Opinion

A “private visit” to Her Majesty the Queen – Reuben Abati writes

“You look dull. I hope you are good”

“What else can the son of man do, with all the problems on someone’s head in this country?”

“What happened? Your team messed up in the Premier League? Is your problem David De Gea?”

“No”

“May be the Arsenal coach then, because that match Arsenal played against Leicester City, during the weekend, the entire team, from Manager to the reserve bench should be placed on transfer when the window for transfers open. I should ask sef, which one is your team?”

“My problem is not football, please. I am not one of those who lose their heads over football in the UK, when they don’t even know the name of a single football team in Nigeria. I just can’t stand our people’s obsession with everything European. It is a kind of colonial mentality. Neo-slavery.”

“Please don’t moralize. We live in a global village. People are free to make their own choices. If I buy a television set with my own money, I can watch whatever I like on it. So, what is your problem? What’s on your mind?”

“I am actually thinking of going on a private visit abroad.”

“So, what is stopping you? Go ahead.”

“You know how it is. I don’t want a situation where I will now travel and people like you will start carrying placards, complaining about how I travelled without telling close friends.”

“Ah come on, my friend. Must you joke with everything? When last did I even see you? If you travel quietly and you come back, what can anybody do about that? Sometimes, it is even good to hide your movement. You know our people and their bad belle, envy and evil eye.”

“I think it is just sheer courtesy to let close friends know one’s movement. It is our culture. Otherwise, you would think I am anti-social and that I am stingy. As I don tell you now, even if na small chocolate, I go buy bring for you, make you too taste something from the abroad”.

“Well, good for you. But as for me, I don’t know about other people, every man with his own hustle. So where are you going?”

“Jandon”

“Jandon. What is that?”

“You don’t know Jandon? That is the slang name for London. I will just go for about a few days. I won’t even tell them in my office. I will just steal a few days and call in sick. My boss likes to kill somebody with work. I cannot come and kill myself. I am telling you because you are my man.”

“That is like cheating your company. The company must know where you are at any time.”

“You are my person, that is why I am telling you.”

“You are a manager in your company. You must set a good example. I am sure the terms of your contract do not allow you to go on secret trips.”

“All of these because I have confided in you? Even the President of Nigeria goes on a private visit. He is in London right now, nobody actually knows where he is there, what he is doing, who he is talking to, who is visiting him. That is the President. I beg, company can rest. I want to do like the President. It is a private visit to London, please.”

“I would expect that the normal thing for you to do is to apply for leave. You can just write about three lines. I am sure your office will have a back up for your position who can cover up for you while you are away. Until you resign or leave the job, you have a duty of care to ensure that you don’t disrupt your company’s operations. You can’t just take off and say it is a private visit. Even if you are going to see Her majesty the Queen, it is unacceptable. It is just simple, straightforward commonsense. You know I am your friend, just advising you.”

“So that what will not happen? So that the company will not sack me? They will not try it. I am the soul of the company. I have paid my dues. They all know my integrity is intact.”

“Your integrity is not intact if you take the company for granted.”

“You can’t know my company better than me. I work there. I know my worth. But it is not your fault. I tell you something, you begin to offer advice. I am sure you are one of those people going about saying President Muhammadu Buhari cannot go on a private visit.”

“Yes. I am.”

“I know. Of course. You are a PDP sympathizer. Must you people play politics with everything? Is the President not entitled to go away for some days after a hectic election, to just go and rest, take some time off from the madness of Nigeria, recuperate, rejuvenate and prepare himself for the beginning of a second term?”

“He didn’t follow due process. It is simple common sense.”

“Common sense. Common sense. How many of your proverbial common man voted for common sense in the last general elections? The common man rejected common sense and I tell you nothing will happen.”

“That is a different matter. What I am saying is that the President of Nigeria has a duty to respect the Constitution of Nigeria. Whenever he wants to travel, he must inform the National Assembly and hand over to the Vice President who will act on his behalf. The Constitution does not recognize “a private visit.” The President of Nigeria is a public official. The Nigerian taxpayer must know where he is, what he is doing at all times.”

“Very soon you people will alter the Constitution and ask for details of what the President does with his wife in the other room. You people are busy quoting the Constitution as if it descended from Heaven.”

“We are in a democracy. There are rules of engagement. We are under the rule of law, not the rule of men. We cannot have leaders who break the law. We must call them out.”

“I know you people’s problem. You are not happy losing the election.”

“That is not it. I am a Constitutional purist. A President can only be absent from duty within the purview of the law. The law is what the law giver says it is, just as company rules and terms of contract are sacrosanct.”

“So what will you say, if you suddenly hear that indeed the President, before leaving for London already sent a letter to the National Assembly? After all, there is no vacuum. Last Wednesday, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo presided over the Federal Executive Council meeting. Under his watch, FEC approved N56 billion for the e-border initiative. Other contracts were awarded. He is in charge in the President’s absence.”

