The written press statement in English was enough. President Muhammadu Buhari did not need to take the pains to vocalize it. So, what informed the pointless experiment in Hausa language ?
Why did President Buhari voice the Sallah message in Hausa instead of English, the lingua franca of Nigeria? Why did he individualize the audio tape for the Hausa demographic? Did he lose his command of English in England –in an incident of personal linguistic Brexit?
His customized epistle to the North was an insult on all Nigerians. Nigerian taxpayers of 500 tribes and 521 tongues pay his medical bills. And when he deigned to speak to us from his sick bed, he thanked us with a shibboleth to his native Arewa people!
That tape should have miscarried as a tempting thought in the womb of the mind. It should never have seen light of the day. Nor the candle of the night.
That Sallah message in Hausa language was a spectacular unpresidential blunder. The sum of all of Buhari’s missteps in office is more pardonable than this peculiar buffoonish gambit. The unforced error was both a national outrage and a self-demolishing stunt.
Buhari significantly diminished himself with the sad sectarian outreach. He cut his stature of the leader of the great country of Nigeria down to the puny size of an ethnic chauvinist. He belatedly stole Nnamdi Kanu’s thunder!
Of course, all humans are fallible. In our weak moments, we can be unreasonable. We can take reckless step without thinking it through. Our mistakes humble us after the fact and remind us we are not always wise.
However, I rule out error here. The tape was not a mistake. It was a product of calculation and deliberation. It was designed to be a PR coup. It was published on purpose.
Buhari had been away from Nigeria for 49 days. He had not directly spoken to the nation since he returned to London to resume his medical treatment. If he could tax his strength to get words out, his natural priority ought to be to speak to the whole nation.
The President of Nigeria addresses the nation in the medium intelligible to the largest number of Nigerians. If he saw an occasion to communicate to the people, he would speak in the language the highest number of the citizenry can understand. Buhari is not ignorant of this rule of thumb. He was once a military president.
Even if Buhari had this terrible brainwave, his handlers were supposed to save him from playing Russian roulette. It was their duty to inform him that a nightmare is not necessarily a script suitable for real life dramatization. They should have painted the picture of the prohibitive consequences of a sitting president being seen as exacerbating the country’s tribal fault lines. They should have advised him to keep golden silence. The written statement was okay for the Eid al-Fitr.
Except that the groupthink of the Buhari inner circle birthed this outrage. The idea of the President of Nigeria abandoning English, the official language of Nigeria, and using Hausa to address a nation of half a thousand indigenous languages, is so transparently foolish only a crop of fawning sycophants would have blessed it and hoped that it would not backfire.
The gatekeepers released the tape into the public domain to further their selfish agenda. They needed to energize a political base that had become dispirited by Buhari’s prolonged absence and reports of his speech impairment. They wanted the tape to serve as an evidential rebuttal. They also wanted it to be a subliminal advertising jingle, suggesting that Buhari was interested in remaining in power. His spirit was still strong even if his body was weak.
The Buhari cabal in London was so invested in achieving this endgame that they couldn’t step back to consider the ramifications of their proposed action. How would muslims of other ethnic groups react to it? How would this tape be received by the wider audience? How would Chinese whispers transform the message?
Now, the tape has made Buhari’s position more tenuous. His tortured voice validated earlier reports of his speech impairment. And the tape raised a question about his state of health. Was he so ill he could only be heard and not seen?
The other time he was in London, he blocked out time to hold court. He received politicians and granted photo-ops. This time around, he was incommunicado for 49 days. And when he broke his silence, he spoke Hausa!
The objective of the ba turanci tape is clear. He is a cult figure in the North. He wanted to touch base with his people in the most penetrative manner. He felt he should connect with them in the most unapologetic way. It was a Trumpian audio tweet!
That Sallah tape in Hausa would never have developed in the dark room of his mind and materialized in public if he didn’t mean to play identity politics.
Unfortunately, this is about the wrongest time for anybody to play identity politics in Nigeria. The country is convulsing with separatist rhetorics and threats of eviction of non-natives from the North. We are in the midst of the charged foreplay before a civil war.
This is a time when Nigerians need to hear the language of unity most. Sadly, Buhari, who was not under any constitutional obligation to transmit a Sallah message, choose this same perilous hour to indulge in divide and rule. It is a shame that he dwarfed himself to a clannish midget when duty required him to rise to his full statesmanly height.
Funnily enough, Buhari preached national unity in a message he vocalized in an exclusive language. His own joke was lost on him. It didn’t occur to him that his Hausa message meant that he was coming out of the closet as a Northern supremacist.
Buhari’s three successive runs for president didn’t gain traction because he ran against an ugly portrait of his own self. He was stereotyped as a small-minded bigot possessed of tribal hubris. He was rejected thrice because he was thought too prejudiced to lead a diverse nation like Nigeria.
He had to surrender to a radical rebranding operation to look the part of a presidential candidate. He was clothed in different cultural attires. He wore a suit. He was paraded around Nigeria as an innocent but badly mythologized figure.
But no sooner had he assumed office than he started to expose his pettiness. In one of his first interviews as president, he ‘promised’ to bring the North that gave him 97 percent to the banquet and leave the voting belt that scorned him to scratch under the table for breadcrumbs. It was very insensitive pledge to make after a bitterly fought election. Yet, he followed through on the vow with a pageant of North-skewed nepotistic appointments.
The tape is a new low. It’s a love letter to the North. It is an appeal for continued fealty. As 2019 draws close and the punditry begins to downgrade his electability, he wants his base to know that they are his life support. That his future depends on whether they would gift him another 97 percent gift.
Nigerians tend to be forgiving of their leaders. When things start going wrong, we exculpate the leader and indict ‘those around him’. We say the man is an angel. He just happens to be the hostage of a thousand demons.
We seldom face the truth that a man will not abide the company of individuals who do not share his inclinations and values for too long.
This tape shows that if there is really ‘a cabal’ in London, it exists at the instance of Muhammadu Buhari. If there is an incestuous cult manipulating him and the circumstances of his ill-health, he composed it and empowered it. He permitted the cabalists their audacity.
Buhari proved that he has agency. He read that speech of his own volition. His demonstrated that his imprimatur was on the plot of his cabal. He showed it by participating in the sham!
The so-called cabal does not scheme in spite of him. They scheme because of him. They derive their inspiration from his lust. Their farce serves his megalomania.
It’s a pity that this audio tape will be part of Buhari’s legacy. He inserted a pathetic chapter into his biography. And he betrayed the nation that trusted that his heart will be as big as Nigeria.
The genie is already out of the bottle. But President Buhari can redeem himself.
He needs to withdraw that misbegotten tape, apologize to Nigerians for the outrage and fire the aides that enabled him perpetrate violence against the sensibilities of the Nigerian people.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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