Dr. Wumi Akintide

I knew that Buhari is never going to be a Maitama Sule makeover or a Tafawa Balewa, the golden voice of Africa. I knew Buhari was never going to meet the same kind of expectation some of us would have expected from the great Abba Zorrou, the ace Hausa announcer on Radio Nigeria whose Barry- tone like that of the music idol, Barry White used to dazzle radio listeners like me way back in the 60s which I call the golden era of Nigerian Politics.

I have heard many a northerner display their gift of the garb and their anglophile accent better than their southern counterparts.  Few of them that readily come to my mind include late Governor Abubakar Rimi of Kano, Minister Jerry Ghana, Professor Yadudu, Minister El  Rufai, and Lamido Sanusi  the new Emir of Kano to mention a  few.

The northerners are never in  short supply of good speakers who can move a crowd but  the few of them who have been  blessed to lead Nigeria like Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed,  Shehu Shagari, Ibrahim Babangida,  Sani Abacha, Abdulsalam Abubakar, Umaru Yar Adua have been noted for other  fine qualities other than their gift of the garb.

 I was not expecting Buhari to do something extraordinary with his inaugural speech but I have noticed with some psychic satisfaction that the man had shown some visible evidence that he actually tried to rehearse that speech during his few days trip to London. Buhari used to have some problems pronouncing the letter “P” in APC just like the Ekitis and especially Ado Ekiti people, for some reason, have some problems pronouncing the letter “R” in their native dialect.

The Igbos have a problem pronouncing the letter “R”.  For some reason they pronounce it like the letter “L” They call the word “Toro” in Yoruba language “Tolo” I am not knocking them for it in this article because we all do it. The Oyo/Ibadan people have problems pronouncing letter “S” The Yorubas as a group have their own accents that are unique to them just like the Hausa/Fulani.

I take no offense when the Igbos call the Yorubas “Ngbati Ngbati” because that is the way the Yoruba language sounds to their ears. The Yorubas too call the Igbos, “Yanmirin or Kedu Kodu” because that is the way their language sounds to us.

I make this comparison for comical relief and to explain why I wasn’t expecting Buhari to suddenly speak like the great Oxford-trained Colonel in the Nigerian Army,  the one and only Ikemba Eze Igbo Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who led a Biafran delegation to the Aburi Summit in Accra where he delivered one of his  awesome speeches explaining the genocide against his own people and winning a concession from  Yakubu Cowon to allow Biafra to more or less become a quasi-independent entity in Nigeria  with its own identity,  its own Currency, its own national anthem and Military while it would still remain part of Nigeria. Ojukwu was just too much for Gowon in that Summit. I won’t be surprised if General Gowon actually took the decision to return back to school after serving as Head of State of the most populous nation in Africa.  He arguably did it to make up for the deficit in his educational achievement at that point in time and many Nigerians have since followed his shining example to this day including my good friend, Rear Admiral Okhai Mike Akhigbe who went back to read Law after his promotion to an Admiral.

General Gowon the leader of the Nigerian delegation agreed to all of those conditionalities in Ghana only to return to Nigeria to be told by powerful individuals like Obafemi Awolowo that the man had more or less signed his own death warrant in Ghana because he was so mesmerized by the oratorical flourish of the master himself.

Yakubu Gowon had to walk away from the dotted lines he had signed in Aburi while the great Ojukwu was perfectly right to argue and insist “on Aburi We Stand” When a leader has a gift of the garb like Ojukwu, or Azikiwe or Samuel Ladoke Akintola or Tafawa Balewa it is a lethal weapon in politics that nobody should ignore. One of the reasons Obama became the first black President and leader of the Free World is his gift of the garb as a great communicator. Sooner or later that is an attribute Nigerians are going to watch out for in our leaders, as we grow more sophisticated in how we choose and pick our leaders.  Buhari is President today not because of his power of eloquence but because the man is universally known to have integrity in a country where most of our leaders are very corrupt. 

Nigerians knew our own Buhari was never going to be a John F. Kennedy, a Ronald Reagan, a Bill Clinton or our own black Obama or Mario Cuomo to mention a few. Since much of the inaugural speech must have been drafted for Buhari, one would have happier to see in that speech more evidence of his own input, even if he could not replicate Awolowo who wrote his 1974 Convocation Address at the University of Ife because he had something special to tell the world and he had the ability to craft it his own way as a very powerful intellectual giant and attorney that Nigerians knew him to be.

