frantic advice, he suddenly surfaced in the office.

In case the usually blunt Ota chicken farmer had prepared a communique to read to the swarm of pesky news-hounds waiting outside the Minna Hilltop mansion and, typically, voice what many would rather whisper furtively behind closed doors these days, native discretion must have led him into quickly perishing the thought following news that PMB was back in the office and, in fact, absorbed in a flurry of meetings.

Military generals are thought to be experts in the arcane art and science of violence. But the wise one knows when to halt the offensive and retreat. Lest he is misconstrued to be coveting another man’s harem while the man is still alive and kicking.

But how a glass-fragile fakir, earlier wildly speculated by busybodies to be vegetating at the point of incapacitation – if not death, suddenly summoned the extraordinary athleticism to pull off such a feat in physiological vitality is still a mystery, even at this writing. The stuff only expected in the realm of magic realism writing.

Note, PMB was said to have just appeared in the office. But none of the ubiquitous State House reporters could say with clarity – much less confidence – that they sighted him physically. Not even the omni-present NTA could boast textual or electronic evidence of the said august appearance. Was he wearing his trademark tight-fitting kaftan or austere Agbada or the loose house-robe he donned in London with Arabian skull cap to match?

Then, it became the duty of the Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister and the NNPC sheik to announce to an unbelieving nation that, even while in obvious distress, Baba still had the diligence and presence of mind to agonize whether NNPC was meeting OPEC quota and shudder at the continued insolence of the National Assembly in delaying the passage of the tons of anti-graft bills trucked to their chamber in the last two years.

Even, the First Lady also momentarily abandoned her assigned territory of “kitchen, living room and the other room” to broadcast live via tweet as her husband’s crucial meetings progressed. By the way, she added, tales being peddled about her beloved husband’s ailment are grossly exaggerated.

Curiously, PMB’s accredited spokesmen and super-efficient Info Minister were suddenly missing in action.

But hopes that the president was finally approaching the last bend on the road to full recovery were again dashed barely 24 hours later as he failed to turn up at the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting – the fourth time in a roll.

Doubtless, the intention of the Tuesday’s cameo appearance by PMB was to reassure the nation. But shouldn’t the energy have been conserved for the more crucial Wednesday FEC meeting to make a greater impression?

Pay slip: Doughty Mallam Nasir el-Rufai charted the new waters. To leave no one in doubt when challenged pointedly by Speaker Dogara to come clean on the security vote believed to be flowing into his office as Governor of Kaduna State, he could not think of a better testimonial than his pay slip.

Until now, pay slip would ordinarily be regarded strictly a man’s best kept secret. And for good reasons. Since pay packet was thought a measure of the worth of the man’s labour, it was therefore conceded that the details be concealed.

But after el-Rufai – a whole governor at that! – shared his publicly, the fever seems to be spreading like bush fire during harmattan. In fact, given the increasing erosion of public confidence in the efficacy of oath undertaken over the regular holy books, this would, in a way, seem the new form of swearing.

In response to el-Rufai’s counter charge that the budget of the House of Reps be made public if the lawmakers don’t have anything to hide, Dogora acted in kind by publicizing his own pay slip to show that he, the supposed No 4 citizen by order of precedence, earns far less than a governor whose sphere of influence is perhaps only a little more than provincial.

Vocal emir of Kano just joined the trail. In what undoubtedly opens a new chapter in royal submission to public scrutiny, His Royal Majesty Sanusi Lamido Sanusi few days ago tendered via the social media his pay slip indicating a monthly take-home of N1m circa, contrary to the N4m claimed by traducers.

Recall that the banker-turned-royalty with a tongue unusually too sharp for traditional ruler has come under heavy artillery fire lately, obviously orchestrated by the high and mighty at the receiving end of his unsparing barbs; the most devastating being the one that pooh-poohed the notion that divine wrath against fornicators – and not official dereliction – triggered the recent outbreak of polio in northern states, exacting colossal human toll.

Now, by alleging that HRM pockets a cool N4m, gallivanting about in eye-popping limos and splurging tens of millions of endless chatter on the telephone at taxpayers’ expense, they want to portray Sanusi as a shameless hypocrite who never practises what he preaches so venomously.

