Thursday, August 11, 2016

Aisha Buhari, Bags And Fleas

By Paul Onomuakpokpo  
A tragic irony that has imperiled our collective well-being and has indeed precipitated the nation’s current political and economic ruination is the readiness of the citizens to brook their leaders’ dereliction of duty while still wishing that they chart an uncommon trajectory of national development.
*Aisha Buhari 
We watch our leaders loot the treasury and appropriate our national resources as the extension of their private estates.  But let some years roll by, then we suffer collective amnesia and we launch into a revisionism that casts  national villains in the mould of heroes to whom  the citizens are eternally obliged.
If the President Muhammadu Buhari presidency fails to break itself from floundering and is unable to positively impact the citizens, there would still be people who would insist that he contributed immeasurably to national development. After all, he detained many public thieves and recovered their loot.  Already, the citizens are being told that they should be patient because the so-called dividends of democracy can only be brought to them after the current government has cleared the unimaginable rot left by its predecessor.
Although the camp of the supporters of Buhari is thinning out having been disillusioned by his ineptness, the citizens who are not amenable to this delusion of waiting  for good governance to manifest but insist on evident performance are easily branded as enemies of the positive change that is launching the country into prosperity. 
And this is why our shock at the lack of direction and the gaudiness of the lifestyles of our leaders at a time there is so much suffering in the land is muted. The list of the manifestations of the hardship is endless: Workers and pensioners have not been paid salaries for months; those who can no longer endure are taking their own lives and children can no longer go to school .Those who are in school abroad who can no longer pay their fees because of the foreign exchange crisis have turned into thieves, prostitutes and beggars. But amidst this, the children of our leaders are schooling overseas. No wonder they do not care that teachers are not paid at home and schools are being shut down. Are these the people we expect to think about how they would improve our education?
How many children of Buhari are in the country’s public schools? Our public consciousness is often jarred by the reports of how our big men like Buhari have their children ensconced in some  overseas universities. However, there is always the ludicrous argument that Buhari is using his money to send his children to school abroad. But this argument is rendered nugatory by the fact that as our leader, he must clearly demonstrate his confidence in our educational system by making his children to be part of it. Again, how did Buhari become suddenly rich that his children are now schooling abroad? Is this not the same Buhari who lamented that he was so poor that he could not pay for his party’s form indicating his interest in the presidency?
Buhari’s lack of patriotism, and insensitivity to the plight of the citizens are being aggravated by his wife. She is in the news for toting a Hermes Birkin bag worth $105,000, which is more than N40 million in our local currency during her trip to the United States. This is not surprising because Mrs. Buhari sent a sufficient notice about the direction she would take as the wife of the president. Remember? 
Just a year ago, during the inauguration of her husband as president, she scandalised the poor citizens who voted her husband into office by wearing an out-of-the-way wristwatch. To be sure, no one says that the wife of the president is doomed to wearing clothes that would only portray her as one of the wretched of the earth. Yes, she should wear what would befit her office as the wife of the president. But even if Mrs. Buhari made her mark in fashionable society before, now that her husband is president, her sartorial taste should reflect a consciousness  of the difficult economic circumstances of the citizens. More importantly, what the poor citizens want to remember the wife of the president for is that she spoke on their behalf while her husband was the president. She may not write a newspaper column like Eleanor Roosevelt. But they want to remember her, like Eleanor Roosevelt, as having spoken for human rights, children’s causes and women issues.

Forget about all the pretentions of our leaders to work for the interest of the citizens. We must be alert to the fact that due to the mis-governance of our leaders, we are confronted with the danger of a replication of the post-apartheid South African society as depicted by Zakes Mda’s in the Ways of Dying. Mda fictionalises a South Africa where the bleak lot of the poor has compelled them to be cooking food on the fires of a funeral pyre, feeding on human waste and human corpse and drinking their own urine to quench their thirst. Amidst this suffering, the wealthy class who made their riches off the suffering of the poor does not spare a thought for the latter. Mda illustrates this with two characters, Toloki and Nefolovhodwe. Toloki is one of the downtrodden who instead of assuming the position of a mendicant with a bowl chooses to maintain his dignity by looking for a job to sustain himself. When Toloki approaches Nefolovhodwe, a village acquaintance who has made it big in the city for a job, the latter does not take notice of his presence. When he does, it is to express his outrage at Toloki who has come to disturb his playing with his fleas.
Despite the economic crisis facing Nigeria and the rest part of the world, our leaders are like Nefolovhodwe. They have already attained political power and wealth on the back of the citizens. Now they are playing with their fleas: bags, sirens, public and private jets, bogus salaries and allowances and fat pensions. They feel disturbed by a reminder that the citizens are suffering and that they need employment and money to put food on their tables.
The poor citizens who are hungry, selling some of their children to feed their siblings who have dropped out of school, and the other citizens who are contemplating suicide are not impressed with whatever their leaders are wearing. They feel that they are in an emergency and they expect their leaders to also think like that. They expect their leaders to demonstrate a sense of urgency that is similar to that of a medical doctor performing a surgery on a patient. Can you imagine such a doctor being concerned with how beautiful her dressing is? Can you imagine such a doctor being pre-occupied with the politics of 2019?
Indeed, all the citizens expect is for their leaders to provide succour. They expect their leaders to provide the genuine hope that though today is bleak, their future is bright . But with the kind of leaders we have now who want to be remembered by how much their caps strove to reach the sky and their sartorial elegance and that of their spouses, the citizens may have to wait longer for reprieve. Or those who cannot wait may just have to swell the data of suicides in this turbulent economic time.
*Dr. Onomuakpokpo is a columnist and member of the Editorial Board of The Guardian (Nigeria)


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