Pres­i­dent, Gover­nor and gut­ter

Daily Trust - - SPORT - with Mah­mud Jega mm­jega@dai­ 08054102925 (SMS only)

Last week should have been de­voted to na­tional grief and re­flec­tion for the Nyanya bomb blast vic­tims and the ab­ducted Chi­bok school girls. In­stead, two of this coun­try’s big­gest po­lit­i­cal of­fice hold­ers, namely the Pres­i­dent and the gover­nor of the sec­ond big­gest state, chose it for an ex­change of po­lit­i­cal vit­riol that left many Nige­ri­ans with the feel­ing of bile in their mouths.

From the look of things, Gover­nor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso started it. Speak­ing at an APC elders’ meet­ing in Kano on Sun­day last week, Kwankwaso said the people of Kano will not wel­come Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan to the state on Tues­day since he has done noth­ing to bet­ter their lives. Kwankwaso said he re­gret­ted voting for Jonathan in the 2011 elec­tions. Un­der Jonathan’s watch, Kwankwaso also said, cor­rup­tion, in­se­cu­rity and em­bez­zle­ment of the pub­lic trea­sury have be­come the or­der of the day. He said Nige­ri­ans are still wait­ing to hear the truth about the miss­ing $20 bil­lion oil rev­enue.

Two days later, Pres­i­dent Jonathan ar­rived in Kano for a rally to for­mally wel­come for­mer Kano State Gover­nor Malam Ibrahim Sheka­rau into PDP. Many PDP big­wigs spoke at the rally at Polo Ground but it was Jonathan’s very con­tro­ver­sial re­marks that grabbed the head­lines. He de­voted most of his speech to at­tack­ing Kwankwaso’s per­son; I can­not re­call an oc­ca­sion in Nigeria’s po­lit­i­cal his­tory when a pres­i­dent de­scended into the gut­ter as this pres­i­dent did in Kano.

Jonathan said, “If you wear red cap or what­ever, we will re­cover our stolen man­date by 2015.” This would have passed for a small dig at the Kwankwasiyya red cap, but he grad­u­ated to much harsher lan­guage. He said Kwankwaso was ly­ing when he said he voted for him in the 2011 elec­tions. He said Kwankwaso em­bez­zled al­lowances meant for Kano State del­e­gates dur­ing the PDP pres­i­den­tial pri­maries. He said Kwankwaso walked out of the con­ven­tion venue when he saw that Jonathan was win­ning, and that he did not cel­e­brate with him when he won any elec­tion.

Jonathan said, “Kwankwaso did not vote for me dur­ing the pri­mary and sec­ondary elec­tions in 2011. He was part of those who worked against me dur­ing that pe­riod and did not cel­e­brate with me af­ter the vic­tory. The al­lowances sent by my party cam­paign of­fice for elec­tion pur­poses were taken away by Kwankwaso with­out giv­ing any­body a kobo. How can he say he voted for me?” He also said, “Kwankwaso col­lected N255 bil­lion lo­cal govern­ment federal al­lo­ca­tion from June 2011 to date but noth­ing was done in the lo­cal govern­ment ar­eas in the state. He should ex­plain the where­abouts of N250 bil­lion since there is no de­vel­op­ment at all in the state’s 44 lo­cal govern­ment ar­eas.”

Point­ing to his nor­mal wear, Jonathan also said, “Some of you would be ask­ing ques­tions why the Pres­i­dent did not wear PDP dress in the rally. I de­cided to ap­pear this way be­cause there is some­body here in Kano that said any­body that wears hat is a devil and I would ex­plain in de­tail the federal govern­ment projects here in Kano. I will then leave Kano people to judge me.” Gover­nor Kwankwaso im­me­di­ately fired back, ac­cus­ing the pres­i­dent of be­ing in­sen­si­tive to the mood of Nige­ri­ans by em­bark­ing on ‘merry-mak­ing trips’ when the na­tion is mourn­ing vic­tims of the Abuja bomb blast. Soon af­ter the PDP rally ended, Kwankwaso also went to the venue with his top aides and swept it, say­ing they re­moved the epi­demic that be­fell Kano.

Now. Let’s be­gin from the be­gin­ning. For the gover­nor to refuse to go to the air­port to wel­come the pres­i­dent to his state was not a small breach of state pro­to­col. I can­not re­mem­ber an oc­ca­sion when such a thing hap­pened in Nigeria in the last 30 years. Prob­a­bly the near­est thing to it that hap­pened was in 1980, when Pres­i­dent Shehu Sha­gari be­gan his na­tion-wide tour with a visit to old Ben­del State. The state was con­trolled by the op­po­si­tion UPN. Sup­port­ers of Sha­gari’s NPN, which was only nar­rowly de­feated in the state, tried to cap­i­tal­ize on his visit to make a big show and Gover­nor Am­brose Alli was de­ter­mined to thwart it. Two days be­fore Sha­gari ar­rived, Alli an­nounced a ban on ral­lies and pro­ces­sions in the state. Though dancing troupes mo­bi­lized by NPN went to Benin air­port to wel­come Sha­gari, po­lice­men stopped them at the gate.

