Fellow Nigerians, I don’t know about you, but I find the cynicism of many Nigerians very strange and sometimes distressing and depressing. If you’re a social media addict like me, you must have experienced the horror of reading some banal arguments on some platforms. Believe me, it is no longer funny! No surprise that some wonder wonder legislator has decided that hate speech must not only be legislated out of existence but made a capital offence so that horrible death awaits the purveyors of such filth, not minding the constitutional guarantee of Nigerians to freedom of speech and expression.
Everywhere you turn, on the internet and even in the print and electronic media, you will be assailed and assaulted by all manner of conspiracy theories. We seem to have all become ‘doubting Thomases’. Just in case you’re not familiar with the story behind that popular phrase, let me regurgitate it here. It is a Biblical tale that can be found in the book of John 20: 24-29. According to the account, Apostle Thomas was totally sceptical about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, after he was told by his ten other Apostles that Jesus had already appeared to them. Thomas Paine, one of my favourite authors of all time, ironically, says the original Thomas was not a doubter but an unbeliever, suggesting that his was not a situation of doubt, but one of total disbelief. He went on to differentiate between the two in his seminal masterpiece, The Age of Reason. According to Paine, an unbeliever has no iota of faith or belief in him whereas a doubter still has some redeemable faith.
This scenario is what I think is playing out in Nigeria right now. Despite copious denials from the President and the Presidency about President Muhammadu Buhari’s lack of interest in elongating his stay in power by any means possible. If there is one thing I know the President does not joke with, it is his faith in Islam. The President even swore by the Holy Koran that he will never go against the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by doing the unthinkable. Yet people are saying they don’t believe the series of denials emanating from his camp or even the Man himself.
One must ask why not a few Nigerians have refused to budge on the matter. As for me, I believe there is no way President Buhari can wake up tomorrow and reverse these public statements. I would be astonished to see which mouth he will use to tell us that he is under pressure, as some have suggested he will do, and that he has thus changed his mind and has decided to run again or simply extend his term of office. To be honest, it will shock me to the marrow.
Notwithstanding his foibles and weaknesses, I still cling to the belief that he is a man of honour and integrity, probably the last saint standing in Nigeria. I have thought long and hard about the possibility of him looking at us with a straight poker face and saying I want to contest again or stay for a little while longer.
The President may sometimes have a taciturn, inscrutable expression, but I doubt that even he could carry this one off without looking sheepishly guilty.
But the unbelieving Thomases of Nigeria have said they see Buhari contesting in 2023 or even thereafter despite the sporadic denials. Perhaps it is worth considering their uncharitable contentions. So, what are their arguments.
Possibly the strongest argument, is their claim that in fact we must take Buhari’s strident and passionate denials at no more than face level. They contend that Buhari’s saintliness would not be tainted or tarnished because he would not have broken his promise. He would not be breaking any Law or reneging on his words as long as he finds a way to change the Constitution. Simply put, what the President had said was that he will never do anything unconstitutional, but not that he will never change or alter the Constitution and thus be acting unconstitutionally if there is tenure elongation or a third term or both added to the Constitution. Is it that some of us who see this as preposterous, nay impossible, are plainly naive or even stupid?
The unbelieving Thomases are pointing to their imaginary tell-tale signs. The first is that Buhari has refused to change the military Chiefs who have definitely overstayed their welcome and are certainly not as effective as to justify their being over-pampered by the State, thus depriving some of our young Turks the opportunity of demonstrating how they can positively change the narrative of our security challenges. But I refuse to see any big deal. The President himself is a retired General of the Nigerian Army, one of the most accomplished soldiers Nigeria ever had. He definitely knows more about military strategy than most of us combined. I believe we simply lack the competence and experience to challenge him on matters of security, even if his knowledge and experience were gained in yesteryears or what some have taken to describing as the dark and arcane days of the mid-20th century.
The unbelieving Thomases also point at the fact that the top security echelon of Nigeria comes from President Buhari’s part of the country and this can only mean that he feels he would need them to support him, by fire by force, one day sooner rather than later. As tempting as the argument might be, I still maintain my lane that our people are just crying wolves where there are none.
