By Bola Bolawole
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Every act of creation is first an act of destruction – Pablo Ruiz Picasso
The president, retired Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, has been the butt of cruel jokes in the past week! What the president must have thought was innocuous, social media read meanings into it such that Buhari would be wondering what really went wrong! In fact, the president and his spin doctors would have expected the media to applaud the action of Mr. President and his handlers who were able to pull off a visit to the mint-fresh king of England. Buhari was in London for one of his numerous medical tourisms which some reports said had gulped (or is it cost the Nigerian taxpayers?) a whopping N64 billion or more and which has seen him off his presidential seat and the country for a period close to one calendar year! Maybe guilty conscience pushed Buhari to say, “Let me give something back to my country and people; let me do some work here by visiting Charlie Boy” Perhaps it was a desire to beef up his curriculum vitae as well as enjoy to the hilt the remaining part of his tenure of office. Certainly, Buhari must have thought he would be applauded by his countrymen for being able to get an appointment to visit Buckingham Palace. The turn of events must have surprised, in fact, jolted him! Where did he go wrong?
King Charles III asked an innocuous question – or so it must have seemed to Buhari – do you have a home in England? Simple question and an elated Buhari must have thought this an opportunity to shine with the answer he would provide. No, he has no home in England or London and, in fact, he is so ascetic and corruption-free that he shuns ostentatious living and has only modest homes in Nigeria, which he acquired before he became the president! Buhari must have been stunned by the time Nigeria’s social media erupted in condemnation of his simple answer to Charles’ complex but tricky question. Commentators explained that Charles’ question was a riddle and the English are famous as masters of riddles and doublespeak. Charles: Do you have a home here in London? The way you frequent this place as your second home, you must have a home here. Buhari: No, Your Royal Majesty, I do not at all have a home here. Charles: Then, you must be spending a fortune of your people’s money on accommodation here; enough for you to build housing estates that would take millions of your people from sleeping in shanties and slums as well as under the bridge. Buhari: Your Royal Majesty, I do not see anything wrong coming here again and again. My country is rich enough to pay for it. And no one can query me. I have presidential powers. Charles: But what is it that brings you here again and again? Buhari: Medical tourism, Your Royal Majesty. I am entitled to the best of medical facilities available anywhere on earth. Charles: I see! Then you must be spending a lot of your country’s scarce foreign exchange on hospital and other expenses here that could have been more than enough for you to replicate the best medical facilities available here in your own country. Buhari: The medical facilities at home are more than okay for my people. It is alright that we the leaders can come here as members of the Commonwealth and continue to contribute to the economic well-being of our former colonial master. Once a master, always a master! Charles: I see! Buhari: My visit here and the warm reception Your Royal Majesty has accorded me has more than adequately compensated for the resources committed to my medical tourism. It will gladden the hearts of my people like never before! “
The British are masters of guile; so you cannot too much blame the Nigerians who read a thousand and one meanings into a simple and laconic discussion or greetings between two leaders of their respective country. One of the comments on the Buhari/Charles tango ran thus: “The English people could be so mischievous with their language sometimes: they would coin a statement in such a way that you would think it is ordinary or innocuous, whereas they have lambasted you hugely! That was probably what played out in the interaction between King Charles and President Buhari which, unfortunately, our man could not understand or fathom! By the way, can you remember the story of the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in the 1940s or 1950s that ran thus: He was in a restaurant; and in the course of “doing justice” to the food he bought, he was crunching the bones of the chicken when an English man sitting near him quipped, “What do dogs eat in your country”? Having understood the undertone (sarcasm) in the question, Azikiwe retorted: “Bread and butter”!
There was also a similar incident involving the freedom fighter and first Black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela; it ran thus:” When Nelson Mandela was studying law at the university, a white professor, whose last name was Peters, disliked him intensely. One day, Mr. Peters was having lunch in the dining room when Mandela came along with his tray and sat next to the professor. The professor said, ‘Mr Mandela, you do not understand, a pig and a bird do not sit together to eat’ Mandela looked at him as a parent would a rude child and calmly replied, ‘You do not worry professor. I’ll fly away!’ and he went and sat at another table. Mr. Peters, reddened with rage, decided to take revenge. The next day in class he posed the following question:”Mr. Mandela, if you were walking down the street and found two packages and within each a bag of wisdom and a bag with money, which one would you take?”
Without hesitating, Mandela responded, ‘The one with the money, of course’ Mr. Peters, smiling sarcastically, said, ‘I, in your place, would have taken the wisdom’ Nelson Mandela shrugged and responded: ‘Each one takes what he doesn’t have!’ Mr. Peters, by this time was about to throw a fit, seething with fury. So great was his anger that he wrote on Nelson Mandela’s exam sheet the word ‘IDI0T’ and gave it to the future struggle icon. Mandela took the exam sheet and sat down at his desk trying very hard to remain calm while he contemplated his next move. A few minutes later, Nelson Mandela got up, walked up to the professor and told him in a dignified polite tone: ‘Mr. Peters, you signed your name on the sheet but you forgot to give me my grade!’ Don’t mess up with intelligent people!”
Africa needs intelligent leaders but the opposite has been its Nemesis. We have heard stories of so many African leaders that have disgraced their people before foreigners. The story is told of a Nigerian leader who went in the company of others for a conference in London and ended up drinking 36 (or how many?) cups of tea because each time tea was served and he emptied it, he kept the tea cup face up instead of face down on the saucer. The server kept pouring him tea and our man kept gulping it until one member of the delegation called his attention to what he should have done! The story is also told of another Nigerian leader on another delegation to London who was served salad and he did not know what to make of it but seated close to him was Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who was voraciously devouring his own plate of salad. Our man tried to imitate Zik, put a spoonful of salad in his mouth but struggled to swallow it. His mouth and stomach rejected the stuff! He then turned to Zik and said, “Nna, dem cook your own; my own no don (my own was not cooked)”! These could be true life stories! It tells us not just cultural differences; it also speaks volumes about the quality of leadership.
Remember that Buhari’s visit to the White House of President Donald Trump in April 2018 ended in embarrassment to Nigerians everywhere. We began to hear that Trump never wanted to meet with another “lifeless” president! And that Nigeria was an “asshole” It is either a leader is competent or he is not; there is very little even a plethora of aides can do to effectively coach an incompetent leader. With the kind of leadership it is saddled with, Nigerians can only express two wishes: That Buhari’s tenure quickly runs its course and we can quickly be rid of him and then heave a sigh of relief. The other is that British Prime Minister Harold Winston’s wind of change, real change, will blow across the land and usher in fresh air that will give long-suffering Nigerians a respite; and that the act of creation, as poignantly stated by Picasso above, can immediately follow the act of destruction that the eight years of Buhari’s administration has signposted.