Daily Trust

That 800 meters presidential walk

The rate at which we are going in Naija, it may be difficult to get altruistic generals drop their coveted ranks and offer to help us out. We hustled and hassled the Wizard of Ota out of office and have now relegated him to the backwaters of political oblivion. If not for the talakawas who see the reincarnated spirit of Aminu Kano, Tafawa Balewa and Sir Ahmadu Bello in Sai Baba, the man would have dropped the political gauntlet.

Some people live by punching holes in every move from the seat of power? What’s wrong with taking 800 steps in Daura? It is the ancestral home of the president, one that he rarely visited before he became president and his official Camp David. The president loves his holidays. What better place to share your holidays than in your own stable, even barren cows are known to moo at the sight of their owner. That’s more than could be expected of some citizens.

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It’s all President Jones’ fault. Before he invented social media, we used to hunger and thirst for presidential proclivities. Nobody knew the president’s activities because it was shrouded under the umbrella of the official secrets act. Under Abacha, patriots used to long for news from the villa. Those were the days before audacious rats found a way to chase generals out of their office.

We just don’t care anymore. Children no longer line the streets with hand-made flags mistaking pilot cars to be the staff car. The president promised to end medical tourism, but it’s his right to use up accumulated privileges if only hecklers would let him. This president couldn’t make a stopover in the land that educated his children without being heckled.

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He said that youths are lazy, but instead of searching deeply, they heckled, insulted, memefied and nearly ran him out of power. Lately, the president has redeemed himself describing Naija youths as the most industrious in the world, but nobody in Aba is clapping.

Never underestimate the importance of small steps. Ask Haile Gebraselassie, 2019 sprints begin with the first 800 meters. If the president had been walking 800 meters to battle each time Boko Haram or herdsmen strike, we’ll be seeing Eldorado in the horizon.

Presidential image-makers believed that the 800-meter step is a welcome story for a master who slips into coma in the heat of crises that they packaged a pictorial statement only to steer the hornet’s nest from those whose 50-year-old uncles lean on their wives to use the bathroom. The ensuring criticism is based on pure jealousy and spite. They are unhappy that the prophesy of their Digbolugi seer has not come to pass. A re-energised president returning from London and strong enough to walk 800 meters is hurting them.

They want him to drop out from the 2019 race but he has disappointed them. Those who could not endure 800-meter walks should not think of taking the long road to 2019. It doesn’t matter if, as some say, they jog a mile every day. Many marathoners were on the field when Moses Kiptanui won steeplechase races. In this race, only those covered by NTA and the paparazzi are true contestants.

Sai Baba is a good walker. If his critics had made their remarks in Uganda, they’ll be facing treason charges with bloodied faces, broken limbs and bruised lips. In Naija, ask Samuel Ogundipe to come and tell you the source of classified information and they raise hell about press freedom. How many journalists were battered before Museveni finally decided to make scapegoats of the soldiers stupid enough to get caught on tape?

Presidential hecklers should thank their stars for the sacking of Lawal Daura. Jones Abiri spent two years with the gulag and the heavens did not fall. In 1984, critics would have pitched tents with people like Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor. Freedom of expression, as Idi Amin once said is freely guaranteed before elections and elections are close, freedom after expression is hard to guarantee.

In Malawi Abiti Manice, aka Manes Winnie Hale tried to extend the freedom of expression she enjoys in America to her motherland when she described the president as ‘demented’. She is now grounded in Lilongwe with her passport seized.  In Malawi, President Peter Mutharika is a national symbol, just like the country’s flag. Insulting him carries a heavy penalty unlike Uganda where Stella Nyanzi, a university teacher called President Museveni a pair of buttocks to heckler’s applause.

Zimbabweans are learning that when the Crocodile has acclimatized to ground zero, it no longer takes kindly to being called Mr. Longmouth to his face. There are reports that the NBC is toning down on criticism of government and its leaders. It has fined, closed or suspended the license of several media houses and now requires radio stations to forward the names of their guests before they appear on phone-in programmes. There are enough people in the corridors of power that’ll like to bring back the era of ‘respect’ for leaders and curate news that pleases the status quo. Watch the space as elections draw near. 800 meters is just the beginning.