Well, all said, pay slip remains a pay slip. More like the proverbial bikini – what it reveals pales into insignificance compared to what it hides. The pay slips the likes of Dogaras and el-Rufai readily flaunt today are conveniently silent on the “real meat” – the fantastic estacode and other perks drawn indiscriminately.

PINE (Apple): Mention “pine…” to a pupil of any kindergarten school, what you are likely to hear next is the shout of “Apple” in excitement. The reason is not far-fetched. A member of the citrus family, this fruit is a culinary wonder and many a kid’s delight.
Sweet as it may taste, youngsters are however always forewarned to eat pine-apple in moderation, less it runs their tummies.

But among adults today, especially those who have business near the National Assembly in Abuja, the mention of “PINE” surely evokes dark foreboding, if not outright nightmares.

Ordinarily, it is the abbreviation for the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE). But what seems to make the matter even more sticky, if not emotive, is that it was conceived to bring succor to hundreds of thousands of poor folks displaced by Boko Haram insurgency.
Instead, the Senate committee reported that Babachir Lawal chose to feast on the misery of his own people by abusing his office as the Secretary to the Federal Government to award grass-cutting contract to a company where he had interest. The sum of N220m is alleged to have ended in his pocket as kickback. A charge he stoutly denied.

Having been given an opportunity to defend himself before a high-level administrative panel which sat in Aso Rock at Buhari’s behest in the past two weeks, Lawal’s fate will be known in the days ahead.

But even before then, it is pointless asking Babachir Lawal whether there is any wisdom in the folksy admonition to the little ones that “too much pine-apple is not good”. Now suspended over weighty allegations of gorging on PINE contracts, no one is indeed better placed than him to confirm that when over-indulged, the otherwise vitamins-packed fruit could result in fatal diarrhea.

Jollof rice: It must be a wicked world indeed. Assailed over the time by enemies of progress (who would corrupt even his name “Lai” to mean “Lie”), the feisty Information minister must have seen in the simple question by CNN’s Richard Quest as to who makes the best jollof rice a once-a-life-time opportunity to show how brutally forthright he could be. Without hesitation or batting an eyelid while fielding question on the global channel last week, the like-able Lai Mohammed retorted that “They make the best jollof rice in Senagal”.
Thinking it was a slip of tongue, Quest restated the question: “Who makes the best jollof rice in Africa?”

Mohammed, resplendent in flowing Agbada, repeated with the jerk of head in confidence: “They make the best jollof rice in Senegal that I know.”

Thereafter, all hell literally let loose in the social media (the boundless hideout of those he laments have been making his job difficult). As if to say, “Even on the origin of jollof rice, he Lie(d) again.”

It took Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s counter affirmation at a public event in Lagos, jovially rendered with professorial flourish, to underline what seems the indiscretion in Mohammed’s verbiage.

While engaging his audience (drawn largely from the Christian community) in opening banters in a manner that would make even the most accomplished stand-up comedian green with envy, the VP declared that “Nigeria makes the best jollof rice.”

By now, Mohammed should have realized how odd it sounded for a chief spokesman who doubles as Culture Minister of the supposed “Giant of Africa” to willfully “donate” the glory of being the best jollof rice cook to a much smaller country in the west coast. As they say, only a non-circumspect mother skips her own girl and decorates the waist of another person’s daughter with the prize beads.

So, jollof rice should no longer be viewed as an ordinary delicacy in postcolonial Africa. It is now the first test in patriotism.

Safe house: Even by the Geneva Convention, world’s best known authority on the law of war, a safe house is designated either as free zone or secured dwelling for humanity where combats are strictly forbidden. A breach readily prequalifies you for the war crime tribunal. But thanks to Ayo Oke and his queer folks at the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA), that phrase is now a euphemism for a secret vault for dirty money. Or, maybe hot money.

According to the Buhari people, the corrupt have even resorted to cemetery to hide their loot. With that, burial ground would also now qualify to be called “safe house”. Come to think of it, could any sentinel be more dreaded than a ghost to watch over a treasure?
Well, almost a month after $45m raw cash was uncovered in the upscale neighbourhood of Ikoyi, Lagos, deodorants are surely still needed today to overcome the stench left by the mold at the unique “safe house”.

