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Lasisi Olagunju: I stand with Buhari

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By Lasisi Olagunju

The story you are about to read was published by the Nigerian Tribune 38 years ago. It was the lead story of its June 5, 1984 edition. Written by Joe Aladesohun, it was headlined: ‘Man commits suicide’ with a rider: ‘frustration at the bank’.

The report:

A middle-aged man committed suicide in Ibadan last Wednesday following what sources described as “series of hopeless visits to his bank for cash.”

The partly decomposed body of Mr. K. O. (I withhold the name), a 48-year-old civil servant of the accounts department of the Oyo State Ministry of Information, Youths, Sports and Culture, was found dangling under the ceiling fan in one of his rooms three days after his death.

A suicide note left on a stool in the room showed that he decided to end his life out of frustration.

The deceased was said to have collapsed twice in the premises of a bank and was rushed home on each occasion without cash.

Last Monday, May 28, two days before he committed suicide, somebody had given him N2 (two naira) after narrating his ordeal.

An ulcer patient, the deceased was said to have complained about taking only pap, his regular meal, since he couldn’t withdraw cash from his bank.

His remains were laid to rest on Monday at the public cemetery, Sango, Ibadan.

Contacted on telephone on Monday, the state Police Commissioner, Mr. Archibong Nkana, simply said: “I think there was something like that.”

The suicide note left behind by the deceased reads: “Do not forget that I have insisted that the receipt of the purchased stationery is in the steel cabinet. I’m sorry I have to end up this way but I think that is the only way open to me.

“Find the cheque and the cheque book in the cupboard. I have done all I can to maintain a fairly good standard.

“The keys to the cupboard are in my drawer. The payment vouchers are in the steel cabinet.

“My burial should be simple, no mourning, no wailing, no reason for that.

“Bye, comrades, I have beaten the gun.” (End of story).

I work in a place with a library that houses almost all editions of all newspapers that have ever been published in Nigeria. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter fantasy series, said “when in doubt, go to the library.” I consult the library for the same reason the diviner goes to his crystal ball. “Journalism is history on the run…history written in time to be acted upon,” said Thomas Griffith in the January 1959 issue of Nieman Reports. There is always an answer in history – and in journalism – and in the library. Insights into questions on everything are there, always, if you bore deep enough. I did that after listening to President Muhammadu Buhari’s lamentation in Owerri, Imo State, last week about his not being appreciated for the great work he has done (and is doing) with our lives. “This administration has done extremely well. I have to say it because those who are supposed to say it are not saying it. I don’t know why,” he said. I listened to him and felt he was in too much of a hurry. He was here from December 1983 to August 1985. During his first coming, he did so much with Nigerians, one of which was the currency exchange exercise of April/May 1984 which killed the man in the above story.

Buhari as military head of state did so many things that made children of those days grow old suddenly. It wasn’t enough that you had money in your bank accounts. Access to what you had was at the whim of the potentate in Dodan Barracks, Lagos, the then seat of government. People queued for days to get cash from their banks and went home empty-handed. Some got thoroughly whipped by soldiers on a corrective mission. Today’s young people can’t believe such was possible. But they happened. He made a law that made it a crime for journalists to publish the truth if it embarrassed people in government. He used that law to jail two Guardian journalists for publishing the truth. There was a scarcity of everything, including fundamental freedoms and staple foods. Nigerians cried for justice and rights and queued for sugar and rice. Buhari did many more to groups and individuals from the sea to the desert. Then, he was sacked by his comrades on August 27, 1985. Ibrahim Babangida, the man who replaced him, summed his regime up in the following words: “The last 20 months have not witnessed any significant changes in the national economy. Contrary to expectations, we have so far been subjected to a steady deterioration in the general standard of living; and intolerable suffering by ordinary Nigerians has risen higher; scarcity of commodities has increased…. Unemployment has stretched to critical dimensions.” Buhari was removed and replaced and there were wild jubilations. He must have felt terribly let down by that attitude of ingratitude – exactly as he feels now.

