The Nigeria-Prays-For-Buhari Competition
By Reuben Abati
After the publication of my column last week, titled 'I want to go to London… to see Buhari', I received a lot of feedback from persons who were either amused or dead serious that they had been overlooked in my compilation of the list of persons who should go to London. One fellow asked:
'Abati, you left out the Miyetti Allah and the cattle herders of Nigeria.'
'Yes, they too will like to go to London'
'With due respect, to go and herd cattle?'
'No, to visit the President and reassure him about the welfare of his cattle'
'My friend, are we talking about cattle or the health of Mr. President?'
'We are talking about everything and anything that can ensure the President's speedy recover.'
'My friend, it is speedy recovery, not speedy recover!'
'That is your problem. You spend too much time worrying about grammar and big words you don't oftentimes know what to do. Look at you, you even left out local government chairmen. You left out an important organization like ALGON, the umbrella body of local government chairmen. You also did not insist that there should be a special resolution of the National Assembly in both chambers authorizing that a formal joint delegation should be sent to London to see the President, instead of the Senate President and the Speaker sneaking to London, behind every one else's back.'
Candidly, I didn't know what to say. But just about then, I received a text message and a phone call.
'I don't like that your article. An old man is ill, and you are mocking him with your pen.'
'No. You are misreading the article. That is not my message. I understand that a President is a human being. No President has supernatural immunity. It is not unusual for any human being to have a medical challenge.'
'I didn't get that message. You sounded like you were having fun, with your article dripping with cruel sarcasm. You have to be careful how you come across. You were just busy throwing yabis up and down. Are you Fela?'
'Calm down. My point is that the President's stay in London should not become an opportunity for eye service, which is the biggest enterprise in Nigeria. Before you know it now, everybody will start trooping to London to see the President, and that will create too many leaking buckets, a lot of waste. I tried to use the vehicle of humour and laughter to ridicule and stop that.'
'I have said my own. Maybe you should re-read the article. When they decide to do something about you, don't just say your friends abandoned you. If you want to be a stand up comedian, make up your mind. But this one that every time you carry your pen, you'll start making jest of serious national matters in the name of writing, well, na you sabi oh.'
No writer should be placed under pressure to explain his own message. Language is invariably embodied, iconic, symbolic, semiotic and hence open to interpretations relative to levels of perception. So, I gave up on that conversation. But I was vindicated a few days ago. Another friend called, also anxious to discuss the most important subject in Nigeria today: President Buhari's health and absence.
'Ore, ki la ri wi, ki l'on sele, ewo lewo, omo boy'
'How are you?'
'Have you noticed something?'
'Since you wrote that article on your plan to go to London, people have stopped going to London or they have stopped them. When last did you see anybody posing for a photo opportunity with Sai Baba in front of Abuja house?'
'They are probably still going. London is Nigeria's new Holy land. It may well just be that they are no longer publicizing the visits.'
'If there is no publicity, then very few people will go. A handshake with the President shown to all Nigerians, while the President is on medical exile, can open many doors for many people.'
'Medical exile. I like that phrase.'
'Forget that. I am not here to discuss grammar. I have a business idea that I think we can discuss. What you don't know is that some people are already exploiting the business opportunities involved in Sai Baba's absence.'
'I pity you. The only thing you know is to speak and write English and lift your head to the clouds. You can't smell business. The biggest business in Nigeria today is to be seen to be loyal to President Buhari.'
'I don't quite get the business angle.'
'This is my proposal, then. We have to do something. In this season of recession, you have to think creatively. That is the best way to beat recession. We also have to organize a solidarity rally or a prayer session for Buhari.'
'How is that a business?'
'Very strategic business'
'First things first. Do you think all the people who have been organizing rallies and prayer sessions are doing it for fun, or free of charge, or for love?'
'I am aware that they are doing it out of love for the President. They have all said they wish him well. They are praying for his good health and for the well-being of the nation.'
'Is that why there is so much competition to pray for Buhari, then?'
'What I am aware of is that prayer sessions have been held in parts of the country, in Kano by the Governor, and the Emir, in Kaduna by the state Governor and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), In Katsina state, where 50, 000 youths gathered in Daura under the umbrella of the Buhari Youth Congress for Change. In Nasarawa, Muslim faithful from 13 local councils and 18 development units spent 4 hours praying in Lafia. Security was even provided by the Nigerian Army, the Police, the Civil Defence Corps and other government agencies. The same thing happened in Kwara State, and Jigawa where the state chapter of the Jama'atul Nasril Islam also conducted prayers.'
'I am glad you have been following the trend.'
