EMMANUEL UCHENNA UGWU
Dolapo couldn’t keep the romance pilgrimage secret. She shared it. She blessed twitterverse with a picture of herself and her husband, Yemi Osibanjo, on Valentine’s Day, walking a Dubai street that seemed to be paved with precious stones.
As a sight of a human couple, the picture bespeaks Eden innocence. A man and a woman on a relaxed walk. Their backs against the world.
But the picture transfigures into a horrible spectacle when you appreciate the nuances of its context: This particular gray-haired Yemi Osibanjo is the Vice President of Nigeria and he undertook this gratuitous overseas love tourism in the midst of Nigeria’s escalating economic crisis.
The postcard ostensibly emanated from the couple’s sense of baptism into the celebrity lifestyle. Last year, the Osibanjos spent the Valentine campaigning. This year, they are in their vice presidential apotheosis. They must mesmerize the world with an image of their transcendental VIP Valentine!
Yet, the picture is a rude assault on the sensibilities of the Nigerian people. A patronizing display of Osibanjo’s immunity from the Nigerian reality. An ill-timed ostentation of his appetite for the exotic.
Oil revenue has dried to a trickle. Federal and state governments are cash-strapped. Nigeria’s 2016 budget hangs on foreign loans. The naira is in fast-forward free fall. Businesses are shrinking and shedding workers. Nigerians are searching for the prospect of hope and recovery.
This is a time when you expect the presidency to slough off entitlements, fast from exuberant indulgences, and model fiscal restraint.
You expect that Buhari, Osibanjo and their administration’s messengers would be evangelizing the citizenry to change spending habits that worsen our woes.
You expect to see Osibanjo –the seemingly modest VP candidate who rode public buses and engaged Lagos commuters –touring Nigeria, holding town hall meetings, persuading Nigerians to adjust their tastes.
Osibanjo, the man who oversees key sectors of the economy, did not feel obliged to do any of those duties. He would rather check the time and decide that this was an opportune moment to frolic abroad!
The week before, President Buhari had taken a five day vacation to attend to his health in UK. Osibanjo became the Acting President. But Buhari was scarcely home before Osibanjo jetted out to Dubai on Valentine vacation. It was a seamless, back-to-back disappearance of two of Nigeria’s highest leaders!
There is a lot of daylight between the two absences, though.
Nigerian leaders don’t participate in the healthcare system of the country they rule. They have a reputation for going abroad to treat common cold. But the case can be made that the health of the President of Nigeria is a crucial state asset: And that it should benefit from the highest quality of medical care in the world whenever the need arises.
On the other hand, Osibanjo’s Valentine vacation admits of no comparable mitigating rationale. It cannot pass as an ineluctable, biologically-imposed necessity. A potential disaster that must be averted by foreign flight. His vacation was a leisurely hunt for sensual pleasure.
His misadventure meshes with the psychology of disregard for propriety that underpinned the conduct of the occupants of power he partnered with Buhari to supplant. Osibanjo went all the way to Dubai because he felt he was at liberty to use his carte blanche to satisfy his feel-good fantasy under any circumstance!
To be sure, this would have been a non-issue if Yemi Osibanjo were not a public official. If he was just another private citizen, his choice of a Valentine tryst would have been a matter exclusive to his matrimonial privacy.
Actually, the rest of Nigeria may not have known his whereabouts if his wife had not published that picture. Their lovey-dovey getaway would probably have stayed a private affair. They had not run into a paparazzi ambush in Dubai.
But Dolapo would not let their repeat honeymoon stay a secret. She alerted the country:
Look at us! Yemi and I. We are here in Dubai, picnicking!
That’s not the misdemeanor of photographic exhibitionism. It’s a crime of pornographic pomposity!
Leaders should show empathy by refraining from glamorizing their advantage over the poor – more so, in a season of famine.
Osibanjo, in all probability, fueled his Valentine flight with the lifeblood of the Nigerian taxpayer.
Knowing how Nigeria works, the odds are that he flew one of the twelve airplanes in the presidential fleet to Dubai. And that he was accompanied by the retinue of personal aides that must form the Vice President’s entourage even on a low-key overseas travel.
If Nigerians paid for his Valentine sightseeing in Dubai, Osibanjo robbed the nation. If he appropriated the resources of Nigeria to procure that private pleasure trip, he perpetrated corruption: He masturbated his power at the expense of public good.
