by Abimbola Adelakun
Within the same week, two books were launched on President Muhammadu Buhari; one by his official photographer, Bayo Omoboriowo, entitled, Buhari: A New Beginning, and the other, Muhammadu Buhari: The Challenges of Leadership in Nigeria, by an American professor whose scholarly interests revolve around northern Nigeria, John Paden. First, I must admit that of all Nigerian paradoxes, perhaps, the one that fascinates me most is the culture of book launches in a country where illiteracy level is high and people cannot afford to read beyond religious texts and motivational books. This intellectualisation of governance is even more curious considering that only recently, the University of Jos Library got burnt and it did not generate a whimper from these pretend bibliophiles.
While public officials regularly have their hagiographies ghostwritten – or they spectacularly launch those written by their cronies – Nigerian public schools remain decrepit, library facilities virtually non-existent, and we steadily raise generations of ill-literates. Our leaders ironically churn out books they will have to pay people to read, many of them unavailable for purchase after the launch. Who really are those books meant for, and what is the economy of their production?
Buhari’s most recent book launch rankles and that is because the author, Paden, claimed the proceeds from the book sales would go to charity organisations working with the Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria. This is the second time this year a member of Buhari’s coterie will launch a book and promise to donate the proceeds to the IDPs. In April, Mrs. Aishat Buhari launched a book on beauty therapy, summoned Nigeria’s political elite for the launch, and also promised to donate the proceeds to the IDPs. In a piece I wrote then, Mrs. Buhari’s hustle, I pointed out that her action was unethical and no matter how they spin it, was no different from the former President who shook down people for money for a library in his name while still in office. Paden is taking a similar track as Mrs. Buhari but no, he cannot legitimise this flimflam with charity. At best, his pledge is an exploitation of the condition of the people who found themselves in the IDP camps through no fault of their own. The IDP is primarily the responsibility of the government and while individuals and organisations can send them charity for whatever reason, using the office of the President to twist the arms of people for this purpose is just wrong.
How many people have so far been arrested, prosecuted, and jailed for stealing resources meant for the IDPs? There are a number of heartbreaking stories of children being sexually exploited in those IDP camps by the same people who rob them of resources meant for them but where is the outrage or urgency to address the situation? Yet, politicians gather in Abuja to drop some money into a collection tray at the book launch, dust their conscience, and walk away thinking they are morally exonerated.
At the time Paden’s book was being launched, the House of Representatives announced it was investigating an alleged diversion of funds meant for those IDPs. They claimed a whopping sum of N270m was used to trim the grass around the camp and yes, this heartless profligacy came from the office of the Secretary of the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal. The Buhari who promised us that he would run corrupt people out of town could not as much as ask the man to step aside until the investigation was done. Yet, they gathered in Abuja to launch Baba’s book ostensibly to raise money.
This is like the story of Haiti, one of the poorest and most impoverished countries in the world, yet has the highest concentration of NGOs in the world. The NGO-isation of Haiti has made many of these charity administrators exceedingly rich but those for whom all these activities are meant have remained poor. After the devastating earthquake in 2011, the world raised half a billion dollars for Haiti and what became of it? The Red Cross reportedly built just six homes out of it, the rest largely expended on logistics. Problem is, whenever there is money to be made out of a disaster, who will want the disaster to ever stop? We saw how much of the money meant for fighting Boko Haram went into lining the pockets of public officials. How can the IDPs be ever re-settled into their homes when they have become quick means of income generation? What stops another person from organising another book launch in the name of the IDPs while perpetuating the cycle of violence and poverty?
Paden, by the way, has schooled and taught in some of the most prestigious universities in the US. With such a pedigree, he could not have been ignorant of ethics. Could Paden have written the biography of Barack Obama, and then claim the money would go to charity? If not, why then apply lower ethical standards in Africa? Why did Paden not take the book to a university and launch it among his peers who would have done a judicious review rather than politicians who bought the book only because they had to impress Buhari who was at the occasion?
On another day, we can have a rigorous discussion on the racial dynamics of Paden, a white male, writing a biography of a serving African leader and the latter impressed enough to promote it, even inviting presidents of other African countries to witness the occasion. Paden’s white male privilege, mind you, regularly grants him access to spaces a Nigerian scholar who wants to undertake a similar work will probably never be allowed.
Meanwhile, the controversy around the details in the book – most notably how Prof Yemi Osinbajo came to be made Buhari’s running mate – has been amusing. Paden’s book, according to media reports, stated that Buhari himself chose Osinbajo as his Vice-President while disputers contend that Osinbajo was actually chosen for Buahri by the All Progressives Congress National Leader, Bola Tinubu. This little detail might seem insignificant to a non-initiate but to those who can hear the sounds of seismic waves rumbling in Nigeria’s political underground, this is not trivial at all. The fact that it was a white man, a supposedly neutral outsider, that was chosen to narrate a spate of events that happened last year makes one curious about the unseen hand re-writing public memory and to what end. Come on, the same Buhari that did not remember Osinbajo’s name chose the man?
Nice try, Professor.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Abimbola Adelakun/Punch