Buhari’s one liner in that speech says, “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody” must have struck a raw nerve in most Nigerians listening to him. I took that line as the most memorable in the entire speech of several pages. The line must have touched a raw nerve in some of his senior associates in the APC like Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, Governor Rotimi  Amaechi,  Chris Ngige, Okorocha,  Sola Saraki, Akume, Gbajabiamila, Kwankwanso, and even  El Rufai to mention a few. It was a bold statement on his part and one of his best lines in the whole speech that many would remember 4 years from today.

I also took note of the speeches from the other leaders of the APC like Yemi Osinbajo, the learned Professor of Law and the new Vice President. I paid particular attention to the speech from the national leader of the Party, Ahmed Tinubu, the Chairman of the party, John Odigie Oyegun and the one made by Atiku Abubakar, the man who first saw the potential of what the opposition could do in Nigeria, if properly led and managed. Atiku could easily have been the man making that speech yesterday, if he was not too much of a rolling stone in Nigerian politics.

Some of those individuals are good speakers but I believe they all appeared to have lowered the decibel of their own speeches in order not to rain on the parade of their big boss on his special day of glory. I clearly saw that, and I welcome and appreciate the rationale behind their deliberate effort to lie low and not be seen as competing with the man of the moment or attempting to overshadow him. They don’t want to undermine their star performer on a day like that in the history of Nigeria and with all the foreign leaders and visitors in attendance.

 I now want to focus on the whole speech like a laser beam with the remaining segments of this write-up.

When it comes to graphics and drama, and display of culture in diversity, it is hard to find another country that can beat Nigeria in symbolism. The handing over of power in America or even in Britain is never as graphic or as dramatic as what we all witnessed yesterday at the Eagle Square in Abuja.

It was as graphic as what transpired every day in front of the Buckingham Palace when it is time to do “Trooping the Color” or replacing the guards standing at attention for their 8 hours shift without moving any part of their body. You would have thought the guard was a statue.

 I saw the lowering of the flag and the folding of it before handing it to the departing President who now ceremoniously hands it over in a box to the new President who then returns the flag to be raised and put back on the pole to signify the beginning of his new Administration. It is a very colorful and moving ceremony and one of a kind in our country.

I now see a need for Nigeria to create a new heliport near the Eagle Plaza in Abuja where a waiting helicopter, before television cameras, can then fly the departing President to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja some 32 kilometers away to begin his life in retirement. Such a move in the future would have kept the inauguration ceremony as close as possible to how it is done in the United States where the departing President is flown from the Capitol to the Andrew’s Air Force Base to be flown back to his home by one of the aircrafts in the presidential fleet and no more in the Air Force One, the official plane of the President of the United States. Nigeria can learn a few things from America and America can learn a few things from Nigeria.

The delivery of the speech was conspicuously better than any of the ones I have seen the President carry out on the campaign trail. I would be the first to admit that. But I think the speech did not stress enough or project the symbolism and the import of the historical event.

Nigerians have waited for half a century and for 55 years to be precise to see Nigeria live the true meaning of Democracy by letting the Opposition replace a sitting Government for once in our political history. That moment came not a moment sooner yesterday at the Eagle Plaza in Abuja.

I thought the speech should have dwelt more on the significance of that moment better than it did. It was a missed opportunity, but there were other missed opportunities by the President yesterday, if you are thinking like me. Nigerians by over 2 million voted loud and clear for change in Nigeria on March 28 and by a higher margin on April 11.

The departing President in a moment of candor after being defrocked admitted much to his own embarrassment that he was expecting that Nigerians were going to boo him at the Parade. The mere fact that he was not humiliated like that was a sober and good reflection on Nigerians’ sense of decorum and decency. That would have been watching our dirty linens in the public. I am happy that did not happen.

 The First Lady who could have generated such negative impulses from the crowd was thoughtful and sensible enough to stay away from the parade. She quietly waited at the Abuja Airport to join her husband in their last flight from Abuja to Bayelsa as ordinary citizens in roughly 3 years of her husband as Vice President and close to his 6 years as President.

 Nigerians would miss Dame Patience who has become the butt of late night jokes and comedians on every television channels in Nigeria for her neurotic dilemma and oratory. “My fellow widows” would no longer be heard on the Nigerian air waves. “There is God o” and “Chei and pigeon English or Ebonics” mixed with English would be shed by our new first lady, a Fulani beauty with some noble background as the daughter of late Alhaji Ribadu, the pioneer Minister of Lagos Affairs under Tafawa Balewa. She is a graduate in her own right who can be trusted to speak some good English at Aso Rock. Unto God be the glory.

I thought the President missed an opportunity in his inaugural speech to give Nigerians and the whole world his order of priorities and what really mattered to him the most by failing woefully to announce a few symbolical gestures he is able to give without involving the Legislature and the Judiciary.

