I ‘met’ General Buhari way back in the late 80s when he was head of state after having toppled Shehu Shagari. After that coup, his fame spread far and wide, and over the hills and valleys of Nigeria like that of Amalinze the cat. He became celebrity to the extent that even though he had tied up two young boys – Bartholomew Owoh and Lawal Ojulope – at the stake and having them shot – for pushing hard drugs, had promulgated a decree 3 muzzling the press and covering up the identity of the people who imported 43 suitcases filled with cash, he was a well sought after no-nonsense leader any subordinate would ignore to their peril. So the government in the old Bendel state invited him over to Benin City. They organised a jingle that ran for more than a week, and the intensity of that cacophony hasn’t left my head more than twenty years after.
General Buhari, you’re welcome to Bendel State…May almighty God bless you, give you long life and prosperity, the jingle ran. Apparently the jingle was no ordinary jingle and as things have turned out, God has blessed the General: he has lived the good life and is very prosperous, particularly in his ability to be the silent snake lurking under the green grass. But I didn’t use to see him the way I do today. When he was chauffeured past me along Okhoro road in Benin City where the local library was situated, I had the very rare privilege of looking straight in the eyes of the man who held our collective destiny as a nation in his hands. The eyes looked back at me as if I was not the one standing there by the side of the road waving a flag but he straining his neck to see me! Then he smiled. It was the nicest smile I’d ever seen of a man and such a fine one at that. The gap-teeth were very much like two ewe a shade different from the ones in the mouth of the man who deposed him afterwards, and my guess is that that was when my love affair with the general started. I became like one of the millions of young admirers of his in Nigeria to the extent that when I eventually had the opportunity as a youth corper to join the military, I wasn’t thinking of him as a Fulani herdsman or an agwei but of joining up only to be as Spartan and as stiff and as ramrod like him. A lot of us young people from Benin to Bauchi, from Bama to Badagry and from Ilupeju to Imo idolised the general then. We truly did not understand why such a seeming well-intentioned man would be made to look as nasty as he was by his second in command, the late Tunde Idiagbon. Even though all of the nasty things that had to be said then came from the mouth of Tunde Idiagbon, most of us thought it was because the general being a soldier didn’t have a way with managing his consonants and vowels.
And that – his ability to maintain a stoic silence – was the dominant impression that became of him even after he was shoved aside by his gap-toothed cousin, General IBB. All through the IBB years, General Buhari took his misfortune and fall from grace to grass like a stoic to the extent that he kept mum when his new boss Sanni Abacha killed Nigerians at will. He also did not say anything when bombs were systematically targeted at perceived opponents of the Abacha junta. But the general only began to speak up for himself after May 1999. Here was an opportunity to get back on the saddle. But when he failed continuously and continually to get on the horse, his frustration seemed to get at him. At the Shehu Yar’Adua centre two years ago, the general wept like a baby apparently because he had failed to be president. It was from this point that my love affair for the man began to get sour. At one point, he was credited with encouraging Moslems to vote only Moslems. Even though the general didn’t come out to deny it, I found it a preposterous statement particularly as many of us his former admirers were his admirers not because of geography or religion. Even before the Boko Haram became as derring-do as they are now, the general unleashed another verbal fusillade that was the equivalent of his political hara-kiri. He was to make a reference to a section of Nigerians as baboons…and that blood would flow if these baboons ever tried to rig again to power. The general may not have realised it but the import of that statement, to many simple minded-people, and particularly so when that statement was rendered in Hausa, was that the baboons had rigged and therefore blood must flow. At least that would be the way I would interpret it if I am not circumspect. And just when you thought things wouldn’t get any worse, he was reported to have reverted to his taciturn state, the state he was when Abacha was killing Nigerians, when the present government asked him to help dialogue with the Boko Haram. Silence is a glove that goes hand in hand with acquiescence. His every body language and comportment gave credence that he is a strong supporter of the terrorists attacking us.
I have not said all of this out of whim. A very powerful linguistic theory, aka speech acts supports me. If you’re interested please look it up. What you’ll assuredly find there is that all our speech has locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary repercussions. The theory for short says that you say what you say not knowing that your speech has power to direct the hearer to do things that may have devastating or salutary consequences. A general is only capable of words. His officers and followers translate them to action. Having said this I hope the lawyers on both sides who would handle the case arising from the threat of litigation in referring to General Buhari as a Boko Haram sponsor and supporter, would juxtapose the speech act alongside issues as libel and supposed defamation of the character of the weeping General. Part of the failure in General Buhari is what Sun Tzu tried to explain in his seminal treatise, The Art of War, that if words of a command are not distinct and clear for the subordinates to understand and carry them out, then the general must be blamed.
Nota benne: This was written before the General recanted and became a born again and seemingly dumped the Boko Haram in an article published in several newspapers. Because I am not convinced (He said Nigerians must not allow a ‘minority’ to spoil things for us all) of his borne-againism, I decided to send you this.
6th May, 2014.