“When I first ran for public office, it was with the passion and idealism of a young man who believed that government could help make our lives better, that public service was a calling and that citizenship demanded responsibilities. There was a greater good.” – James McGreevey
The sensibility of average Nigerian voter has been serially wounded by untoward grandstanding of our political elites that it beggars question if there is anything the people would ever consider offensive to their psychè again. The elites prey on the naivety of the masses and their gullible tendencies, just to keep their obscene relevance in the political arena afloat.
Last week after the official lifting of ban on electioneering campaigns for 2023 general election, opposition supporters, especially the ubiquitous “Obidient” group sent out scornful tweets asking after the whereabouts of APC presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT), observing that his camp has been uncharacteristically quiet in the campaign window. In a strange response, a member of APC’s presidential campaign council, Mr. Ayo Oyalowo on Arise TV shocked Nigerians when he said that “Tinubu is in London resting.”
Such straight answer made many believe the household assertion that Bola Tinubu is incapacitated to face the rigors of the highest office in the land, should he be elected. To rest before the work begins is another definition of inefficiency. Nigeria in her current ‘Buharied’ state, needs an energetic, patriotic and competent president with situational awareness and omnipresent availability to heal her multifaceted wounds. By that revelation at the TV show, Mr. Oyalowo confirmed, albeit indirectly, that Tinubu’s manifest frailty can’t guarantee this.
Oyalowo’s blunt answers may also have caused Tinubu’s handlers some troubles, and must have led them into embarking on a swift damage control measure. They released a video clip of BAT on a gym cycler pedaling arhythmically to prove a point. The video was everything but edifying. Seeing a languid old man (whose real age is being debated) mount a gymnastic apparatus, and ostensibly made to animate on it for the camera is scandalous, especially when done to represent competence for a public office as demanding as president of Nigeria.
But we shouldn’t put it on Tinubu alone. The ignominy is common among leaders of the old order. On August 2018, in the build-up to 2019 general election, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar shared a video of himself on a treadmill, boasting that he “jogs more than a mile everyday.” This was seen as a spat on President Muhammad Buhari, who had in a video, two days before, showed where he trekked 800 meters on Daura road during Sallah holiday of that year, just to show he is fit for reelection, after spending two-third of his first term in London hospital.
A sight of such old men, scrimmaging to prove office worthiness through stage-managed gym shows was debilitating to minds. But NIgerians, accustomed to weird displays, never raised eyebrows. However, no one expected that after four years of Buhari’s unceremonious outing, with our country in fiscal bankruptcy, face-to-face with all indices of state failure, Tinubu will still play the same nauseating script.
Obligate politicians can do anything, to hoodwink the masses into electing them. It is commonplace in Africa.
I have said it repeatedly in this space that age, academic qualifications and state of physical fitness are not exclusive measure of competence in political offices. History is replete with great leaders who ruled their countries creditably from sick beds. Gov. Babagana Zulum of Borno is far older than the youthful Yahaya Bello of Kogi state, but he is rated better than Bello in all performance indexes. Despite being healthier and more educated, President Jonathan ranked lower in terms of performance in office than Umaru Yar’dua who came into office with chronic renal complications.
On April 02, last year former presidential spokesman, Reno Omokri, the self-styled “Buhari tormentor” staged “harass Buhari out of London” protest, when Buhari was on admission at a London hospital. Two days later, I featured a commentary on it in my column with Blueprint newspaper: https://www.blueprint.ng/harassing-the-president-an-apostrophe-or-an-aside/
It read: “How did we degenerate into such profanatory and iniquitous state? It was an unholy scene. An exposé that most leaders of Black nations are cognitively stunted and intellectually inferior; always acting below standards. And this agonizing mediocrity fans the emotionally compulsive black followers into unrest. Our problem is not that Buhari came into office sickly, after all, his PR goons kept telling us that he was not too feeble to hold the proverbial reins of power. Between 1933 and 1945, United States of America had a cripple as her 32nd President in Franklin D. Roosevelt. He performed marvelously, guiding his country through the turbulence of World War II. Our problem is in Buhari’s (deliberate) inability to perform. Even President J.F Kennedy came to the White House nurturing Type 2 Addison’s disease, an autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome. From 1981 – 1995 François Mitterrand ruled France with prostate cancer. All of them were treated in their own counties, so they could attend to the demands of their office simultaneously. In our case, the president left us in autopilot status. The country was anaemic and in desperate need of live-saving blood and drastic leadership, which he was not providing. All these can happen because the head is not just sickly, but tired, absent and clueless.”
Tinubu’s spin doctors should stop worrying about proving that age is very much on his side. Nigerians are more concerned about the cloud of secrecy trailing his biodata and source of wealth, as well as alleged corruption albatross, than his physical fitness. They are perturbed by his absence at the NBA conference in his backyard two months ago, and at the all-important signing of Peace Accord few days ago. Has he started showing signs of being a remote president if elected?
His frantic struggle to secure street credibility is what is making Peter Obi look like a superhuman with incredible powers. The current political consciousness among our youths is anchored on patriotic hunt for competence validated by track records and verifiable antecedents, and not cosmetic show of acquired seasonal qualities. Let these geriatric politicians stop the dramatization of their elusive fitness. “A man is not old” says John Barrymore, “until regrets take the place of dreams.”
Like Ernest Makata wrote: “The matter with health status, related to age and active illness, is that you cannot hide it for long. A deteriorating biological process is what it is. No living thing is immune from it. The moment Africans accept this the better for them and the better chances we have to die happily. We must understand that there is time for everything. For old men above 70 to lie about their health status and pretend that they are 30, just for some inordinate ambition depicts a corrupt, dangerous and fixated mindset that is ready to embezzle the future of even his or her children. There is time for everything under the earth: A time to be active and a time to retire.”
May daylight spare us!
© Jude Eze