Of Gulliver’s Travels, 2019 and the Nigerian youth

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By Ahmed Yahaya Joe

Chances are that Mr. President first read about Jonathan Swift’s legendary character Lemuel Gulliver from the library collection of Daura Secondary School nearly six decades ago. If not he must have tangentially read an aspect of Gulliver’s Travel’s when he was largely dismissed as a political Lilliputian in reaction to his initial presidential bid in 2003 or even through Colin Powell who in 2007 described Nigeria as “a nation of a hundred million scammers”. That sweeping generalization must have probably angered then candidate Buhari to strengthen his resolve to be an anti-corruption leader if he ever gets to be a tenant at the Aso Rock Villa. Interestingly upon apologizing Powell appeared on a London stage with Olu Maintain in a song glamorizing “Yahoo” lifestyle. Yahoos are the peculiar creatures that Mr. Gulliver ran into at his final travel destination in the land of the Houyhnhnms. Buhari who like Powell is also a distinguished alumnus of the US Army War College would have been piqued at the collateral damage inflicted on more credible Nigerians. To the cerebral Chidi Amuta Nigeria’s “political memory is short” as such that many of our “political events are suffused in hearsay and myths”. It is therefore not surprising Powell become a footnote and the public relations backlash that followed the president’s gaffe in London on the Nigerian youth has now been replaced with perhaps well-deserved accolades for his recent diplomatic coup in Washington. But while that repercussion lasted no better political gesture to the alleged disdain that President Buhari has for the Nigerian youth would have been than to attend the 23rd convocation ceremony of the University of Maiduguri that held the same day he left for Washington. The presence of Mr. President would have not only changed the conversation but set a new agenda for 2019 by his being on top of national events instead of the way around. At the Maiduguri convocation a total of 17, 895 graduating students against all security odds received their laurels. They included 78 First Class and 56 doctorate graduates with 3 senior members of the academia elevated to the status of being Emeritus Professors. What a veritable platform to celebrate the triumph of debilitating hope over excruciating experience with the president as chief celebrant it would have been. But unfortunately like with Jonathan Swift’s main character in the seminal Gulliver’s Travels charity begins abroad for Nigeria’s number one citizen. The least the president would have done against the background of the challenging security situation of the North East geo-political region was to address these outstanding Nigerians through a video link up before leaving for appointment at the White House. Apparently like Lemuel the lead character in Swift’s classic, our president is equally not only “an honest man, and expects others to be honest” but also “believes what he is told, never perceives deeper meanings. He does not always understand the meaning of what he perceives”. However the precarious reality for the Nigerian youth is that as Mr. President returns to his desk this week another platform to engage the restive Nigerian youth would have presented itself as the University of Lagos kicks off events of its 50th convocation ceremony by the weekend lest we forget the 1.6 million young Nigerians that wrote the 2018 JAMB exams for less than 500,000 slots nationwide. For now let us keep out the over 10 million out of school children roaming the streets but same week over 130,000 young Nigerians would be jousting for 6,000 police constable vacancies and another 100,000 scrambling for 600 slots at the Nigerian Defence Academy. No doubt that the fall out of both exercises will be closely monitored by ethnic and religious interest groups not unlike how Lemuel in Lilliput which end of a soft boiled egg a religious sect cracks open can form the basis of a political rift between the big-enders and little-enders.

President Buhari’s recent diplomatic shuttle first to London then to Washington is coming shortly after he declared his second term bid ahead of 2019 by that in international circles Buhari has positioned himself as a dominant figure and early bird taking serious advantage of the prevailing opposition void on Nigeria’s political chess board. With benefit of hindsight as early 2012 Buhari declared “When I was going to contest election last year, I said that after the elections, I would not submit myself to election in 2015, but then also said I would remain a party man but would not vie for posts. However since then, it has been like hell let loose, members of my party, associates, individually and as groups, put pressure on me. I have withdrawn my decision not to run”. With that terse conclusion long before the 2015 polls Nigeria had a definitive opposition leader. Unlike now less than a year to next February’s presidential elections. Beyond Buhari currently being a figure of continuity in international circles and despite his modest achievements and the incumbency factor the president is still bogged down with the typical lethargy of a septuagenarian, the static knowledge of a non-politician in a political leadership position and tiredness of a long distance runner as in 2023 he will officially be 80.

In 1984 Sam Shepard reporting from the State Department for ABC News described General Buhari as “known to Western observers, considered intelligent, conservative and free from corruption” in conclusion describing him as “a Western oriented pragmatist”. However in “Gideon’s Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad” by Gordon Thomas the historic skepticism of London over Buhari is revealed. Mossad is not known for clumsy operations yet the Dikko attempted kidnap was characterized with unusual shoddiness and two days after the Buhari led junta was overthrown on 29th August 1985, Margaret Thatcher sent public congratulations to the new military regime. Against that background was the president’s 2 day “technical stopover” recently in London from Washington a final validation quest for his 2019 candidacy?

At a stage in Mr. Gulliver’s travels he lands at Maldonada the main port city of Balnibarbi from which he took a short side trip to meet the greats including Julius Ceasar, Brutus, Homer and Aristotle. Shall we not say the first few months that Buhari could neither articulate his leadership direction nor constitute his cabinet he would have fallen back to the wise counsel of the veteran members of the National Council of State like Lemuel did when he met with bygone leaders in Glubbdubrib? That couldn’t have happened because of the president’s consistent demonization of his predecessors in government. How different is the cluelessness of the current anti-corruption war from what Mr. Gulliver encountered at the Grand Academy of Lagado that were attempting to extract sunbeams from cucumbers, soften marble for use in pillows and learning to mix paint by smell of colors not to talk of uncovering political conspiracies by examining the excrement of suspicious persons? Trying to discern what Buhari is actually up to in Nigerian politics is akin to understanding why Lemuel after retirement still had an insatiable desire for further travel. In Gulliver’s final travel he however meets the Houyhnhnms which are actually horses ruling over humans called the Yahoos as earlier mentioned. From that encounter to his final return home Lemuel couldn’t fully adjust to normal life and became a recluse spending more time talking to the horses in his stables. Nobody is saying that Mr. President would one day be talking to cows in Daura. As for now he remains the candidate to beat in 2019 because to the Nigerian youth President Buhari remains like a Struldbrug from Luggnagg – gifted with political immortality.

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