"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: April 2021

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Tinubu: A Presidential Disaster Waiting to Happen?

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Anyone who has watched Bola Ahmed Tinubu closely and dispassionately can’t help but notice that the man is not well. He is a walking psychedelic calamity. His endless verbal miscues and nonverbal cues constantly conspire to construct the profile of a man who is battling a troubling internal turmoil, who is held hostage by disablingly malefic inner demons.

He appears to revel in his own self-created alternate universe that is always lightyears away from ours. When he speaks and walks, he strikes the observer as a man in a daze, in a cripplingly drunken or narcotic stupor. He slurs his words, slacks his attention, blanks out, has awkward gaits (which caused him to trip at Arewa House in Kaduna recently), and seems impervious to the world around him. That, for me, is the outward manifestation of an inner turbulence.

For instance, during a speech on April 8 in Abuja on the occasion of the launch of Aisha Buhari’s biography titled “Aisha Buhari: Being different,” Tinubu misidentified Dolapo Osinbajo, wife of Yemi Osinbajo, as the “wife of the president.” 

“Your Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari, ably represented by the chief of staff; His Excellency the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo; Her Excellency first lady Dr. Mrs. Aisha Muhammadu Buhari; Your Excellency wife of the president, Dolapo Osinbajo,” he said

The slip-up was cringeworthy not just because Tinubu was reading from a prepared speech but because even after an awkward pause and a dazed gaze, he failed to correct himself. That was not the picture of a man who was in control of his mental or sensory faculty. 

Ten days earlier, on March 29, he betrayed an even more disturbing dissociation from quotidian reality during a speech in Kano on the occasion of his 69th birthday celebration. He suggested that an effective way to fight unemployment in the country and demobilize bandits in the North was to employ 50 million youths into the military.

“To recruit from the youths who are unemployed—33 percent are unemployed?” he said followed yet again by an uncomfortably stuporous 12-second silence. “Recruit 50 million youths into the army and errr [indistinct]. Take away from their [i.e. the bandits’] recruitment source. What they will eat— cassava, errr, agbagdo, errr, corn, yam in the afternoon… it is grown here. You create demand and consumption for over five million army of boot camps.”

Although his press aides later issued a statement saying he meant “5 million youths,” not “50 million youths,” this was another wild, public performance of hyperaroused dissociation from reality. The clumsily uneasy silence, the dazed gaze, the inelegant repetition (egbado and corn refer to the same thing, but they are different in Tinubu’s alternative world), and the illogic that punctuated Tinubu’s speech appear to be only symptoms of a more insidious inner struggle. 

This suspicion shows up every time Tinubu departs from the professionally dexterous mediation of his inventively resourceful media team. 

For another recent example, go back and watch the incoherent and illogical video of his October 2020 response to the Lekki Massacre. As I pointed out on social media at the time, he appeared to be either in a bacchanalian daze or a somnific trance—or both.

Tinubu has one of the, if not the, most sophisticated propagandists and mind managers in Nigeria, but he sometimes overrules his media minders and rants in public while in an unflattering mental state. A proverb says, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” The inverse is true for Tinubu. Through expert media manipulation by ingenious spin doctors, we have come to associate Tinubu with political and cognitive sophistication and admirable intellectual heft.

If he had remained silent, he would have nourished and sustained this myth, but his unceasingly scatterbrained and unhinged public performances show us a man who is incapable of a basic presence of mind or a coherent thought-process for a sustained period. 

We now know his only strength is that he has excellent speech writers, artful PR professionals, and an army of well-paid, overzealous social media and traditional media battering rams. Not all wealthy people hire the best, so he deserves credit for that.

Now Tinubu is expending every imaginable financial, political, social, and symbolic resource at his disposal to become president. With Abba Kyari out of the way, he just might sleepwalk his way into the presidency while the rest of the country laughs at his gaucheries.

In previous columns, I wrote with cocksure certainty that Tinubu would never be president. For instance, in a September 21, 2019 column titled “Why Bola Tinubu Can Never Be Nigeria’s President,” I pointed out, among other things, that “the most important reason Tinubu can never be present is that the people who currently wield political power, to whom he is a witlessly obsequious bootlicker, won’t hand over power to him—or to anybody—in 2023.”   

