Femi Adesina opens his latest interview with Punch Newspaper with these words: “It is mendacious to say that in the last one year, what Nigerians have been experiencing is suffering. It is not true.” Something can be said in favour of Femi Adesina: he is consistent; he is not a hypocrite; he has never strayed from his conviction that haughty arrogance and unbridled contempt for the Nigerian people are the fundamental requirements of his job. You may accuse him of many failures, but you cannot accuse him of having failed once in the last one year to live by the code of arrogance and contempt for the people.
This latest disaster, this latest injury that Femi Adesina has inflicted on his boss and the Presidency he speaks for, will deservedly dominate national conversation in the coming week. It should. There is no reason why the Nigerian people should let pass this level of arrogance, rudeness, and callousness by the chief communication officer of the President. However, I wanted to enter a few salient points as we grapple with the latest assault on national sensibilities by the insouciant Adesina.
Many of you will come at Femi Adesina from the angle of trying to prove the very obvious mendacity (to use his own big word) of his claims. You will wonder what planet he inhabits. You will claim that from Abakaliki to Zungeru, the dominant reality in Nigeria is poverty, hunger, suffering, etc. You will retail the difficulties of the ordinary Nigerian. You will claim again and again that Femi Adesina is lying. This approach is tempting and recommends itself easily, but you will miss a more worrisome dimensions of the problem if you adopt it.
Femi Adesina is in fact not lying and that, precisely, is the problem. Only psychoanalysis can give you a handle on what is happening here and why we are in deep shit with this guy being this close to the President. He is not lying. He is telling the truth – his own truth. He is saying what he sees which means that he is now practically and physically blind to what constitutes daily life for more than 99% of the country. The reality is now shaped for him by all the gloss and opulence of his experiential universe. Take him to Okokomaiko, take him to Nyanya or any slum in Abuja, he will not see suffering. He can no longer see poverty and suffering because he is now ontologically blind to such experiences. He can only now speak to and of the one reality that feeds all his senses: opulence. He can only describe his own experiential universe which his consciousness now mistakes for Nigeria. And it is true that there is no suffering in his universe. So, do not go at this by accusing him of lying.
This brings us to the real problems. Alhaji Umaru Dikko must be given his own due as the originator of Femi Adesina’s line of attack on the Nigerian people. Adesina is merely continuing in Dikko’s illustrious tradition. Dikko was the first to deny the people’s reality of suffering and poverty in as callous a term as Femi Adesina’s encore.
However, it can be said of Dikko that he had spent considerable time in the corridors of power and affluence before he required empirical evidence of Nigerians feeding from the dust bin before he would believe that there was suffering in the land. In other words, he had spent years in the federal circles of opulence, waste, and corruption before his psychology was alienated from the people’s realities and he became practically and physically blind to the life of the people. He spoke in jest and mocked the people during President Shagari’s era.
This psychological alienation, this mental separation from the people, which took Umaru Dikko years to achieve, is what Femi Adesina has attained in just under one year in Aso Rock. It is quite a feat. This raises very serious issues for the Buhari government and they need to provide answers to the people swiftly. We now know Femi Adesina’s core beliefs. He denies the people’s reality. Is this the official thinking of the Presidency? Is this belief that Nigerians have not suffered in the last one year shared by the President? Is this the official thinking of the government at large?
Since he is part of the government for which Femi Adesina speaks and we hardly ever hear a whimper from Laolu Akande, his own spokesperson, is this also the thinking of Pastor Yemi Osinbajo? Does the Pastor share the Presidency’s belief that the people’s suffering is a myth?
These questions are not to be taken lightly. If Femi Adesina’s perspective is an accurate window into the thinking of the administration, the consequences for the country and the people are dire and grim indeed. This would mean that the belief that the people’s sufferings and tribulations in the last one year is fiction constitutes the fundamental framework and the core philosophy informing the administration’s policies.
If the people are not suffering, they can make what Lai Mohammed calls “painful adjustments” to the administration’s policies. If the people are not suffering, they can make the sacrifices that Ibe Kachikwu and all the official and non-official vuvuzelas of the recent fuel price adjustment (they say it is subsidy removal but not subsidy removal) have been advocating. Most importantly, if the people are not suffering, they and they alone should make all the sacrifices, and no member of the Nigerian government should have to join in the sacrifice. You see where I am going with this?
Femi Adesina’s interview is a terrible blow for those who have been supporting and rationalizing the removal of fuel subsidy and is a further testimony to the Buhari administration’s terrible capacity for own goals. Good people stood by you and took the social media by storm to help persuade the people that your fuel price adjustment was the only way to go. They put their reputation on the line to make your fuel subsidy case despite the fact that many of us will not budge from our position that the policy is wrong. They risked everything based on what they called the integrity and trustworthiness of your administration. Yet, every sentence that has been coming out of the multiple mouths of the administration – Lai Mohammed and, now, Femi Adesina – has been pulling the rug off the feet of those helping President Buhari to make his case.
How is it now tenable for anybody to continue to make the fuel subsidy case for an administration whose chief communication officer is saying the exact opposite and dissing the people with so much sass, so much hubris, so much contempt, and so much callousness? How do you summon a people to accept the sacrifice imposed on them by your policies when your spokesperson is haughtily saying that they have not suffered at all in the last one year? Should a man who cannot handle life in Aso Rock for just one year have so much power over the President’s communication with the country and the world? I foresee disaster o. If power has gotten into Femi Adesina’s head this badly in just one year, what will he not say to and of the Nigerian people in year two?
Not in recent memory have we had so much arrogance coming from the official spokesperson of the President. Segun Adeniyi was humility personified. Ima Niboro was non-existent. The trouble with Reuben Abati wasn’t arrogance and contempt for the people, never mind that we would even have excused him a little arrogance given his intellectual profile and pedigree. Abati was not arrogant.
Abati is just Nigeria’s only living example of the most colossal miscalculation of one’s position and role in history. He had become an institution. His voice had become national property, a collective expression of the people’s struggle. He underestimated what and who he had become. He did not know that the sacrosanct public property and institution that was his giant voice had no business in government. He did not know that what to do with that voice was not his decision but the decision of the people. He was a human custodian of something that meant so much to the Nigerian people. He bungled it. He will never recover. But in the exercise of his functions for the most corrupt government in Nigeria’s recent history, Abati was not arrogant.
So, where is this Femi Adesina coming from? Just who is offering him pounded yam and assuring him that egusi soup is guaranteed? The Buhari administration now officially has a Femi Adesina problem, and we shall be using public and back channels to let them know this so that nobody will say that they did not know. But we need to know first whether Femi Adesina speaks for himself in this interview or for his boss. If he is speaking to his boss and saying that the suffering of the Nigerian people in the last one year is fiction, then they are both preparing for this epitaph and judgement of history: “here lies the ruins of an administration that took the gold of change and turned it to the cold ash of more of the same.”
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Pius Adesanmi is the director of Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies, Ottawa, Canada. In 2010, he was awarded the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing. A widely-cited commentator on Nigerian and African affairs, he has lectured in African, European, and North American universities, and also regularly addresses non-academic audiences across Africa.