The President wakes up. He slept very late last night. It is in the nature of the calling – a series of late-night meetings that stretch well into the next day. Last night, there was the one with the two friendly state governors, who brought a list of allegedly disloyal ministers. After that, the party executives, who wanted to discuss the forthcoming governorship election in one of those troubled states.
What state, by the way, isn’t a troubled one in this country, when you think of Ebola and Boko Haram and the marauding herdsmen? Not to talk of politicians themselves and their endless “wahala”.
Speaking of Ebola, it was the issue on the table for the President’s third late-night meeting. But it was a boring meeting; full of confusing numbers and epidemiological jargon. It reminded the President of the time when he had to make a living teaching. Teaching students who had no desire to learn, in a university that had no desire to stay open. The humdrum-ness of it all still sometimes produces a sinking feeling in his stomach. Years of waking up, praying the Datsun Bluebird would start without fuss. It now seems like that life was lived on another planet.
The President sits up in bed, yawns and stretches. He is alone, the Madam is somewhere in Europe inaugurating a warship, or was it a new wardrobe. He tries to remember what day of the week it is. That’s the problem with this office – time is no longer your own. You are surrounded by an infinite number of persons whose job it is to snatch time out of your hands. People think the President is powerful. But he is not as powerful as those people; who make him do stuffs he has not the slightest clue about.
The President steps out of bed, with no idea what his day might look like. He reaches for the bell, to summon help. Just before he presses the button, there is a knock on the door. He makes his way to the door. The image that flashes through his mind is a strange one: what if the Villa has been overrun by hostile forces, and he is about to be captured like Laurent Gbagbo or Samuel Doe. But this is Nigeria, not Ivory Coast or Liberia, and Nigeria is not at war.
Nigeria is not at war. Nigeria is not at war. Technically, that might not be true. Boko Haram is no longer a terrorist group in that sense, it is now an army, if what you read is to be believed. That is another problem with being President. How do you know what to believe? You can’t just jump into your car and drive off to Maiduguri to seek the truth. Every movement has to be choreographed; every step pre-planned. Those security people are tyrants. You can’t go here or there, can’t do this or that. They relish the hold they have over the C-in-C. What’s the point of being the most powerful person in the country if other people have to make decisions for you?
The President can’t even keep money in his own name – other people have to do it for you. Any one of those small boys who loiter around his office probably has more money underneath his bed than the President has ever seen in his life. Without these people, the President is a snot-nosed little boy crying and wondering where mummy is. Half of the things done in the President’s name, he has no idea. Half of the statements credited to “the Presidency” have nothing to do with him. Most of the money taken in his name will never come near him.
The President opens the door. It is the Private Secretary, the Aide de Camp, and the spokesman. They all look tired; they went to bed at the same time but have to wake up well before the President. Because they are not the president. That is the edge he has. People have to at least pretend to respect him.
The men instantly proceed to do what they’re paid to do: snatch time out of his hands. He can hear Time crying like a baby, as these marauders drive the rusty dagger of officialdom into its beating heart.
The spokesman hands him a sheet of paper on which the day’s news has been summarised. The President has a feeling that his people sometimes strive to protect him from too much bad news, but the news these days is so full of badness you can’t conceal much from anyone. Ah, here’s some good news: the military has retaken the town they lost to Boko Haram. Good news, if true. But how is a President to know for sure that these military people and the journalists are not lying? The President knows he needs people who can tell him the truth.
Preferably, those who can do it without abusing him every time. Not every time abuse President. Sometimes, take it easy. The weight of their name-calling has convinced even search-engines to believe the worst about him. Do they know how painful it is? Do they ever think that his children might also be on the Internet reading these things?
The President’s consolation lies in what some of his “enemies” have said about him. The Emir said he is a good man surrounded by bad people. The Pastor who recently wanted to become Vice-President said he is trying his best but that that best is not good enough. But he also admitted that Nigeria is a complicated country. That’s comforting, somewhat.
Nigeria is a complicated country. Everybody wants something, and everybody assumes that their chances of getting what they want are tied to their ability to prevent everyone else from getting what they want. Does that make sense? Trapped in the madness is the President, listening to millions of opinions, trying to satisfy as many people as possible.
The President is thinking of a scheme that will allow government critics to experience the office of President for a day, or a week. Something like what they do in Lagos, where schoolkids get the chance to be Governor for a day. Let them feel the pressure a little. On such a day, when the reins of government are left in the hands of one of those many noisemakers, the President imagines himself disappearing to his village in the creeks, where he will smuggle himself onto a canoe and just float gently down the river, pretending he is just a poor fisherman with nary a care in the world.
But he can immediately list at least 15 powerful people who will instantly overrule the idea. And they can get the security people to write a thousand-page report on why it would be a bad idea. And they will leak the idea to the papers and everyone will pounce on it and find their own sinister explanation.
The President realises that managing his own camp – analysing people’s motivations, keeping them loyal, pretending to be in control – is perhaps even more difficult than running the goddamn country.
Someone coughs, to jolt the President out of his reverie. It is the ADC. Ah, right, where were we? What am I doing today? The answers tumble out.
A National Summit on Education and Security, to be declared open at 10. (He is going to be late, he knows, but they will have to wait for him). Then, it’s back to the office, for eight courtesy visits and two presentations of ambassadorial letters of credence; to eat up the time until lunch. The entire afternoon will be expended on visits from party chieftains and godfathers, all of who insist they have important matters to discuss; none of whom a sitting President can afford to disdain. (Even the almighty Baba had to do plenty of begging to get a second term). At 6pm, he has to take a call from the White House. What is he going to tell Obama? At 7pm, there will be a Presidential Media chat; to provide fresh material for all who delight in abusing him. At 8pm, he has to host the “Transformation Ambassadors” to dinner. (He should remember to ask who’s funding them). At 10pm, the kitchen cabinet will assemble, to drink and gossip and strategise, until the early hours.
And then, the President will go to bed, to dream that Abu Shekau, chewing-stick-in-mouth, is chasing him around Eagle Square, while Nigerians point and laugh.
Article written by Tolu Ogunlesi, On twitter @toluogunlesi and Culled from his PUNCH Newspaper.
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