I also revealed that “Before the 2019 election, a friend of mine who is close to Abba Kyari confided in me that after the election they would ‘deal with Tinubu and his people.’ He bragged that by the time they are done with him and his underlings, he would be so damaged that he won’t even be an option for the 2023 presidency. It’s already starting.”

Well, Kyari died and the old cabal no longer exists. Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, is now the head of a reconfigured Aso Rock cabal who takes presidential decisions. Although he is as determined as Kyari was to stop Tinubu’s presidential ambition dead in its tracks, he isn’t nearly as ruthlessly shrewd as Kyari.

For one, INEC’s purchasable chairman isn’t as indebted to Malami as he was to Kyari since Kyari singlehandedly put him in his position and dictated his every move. Tinubu can deploy his enormous war chest to buy up INEC.

For another, Malami has no control over APC’s fissiparous factions. Although he controls the dominant faction of the party, he is challenged by the Fayemi/El-Rufai faction and by the Tinubu faction. But he doesn’t have the sobriety to realize that being a surrogate president who hires and fires people while the man who pretends to be president withers away in silence isn’t enough. 

Most importantly, though, although Malami and Tinubu are Nigeria’s fiercest political enemies today, they are actually more alike than unlike. Like Tinubu, Malami lives in his own little world. I have watched videos of his media interviews and noticed that his eyes are almost always bloodshot, his body shakes uncontrollably, and his limbs whirl involuntarily. These are telltale signs of something more profound. Not surprisingly, like Tinubu, he also lives in an alternate universe.

I am now prepared to be open to the possibility that Tinubu can become president if no one outsmarts him. But it would be a tragic presidency.

After eight years of Buhari's vacant, dementia-plagued presidency, the last thing Nigeria would need is even a single day of another presidency that is ensconced in an alternate universe and that would be conducted through press releases and public opinion manipulation by devious mind managers.

If Nigeria is to have a chance at survival, it shouldn’t make the mistake of replacing a dementia-ravaged Buhari with an emotionally and mentally troubled Tinubu. At the minimum, we need a sober, self-aware, cosmopolitan person who respects and shows sensitivity to our diversity

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Umar’s “BIAFRAN Boys” Dig Part of Nigeria’s Unofficial Igbophobia

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Danladi Umar, the notoriously vain and sickeningly skin-bleached chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, was caught on camera on March 29 physically assaulting a security guard identified as 22-year-old Clement Sargwak.

 Umar flew into a tempestuous rage because Sargwak besought him to not park his car at a spot that obstructed traffic in Abuja’s Banex Plaza in Wuse 2.

In the aftermath of the swift, across-the-board social media denunciations that his cowardly physical violence against a lowly security guard roused, Umar caused the head of the Press and Public Relations unit of the Code of Conduct Tribunal by the name of Ibraheem Al-Hassan to issue an agonizingly dreadful and error-ridden press release that, among other things, singled out nameless “BIAFRAN Boys” for blame in a show of shame in which he is the main villain.

“As the few policemen in the complex were apparently overwhelmed by the mobs, consisting of BIAFRAN boys throwing matches [sic] and shape object [sic] to his car, which led to deep cut [sic] and dislocation in one of his finger [sic], causing damage to his car, smashing his windscreen,” the statement said. “At a point he attempted to leave the scene, these same miscreants, BIAFRAN boy [sic] ordered for [sic] the closure of the gate thereby [sic] assaulting him before the arrival of police team [sic] from Maitama police station.”

Notice that the press statement, which Al-Hassan later told ICIR he wrote “on instruction” from Umar, spelled “BIAFRAN” in all caps and called the unnamed protesters against his barbarity “boys.” Calling men “boys” is often a linguistic marker of notions of their inferiority and subservience. So the expression “BIAFRAN boys” was designed to simultaneously provoke revulsion and disdain in certain demographic categories in the country. 

Sargwak, whom Umar physically assaulted, is a northern Christian from Plateau State. But the people who heckled and caught Umar’s violence against Sargwak were spontaneous, amorphous, anonymous, and multi-ethnic bystanders. Why did Umar invent the trope of “BIAFRAN boys” when it was practically impossible to determine the ethnic identities of the people who recorded and heckled him?

Well, it was because Umar wanted sympathy even when he was the top dog who tormented an underdog. Although he is obviously cognitively stunted, he is smart enough to know that anti-Igbo hysteria unites a surprisingly large number of Nigerians.

