It is an odd combination in identity terms but they share a collective identity in doing something out of the rather routine, predictable, boring ways which has characterised every major festivities in Nigeria ever since, world without end. Intervention is referring to President Muhammadu Buhari; Naomi Campbell, the British model; Mathew Hassan Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto and Senator Ibrahim Mantu’s entry points this Easter.
A Little Presidential Move That Matters
It is not clear what is really controversialising the meeting between President Buhari and Naomi Campbell, an event with a symbolism of its own, notwithstanding the the tweets and counter-tweets around it since the meeting last Friday. For a president about whom the image of a stiff, cold and asocial persona bordering on sadism has sedimented over time, it must have been a strategic move for Muhammadu Buhari to pose with Naomi Campbell. In spite of all the controversies around and about her, Nigeria is still one country in which the meeting matters. There are those for whom that could be a solid reason to vote for the president again. That is just as it is also a country where there are those for whom the individuality and expressiveness of the woman outside the domestic space is a contradiction or frivolousness. That is diversity, the management of which is a required leadership skill.
Mandela was the master in that game, making a visit to a Cricket match as one of his earliest outings as president because he knew that Cricket is the turf of the white minority who needed re-assurance that no reprisal was in the making. This time, a Buhari and a Campbell photograph speaks to something even more serious. At a time the narrative of “Clash of Civilisation” is still definitive of the national space in Nigeria as well as of global security, there is, indeed, a “Convergence of Civilisation” signal in the picture, both for the home audience and the world at large. So, why are these aspects not coming out in the reporting of the meeting? Of course, one could say, oh, how beautiful would it have been if Nigerians and progressive humanity were not burdened by anything called Chibok girls and a Leah to worry about! On that, we say may the will of God be done that, at His own time, these girls would all be back and would commence rebuilding their lives.
Shepherd on the Move or an Ambitious, Ambiguous Adventure?
From President Muhammadu Buhari to Father, sorry, Bishop Kukah, although, like the story told of Goodluck Jonathan during one of his meetings with the Catholic Bishops during his time in power, it could be a needless apology. According to the story, when Jonathan was to speak at the said meeting, he referred to Kukah by the title of Father Kukah before realising that the priest had moved up to the status of a Bishop. So, he quickly corrected himself, apologised and continued. Then it was time for one of the very senior Bishops to speak. He too addressed Kukah as Father Kukah, whereupon the president wondered why he should not withdraw his apology if a Bishop could make the same mistake he made. The laughter that followed, it is understood, was of roof crumbling degree. The ‘Mustard Seed’ column Kukah maintained in the now defunct New Nigerian and its Sunday version naturalised the ‘Father’ appellation that the Bishopric title would still take time to finally displace. Many unconsciously still pronounce the ‘Father’ before they realise he is no longer of that designation. Now, what has Kukah done again?
He has not done anything that anyone would be angry with him as such this time. Rather, he has enacted the Kukahseque flair, the type that has enabled him to remain in the limelight for this long even as he cruised roughly at his own altitude, obviously assisted in that by a combination of capacities accumulated from three core spaces of priesthood, intellectual breeding and activism. And so, he approached his Easter message via an epistle to everyone – from political to party leaders, legislators, governors, religious leaders and who else. Uhm! It sounds like the PRP Revolution in the Second Republic which so included everyone that almost no one was left out. But, can a ruling elite which can tolerate the degree of destruction which has taken place in Nigeria without any sense of urgency in coming together to overcome it make any sense of this sort of gesture? And, in a highly stratified society like Nigeria, isn’t there something ambiguous in not specifying and insisting on a constituency? Only time will tell if Bishop is not embarking on an ambitious, ambiguous adventure. He tends to get it right!
It could be the other side of an observable shift in his politics too, just like Gen Obasanjo also recently shifted from status quo to Movement politics although Kukah does not accept Obasanjo’s coalition move. But might he also be shifting from vocal insurgency to the politics of conversation: reprimanding, reminding but also pleading for politics of conscience from those running the show in their collectivity. In other words, the politics of voice!
Whether it turns out ambiguous or unambiguous, there can be no forgetting “The ceremony of innocence is drowned” Yeatsian line or the divine summoning: We waited in hope right to the end of the first year, but somehow, amidst some hazy weather, all we heard was the sound of screeching tyres with the plane carrying our hopes seemingly unable to take off. It finally did but we had barely gained altitude when sickness struck and you spent the better part of a year seeking healing. The nation prayed for you and miraculously, you recovered. Evidently, you had been saved for a purpose. Our prayer is that this realization will help you understand that you have a date with history and divine judgment”. And then the vocal insurgency slip: Rise and defend your right to food and shelter because poverty is not a divine inheritance. And guess who took up the gauntlet, consciously or otherwise? It was Senator Ibrahim Mantu!
Significance of Senator Mantu’s Move
By pedigree, Senator Ibrahim Mantu is not one of those from whom a revolutionary statement is expected. He has never advertised himself as a revolutionary. But he has made a radical pronouncement. Whether he did it before or after Kukah asking the ordinary people to defend their right to food and shelter is immaterial. What is of crucial importance is his repentance and his grounds for that. First, he defines complicity in rigging broadly: if you have given facilitation, you are as guilty as the ‘boys’ usually deployed to accomplish rigging.
His first reason is the criminalisation of the Nigerian globally once you bear the Nigerian passport. The second is his revolt against the patron-client dynamics that the typical politician revels in: everyone crowds around him to solve their immediate financial problems which makes them vulnerable to the typical politician’s blackmail.
His confessions reinforce strong sense about how institutions involved with managing elections are complicit in rigging but that might not be the most significant aspect of Mantu’s move. That would be in the power of his language to construct a new consciousness against patron-client dynamics and the neo-patrimonial edifice it rests upon. Conclusion: no one can say where the revolution might come from and it might not always be a street action.