By Reuben Abati
The cities of Daura -President Muhammadu Buhari’s home town, Kano – his political base, and Kaduna -where he has a home, and where the aircraft that brought him from London landed early Friday, March 10, as well as other parts of the North saw the people trooping out to jubilate and thank God for his safe return. I noticed that there was no such jubilation in the entire South West, the East, the Middle Belt and the South South. This is understandable.
Too many cynics and mischief-makers in these other parts of the country had expected the worst and they had been busy promoting the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo as a better man in the President’s seat. The manner in which President Buhari’s absence from the country seemed to have divided the country emotionally is perhaps one of the saddest outcomes of that experience. It was the longest period any sitting President in Nigeria would stay away from office. But the really sad news is that it again projected the ethnic differences within the country.
The fact that Buhari’s absence was due to illness raised anxieties on all fronts about the economy and the country’s political prospects. Whereas President Buhari had dutifully and lawfully excused himself and delegated power to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who became Acting President, this created fresh and troubling problems on the political front. Mischief-makers began to promote Osinbajo: comments appeared in the social and traditional media, praising every step he took while his boss was away.
Meanwhile, his boss received more bashing than was the case at any other time since he assumed office. Whoever managed or instigated that mischievous media messaging process did Osinbajo a bad turn. One of the golden rules of power is this: Never outshine the master! It is in fact the first law of power.
While Buhari was away, Osinbajo did, wittingly or unwittingly, and how serious that was became obvious when a Buhari aide had to inform Nigerians that there is a single Presidency and that Osinbajo, as Acting President took instructions from his boss in London. It was a sorry moment, with the President’s men trying to pull back the Acting President’s men, and struggling so hard to preserve the President’s image and hold on to power.
This is why Sai Baba’s return is a game changer, and it probably explains why his kinsmen trooped onto the streets in joy. I wouldn’t know if he has returned against doctor’s advice, but we all know that he may still have to go to back to London for further tests as he himself has announced in a statement, but coming back at this time is a deft political move. Things were beginning to get so bad, power was beginning to slip out of Buhari’s hands. As the Osinbajo persona gained traction, Buhari’s ratings further nosedived. When Buhari arrived this morning, he changed the narrative. And watch every step that he took: he met with the Executive Council of the Federation: a smart way of re-asserting control. He shook hands with some Governors.
He also issued a statement, which he personally signed. Within a few hours of his return, he took steps that left no one in doubt that he intends to remain in charge. I have seen power-game upfront at the highest level. Nobody should be deceived. If there is any cabal in that Aso Villa at this time, its members must be walking with a special bounce. There was even a smiling competition among Buhari’s men in the Villa today. Look at the photos. Some people smiled so much if their teeth had fallen off in the process, they would have gladly attributed it to occupational hazard.
One of the laws of power is that you don’t take power and then allow other people to seize the advantages. Buhari’s return has served one strong purpose: to hold power and keep it where it belongs. But in another strategic move, the man of power has made it clear that his Vice President will continue to act while he recuperates. That is brilliant: Looks like these guys in the Villa are beginning to learn how to play chess. With Buhari inside the Villa, even for just two weeks, before he returns to London if he does, he would have enough time to change the calculus of power, including the traffic that may have built up in another direction in his absence.
But Sai Baba don spoil business for prayer warriors oh! I am actually wondering why I did not listen to those friends who advised that we should also organize a get-well prayer session for Buhari. You know-you get-you-understand what I mean…that kind of prayer session that is an investment, with a well-thought-out proposal. You get sponsors, make some money on God’s behalf, publicise the prayer programme so well every important Government official will notice.
I thought this was thoroughly opportunistic, making money and enjoying privileges off another man’s illness! But may be when Baba goes back to London, I will weigh the options differently. More so as I can see with my own eyes that those prayers may have worked. Buhari’s return, in this heavily spiritual country, is probably clear evidence that God answers prayers! And let us not blame those who think so, because there are indeed people in this same country who wanted Sai Baba to remain on medical exile. But at least, now that the President is back, the prayer investors and their notice-me sponsors and those whose political careers depended on the-President-phoned-me-from-London moments will get off our back.
President Buhari has told everyone who may be planning a trip to Aso Villa on a welcome-back visit to please stay off. Hi-an! Thank you, sir. Let people stay where they are, I beg, and do their work instead of trooping to Aso Villa to do eye service. And nobody should send gifts: in our tradition, when a man is recuperating, it is normal to send packs of tea (and Baba likes his tea!), cartons of milk and fruit juice and biscuits, to ease the recuperation process. I beg make una keep una tea, and other Greek gifts, Baba no want. And I think people should be told not to place any adverts in the newspapers welcoming President Buhari back to Nigeria.
The man I sympathise with is Professor Yemi Osinbajo. He will now have to tone down, roll back and generally stay in the shadows, even with his boss saying he can carry on while he is still recuperating. How can he carry on when the boss is back and on his feet? Can he possibly bear the title of Acting President when the President is back in the Villa? He and his team would have to do a quick re-set, both inside the Villa and in the media. Right now, I do not envy them…as they manage the banana peels of power.
And now that President Buhari is back, it would be most appropriate to draw his attention to many things that happened in his absence. Baba, while you were away…some Ministers were busy making noise, some Nigerians were busy wailing, some of them said you…you… the recession got worse, the Naira effectively became a yo-yo, one actress left her husband and started grumbling about STD, one house-boy in Big Brother Naija tried to get fresh with TBoss and got booted out, there was two- fighting in the PDP…No, I think I should let you enjoy your first day back home in 50 days. Here is a Yoruba song, which the wailers of the South West refused to sing to welcome you back. Enjoy it:
Kabo o o, kaa-aa-bo.
Kaaabo ooo, kaabo
Sai baba to t’ajo de o,
Kaa bo o
Baba wa to t’ajo de o, kaabo
I conclude: The fire next time…