Individual Nigerians such as General Yakubu Gowon, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, General T Y Danjuma, General Ibrahim Babangida, General Abdulsalami, General Buhari and a few more of them are at liberty to do whatever they like within the limits of the law but that freewill excludes the right to quarrel among themselves openly. They are at liberty to lock themselves up in a room minus ADCs, bodyguards and all that and do whatever they can to each other in such a room. But what we want is to see them emerge from such self brutalization session smiling and observing the right protocol as we saw yesterday with General Danjuma entering the Presidential Villa wearing facemask as required by the guidelines on COVID-19 and then President Buhari seeing him. Why are those things that important? They are important because what we call reality is no more than such symbolic displays.
It is not because we so love this category of Nigerians and everything they did or some of the things they refused to do, the implications of which are with us today. It is also not because they all became head of state or presidents. It is simply that they are symbols of national significance deriving their standing from the heroism of fighting in the prime of their lives to preserve the nation. Being therefore embodiment of the Nigerian nation, each of them represents something enduring about preserving the nation.
Even as we batter them daily on the pages of newspapers for sundry failures in individual and collective leadership and which we shall continue to do, their individual and collective symbolism is not lost. That is the sense in which acrimony between such individuals as General Obasanjo and Buhari or General Danjuma and Buhari or any pair of that echelon is not welcome. Many would, therefore, say it is nice to see them together again. It doesn’t matter how well the discussion went, what is important is that they are talking again and those who are ready to line up behind each of them are seeing them talking. It means communication has been restored, the breakdown of which is always the utmost danger signal.
At this rate, it would not be surprising to see Obasanjo as the next visitor to the Villa. He is capable of reconnecting, a claim best exemplified by him surfacing in Kaduna not too long ago as guest of Nasir el-Rufai, the demolition loving governor of Kaduna State with whom Obasanjo had a nasty face-off through their accounts of public office. The national atmosphere of sycophancy and celebration of liliputianism today may not put a value on dexterity in sending multiple signals at every moment by Chief Obasanjo but no one would say it is not one of his strengths.
If the bareness that COVID-19 exposed is what brought General Danjuma to the Villa, then that is something good from an otherwise generally disruptive virus. If it is General Buhari’s rethinking of leadership and nation building, great. There are a number of things we can afford to settle by abusing each other on the pages of newspapers. There are, however, certain things that are not amenable to that style. One of such is a situation of open quarrel between certain individuals who have come to symbolise certain things to certain constituencies in the country. The current level of (under) development of Nigeria and the corresponding group self-understanding does not allow that, be it in the name of freedom or right or democracy. The journey to Nigeria as ‘Black China’ makes certain sacrifices worth it. It is not just for this country called Nigeria. It is also for something called the African moment.