What hap­pened next soon be­came the stuff of Nige­rian leg­end. When Sha­gari’s plane landed, Min­is­ter of Po­lice Af­fairs Prof Em­manuel Sun­day Osamor, him­self a Ben­delite, whis­pered some­thing into the ears of the state Po­lice Com­mis­sioner. The Com­pol then or­dered his men to open the gates and the NPN dancing troupes flooded the tar­mac. At a state din­ner in the pres­i­dent’s hon­our that evening, Gover­nor Alli pub­licly com­plained that Osamor over­ruled an or­der he is­sued as chief se­cu­rity of­fi­cer of Ben­del State. When Sha­gari stood up to re­ply, he ad­vised Alli that as elected of­fi­cials, the gover­nor and him­self should con­cen­trate on state du­ties and leave pol­i­tics to the politi­cians. A much bet­ter al­ter­ca­tion, I think, than what hap­pened in Kano.

I did not see the story where Kwankwaso said it is devils that wear Jonathan’s type of hat. It would be a mis­cal­cu­la­tion to say that since the hat has be­come some­thing of a cul­tural sym­bol for the Niger Delta elite. It is nor­mal in pol­i­tics to car­i­ca­ture a politi­cian us­ing a cer­tain prom­i­nent as­pect of his body, his dress or his habits. For ex­am­ple, news­pa­per car­toon­ists al­ways ex­ag­ger­ated the size of Win­ston Churchill’s cigar. Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal car­toon­ists of­ten ex­ag­ger­ated the size of Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter’s front teeth and the broad­ness of his grin. Yet, traits that have to do with re­li­gion, na­tional cul­ture or per­sonal ill-health are too sen­si­tive to be toyed with in a car­i­ca­ture or to be mocked at a po­lit­i­cal event.

At the be­gin­ning of the Sec­ond Repub­lic, car­toon­ists took swipes at Pres­i­dent Shehu Sha­gari’s long kubbe cap. Even though it tended to be rather long, many people in the North didn’t take kindly to the car­i­ca­ture, see­ing in it an as­sault on North­ern mode of dress­ing. While Chief Ojukwu’s bushy beard could be fair game in pol­i­tics, it will be in­sen­si­tive for ex­am­ple to lam­poon Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s neck beads, sym­bol­is­ing his high tra­di­tional ti­tle as Owelle of Onit­sha, or even the long tas­bih that Gover­nor Ah­mad Sani once tucked in his fin­gers.

Maybe it is be­cause Nige­rian politi­cians are lack­ing in po­lit­i­cal artistry these days. Hurl­ing in­sults at each other is not the only thing you can do at ral­lies. In 1992, when US Pres­i­dent Ge­orge Bush Se­nior re­fused to at­tend a de­bate against chal­lenger Bill Clin­ton in a squab­ble over de­bate rules, a Demo­cratic Party mem­ber turned up at Bush’s rally hold­ing aloft a large sym­bol of the fast-food chain Chicken Ge­orge. The mean­ing: Ge­orge had chick­ened out of the de­bate!

In Nigeria too, we once had ex­am­ples of bet­ter po­lit­i­cal artistry. In 1979 when Ab­dulka­dir Balarabe Musa won the gov­er­nor­ship elec­tions in old Kaduna State, PRP men filled a tip­per truck with maize cobs [the motto of NPN] and spread it all along Kaduna streets. Two weeks later when Sha­gari won the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, NPN men fab­ri­cated a huge key [PRP’s sym­bol], which they at­tached to the back of a truck and dragged it through Kaduna streets. In old Sokoto State too, when GNPP’s can­di­date lost the gov­er­nor­ship elec­tion, NPN men brought sev­eral sacks full of co­conut [GNPP’s sym­bol] and smashed them on the high­way.

The pres­i­dent and the gover­nor did not have to say some things them­selves. They could have left that to elo­quent party men or even to poets and mu­si­cians. That way, when it later turns out that a state­ment was a big gaffe, you can sim­ply dis­own it. How can their re­spec­tive par­ties and cam­paign teams now dis­own the gaffes that Jonathan and Kwankwaso each per­son­ally made last week?

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