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A letter to Sam – By Azu Ishiekwene

Dear Chairman,

It was about this time eight years ago, wasn’t it? I’m talking of course of when you took what was perhaps the most audacious, some may even say, most controversial political decision of your career at the time to run for the Presidency.

You had talked and written about what was possible for over 20 years. Now, it was time to just get in there and do it! To show that Big Ideas was not a pipedream but a possibility.

I don’t know which was more difficult: the decision to run or the decision – when you finally made it – to tell your mentor of several decades, General Muhammadu Buhari (as he then was), that you were going to run against him. 

Do you still remember when we first talked about the latter in my office around early 2014 before the APC presidential primaries in December of that year? 

“O-o-o-f course, now!”, I can almost hear you say, rocking with laughter and a mocking glare.

I’m sure you do. And I remember, too, what you said happened when, after a long period of consultations and meetings, you finally visited the General in his Abuja lair, to tell him you would be running against him.

You told me, as you set your trademark red cap on my office table that harmattan afternoon, that the discussion started with your usual jokes and laughter. And when you finally told him you had something very important to say, the atmosphere changed. 

He invited you into his inner room where you both sat down to talk. He probably knew what it was – you both knew – because the rumour was rife. But you both pretended neither knew. And I still remember what you said his response was, after you finally told him you were going to run against him in the party primary for the presidential ticket.

“That’s OK, Nda. I wish you the best.” And then, a cold chill descended on the room. That chill was to later spill out of the room, spreading to Buhari’s inner political circle where some who could not accept the courage of your conviction made heavy-weather of it, and even weaponised it afterwards.

It didn’t matter that you said at your remarkable speech in Minna when you launched your campaign that it was not a do-or-die affair. That anyone of the five of you who emerged APC’s presidential candidate would be far, far better than the incumbent. The rest, of course, is history.  

What that history will say about your mentor, Buhari, who is rounding up his eight years in office is still being written. You saw and read a bit of it before Friday, December 11, 2020 when you crossed to the other side. You were already becoming visibly uncomfortable discussing Buhari’s government. That was clear to people who knew you.

With less than six months before your mentor leaves office, I wonder how much time you spend these days following the media thread on his administration? Inflation, according to the National Bureau of Statistics is 19 percent; but food inflation is worse. Groundnut, your favourite snack, for example, which was around N800 a bottle when you passed two years ago, is now N1,200. 

The number of out-of-school children has nearly doubled from 11million in 2020 to 22million as of this year. And as if that is not bad enough, university teachers, on the watch of your very good friend Malam Adamu Adamu, just returned from an eight-month-long strike – one of the longest in the country’s history with enough blame to go round for the teachers and the government, but without any hint that it might be the last time it would happen.

And, oh, was the Japa wave the social currency of migration before you passed? I’m not sure it was. But believe me, Chairman, the wave is so big today that friends in the financial services sector tell me that “proof of funds” – the evidence of financial sufficiency required of intending japa-rers by embassies – is the largest stream of income for a number of finance houses in the country today. 

About 727 medical doctors trained in Nigeria relocated to the UK in the last one year alone. Data from the registry of the Nursing and Midwifery Council of the UK reported that the number of Nigeria-trained nurses increased by 68.4 percent from 2,790 in March 2017 to 7,256 in March 2022.  

In the 2022 brochure of graduating students of the University of Hertfordshire, UK, for example, out of the 131 students graduating in Nursing alone, 79 are Nigerians.

A current subject of UK public interest, for example, was a report that the number of dependents accompanying our students is 40 percent of all dependents accompanying UK-based students.

Perhaps I should say a word, at this time, about our relationship with China, a relationship which you contributed your quota in nurturing as a private sector citizen who believed it was both the prudent and practical thing to do, especially in light of the shenanigans of the West. 

Our love of China is waxing cold. That has nothing to do with the extraordinary efforts of the current ambassador, Cui Jian Chun, to model a relationship rooted in the core value of “harmony”. 

Apart from COVID-19, which created its own global supply chain problems, I think the Chino-Nigerian relationship is overdosed on low-interest loans from China. We currently owe China about $10billion, which is about 12 percent of Nigeria’s debt stock. 

Although the government insists that the Chinese loans are tied largely to infrastructure, there have been concerns that we’re not just owing, but that, in fact, our children may have also borrowed from China.  

While the hairsplitting continues over whether Nigeria is facing a debt crisis – or whether, as the Ministry of Finance insists, we’re facing a “revenue problem” – there’s no controversy over the massive vandalism and stealing of crude oil. 

When you were still threatening to take a cane to Aso Rock, Nigeria was losing $1.63 billion yearly from the theft of 200,000 bpd. Between January and July this year alone, we have lost $10billion! Which means, to use your words, “We have been stolen with the oil.”

It’s the sort of absurdity over which you used to famously describe a former President as “utterly clueless” and yet, lacking in grace to accept his incompetence. 

“Azu, what is this now…w—h—a—t is this?”, I can almost hear you stammer in embarrassed agitation.

Yet, if you were here, writing these closing chapters of Buhari’s story as you wrote those of President Goodluck Jonathan and President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua so eloquently and so unsparingly, I sometimes wonder what you would be saying. 

Of course, you stopped writing shortly before you threw your hat in the ring, but your heart did not stop beating for Nigeria, for the unfinished work of making Nigeria great again, and for the belief that with the right leadership in one united country, we can show the world the way.

What was it you used to call them – I mean your friends in high places who occasionally let the country down so badly, you didn’t just know what to do? 

Ah, I remember! “My S-O-B….Ha!ha!ha!” That’s what you used to say. But believe me, Chairman, if they were few two years ago, they’re quite a community these days and growing strong!

Of course, the government has not been without its reasons, chief among which have been COVID-19, the fluctuation in oil prices and, the latest of which has been the Russian-Ukraine war, which has lasted 10 months now.  

By the way, I’m sure you know your party’s candidate for the February 2023 election and how your party’s primaries went this time. For days before, and later, weeks after the primaries, I couldn’t help thinking what you would have done this time. 

Your party presented a most interesting list indeed, one that included a few of your very close allies. At one point, in fact, I was nearly certain it would also include former President Jonathan! 

Every party primary, as you know, has its dramatic moments and this one was no exception. 

I don’t know how it would have ended if you had been around. But looking back at your party’s primary in May, it seemed to me that perhaps that was exactly the moment you were preparing for eight years ago. How it was not to be, only God knows. 

But the sheer lack of content, depth and thoroughness this time was so evident it made the outcome an anti-climax and your absence even more painful.

But as they say, it is what it is….

 

Ishiekwene is the Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP

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