We the poor animals of Nigeria  BY Azuka Onwuka

It is not easy keeping up with the happenings in Nigeria. Anezi Okoro wrote One Week, One Trouble, but in Nigeria of today, it has become a case of one day, one crisis.

Two weekends ago, while the dust created by the curious way the Boko Haram terrorists brought back their hostages right into the heart of Dapchi without releasing Leah Sharibu, who refused to renounce her Christian faith, was still in the air, we were faced with the allegation made by Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd.), a former Defence Minister, that Nigerian armed forces were aiding the killer herdsmen. Danjuma had urged the people of Nigeria, faced with the persistent attacks from the killer herdsmen, to defend themselves or be wiped out by the killer herdsmen.

The controversy generated by his remarks was still on when it was announced by the Presidency on Monday that President Muhammadu Buhari had received the First Black History Month National Black Excellence and Exceptional African Leadership Award 2018 from Martin Luther King Jnr’s family.The group which came to Abuja to present the award to him was said to have been led by Martin Luther King Jnr’s “wife”, even though his widow, Mrs Coretta Scott King, died in 2006. The controversy over how a dead Mrs King would come to Abuja to present an award in 2018 arose. Shortly after, The King Centre made a statement that neither it nor the children of Martin Luther King Jnr nor his widow presented any award to President Buhari. Another crisis arose. It was called a scam award paid for by the Presidency. The Senior Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora to the President, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, who was fingered as the facilitator of the award, came out to deny the accusation.

By Tuesday, another issue arose when President Buhari told his party, the All Progressives Congress, that the tenure elongation of the National Executive Committee was unconstitutional. The party officials shortly after, said that the decision of the NEC subsisted for the moment, until a counter-decision was taken.

The dust from that was still in the air when Lagos State announced on Wednesday that some roads would be closed because of the visit of President Buhari to commission the Ikeja bus terminal and other projects. It also declared Thursday a public holiday, even though Friday and Monday had already been declared public holidays to mark Good Friday and Easter Monday. Tongues wagged over the magnitude of the projects Buhari came to Lagos to commission and the irony of roads being blocked in spite of the fact that such acts were condemned when the ruling party was in the opposition some years ago. Statements made by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who was then the spokesman of the opposition, and Mr Babatunde Fashola, who was the Governor of Lagos State then, condemning the practice of blocking roads in Lagos and creating traffic gridlock in Lagos over the visit of the President were unearthed.

But the presidential visit to Lagos last week was clearly to attend the colloquium of the National Leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu, who had been sidelined for the past three years of this administration, but is being recognised because of the nearness of election. During that visit, the APC leaders harped on corruption by their predecessor, the PDP. The PDP challenged them to mention names of the corrupt people. A few days after, the APC published names of some members of the PDP as those that allegedly looted the nation without adding the names of the former PDP members that are now members of the APC, who are also facing trial for corruption. The PDP released its own list of “looters” that are now members of the APC.

There was also a crisis over the inauguration of Eko Atlantic City in Lagos by Buhari, which had been inaugurated in 2013 by the erstwhile President, Goodluck Jonathan. Photos of Jonathan and Fashola doing the inauguration in 2013 were splashed in the media.

From that Lagos visit too arose the controversy over the visit of erstwhile top model, Naomi Campbell, who posted that she was invited by the President of Nigeria to the event. When many Nigerians assailed her over the visit, she deleted her tweet. She and the Nigerian Presidency were visited with scathing criticism because of her claim and the tweet from the Presidency showing pictures of Buhari and Campbell in Lagos. The Presidency denied that it invited Ms Campbell. Then, the Special Assistant on Digital/New Media, Mr Tolu Ogunlesi, made a post calling Nigerians “animals”. His tweet read:

“Naomi Campbell met Nelson Mandela more than once. He hugged her, called her his “honorary granddaughter”. She visits Nigeria for a fashion festival and meets President @MBuhari, and some of you animals are slandering her. YOU’RE RAVING MAD WITH NOBODY TO TELL YOU.”

When the condemnation started to pour in, he made a post to give Nigerians the meaning of “animals”. He said: “Synonyms for ‘animal’ include brute, beast, monster, savage, devil, demon, fiend, villain, barbarian, ogre, according to the Oxford Dictionary

The condemnation continued. Even Senator Ben Murray-Bruce joined the fray by tweeting: “But why would a presidential aide paid with taxpayer money call the taxpayers who pay his salary and whose votes put his boss in office ‘animals’?”

Bruce added another comment: “Nnamdi Kanu wrongly called Nigeria a ‘zoo’ and we sent the army after him. But if a Presidential spokesman can call those who elected his boss into office ‘animals’, does he not validate Kanu? By that comment, Nigerians have a glimpse into the mindset of our highest leadership.”

Ogunlesi later wrote:  “I’d like to clarify. I would NEVER describe/think of Nigerians, or those who disagree with me, as ‘animals’. My comment was specific to those who thought it appropriate to denigrate/“slander” Naomi Campbell. The tweet should have been worded clearer & less provocatively. Lesson learnt.”

Note his choice of words. It was not an apology. Surprisingly, days after that post, he has not been sacked or even publicly reprimanded by the person who employed him.

But it is not surprising that the Presidency does not see Ogunlesi’s language as odious. In 2016, an article in The Economist, alleged to have been written by Ogunlesi, described Dr Goodluck Jonathan, erstwhile President of Nigeria, as “an ineffectual buffoon.” Ogunlesi denied writing that article.

If an adult does not reprimand his child for insulting other adults, one day the child will insult his parent, having seen that it is okay to insult adults.

Ogunlesi is not alone. He just reacted to Nigerians based on the way he has seen Nigerian rulers react to the citizenry. What exists in Nigeria is not leadership but a master-servant relationship. Those in authority are the rulers (not leaders) while the masses are the subjects. Naturally, the rulers have no respect for their subjects. Whenever they talk to the subjects, they talk down on them like riffraff.

The comment of Ogunlesi had not died down before Mallam Garba Shehu, presidential Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity, over the weekend, told Nigerians complaining about hunger to go and work. As far as Shehu is concerned, Nigerians who are hungry or complaining of hard times are lazy bones. If presidential aides are this insensitive, uncouth and detached from the people, one could only imagine how the President, ministers, senators, governors and other elected or appointed top officers are.

There is no value placed on the citizenry. The masses are looked upon by the rulers with disdain. The rulers know that anytime they need the support of the people, they can always employ religion and ethnicity – two tools that work wonders in Nigeria – to divide the people and get the support they need. Afterwards, they can revert to their disdain for the people.

Sadly, the people are not aware that they are playthings in the hands of the politicians and their agents.

—Twitter @BrandAzuka

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