“Is he doing that as Acting President or as co-ordinator of activities as he was once described when the President delegated authority to him?”

“Semantics. You people are the ones complaining. What if a letter suddenly shows up on the floor of the Senate?”

“I won’t put that past them. But we have been told anyway that the President can rule Nigeria from anywhere in the world. And we are saying we don’t want a diaspora President. Every job has a contact address and the contact address for the Nigerian President is in Nigeria. We know about official visit, state visit and working visit. The Nigerian Constitution does not talk about private visit. It talks about vacation.”

“You better don’t give yourself hypertension. I think lawyers, politicians and journalists are just always looking for something to talk about. Keep talking, before you know it now, Buhari will be back in Nigeria.”

“What if he extends the visit? After all, he once disappeared for more than 100 days.”

“And what happened? I think this whole problem has been created by his spokespersons. I think they should just have told us that the President is going on a short leave. He is entitled to vacation. But I also guess they have called it private visit, because they don’t want appointment seekers and contractors to disturb him. All those sycophants who are always seeking the eyes and ears of Presidents have been tactically told to keep off. You must always see things in context.”

“That is not an excuse to disobey the Constitution. The president cannot embark on classified trips. He cannot go on secret missions. That is unknown to the Constitution.”

“Would you be satisfied if you suddenly see him going to Selfridges to shop, or having a meal at a restaurant? You want to see him. Fine. I just hope you people will not come again and say he is using Nigerian money to have fun”

“No. He cannot go to Selfridges. He will have to explain the source of the money.”

“There you go. Please can we talk about something else. Last, last, everybody will be okay in this country, because it looks like everybody is depressed. It is just the level that differs. People who have not seen N500 thousand in their lives will be shouting, our money, our money”

“You are just a government apologist.”

Yes, I am. It is only government apologists that win elections in Nigeria. At least for now. And for your information, my long-term plan is to go and run for election in my state, Bayelsa state. That is why when you were talking about company rules and contract, I just dey look you. See in our state, the House of Assembly has just passed a bill that says every lawmaker in that state who ever served is entitled to a life-time pension. Next election in that state, I am there oh, my brother. N500k for life, every month. Even if I die sef, I will tell my family not to let anybody know, so they can keep paying the money into my account. I will just go on a private visit to heaven.”

“Countriman will not sign that bill into law. He must not do it. It is a vexatious piece of legislation.”

“Who is Countriman? And what is your own? Are you from our state?”

“Seriake Dickson, your Governor is the man we all call Countriman. Look, we must insist that politicians must have jobs that they do. The job of the legislature is to make laws for order, stability and good governance, not to make selfish laws that establish a rent-collection system for lawmakers. I have it on good authority, anyway that Governor Dickson has rejected that bill.”

“You don’t know what you are talking about. Your countryman must not try any such thing. The House of Assembly will override his veto. Leave matter. You see, in this country, everybody is looking out for himself. You are busy quoting Constitution. That is why you are still struggling. Listen to yourself. If you give yourself hypertension, you are on your own oh. All these people with whom you make noise, you’d be surprised some of them are collecting rent somewhere. That is Nigeria for you. I am a pragmatist.”

“Certain things are just not right”

“And you are the one going to correct those things that are not right. Something that Tafawa Balewa could not do. Something that Gowon could not do. Something that Murtala Muhammad died for. Obasanjo and Buhari put head, more than twice. Na you and your noise-making go solve Nigerian problem? I beg.”

“I am a patriot.”

“Very good, congratulations. What you don’t know is that every country has its own identity and culture. Look at New Zealand and Sri Lanka. On March 15 in Christchurch, New Zealand, two mosques were attacked, 50 persons were killed. The leadership of that country has used that tragedy to turn around their country, and reflect deeply. They changed gun permit laws. Prime Minister Jacinta Arden is leading a campaign for open, secure and safe internet, to check extremism and bigotry. On April 21, in Sri Lanka, terrorists struck again killing more than 300 persons. The President of Sri Lanka has fired the defence chief and the police chief. Here in Nigeria, people are killed daily, abducted, brutalized. Have you seen or heard that anybody has been fired? Get real, man. If you are a patriot, be real.”

“We need a people’s revolution in this country. We need to rescue young men like you from those who have captured your minds and the Nigerian state.”

“Oh, sorry. I see you have been busy watching television. The people who talked about revolution in the last elections in Nigeria lost woefully. Wake up, man. You better don’t go and talk revolution with Nigerian policemen when next they flag down your vehicle. Your revolution can earn you a bullet in the leg.”

“Leave me alone. Look at you. You keep talking about Nigeria as if you are from Guinea Bissau.”

“Don’t worry hen. I will buy you something from London… Bye.”

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