Two major events happened at the weekend – one confirming that our nascent democracy, though still brittle and sluggish, is gradually coming of age, and the other, a testimony to the fact that the word of President Muhammadu Buhari, despite his health challenge and other related afflictions, still remains his bond.
On Saturday, 82 of the Chibok girls, held for more than three years, were released to government officials through the Red Cross by their Boko Haram captors at Banki, a border town between Nigeria and Cameroon after a prolonged negotiation. They were taken to Abuja and presented to President Muhammadu Buhari in the villa on Sunday. Their release after three years of agony in the Boko Haram Gulag is a significant event that has proved once again that Buhari is ever faithful to his words.
The second significant event that day was the president taking off for another medical vacation, now a familiar shorthand for a sojourn in foreign lands, to seek a cure for his ailments.
When the first batch of 21 girls regained their freedom from captivity in October last year, an exultant President Buhari gave his word that more of the Chibok girls, if not all of them, would be released soon. But between October last year and the release of the 82 girls at the weekend, there was no clear public information that something was happening. It is not clear if any responsible government agency was given the mandate to relate regularly with the girls’ traumatised parents to give them succour, words of encouragement and hope.
Some of the parents were reported to have suffered heart attack and died of the agony of missing their loved ones. A few months ago, on the third anniversary of their capture, the Bring- Back- Our- Girls activists along with some parents sought to remind the president of their ordeals and to find out what was the current development. But instead of succour and balm on their cracking nerves, they were given the cold shudders. Even some mothers were publicly rebuffed by security men when they marched close to the gate of the villa hoping that someone high up in the villa would give them some shoulders to lean on.
But all is not lost. The good news this weekend is that despite this cold rebuff and indecent lack of empathy on the third anniversary of the seizure of these innocent girls, government did not waver in its determination to get the girls off the Boko Haram hook. Do we now say hurrah?
By pursuing negotiations to a fruitful conclusion, Buhari has indeed lived up to his word. Certainly this will encourage the world to continue to place more premium on our collective credibility and integrity and hopefully give all necessary support for a speedy conclusion of negotiations.
But the president’s handlers must learn to show more empathy and get the president himself to do same, especially when the occasion calls for one. And what a better occasion to show such presidential care than the anniversary of the most heinous crime by man against humanity! It was an occasion to reassure the parents that the rest of humanity had not forgotten their plight. Certainly they needed balms on their jaded nerves. Officialdom missed a good opportunity to show they have a human feeling.
I am sure parents of the released girls and other very hopeful parents still waiting to see their daughters alive are one with the whole country in praying for the president as he took off again for London at the weekend for medical treatment. His absence, it is hoped, will not affect the pace of talks with the insurgents.
President Buhari’s return to London, the second momentous event, was not surprising, at least not as some people had tried to make it look. In fact, it would have been surprising, if not shocking, if he did not go, in view of the clear evidence that he is not well. And we should not be in a hurry to forget that he had, himself, told the nation on March 10 when he returned from a 49-day medical vacation in London that he was indeed sick and he would be back there soon for further treatment.
But while waiting for his doctor’s time to go back, he was forced to take a rest from office. He failed to attend the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting for three consecutive weeks. He even missed the Jumu’at prayers in the mosque located inside the villa. His absence at other public events in the villa gave rise to renewed speculation that all was not well. No wonder his appearance in the mosque 48 hours before he travelled made so much good news and it was relayed regularly on NTA network news.
On the two or three occasions that the president has had to travel abroad for extended stay there, he did the needful by transmitting power to the vice-president. By doing this he has kept to the spirit and letter of the constitution. Not doing so would have created unnecessary rancour in the polity.
With democratic institutions taking hold and beginning to mature in the country, I wonder why some people still nurse the fear that the ill-health of the president portends danger to the country instead of concentrating their efforts, if not on prayers, at least on ensuring scrupulous adherence to democratic tenets that help towards building and nurturing the unity and stability of the country. The constitution has clearly provided for the vice-president to step in when the president is absent or unable to carry out his duties. So what is it?
Citizens of countries that have strong institutions that work have no time to worry about who is in charge of government at any point in time. All they know is that whoever is there is guided by the constitution and he is, therefore, a stickler for doing the right thing in the greater interest of the majority of the people, not a section of the people.
What behoves we the people and other patriotic citizens is to do as Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, national leader of the All Progressives Congress, has enjoined us to do – rally round and stand by the president in his moments of travail. Says the Asiwaju: “We must not covet rumour and fear but we should engage our creativity and enterprise to help the president to accomplish his historic mission.”
Let me put this question: have some of these prophets of doom – certainly that is what I think they are – ever wondered how Italy and Japan, for example, have managed over decades to survive the frequent changes in their respective governments and cabinets while their political and economic institutions are left severely alone? From 1993 to 2013, a period of only 20 years, there were 13 cabinets and 18 prime ministers in Italy. Its closest rival, Japan, faired only slightly better. In the period under review, Japan recorded 18 cabinet changes with 13 prime ministers. At the drop of a hat, they change their governments as they change their pants.
While these frequent political earthquakes happen at the speed of a tsunami, the citizens of these countries always go about their lives hardly bothering about security and economic survival. The things that we pursue here to the high heavens – ethnicity, religion, how to share the national cake and who controls the resources of the country and the balance of power between the North and the South – are settled matters there. There, the people only vote for leaders that represent their political and economic interests, those who will not, in an organised larceny, convert national patrimony and common wealth to private and family use.