With Sam Nwaoko
IN 2012, Mallam Garba Shehu wrote an article entitled: ‘Mango people in banana republic’.Mallam Shehu wrote the Today column in the legendary Nigerian Tribune newspaper. His ‘Mango people in banana republic’ was published by the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, November 12, 2012. It was both a lamentation and a celebration. Yes, it is the same Mallam Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari. He also once wrote weekly articles to celebrate the country and to also appraise the performance of governments. He was not in government and he mostly did not write good things about the government of the day at that time. He was one of those described as ‘pinch-penny watchdogs’ that lampooned the Federal Government that was run by Dr Goodluck Jonathan and his PDP.
In the article, Garba Shehu opened with vivid imagery of a relatable Don Quixote: “Have you seen a man haggling over the price of a hose pipe while his house is on fire? That’s the Federal Republic of Nigeria for you!” In the article, he described a situation in which a man would waste all the attention his burning house requires and be running after rats. The Yoruba will mildly describe such buffoonery by saying that such a man has allowed the leprosy to fester while he has exerted efforts to kill the ring worm. Well, that was what Mallam Shehu was saying in ‘Mango people in Banana Republic’ when he contended that while there were reports of “mind-blowing corruption going on in the country’s oil sector, our officials seem not to care but are, instead, focused on inter-personal and ego wars and academic debates about whether oil should be projected at this or that price.”
While you maintain that imagery in your head, let’s look at another picture painted by the same Garba Shehu on Wednesday, 21 November, 2012. Mallam Shehu gave us the second image through his Today column in the Nigerian Tribune, published on the back page of the legendary newspaper. The title of that work leaves us with everything that we need to know and ruminate over: ‘A president’s detachment from reality’. But for a better understanding, he brought us to a vantage position to take a closer look at his thoughts about the Federal Government of that era.
Except for those wet behind the ears, Nigerians know that the calling out of Jonathan back then for not dealing with the crooks in the oil sector and for his lethargy in the fight against corruption are all academic shows. Nigerians should decide who among the two presidents have made any significant difference in the areas pointed at in our national life by our dear Mallam Shehu. He is also at a better position to educate us now that he has managed and spoken for the Buhari administration for a total of eight years. He also once asked “whether the forces of corruption are not stronger than the state” and today’s Nigeria presents the spokespersons of the Federal Government an opportunity to educate us on what really is going on at the seat of power.
What does banana republic means? Or, what does Garba Shehu mean by ‘banana republic’? One online dictionary said ‘banana republic’ is “a small nation, especially in Central America, dependent on one crop only or influx of foreign capital.” The online dictionary however pointed out that its definition is derogatory. Another dictionary, the Webster’s New Encyclopedic Dictionary, defines ‘banana republic’ as “a small dependent country usually of the tropics; especially one run despotically.” These imageries were brought to us by the presidential spokesman when he was not yet in government. It is reality time and Mallam Garba Shehu is now on the other side of the divide. He can no longer mention a president’s detachment from reality nor can he now see the mango people in a banana republic.
Before we descended into this current vale of tears, we had some pointers to this gritty patch rather early in the life of the Buhari administration. That time, Nigerians expected a government that would hit the ground running. But when the government hit the ground and got stuck, they were disappointed. A government they had expected to act fast in dismantling the many castles of corruption and ineptitude they said Goodluck Jonathan built was rather ultra-lethargic and was barely moving a limb. There were these muffled cries and queer whimpers against what presented as a slothful, slow and arrogant administration as it rolled into 100 days. But Mallam Garba Shehu reminded us that Buhari did not make specific promises and denied the promises contained in booklets entitled “One Hundred Things Buhari will do in 100 Days” and “My Covenant with Nigerians.” He also said Buhari himself dismissed the idea of 100 days because he could do anything about the very high expectations in 100 days. Shehu also said the APC ran a campaign that had so many centres of public communication some of which were on the loose. We were warned.
One of the people who also showed Nigerians the short end of the stick – and actually gave it to the population – was Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla. You might have forgotten him. He was a member of the APC Presidential Campaign Council and a vociferous campaigner of the good the APC was. Indeed, Obono-Obla was a hyper-active trumpeter of the pre-2015 APC and that time immediately after the Buhari government was formed. When he reacted to Nigerians’ unease that the administration was not showing the early signs of a performing government, he chided Nigerians as expecting too much too early, and blamed the desire of Nigerians on “the forces of corruption.” Obono-Obla was reinforcing Buhari’s denial of some of the promises that had propelled him to the Aso Rock Villa. This is how Obono-Obla put it: “We don’t know about the document. I was in the APC Presidential Campaign Council and there was no document that emanated from the Presidential Campaign Council saying that the President will transform Nigeria into a land of milk and honey.”
Like Garba Shehu, Mr Obono-Obla propounded similar verbal theories to prove that Buhari did not make those promises to Nigerians. In the same vein, Shehu has been in the vanguard of the legion that holds the view that Nigerians are not yet frustrated with the administration. He knows that at worst, by the time the anger comes apart at the seams, it would be May 29 and they would have packed their ‘bins bags and vats’ and zoomed out of the presidential villa. By the way, where is Okoi Obono-Obla now?
Gabrba Shehu’s ‘Mango People in Banana Republic’ is now a child’s play compared to the chaos the Buhari government has thrown the country into in nearly eight years. The ordinary Nigerian cannot now listen without doubt to the sermons of the Buhari government. Nigerians now hold the government’s postulations with a pinch of salt. They know the difference between cash in hand and cash in the bank. Nigerians now know the difference between petrol station and petrol in filling station. Nigerians to whom Garba Shehu is explaining the reports of the stoning of the president’s convoy in Kano know how they feel. He did not say anything about the earlier reports of stoning in Katsina.
It is fate that has made the stoning incident to happen in Northern Nigeria. If this had happened anywhere in the South, it would have been easier to spin the story to read that it was either an angry, desperate Bola Ahmed Tinubu or an IPOB-supporting Peter Obi that engineered innocent Buhari lovers to revolt against their god. That that kind of thing did not happen in the South could be because Buhari has not come to the South since the current shadow of confusion enveloped the country.