Chinua Achebe captured this well in his famous 1984 booklet titled The Trouble with Nigeria. “Nigerians of all other ethnic groups will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo,” he wrote. 

When I read this years ago, I was enraged with Achebe. I thought he was overly sensitive and paranoid because he didn’t describe me or many people that I know, but upon deeper reflection and more sober observation, I realized that there’s some truth to his claim.

Many individual Nigerians don’t resent the Igbo, of course, but to deny that there is a reflexive, Civil War-inspired antipathy toward the Igbo as a collective group is to wallow in denial, which psychologists say is an instinctive ego defense mechanism. It is the collective unconscious national antipathy toward the Igbo that Umar was exploiting when he gratuitously invoked mysterious “BIAFRAN boys” to mitigate and explain away his shameful conduct. 

Fortunately, the tactic backfired precisely because the absurdity of its ethnic scapegoatism was too nakedly self-evident to be effective. But Umar is not alone. More than any other administration since the Civil War, the Buhari regime takes Igbophobia as an unofficial state policy. Watch the rhetorical maneuvers of the regime’s aides and paid propagandists, and you will find that it often revolves around stoking anti-Igbo frenzy.

Perhaps because he was serially rebuffed by the Igbo after many attempts to court them (even after choosing Igbo running mates two times in a row, he never won the Igbo vote), Muhammadu Buhari himself makes no pretenses about his deep-seated loathing of the Igbo.  

For instance, during a Q and A session at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC in 2015 shortly after he was sworn in as president, Buhari said there should be no expectation that he would dispense favors to people who gave him only “5 percent” of their votes. 

The “five percenters” were, of course, the Igbo—and Southern minorities. So, instead of magnanimity in victory, Buhari chose to declare hostility against the Igbo from the get-go.

During his first and only presidential media chat on December 30, 2015, Buhari infamously asked, “What do the Igbos want?” As I wrote in a previous column, it wasn’t the question in and of itself that was the problem; it was the raw, unvarnished animus he exhibited in asking the question. “No president should speak so contemptuously of any constituent part of the country he governs,” I wrote.

In his interview with Aljazeera’s Martinee Dennis in Qatar in March 2016, Buhari also became manifestly agitated when the interview questions shifted to Biafra. He curtly declined to view a video of military officers shooting defenseless Biafra agitators and even countenanced the Nigerian military’s extra-judicial murders by saying Biafran demonstrators were “joking with Nigerian security and Nigeria will not tolerate it.”

Again, on September 13, 2016 when youth corps members who served in Katsina State paid him a courtesy visit, Buhari singled out the Igbos among them for censure over Biafra. “Tell your colleagues who want Biafra to forget about it,” he said. That was unpresidential and invidious, particularly because, at that time, Biafra didn’t even enjoy as much sympathy in the southeast as it does now.

 What Buhari did was akin to requesting a group of Muslim well-wishers to tell their terrorist co-religionists to stop terrorism. Or telling innocent Fulani well-wishers to tell their “colleagues” to stop kidnapping. That’s unfair stereotypical generalization.

American eugenicist Arthur Jensen invented a concept he calls the “stereotype threat” by which he means that people who feel stereotyped tend to act according to that stereotype, or inadvertently authorize it, often in spite of themselves. This has happened with the renewed agitation for Biafra. Up until mid-2016, Biafra was on the fringe even in Igboland. Buhari has ensured that it has now moved to the forefront.

There is a chicken-or-the-egg type causality dilemma about the collective resentment of the Igbo in Nigeria. Is the collective antipathy toward them as a group a visceral response to the 1966 coup and the subsequent attempt by the Igbo to secede from Nigeria or were these events triggered by the incipient antipathy toward the Igbo?

In my opinion, that’s a pointless debate because it resolves nothing. The reality is that there is now undoubtedly a mutually reinforcing cycle of recriminations, which needs to stop if we are as interested in national unity as our leaders perpetually proclaim to be.

A good first step to demonstrate sincerity in the quest for national unity is to fire Danladi Umar for unwarrantedly stereotyping an entire ethnic group without evidence. If not, preachments about “national unity” will sound even more hollow than they’ve always been. 

Most people know that “national unity” is only invoked as a rhetorical cudgel to squelch dissent. But Umar has presented an opportunity to show that it means more than that.