'You should trust me. Let me also tell you that all mosques across the North have been placed in a prayer mode, under strict instructions from the Sultan. Not even the private sector is left out: The Pyramid Radio Mosque in Kano held a prayer session for Buhari, attended by over 200 Muslim faithful.'
'And you still don't see the business opportunity in all of this?'
'No. My only concern is that Nigeria is a secular state. The Constitution says so. When we begin to involve the state in prayer sessions, we are violating the law.'
'Leave that matter. The Constitution says we are a secular state. It does not say the people must not pray for their leaders.'
'Not quite so'
'I beg. Let's talk business. See, I have a business proposal in my head. We can beat all these people to it. Instead of all these, small, small, prayers-for-Buhari that they are organizing, we can have a grand prayer rally, at every stadium in this country. I know people who can link me up with all the big Pastors and Imams in Nigeria, and every week till President Buhari returns, we can have inter-denominational prayer rallies and vigils from one state to another.'
'But where is the business in that?'
'We will buy tickets, keep people in hotels, organize transportation from every local government to the state capital, we will put money in envelopes, pay for venues, provide refreshment, and we will ensure we surpass the prayers warriors of Nasarawa who prayed for only four hours. We will make our own 8 hours. We will also involve evangelical musicians and prayer warriors. These prayers don't come cheap or free.'
'How? Where will the money come from?'
'I can't give you all the details. You see this my head, it is full of business but to give you an idea, we will get the state governors and local chairmen involved, corporate Nigeria and SMEs will also be mobilized. They will bring money. They won't want to be seen to be opposing prayer sessions for the President. They too will understand the business implications.'
'I don't get it.'
'You still don't get it? What don't you get? Can't you see that even the People's Democratic Party and all their Governors are also talking about holding prayer sessions for the President? Last year, when the President went for an ear infection vacation, the PDP - Governors, National Assembly members and other stakeholders held a prayer session. This year, with the President now on medical exile in London, the PDP is planning an even bigger prayer session from Delta state to Bayelsa to Ekiti. Fayose who once predicted that the President would fall sick is now a Buhari prayer warrior. Bet with me, the way this thing is going, you would wake up one day and Fayose will hold a prayer rally in Ado Ekiti. I know what I am talking about.'
'I don't know. So, why are you telling me?'
'You know people. You can provide relevant contacts and we can get this thing done.'
'But what if you don't make any money?'
'We can't fail. The business model in my head cannot fail. People are making gains already. Everything is not money. The President made a phone call to the Governor of Kano while a prayer session was going on at the Government House in Kano. Just 300 Imams and Islamic scholars oh, but the Governor made sure the phone call was broadcast live on all local radio stations in Kano state. Calculate the cost of that in business terms. An ordinary phone call from President Buhari at this time is worth its weight in gold. Since that phone call to Governor Ganduje, other state Governors have been falling over themselves to organize prayer sessions. The Governors of Katsina, Kebbi and Gombe have also received their own phone calls.'
'I am confused.'
'You will soon get it. The day we succeed in organizing our own prayer session, with over a million Nigerians, I will make sure President Buhari makes a direct, live telephone call to the stadium. He will mention the names of Governors, CEOs, VIPs, media executives, and the whole thing will be on skype, whatsapp, snap chat, instagram, you tube, live streaming. And the prayers will go straight to heaven, because we will make sure we invite only those pastors and imams who have been saying they have direct telephones to God.'
'There are such religious leaders in this country?'
'But you seem to have left out the diviners, the aborigines, the herbalists…'
'Sai Baba is a devout Muslim. We can't bring such people to the public domain, but we'd find a way of providing for them. We'd give them cows, rams, goats, clothes, palm oil, kolanuts, alligator pepper… and they will pray and be happy in their underground covens.'
'And you, what will you do?'
'If Sai baba can just make that phone call, I will jump in the air and dance like Dekunle Ajokete.'
'But what if something goes wrong and the network connection fails. Or your phone runs out of battery.'
'A text message from Sai Baba will be just fine. If I get just that, Walahi, I will twerk publicly like Tiwa Savage.'
'Tiwa Savage? Does Mummy Jam Jam twerk also, with that her small 2G package? To twerk properly, you need 3G, 4G, or wifi Bakassi. What you are proposing sounds like Kwa-ra-pption.'
'Dey there. You think any judge will indict or convict anybody for praying for the President? Even the Judges may soon organize a prayer session for Buhari.'
'Let's talk a bit more about this twerking business. '
'Get out. I am talking business; you are talking twerking! You have no business sense.'