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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Opinion: And So, Folks, I Went To #MeetThePresident

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by Ayo Sogunro

There is something fundamentally wrong with my car. Some two weeks ago, while navigating my way to the Fashola organized “Valentine Dinner with Buhari”, I knocked off my front bumper. This weekend, on my way to “Meet the President” at Victoria Island, Lagos, a piping in my car’s radiator sprung a leak, consequently the car overheated and I think I blew the gasket. The vehicle had to be towed and I would later spend a fair part of the evening switching between President Jonathan’s painfully tedious chat session with his youths, and my mechanic’s painfully serious attempts at ruining my bank balance. It was as though some metaphysical agent was punishing me for getting involved in political jamborees.

That I consider the presidential chat session subpar is probably more an organizational lapse than a presidential one. Little time was allotted to the discussion and most of it was spent discussing his favourite colour or some stuff like that. In any case, I had accepted the invitation without any anticipation of intellectual heights and I wasn’t really disappointed. I suppose if I had wanted an intelligent evening, I could have stayed back at home with Teju Cole’s Open City.

What I was not prepared for, however, was the manifest loyalty to the President by a lot of young Nigerians. The more time one spends on social media, I think, the more one begins to believe that every Nigerian has a grouse with GEJ. Of course, there are always people who benefit directly from an office-holder, and these ones can be discounted. But, instead, a number of the folks I ran into were, indeed, casually invited youths with everyday jobs: accountant, lawyer, and stuff like that; careers that were probably unaffected directly by which party held power. I understood that they were PDP youths, but that alone didn’t seem sufficient to explain their seemingly obstinate and unrewarded affection for the President. I suppose, the question, in fact, would be: why were they even PDP members?

This was all rather curious to me, so I struck up conversations whenever I could. “He’s not a perfect person” said a guy with whom I had a chat, “But he’s trying really hard.”

This attitude was further demonstrated when the President had walked into the hall. The audience had risen up in instinctive reverence, but I remained seated; more from my ignorance of protocol than deliberate disrespect. A fine young woman behind me nudged me teasingly, “You’re not a good child. You can’t stand up for our daddy.”

“Our daddy” was Goodluck Jonathan,and I considered that a bit alarming. I talked to her afterwards. She had been a lecturer, now turned full time writer. For her, GEJ and the PDP machinery was a rescue—get this—from the opposition APC. Not the other way round. She told me she had been with the APC at the party’s formative stage but she got out of their ranks when the hypocrisy she saw got too much for her.

“There’s no hypocrisy in PDP”, someone else would confirm to me later, “People just do what they want and everyone is happy”.

I assume that this laissez faire doctrine is the biggest problem with the PDP—and with President Goodluck Jonathan—a problem that has spilled into national policies. It is a que sera, sera mindset that is, ironically, also the biggest problem with Nigerians who look to solutions outside themselves. For a long time, majority of us Nigerians have never really bothered with individual accountability and responsibility, entrusting our affairs to God, to fate, to other people. And so, for sixteen years, the PDP has thrived under this philosophy.

PDP is a party that parties, it considers itself a people party, a party of stomach infrastructures, glorifying in their not-so-inaccurate idea of “Nigerianess”. This attitude was obvious too at the presidential “meeting”: there was food and drinks aplenty, more play than work, and the so-called interview session was mere formality—folks couldn’t wait to get to the party-party afterwards.

But let’s be realistic: this lifestyle is probably what the average Nigerian loves. To recall Lugard’s insulting perspective: “a happy, thriftless, excitable person, lacking in self-control, discipline, and foresight. Naturally courageous, and naturally courteous and polite, full of personal vanity, with little sense of veracity, fond of music and loving weapons as an oriental loves jewellery.” This image is what the PDP has provided for sixteen years and, ridiculous as it may seem, there are a lot of Nigerians who are quite satisfied with this.

Still, there are also Nigerians of a less exuberant temperament. Nigerians who don’t want to dance and party, particularly in the face of worsening security, unstable public utilities and a depreciating economy. Seemingly elitist in their thinking, yet these folks are analytical in their politics. This prudish stance is not necessarily a good thing all the time, but it is a necessary thing for socio-political balance. An ideal government finds a way to utilise the joys of the joyous with the criticisms of the critics.

And so, the failing of the Jonathan administration has been its inability to distinguish the voices of these critical Nigerians—party-poopers but patriotic Nigerians—from the voices of its political opposition. This is evident from the Occupy Nigeria protests to the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign: the tendency of the GEJ regime has been to mistake critical Nigerians for the opposition, and instead of assimilating these complaint, it blocks them from view.

Naturally, as an opposition party, the APC has been quick to capitalise on these critical voices, and from its original posture as a silent bystander, it has gone all the way to build an ideology around those grievances. Not every Nigerian wants to dance and party—and so the APC has morphed into a no-dance, no-party party, and all their PDP carpet-crossers have had to take the backstage for now. Which is why Buhari currently works as an ideal candidate for APC.

Yet, if elections since the 1960s are any indication, then there’s really no guarantee of any party’s electoral promise in the absence of an effective control of the legislature by the people. Given a power switch, the APC could easily turn out to be the other side of the PDP. And so, the current political climate is, to paraphrase Ambrose Bierce, a conflict of interests, masquerading as a contest of principles.

In the last few months, PDP seems to have begun to understand this realignment of interests. Hence the hurried efforts at repressing Boko Haram—if we can call the reversion to bomb blasts a “repression”. Still, some of the PDP folks I spoke with agree that they would have to minimise the dancing and listen more to the critics if they were to maintain power—and I suppose that’s why they reluctantly invited me to what was essentially a family event. As one of my folks in PDP told me: “2015 is the first real election the PDP has had to face on a national level.”

I’m not a party person—in both senses—so I stepped away from the presidential welcome celebration as soon as I could. The scene was a riot of humanity: governors, party chieftains, party stalwarts, t-shirted supporters and union members, all having a great time under the PDP umbrella. There was a blur of faces, including Asari Dokubo’s and a lot of the usual suspects. I was glad to get outside for some real fresh air.

I’ve heard on twitter and elsewhere that is usual for money to be shared out at these events. I also hear that I was given money and I declined it. Well, the organisers had earlier handed out bags to those of us who attended the chat session, and I had opened mine with some relish, anticipating the infamous envelope. But the contents of the bag were disappointing—in all senses—it was PDP literature that I was certainly not going to read. Someone must have warned somebody not to share money around me.

Well, for anyone in PDP who is interested in reimbursing my reasonable expenses for an evening that cost me a lot, here’s the list: fuel for the generator to iron my shirt: N1,000; tow vehicle for my car from the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway axis: N5,000; mechanic’s bill: N30,000; transport to Victoria Island: N2,000. Please, don’t let my gasket blow in vain. While Nigerians wait for March 28, I will also be waiting for a credit alert.

Ayodele Olorunfunmi Sogunro is a Nigerian social critic, human rights activist and writer. He can be reached through Twitter @ayosogunro

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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