Last weekend, armed Fulani herdsmen arrived in Igueben, my hometown.
They had a plan: assault the incoming Warri-Itakpe 4pm train at the Ekekhen Train Station. That they did, abducting 32 persons, including workers of the Nigeria Railway Corporation.
It had taken the Federal Government an entire generation to complete the rail line, an impossible dream when I attended Utantan Primary School in Igueben in the 1960s. It had been a stunning surprise when ordinary pipe-borne water arrived during that time.
I have not been to the area since the rail service was launched two years ago, but it is not difficult to understand how much of a life-changer it has been to many. All of that changed last Saturday. I will return to this subject shortly.
Three days later, at a campaign stop in Damaturu, Yobe State, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) was calling on voters to ensure victory next month for his APC presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Mr Buhari, who has failed comprehensively on every single electoral pledge in his eight years in charge, alleged that a Tinubu presidency would guarantee the “progress” he has made in the security, economy and education sectors.
The account was provided by presidential spokesman Femi Adesina, who does not speak Hausa, of a statement Mr Buhari gave in Hausa. Apparently, news reporters cannot muster the vast security outlays that the president and the candidate deploy to protect themselves as they travel, leading reporters to cover the events through a privileged spokesman’s bulletins.
Mr Tinubu seized the chance. Mr Bayo Onanuga of his Presidential Campaign Council issued a blistering statement calling on Mr Atiku Abubakar, to “come clean over two issues clouding his campaign: his health status and his scandalous confession of how he colluded with his former boss, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, to fleece the Nigerian treasury, using the special purpose vehicles after he became Vice-President in 1999.”
The ”scandalous confession” referred to a public statement made the previous day by Michael Achimugu, a former Atiku aide, who alleged that the former Vice-President had used a mechanism described as “Special Purpose Vehicles” for corrupt purposes during the Obasanjo presidency.
I quote Mr Onanuga at some length:
“The lies of several years and the various diversionary tactics are no longer sustainable. Atiku’s edifice of lies is about to crash on him. The PDP presidential candidate is certainly not okay, the papering efforts notwithstanding.
“Eyebrows were raised when Atiku did not return to the country after the December holidays to continue his lacklustre and faltering fifth campaign for Nigeria’s presidency…
“We have it on good authority that Atiku indeed fell ill, while missing (sic) on the field. He was indeed in the UK for some medical help, though handlers camouflage that he was there on the invitation of some British officials at Whitehall, in a mimic of the earlier visit of the APC rival, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
“Despite the efforts by his handlers to showcase Atiku as healthy and physically fit to endure the rigours of the presidential campaign, pictures from rallies have belied this.
“Campaign pictures sometimes showed him being helped to descend steps at stadia. Sometimes, he walked with an apparent handicap, dragging his feet.”
That statement attracted the immediate dismissal of the Atiku/Okowa Campaign Organisation which described Mr Tinubu as “corruption personified,” and unfit to hold the office of President.
“Since Tinubu by himself has opened the channels for Nigerians to examine his ill health, we have no other option than to further expose that the APC candidate must be suffering from manifest Parkinson’s disease accompanied by incontinence.
“For clarity, Parkinson disease is a brain disorder whose symptoms include shaking hands, stiffness of limbs, difficulty with coordination, problem with balance when walking, articulation disorder, memory problems as well as general mental and physical weakness which are all being witnessed in the APC presidential candidate…
“It is rather unfortunate that the APC presidential candidate, who cannot stand erect or walk up an elevation unaided, who is plagued by visible tremor of the hands, who palpitates at the slightest physical exertion and who is reported in the public space as being challenged by incontinence could attempt to speak on the health status of any Nigerian. Moreover, some medical professionals have associated certain cases of nerve cell death with narcotic use and unhealthy lifestyle and our campaign urges Tinubu to examine himself in that regard.”
“Furthermore, Nigerians find it incongruous that the tarnished Asiwaju Tinubu who is badgered by a smelly criminal past including the $460,000 forfeiture sentence for narcotic related offence by a court of competent jurisdiction in the United States; alleged looting of Lagos State treasury and stripping of her property; cases of forgery, impersonation, perjury, inconsistencies in name, age as well as questionable educational background, ancestry and genealogy could attempt to speak on corruption and integrity.”
Last week’s exchange was a significant turning point in the presidential campaign, as both APC and PDP candidates had been careful to promote the fiction that health and personal integrity were not on the agenda.
Now they are, and I challenge each candidate, if he seeks the advantage, to publicly declare his assets, including his health information. As I have always said, character comes before any manifestoes.
If they fail to, the electorate must use the information they have disclosed about each other to dismiss them and to demand that they be investigated by the incoming government. Part of that investigation must include the curious helplessness of the Buhari government before the insecurity in the country.
Ask yourself: How is such a small southern Nigerian town as Igueben—which is a driving distance of over 1,036km from Meradi, Niger Republic; 1,714km from N’Djamena, Mali; and 3,470km from Nouakchott, Mauritania—casually accessed and overrun by persons described as herdsmen unless they have GPS and other communication support?
Ask yourself: How do they manage the intimidation and kidnapping business without semi-official support in a country in which the government has a full database of all adults through BVN and NIN registration?
Consider that last year, gospel artiste Tosin Alao told Amina Atairu the harrowing story of his band’s 2018 kidnapping.He disclosed:
- “Each time our phone rings, [the kidnappers] will dial some networks to know the identity of the person…they speak to people in the communication world.”
- “They told me that…they’re not the only one that will share the money: the police, military, etc.”
- “When they took the N5 million…they flipped it because there is a way they will know if it is being tracked.”
This, then, is the sick country the soul of which Nigerians will be prospecting in next month’s election.Nigeria uses words, not action, to hunt the hunters or to solve problems.That is why The Economist, which in 2015 endorsed Buhari,last week dismissed him as having “floundered in every measure” in “eight dismal years.”
And Buhari offers Tinubu to continue his futility. But now that Messrs Atiku and Tinubu are fully exposed, including by each other, the only question left is: do you choose health or sickness, stench or fresh air, hope or hopelessness?
Fellow, East-West Centre (EWC), Honolulu, US.