The optics of this Valentine misadventure reflects negatively on Osibanjo’s judgment. It telegraphs his indiscretion, irresponsibility and frivolousness. And it’s a reason to be disappointed in the wisdom of the most qualified Vice President Nigeria has ever elected.
Just a year ago, the Buhari/Osibanjo ticket excited Nigerians. The two men were presidential materials with tremendous integrity capital. Osibanjo complimented Buhari. Osibanjo, the professor of law, filled the hollow of Buhari’s deficit education.
Beyond the question of degrees, Osibanjo was billed to be the intellectual head of the head of the state. He was also projected to be the enforcer of the presidency. A figurative incarnate of Tunde Idiagbon, Buhari’s resourceful deputy as a military ruler.
So far, Osibanjo has been a timid, underwhelming and docile Vice President. The tame use he serves, which helps to remind Nigerians that he is somewhat relevant in the scheme of things, is that of an itinerant consoler –flitting from one disaster scene to another, relaying Buhari’s sympathy!
This intelligent man has been hibernating in the most momentous chapter of his life. On the day he chooses to stir, he surprises you. He takes the trajectory of a flippant exile. He lands on Arabian soil, scavenges for beautiful cynosures, and takes photographs!
Frankly, the professor and the blunder didn’t match. A charitable guess might be that Aso Rock hubris has crept up on the new tenant and eaten into his capacity for thoughtfulness.
Nigeria boasts many recreation resorts. One of them, Obudu Cattle Ranch, is a world-class recreation site and would have served Osibanjo and his wife well. If he had deigned to fly to Cross River State and sampled Obudu, the tokenism would have reverberated across the country.
Osibanjo didn’t give Nigerian tourism that tonic. Instead, he advanced the unpatriotic snobbery that sees Nigeria’s financially privileged elites creating excuses to lavish their money on a foreign economy.
And here is the most incredible part of this scandal: Vice President Osibanjo picked…Dubai!
Dubai is the central playground of the Nigerian nouveau riche. The hideaway of wealthy and politically connected businessmen. The alternative village of Nigerian kleptocrats.
They holiday in Dubai. They host their children’s wedding in Dubai. They take their girlfriends to Dubai for a quickie.
They love Dubai. They would go to Dubai for any reason. Sometimes, just to breathe in Dubai air!
Sadly, Osibanjo has vouchsafed his fellow politicians one more reason to cavort in Dubai. And the result will be a massive seasonal migration to Dubai next Valentine eve. They will follow Osibanjo’s lead.
Osinanjo had not reckoned that his actions compel emulation. That there is an unquantifiable mass of followers and fans constantly watching him. That his public acts calibrate the standard of normal in their eyes.
Osibanjo neglected to count the cost of his Valentine vacation. He did not consider that by embarking on that trip he would be actively debilitating Nigeria and promoting the brand of the United Arab Emirates.
Another foreign address wouldn’t have reduced the obnoxiousness of his Valentine vacation. But, it’s all the more galling that Osibanjo eloped with his wife to snatch a day of comfort from Dubai. No Nigerian leader ought to go to Dubai and be in the frame of mind to have fun.
If Nigerian leaders have marginally serviceable consciences, Dubai should be a destination as threatening as hell. It should be a prohibitively torturous city to contemplate abiding. Everything about Dubai, its order, energy and infrastructure, should torment the wayfaring Nigerian politician.
Dubai is the very antithesis of Nigeria. The beauty of that city that leaped from obscurity into a global magnet for commerce contrasts with Nigeria’s reverse development from a promising world power to a failing state. United Arab Emirates’ Dubai is a desert recreated by oil wealth. Nigeria is a wasteland left behind by oil-inebriated prodigal leaders.
Still, Nigerian leaders have no compunction or shame obsessing over Dubai. They are curiously able to ‘enjoy’ Dubai –a city that should be an eternal rebuke to their greed, indolence and poverty of ideas.
Osibanjo’s made-in-Dubai Valentine vacation is an outrage. Juxtaposed with this administration’s premium on the mannerisms and body language of the presidency, Osibanjo’s Valentine excursion is an acrobatic disgrace!
He would do well to return any public money he spent on that trip.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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