President Muhammadu Buhari. PHOTO: STATE HOUSE
Perhaps no other piece of news has arrested the attention of the nation or captivated our collective consciousness these three weeks past than the poorly-managed vacation of President Muhammadu Buhari. For some inordinately inexplicable reasons, an advertised holiday retreat of the nation’s chief executive has turned into an eerie tale of banal official inconsistencies, half truths and downright fabrications. The mainstream media have professionally papered over the narrative of a spritely but lately frail head of government who presided over the event of the 2017 Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration on the 15th of January which highlight was a military parade he personally reviewed; and the widely reported news of the sudden but grave turn of events regarding his putative health conditions. They have cleverly dodged to be involved in the “news behind the news” or to be implicated in stories of the alleged dire circumstances of the President’s health. On the other hand, however, the social media platforms have been awash with gory stories of alleged hospital admission in some forlorn private institution, of medical or laboratory tests respecting malfunctioning internal organs, of the rejection by certain body tissues of transplanted organs, and generally of morbid fascination with death.
A significant development in this drama of sorts is the unmasking of the underbelly of the socio-political bankruptcy of the official handlers of government information or processes. In sum, the proper handling of sensitive matters by state officials may be assessed vis-à-vis the ideology (or lack of it) of the requirement of a robust popular information dissemination machinery. Many factors, including the new information super highway, the advent of formal or specialised education, new cultural values, our peculiar reactions to matters of politics and our hyper-sensitivity to religion, etc all play influential roles in today’s information gathering and dissemination. Today’s information network is preoccupied mainly with making news reach a great social alternative. This form is directed towards actual intellectual and physical involvement of the intended audience through popular, common or everyday expressions, simple language, familiar idioms or lingo and extant mannerisms.
Most times the angry evaluation of the betrayal of our political independence portrayed in writings in mainstream journals and on social media network platforms is so sorely misunderstood and officially taken to be “negative.” But generally, the purpose of these writings is to help in the restoration of positive community values. What is demanded is a socio-historical understanding of this development with a view to throwing light on current challenges. For much of what the ubiquitous social media represent, an apparently opportunistic tactic and not a matter of doctrinaire belief may be discerned. But this does not in any way detract or derogate from its intrinsic “evangelising” message. Social media populism conduces to mass mobilisation in a superficial political form even as it serves as an alternative political platform or arena. It finds its natural ideological trajectory in the “aluta continua” foundations of most of its proprietors or founders.
If the truth be told, the official mouth organs of the Presidency have been remiss or negligent in the discharge of the functions of their office by not being pro-active regarding the requirement of free-flowing dissemination of the news revolving around the alleged health mishap of the President. For all the time, they allowed themselves to be put on the defensive regarding the truth value or otherwise of any news item concerning the vexed issue. More embarrassingly, they gave out pieces of information which internal contradictions exposed their own chicanery. For instance, in response to the widely-believed view that the President’s postponed return date was due to his continuing poor health conditions, his information aides have curiously informed a bewildered nation that the collection by Buhari himself of the results of his medical and other tests may have necessitated the postponement or delay of his home return. The duo of Garba Shehu and Femi Adeshina cut a sorry or pitiable picture as they laboured each time to make appropriate responses to the expression of genuine public concerns regarding Buhari’s true material and emotional condition. The Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed is no less pitiable or agonizing. These are testy times for Mohammed. The news item reportedly wrongly credited to him that the requirement to “refurbish” the President’s aircraft would delay his return is not only tacky but lacking in rigour or deep thrust. Also curious and laughable is the diplomatic faux pas which passed as the “congratulatory message” President Trump of the U.S. allegedly sent to President Buhari even in the light of the devolution of presidential powers to Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as Acting President. Somebody truly is being economical with the truth regarding our perilous situation.
We conclude by citing with approval the thesis of Francis Fukuyama that a society that fails to confront a major material or philosophical crisis through serious institutional (and possibly, personnel) reform is tempted to resort to a host of short time fixes that erode and eventually corrupt its cherished institutions. The rude shyness or inexcusable reluctance of Buhari’s men to come out clean regarding the true fate of the President obfuscates or befogs the entire atmosphere and has understandably given room to wild guesses, un-axiomatic conjectures and, even, tarradiddles.
Gratifyingly, despite the pervading gruesome realities, the subject of the irresponsibility of persons in authority regarding their charge over us is discussed light-heartedlywithout being irresponsible. This trend may however not continue to be taken for granted. The challenge or difficulty resides in involving our leaders to take the discussions of our national plight seriously in time to arrive at rational conclusions. Nigeria’s problems have continued to worsen dramatically over the years. They require to be taken seriously in open, frank or no holds-barred discussions.
Rotimi-John is a lawyer and commentator on public affairs.