Much Ado About “belonging to nobody”

When President Muhammadu Buhari said in his inaugural speech that he belonged to everybody and belonged to nobody, the political class was confounded by the highly loaded, deep and yet ambiguous remark that can be interpreted in whatever way desirable. Looking at the text of the speech, the “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody” declaration is a sentence that stands alone as a paragraph, deliberately so, it seems, to underscore the importance of the message. First, the assertion in its nebulous state is reminiscent of past leadership dribbling, and can be partly described as Maradonic.
All manner of jokes and banters have been made of that remark. On the social media, a comic picture to depict utter shock and heartbreak has gone viral of Chiefs Shonekan and Obasanjo putting their hands on their heads in what looks like as loss in their “political investment” as the President they confidently thought they “made” seemed to have just alerted them that he was not going to be their stooge. The picture, which in actual fact, shows the point at which the former political leaders were replacing their headdresses after the opening Christian prayers, appears every inch like Obasanjo and Shonekan were really expressing shock at the “I belong to nobody” part of the speech. Hilarious, but pregnant with meaning.
The other sentiment generated is that aside Obasanjo, Senator Bola Tinubu might have also been the target. Tinubu, among others was the architect of the mega APC party. He was instrumental in the emergence of Chief John Oyegun as the Chairman and Buhari as the chosen candidate in the party’s presidential primaries. He went ahead to build bridges to reach out to the disgruntled after the primaries and presented a formidable APC that eventually won the election. Thus, Tinubu takes much credit for a new political empire that caused the Tsunami that swept off the “mighty” PDP. For such efforts, it would be naturally expected that Tinubu would have uncontrolled access to, and influence on Buhari. Being who he is, Tinubu was generally expected to govern by proxy. It was even alleged before the March 28 elections, that Vice-President Osinbajo had signed an agreement to resign from his post at a latter date for Tinubu to take over.
It is therefore not out of place to nurse fears that Buhari might not be free from the stranglehold of the Lagos gladiator and that naturally, Tinubu would occupy the position of a godfather in Aso Rock. The remark, “…and I belong to nobody” was therefore speculated as being directed at Tinubu, to warn him in clear (but unclear) terms that President Buhari would not be anyone’s errand boy. Incidentally, the paparazzi covering the inauguration event did not offer us any funny pictures showing the Asiwaju’s reaction or something that looks like it as the President made the statement.
On a second thought, it is also believed that Buhari might have been reaching out to party leadership and the party at large. There are eagles, hawks and vampires in every political party, just as there are eccentrics and Bohemians in every social group. Party politics in Nigeria is such that every winning party considers the situation as a winner takes all. Party controls virtually every part of the leadership and provides even the oxygen for the President. National matters, including security could be in the hands of party charlatans and the appointment of persons to the sensitive positions such as that of minister of defence are dictated by the party. All manner of misfits could be recommended to reward support during elections and loyal membership and in the end, mediocrity prevails over merit. Having learnt from the sidelines all these years after quitting office in 1985, Buhari might have concluded that the shortcomings in governance hitherto could be attributed to such petty practices arising from party bondage. This might have informed his assertion that he would not repeat the mistakes of his predecessors and his famous remark: “I belong to nobody”.
But looking at it from a point of view that is devoid of mischief and that does not attempt to undermine the stakes or downplay the integrity of those that should- as it is customary in Nigerian politics- deserve a big place in the heart of the President (Tinubu, Obasanjo, APC and Co.), Buhari’s remark could just have been another harmless but magnanimous statesman’s declaration to reassure the “nation” of equity, fair play, equality of all in access to him, and being father to all. Also, if the earlier remark before “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody” is considered, in which he had said that he would discharge his duties without let or hindrance, fear or favour and to the best of his ability as sworn under oath, the “I belong to nobody” statement becomes less ambiguous. The precursor makes the next stand-alone paragraph, “I belong to everybody…and to nobody” clearer and not as ambivalent as might have been perceived. It is simply a reiteration and reinforcement of the precursor. It has no hidden or malicious meaning. It might not have been intentioned for the overbearing godfathers to steer clear from him and eschew unwholesome post-inauguration interactions.
Incidentally however, many circles prefer to understand Buhari’s remark as that deterrent footnote for godfathers and god-parties. Truly, Buhari has, like in IBB days, allowed nearly everyone to read meaning to his subsequent actions. These included his assertion that he would work with any leadership that emerged at the National Assembly; the non-appearance for a meeting he called at 9.00am to resolve the impasse in the APC before the National Assembly leadership tussle, and the speculated non-consultation with Tinubu on preferred ministerial nominations. Indeed Buhari seems too far from the party at the moment, apparently too deeply involved in strategizing new national security pathways, having made repeated journeys and held meetings at home and abroad that have rather taken him far, far away from local party affairs. The reality that this man truly “belongs to nobody” may just be dawning on the APC as they have now settled (and wisely so) for their party members who, against their wish, emerged as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Reps. And the NASS leaders had also manifested their leader’s school of thought of “I belong to nobody” through the contentious (non-partisan) process of their emergence.
But should Buhari belong to nobody in the context of partisan politics? While it sounds good and heartwarming, in reality, it is like swimming in the middle of an ocean with mere life jacket and no life-boat or savers around. If the sea goes tempest, it surely will be free drown. A single broomstick cannot sweep off the rubbish; it takes a bundle of broomsticks called the broom to get the job done. And when the die is cast, the family is always the first and last resort. It is wise also, to allow reason prevail over party sentiments.
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