Segun Adeniyi’s cross

Nothing has animated the nation so intensely in recent memory as Segun Adeniyi’s new book, “Against the run of play”. Even days before its presentation last Friday in Lagos, the national circuits were already saturated with teasers excerpted by the media.

Coming when more and more Nigerians appear to be getting disillusioned over the ability of the ruling party to redeem the promise of 2015, Segun’s offering could not be better timed.
(Well, I got my own auto-graphed copy a day before the presentation, just before I could finally yield to temptation to “blow the whistle” against Segun for possibly plotting to scheme his “old countryman” out of his expected jackpot.)

Critically examined, what makes the book refreshing is the depth Segun brings to the narrative, lending some of the key actors ample space to be part of the story-telling. The old reporter not only offers an informed commentary, but also gives his subjects enough voice.

Ultimately, the influence of a book will be measured not just by its seismic impact on public thought but also the number of counter narratives it inspires. Here, Segun again scores the bull’s eye. At the last count, two of the key gladiators in the 2015 saga (ex President Goodluck Jonathan and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu) had “threatened” to write their own accounts.
Speaking at the event, Jonathan’s spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, also “threatened” to write his own memoir, with reference to what transpired during those giddy moments between 2014 and 2015.

Ironically, both Jonathan and Tinubu are quoted copiously by Segun in the book.
But after what could only be a moment of epiphany, both the chief protagonist and chief antagonist appear resolved to open up further and leave the verdict to the public.

Of course, it would have been impossible to view and appreciate the monumentality of an elephant from a single aperture. Well, as often said in literary circles, anyone uncomfortable with Segun’s account is free to write his/her own. It is from the maze of tales – some seemingly contradictory – that we are able to distill the truth.

Ultimately, public knowledge is enriched. For instance, beside OBJ and Shagari, how many of our former leaders have bothered to commit their unique experiences to writing?
The result is that, often, key actors in the Nigeria’s narrative ended up taking all the secrets to their graves, thus robbing posterity the chance to learn from their insights and experiences.

But while the illumination Segun brings is undoubtedly desirable, the bitter part is the financial deprivation the author is now left to endure. The book’s unveiling had barely ended last Friday when news broke that hackers had compromised the encryption to the online copy, virtually shredding whatever expectation Segun and his publishers might have to reap from their sweat and investment.

No blow could be more cruel. The kind of work Segun undertook is mentally taxing in terms of research and travel, to say nothing about time spent chasing after and waiting endlessly on respondents for interviews. featured in the book.

I think the print media started it. Long before the book’s presentation last Friday, most newspapers Segun was generous enough to provide “complimentary copy” had already cannibalized the work by generating front-page stories from it almost on a daily basis, smiling to the bank. So much that one began to wonder what meat was left for any potential buyer of the book.

It reminds me of the ambushing of Baba Sala (Moses Olaiya) at the completion of his epic Yoruba comic movie, Orun Morun (Heaven is Hot), in the 80s. He had barely started taking the movie around the cinemas when pirated copies in VHS flooded the market. If the old comic with trademark oversize goggle ever imagined only “Heaven is Hot”, it soon dawned on him that “Earth is Hell” when bankers who gave him overdrafts started knocking at the door.

Moved to pity, some well-wishers few days ago launched an online appeal for donations from members of the public to support Segun and his publisher to mitigate their loss. That may not be a bad idea – though the Segun I know writes more out of passion than the love of money.

Against this backdrop, it then becomes easier to see why no one is sufficiently incentivized in today’s Nigeria to engage in any serious literary enterprise, except for those drawn to pay-as-go writing. Serious writing is a solitary venture, excessively absorbing, occluding you from the existential pleasures others take for granted. The readers would wish they don’t have to pay a kobo. Yet, the writer is hardly ever exempted from paying bills or putting food on the table for their family, like everybody.

In the final analysis, this should serve as another wake-up call to relevant authorities to do more by plugging the legal vacuum. Also plagued is the music sub-sector and Nollywood. Existing copyright laws need total overhaul and the enforcing agencies more power to hack down pirates so that writers, singers and artistes could survive.

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