In 1985, Buhari believed he did very well; in 2022, he is convinced of his excellent pass mark in his current tour of duty. He has built roads and rail lines; he is building roads and rail lines. But he has also amassed debts enough to chew for ten centuries. And this is precisely where I am going. For his ‘excellent’ service as military ruler, the appreciation did not come for General Buhari in 1985 but it came thirty years later. Everyone who was his victim during his first life went looking for him to come back in 2015. Even Babangida supported him. Not many humans are that blessed. He is blessed. All his victims formed an armada of excuses to bring him back to power. They scented the septic in his tank and served it to the street as àmàlà and gbègìrì. He became a hurricane, the type that tore through woods and rocks. At least one of the jailed journalists, Tunde Thompson, openly campaigned for his election in 2015. “I have seen that time is a healer of certain wounds because people are still asking: ‘the man who jailed you wants to become president, what do you feel about it?’ They asked if I would vote for such a man. I want to say categorically that Buhari as the head of state at the time didn’t order the detention of Mr. Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor. He never did. Even Idiagbon did not. It was the head of NSO that ordered our arrest. That was the file my colleague saw when he was brought in to see Rafindadi after I had briefed him. And that was an order that they complied with. Buhari was not responsible for our arrest, so I do not see why at this time people are trying to make political capital out of what happened in 1984. Apart from that, it was an issue in the 2011 election. Between 2010 and 2011 people kept saying this over and over again. I think it’s now over 30 years, people should learn to be charitable; they should learn to forgive and let bygones be bygones, especially when we know the truth about who did what. I would like to say that Buhari didn’t order my arrest, so I bear no grudge against him,” the journalist said and added that he would vote for Buhari because he believed “that a person like Buhari at this time can call anybody to order and some people are afraid of that.”

I am sure that the man who killed himself in the above story, if he reincarnated and was around in 2015 as an àkúdàáyà, he would probably be one of the 15 million Nigerians who brought Buhari back. If it was a spell, it worked very well. It can still work again.

So, the president should not be angry in 2022 that we are hostile to the pangs and pains of his loving kindness towards us. We will praise him tomorrow. He should ignore those who are supposed to sing the song of his excellence in power but are not saying it. The naira may exchange at a million for a US dollar; ASUU may be on strike for a year and universities closed forever; bandits and terrorists may continue to stop and shoot at moving trains; kidnappers may kidnap kings, governments and governors; the road to the farm may be shut to farmers; the path to the brook may be closed to fetchers of water; life may be generally brutish, nasty and short. Buhari should just calm down, eat and pick his teeth. All those won’t matter in the long run –which is not far away. We have a history of doing what abusive snail does to Òrìsà; it always goes back, shell and radula, with a rasping apology. If the world does not come to an end soon, every one of us abusing this president today may still beg him to stay here forever – or come back after his final round.

Do not just read the president; watch him. It is only by watching Buhari that you can read enough of his inscrutably opaque mind. Look for his Imo State video and watch how he looks as he says this: “This administration has done extremely well. I have to say it because those who are supposed to say it are not saying it. I don’t know why.” Who do you think he is referring to as the “they” who are “not saying it”? Lai Mohammed? No. Femi Adesina? No. Garba Shehu? No. Buhari does not have the character of a leader who throws his loyal lieutenants under the bus. Not at all. Those “who are supposed to say it but are not saying it” are the president’s party men; those who scheme to use his fingers to pull their chestnuts out of the fire of electoral politics without being seen with him. They are the ACN/ANPP people in the APC; the èmi l’ó kàn people. Bola Tinubu is ACN; his running mate, Kashim Shettima, is ANPP. Shettima campaigns with his Borno achievements; Tinubu flaunts his Lagos claims as proof of his leadership ingenuity. Neither is touching Buhari and his government with a long pole.

Was that how they started in 2015? No. Not even in 2019 did the current champions erect a Berlin Wall between their ‘ingenuity’ and Buhari’s ‘integrity.’ So, I stand with Buhari. Let the ACN/ANPP people stop running away from promoting his legacies. Ibadan people say those who dined with Salami must compulsorily address him as Bàbá l’Áyéyé. “Truth always prevails in the end,” wrote Lord Acton, “but only when it has ceased to be in someone’s interest to prevent it from doing so.” What we have in the ruling party is a divorce without physical separation. It is like the candidates of the APC (top to bottom) want the party without its problem. The government is that problem; it is a floundering ship which no one outside the cockpit is willing to save. They campaign as an opposition with adversarial promises that should anger Buhari and his loyalists.

How is this likely to end? I have tried searching literature and history. I have read the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The rogues lost everything, Ali Baba survived. I have read Treasure Finders – another tale of a band of thieves who abducted a man of charms and got him to rain for them the Seven Things of Price: gold, silver, pearl, coral, catseye, ruby, and diamond. The thieves here got their price but also lost it; they murdered one another; none survived, not even the innocent abducted man who rained for them the treasure. Those who fished out Buhari and made him their candidate in 2015 did not do it because they loved him or wished Nigeria well. He was retired and tired of losing repeatedly. But because they saw in him a shortcut to their life ambition to rule Nigeria, they went to Kaduna and told him: “come and contest again, we will back you and you will win.” They saw in his hand the magic wand to command 12 million northern votes. He surrendered to them and contested and won and the skies came down and collided with the earth.

From top to bottom, the world went bad. Those who brought him now seek to be quiet on everything about his regime. Good or bad, they cannot now run away from drinking from the well of Buhari’s years. They should market themselves in Buhari’s tray. They swam with him in 2015 and 2019; they must swim and/or sink with him in 2023.