Mr Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria, returned from his medical trip in the UK just in time to prep up, and attend his son, Yusuf’s wedding ceremony. Yusuf, the president’s son was getting hitched to Zahra, the daughter of the Emir of Bichi.
Nothing in this world it seemed – not even a long-drawn “education summit” in the UK, could stop the president from being “father of the day” for the wedding of his son. A good thing, marriage.
It settles the restless spirt of rudderless young men. The younger Buhari was the one who was famous for crashing his very expensive motorbike quite publicly on an Abuja highway, early in his father’s presidency. Thank God he survived it, and his parents must be joyful folk today, as should be all parents, when their son takes a wife, settles to a responsible life, and begins to build a family, and to contribute meaningfully to society.
The Orbit wishes Yusuf and his bride, Zahra, an exciting adventure in marriage. Congratulations are in order, Mr President. But just one small thing needs be said: it is about the lavish show. It felt gaudy and insensitive. We do know that the myth of an “ascetic Buhari” has long been smashed and put to rest, but even so, the good form would have demanded a less frivolous display. And it was quite a show.
The newspapers reported that no less than 100 private jets flew into Kano on their way to Bichi. There is something about the new national craze for the wanton display of affluence and power which has gripped the contemporary Nigeran imagination. Perhaps someday, psychiatrists and Freudians might give us more specific answers to this phenomenon, but recall, folks, just a few weeks back, when some young man called Obi “Cubana” Iyiegbu buried his mother in such lavish display that got tongues wagging. Well, there is something about old money. It is a lot more circumspect.
It does not go about proving its own “tigritude.” But new money is often drunk on new wine. Those who know a thing or two about wine understand that the older the vintage, the more you drink it with respect. Old money is like that. The nouveau riche, often have something to prove to money.
They harass and insult money. They kick it in the butt for all the troubles it gave to those who newly acquired it. Obi Cubano is a young man with a shitload of new money. He also has friends. During times of either emergency or celebrations, your friends come to support you. They display their affection publicly.
They let their gifts speak. So, on this day when Cubano was burying his mother, his friends, many also on the make, came to Oba to prove a point which the Igbo people have always known as a self-evident truth: “Onwelu Mmadu ka Onwelu ego.” Those who have people are wealthier than those who have just money.
And the point was lavishly made. From all points of the compass, Cubano’s friends came, each carrying the “udo” signifying the gift of a cow. I do not recall the number now, but many have said Mr. Iyiegbu got the gifts of cows from his friends, enough to start a good ranch. That was not all the gifts they came with.
They also parked trailers of the fine Scotch brew, the Glenfiddich whiskey, which I hear is now being marketed under the Cubano Franchise in Nigeria. These are serious men.
They are hard-working men. They did not steal their money. They became wealthy fair and square never having worked in government; stolen public funds from government treasury; taken commissions from government contracts, or simply awarded the contracts to themselves which are also often not executed.
Those who have argued for the Cubanos have said that as private citizens Obi Cubano and his friends had every right to spend the money they earned in any way they liked.
There are those who argue however that the display at Oba was far too brazen, it became fiendish. Such public display of wealth and circumstance in the midst of serious hunger in the land, many say, feels insensitive and thoughtless.
It lacked “class.” Well, that last bit was from Reuben Abati, who could not help comparing what he felt was the crassness of such a display to the stiff upper lips at another funeral happening on the same day – of Mrs. Emily Aig-Imoukhuede; former civil servant; former Minister under Abacha; wife of the poet Frank Aig-Imoukhuede, who was himself former Federal Director of Culture of Nigeria, and mother of a top banker, Aigboje Imoukhuede. These are well-heeled people. The establishment.
The sort that Reuben likes. The thing is that at the funeral for Emily Imoukhuede, the top city cats also trooped to Tafawa Balewa Square in their livery. The idea was to mourn in style, in the way only the Nigerian moneyed-class – its establishment could.
But a pox on Social Media! The upstarts from Oba stole the thunder. How did they do this? By throwing the gates open to ordinary folks, and by bringing a bigger circus to town. And that is exactly what Buhari and his son did, Friday, at Bichi.
They brought the circus to town. The president apparently may have found something refreshing in Cubano’s shindig at Oba and may just as well wanted to out-Cubano Cubano. Now fellow Nigerians, there is nothing wrong with a father, even as president, celebrating the marriage of his son proudly. I do grant the president the right to such simple pleasures. But imagine Buhari in 2014 when he was still wearing his mask. The mask of an ascetic and measured man. Incorruptible.
It was even put out for effective public consumption by his publicists in those days that the man could not afford even paying for his own nomination form. He was a man not given to such excessive displays or appetites.
But quite clearly, Nigerians, hungering always for some kind of superhero, we’re buggered, and almost fell for such easy and consoling myths about a Buhari of the imagination. No one ever saw this Buhari, the one Nigerians once saw in the pictures self-satisfyingly, and carelessly, picking his teeth after a hearty meal at Aso Rock while many children went to bed at night hungry as a result of some of the policies of his government.
If that image felt nauseating and unfeeling, imagine the descent last Friday in Bichi. Governors. Ministers. Tribal chieftains. Foreign potentates. Captains of Industry. Political hangers-on. The federal government of Nigeria went on a furlough to Bichi to be at the wedding.
Such a display of wealth and circumstance, in a moment when too many Nigerians have slipped into extreme poverty, and are worrying about the next meal; about the security of their lives; about numerous existential befuddlements occasioned by the president’s inability to provide effective, national leadership, is unwarranted.
The president does owe Nigerians the simple obligation for exemplifying modesty and reserve, given Nigeria’s current situation.
Raining down colourfully on Bichi is like sticking it to Nigerians who are lost about what next: what next can be done to survive this horrendous, nightmarish moment of intense poverty in the land; where next to get the next meal; where next to get school fees; how to pay the hospital bill, and so on.
Money may not have been “displayed” in such brazen disregard for form as was done in Oba, but what happened in Bichi was a proper Arabian Night Wedding with all its foppery.
Sure, there are those who might insist that the president, like Obi Cubano, has a right to invite his friends and celebrate his son’s wedding any which way he likes. That might have been so, were Muhammadu Buhari a private citizen.
But he is not. He is the president of Nigeria and is a publicly paid public officer. Obi Cubano spent his own money. But imagine how much, on tax-payer’s money the security alone for the event at Bichi might have cost the public. How much of tax payer’s money was spent organizing this fanfare of very loud nuptials at Bichi? How much came out of the president’s pocket: the entertainment bill?
The security? The logistics? The man-hours spent by Federal officers on the president’s private business? Who picks the bill? You and I. Just imagine it: the poor taxpayer has to pay to entertain a very exclusive crowd of politicians, billionaires, and the president’s hangers-on, at least a hundred of whom came with their own private jets to Kano.
There are ethical questions involved when presidents do these kinds of public displays. That is why we could tolerate Cubano, but must not, the president.