The unbelieving Thomases believe it is very easy to change the Nigerian Constitution now that Nigerians have been totally cowed by President Buhari and no one, including the tempestuous, fiery and usually vociferous Obasanjo who has gone funereally quiet, can dare stand to challenge the President. They reason that who will challenge Buhari if and when he decides to strike. According to the doomsday apostles, Buhari now has a docile and pliant legislature on his side. He has practically tamed our hitherto robust and fearless judiciary. To cap it all, he has the instruments of the most fearsome and intimidatory enforcement agencies at his beck and call and the pen is no longer mightier than the sword. It is suggested that when these attack dogs are unleashed on an already battered and shattered citizenry their collapse into the waiting arms of a dictator potentate would be calamitously swift.
The unbelieving Thomases point at the spate of meetings and consultations going on almost on daily basis between the President and Nigerians from all walks of lives, including the military wing, serving or retired, political class, old or new, traditional rulers, relevant or not, and so many others. They are peeved at the fact that the President recently invited Speakers of all the State Houses of Assembly to Abuja, belonging to different political colouration and persuasion. They point out that the State legislatures will be needed for any Constitutional amendment and they are just being sweetened for the dastardly act that is to come. Again, I don’t see any big deal. A President is usually the father of the nation and may decide to call on anyone for support in the face of the current tribulations ravaging the country. Indeed, the President must be commended for reaching out in this way. The Man simply cannot win. Hitherto, he was accused of being insular and withdrawn, almost reclusive. Now that he is reaching out, people are seeing phantom plots and sub-plots! Nigerians!! I simply can’t see what is wrong in the President hosting people and ensuring he enjoys everyone’s cooperation and collaboration in the turbulent times that we face.
The unbelieving Thomases see these meetings as precursors to a hidden agenda that will ultimately snowball or metamorphose into a political conflagration when events begin to unfold at the speed of light. Call me stupid, but I don’t see how this is possibly feasible, now or ever. True, most members of Nigeria’s political class lack principle and courage, but if the unexpected is tried by Buhari, it may ignite an unexpected reaction that may lead to even opposing forces coming together to face him squarely. Buhari knows this fact very well, that the seeming docility or obvious reticence of Nigerians is more tellingly dangerous than their open loquaciousness. An animal backed to the wall is most dangerous running back to face his attacker!
Still the unbelieving Thomases insist the President is not the sort of person to waste unnecessary time and resources on bringing a deluge of fat cats into Abuja without having a serious and sinister motive. They argue that the President knows what he is doing, and that he is certainly not so jobless or just seeking good company in a gilded cage. I’m unhappy that we have become so angrily divided that all we see are frightening apparitions attributable to our wild imaginations.
The unbelieving Thomases think the matter of the supposed ostracisation of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo is a powerful message to would be aspirants that there is no vacancy in Aso Rock villa and that whosoever is nursing any such ambition should urgently perish the thought. Osinbajo is seen as an unwilling and unwitting pawn in the game of politics and may not be disturbed for as long as he stays in his track without as much as a whimper, otherwise, he would be squashed and resampled underfoot like a pesky pest! Nobody seems to care that this is far from the truth. I am assured, and the President and the Vice President have taken great pains to guarantee us that the relationship between Buhari and his Deputy has never been stronger than it is now and that the trust and camaraderie between them is solid and unbroken.
On a serious note, I choose to believe President Buhari on this occasion. I can’t see how he can come out in the open and tell us he wants to stay longer than 2023, after swearing by the Holy Koran. Besides as a Muslim he understands man alone cannot determine his tomorrow. There are supernatural forces at play. Man can only propose but God is always the one to dispose. The unbelievers should calm down, especially, now that APC has publicly disowned a rascal who went to court seeking extension to Buhari’s stay in power. If I had doubts before, that was a clear indication that certainly, neither the President nor the ruling party is in cahoots with strange and mindless bedfellows with phantasmagorical ideas that may be running riot in their brains.
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria and its Constitution