Because he failed to do that, the shout of “Power, Power” which used to be associated with every President of the PDP in Nigeria was not uttered for once by anybody in the crowd at the Eagle Plaza yesterday. It was as if Buhari was not taking over the same office.

. Not once did I hear anybody shout the word “Power” as the man inspected the guard of honor at the parade ground riding in a bullet proof Mercedez 600 and surrounded by  junkyard-looking security operatives ready to take the bullet for him should it come to that.

I was pleasantly surprised about the level of security meaning that some people paid some attention to some of the points I have raised in my article titled, “My worries on the Buhari inauguration in Nigeria” I am happy the inauguration ceremony went without any disruption.

I was happy when it was announced on the loud speakers that Nigerians should not be scared as the 21 gun salute blasted to usher in the change Nigerians have waited and prayed for, for half a century.  I was concerned about what the Boko Haram elements in the Jonathan Government might have been planning because Jonathan had once told the nation that there were Boko Haram fifth columnists and sympathizers in his Government.

I took that warning to heart when I wrote my last article urging Nigerians and Buhari to pay special attention to security on May 29 and beyond.  I wanted other Nigerians and President Buhari and Osinbajo in particular to watch their behind, tomorrow and for all of the 4 years of their first term in Aso Rock. I know their political enemies in the PDP and the APGA are never going to let up since they have already started talking about taking over in 2019 even before the inauguration of Buhari was concluded. The PDP is an aggrieved party because they have lost their main source of livelihood. They are suffering and smiling with apologies to Fela Anikulapo Kuti because for 55 years they have never experienced how to be in the opposition and not pass out. The APC have to be very careful because when a party is as desperate as the PDP and APGA, it calls for great caution on the part of their successor. That is what I am talking about.

Buhari and Osinbajo and the APC would be insane and foolish to think or believe they are home safe and should now let off their guard.

I thought President Buhari should have done what El Rufai had done in Kaduna when he and his Deputy made it known in their inauguration proclamation they were ready to take a 50 percent salary cut because of the needs of their state and the fact that their legislators were among the highest paid in the world for doing nothing.

If the development is a problem in Kaduna, it is a much more serious problem at the Federal level. I did not see President Buhari demonstrate that urgency with the most important speech of his political life.

There was also the grave issue of Immunity from public prosecution for Presidents, Vice Presidents, Governors and their Deputies and some national officials like the Speaker and the President of the Senate. I did not hear the President address that in any serious way with his inaugural speech. He gave no indication that was one of the issues giving him sleepless nights as he pondered what to do with the new powers he has been given . That was an unfortunate gaffe or omission because his Government would either rise or fall based on what he does about that subject left to me alone.

Those are the brief highlights of what I think are wrong with the inaugural speech but I agree like the rest of you that the President still has a chance this week and the next to announce his cabinet and to show Nigerians what he is really up to the task ahead of him.

 He should have learnt something from George W Bush the 43rd President of the United State who announced soon after he won his election but before his inauguration that the great Colin Powell, a highly respected 4 star General was going to be his Secretary of State. There was nothing wrong in Buhari giving the nation a leg up on some of the people he planned to appoint into his Cabinet. That should simply tell the nation he was fired up and ready to go.

I did not get that feeling or impression from listening to him yesterday and I count that as a missed opportunity.

I see some Nigerians are already criticizing him for quoting from Shakespeare and not from Wole Soyinka or Chinua Achebe. I thought that criticism was petty and self-serving. The man reserves the right to quote anybody he likes. T

The bottom line for me is that the man must show he is fired up and ready to go. Nigerians must now stop their preoccupation with Jonathan and his first lady and whether or not they should be probed after leaving office. We would cross that bridge after we get to it. The enormity of their impunity and recklessness in Government is what would determine what the new President must do or not do.

 I am happy that President Buhari has not completely shut the door on that. He is not ready to witch-hunt  anybody or settle old scores with individuals like Ayo Fayose who have blackmailed the new President so much on the presumption he could never defeat a sitting President and come back to punish them. Now it has happened and they are worried sick about what else to do? I too would be nervous if I find myself in their shoes!

Buhari has said he is going to set new markers of accountability in Nigeria and make sure that those who have stolen Nigeria dry would be held accountable and that those who are willing to cough out some of what they have stolen could possibly get some amnesty in a plea bargain kind of scenario, if they agree to serve as whistle blowers to all of the pen robbers among us regardless of the positions they hold in Government. That is my bottom line President Buhari must pursue if he wants to succeed.

I rest my case.

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