Let me start by giving due credit for this headline, which is not original to me. I lifted it from the 1983 song by reggae star, Peter Tosh, in the album titled Mama Africa. The song is Glass House, and it goes thus:
“If you live in a glasshouse
Don’t throw stones
And if you can’t take blows brother
Don’t throw blows.”
I’ve recently found out that it’s the opposite that some Nigerians want. They want to use foul language, harangue their President, abuse him, and then, nobody must respond to defend the President. They want to dish out blows, and they don’t want to take any. But it doesn’t work that way. If you can’t take blows brother don’t throw blows. That’s the way life goes.
For about five years, some people have made it a pastime to talk about President Muhammadu Buhari anyhow. They attempt to lead him by the nose, order him around, and call him names. The man just ignores them, and continues to work calmly for the country. And he’s making the difference in different spheres of national life. Steadily.
Last week, I chose to give out some light blows. Very light ones. That was when I realized that those who had been dealing out the blows for years have nothing but glass jaws. They collapsed, and saw stars.
I had got a request to appear on the breakfast show of Naija Info FM. There were initial scheduling difficulties, but eventually, we found a mutually acceptable time. It was like the station was the bastion for some angry Nigerians, the type that saw nothing good in government, and who took delight in negative criticisms. No problem. We have learnt to deal with all sorts. I responded to questions from the show presenter, the relevant and the not so relevant ones. And then the phone lines were thrown open.
One man first charged that the interview session was a waste of time, as I had parried all the questions thrown at me. Oh ho. What did he want? Dabble into issues that do not involve a presidential spokesman, and then make a mess of eating an egg? I simply referred the interviewer to those who could answer his questions in government. As spokesman to the President, you were not Jack of all trade, otherwise you would end up being master of none. Whatever was outside your purview, just refer to the right quarters.
Another man came on the line. When would the President talk to us, he charged. At least we voted him into office, so he has a moral duty to talk to us. He said he was a school principal, and he talks to his students every morning at the assembly hall. Wrong premise. Wrong conclusion. You can’t parallel a President leading 200 million diverse people with a principal superintending over less than 500 or 1,000 students, who were even half paying attention, or giggling, and poking fun at the shoes or shirt, or tummy of the man talking to them.
Now, this narrative of ‘he must talk to us’ is a common one in the country. I’d responded to it more times than I could remember. But what made it a bit irksome last week was the fact that the President had just made three major national broadcasts over the previous four weeks. And here was a man commanding him to ‘come and talk to us’ once again.
I threw my own jab. Why was the man sounding like a broken record, repeating itself endlessly? Before the series of national broadcasts started, you said President Buhari was not talking on the COVID-19 pandemic, when he had set up a team of experts and professionals, who were handling the emergency adequately, and briefing Nigerians daily. Then he makes three broadcasts, and you still say he’s not talking. He must do a media chat. You want a talkative President? Soon, you would say again that he talks too much.
I explained that it was not the President’s style to chirrup like a cockatoo. He is a man of few words, who preferred action to words. I even pleaded that we should understand the nature of the man we have elected to lead us, and let him do the work.
You know what? If it was former President Olusegun Obasanjo that had come under the ‘you must talk to us’ barrage like that, and on live television, he would have first cleared his throat noisily, adjusted himself in his seat, and then bellowed: “And who are you, that I must talk to you? I say who the hell are you? Who is your father? Who is your father’s father, that you are commanding me to talk to you? Were you born when we fought a Civil War to keep this country together? Where was your father when I received the instrument of surrender from the Biafra Forces? Don’t come here and tell me nonsense. Talk to us, my foot!”
But President Buhari would not upbraid anyone like that. He rather keeps his peace. And some people have now taken liberty for license, till they begin to sound like broken records. Yes, no apologies. That’s how they sound. The fact that you have voted a man into office is not carte blanche for you to lead the man around by the nose. A leader worth his salt would not even submit himself to such cavalier treatment. Definitely not President Buhari. I made that point clear on the program.
Another caller came. Why are you talking to us like used toilet paper? You are too arrogant.
Oh, really? Well, if you see yourself like used toilet paper, then, I can’t help you. ‘If you don’t say you are, nobody would say thou art,’ goes a popular saying. If you see yourself like grasshoppers beside the giants in Canaan, just like 10 of the 12 sons of Israel sent to spy the Promised Land, then you can’t be helped. You will end up like grasshoppers. Like used tissue paper.
Then came another angry man. Things are not going well in this country. We are even tired of this government. We? Does a single man use that collective pronoun for himself? The man could only talk for himself, but why was he talking for other people, without a power of attorney? I calmly told him: another election is due in 2023. Who says you can’t be President? You should simply run for office.
The Good Book says by the measure with which you mete to others, so shall it be meted back to you. The callers chose to be pugnacious, unruly, and I didn’t go back home to fetch replies for them. That was what they asked for. Part of the duties of being a presidential spokesman is that you must defend your principal, particularly if you had calmly explained for years, and some people chose not to listen. If they throw blows, then they must be ready to also receive. Once in a while.
Some people revel in trying to bring down those in government. The moment you choose to serve your country, they try to position you as enemy of the public. They try to dress you in borrowed robes. Oh, he’s a liar. He is in government to feather his own nest. He has become pompous and arrogant. He talks to us anyhow. He will end badly. Didn’t the ones before him end in oblivion? Hateful people. Envious souls. In vain do you wish some people reversals in life. And let me tell you: my destiny does not rest in the hand of any man. Yes, not you, evil wishers. You missed it this time. My case is different, because God has got my back. He brought me into government at a time I didn’t aspire for it, didn’t even want it. He is the master of my fate. The Master Mariner will land me on halcyon shores, however stormy the voyage could be. And President Buhari will succeed.
My friend, Kurtis Adigba, a dyed-in-the-wool Buharist, not like some fair-weather supporters we have known, was the first person to call my attention to an attempt to demonize me on social media, arising from the interview.
“They want to bring you down, smear your reputation,” he told me on phone. He said they were already sharing video clips of where I spoke sharply to people, and saying I was rude and arrogant. I laughed, and thanked him. Adigba went ahead to mount a robust defence of me on his Facebook wall, as did many others. I thank them. There are friends that stick closer than brothers.
My family, relations, acquaintances, all got the video clips home and abroad. They called, asking if I was allowing some nasty people to get under my skin. I explained to each one. I was firmly in control of my emotions, and what I did was deliberate. The President has been insulted enough, and it was time we fought back. He that throws blows must be ready to receive. It’s only pathetic that they have glass jaws.
I remember a story I heard in the late 1970s. I actually knew the couple, and the woman was like four times the size of the man. But the husband was always rough-handling his wife, beating her up at will.
One day, the woman was said to have purchased Indian hemp worth sisi (five kobo). She smoked it. And there came the husband to beat her up again. The woman simply packed the man, spun him round and round on her head, and threw him against the wall. The man saw stars, but he thought it was a fluke. He got up, attempted to lay his hands on the wife again, and the woman gave him a bear hug. After almost choking him to death, she threw the man against the wall again. When the man managed to get up, he took to his heels. That was the last day he ever raised his hands against the woman.
You Tarka me, I Dabo you, God no go vex (the younger generation may not understand this. A story for another day). What am I saying in summary? Those who run down our President on every platform for inexplicable reasons should not think they will always get away with it. If you live in a glasshouse, don’t throw stones. And if you can’t take blows brother don’t throw stones.
United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, recently warned against what he called the “virus of hate.” His words: “We must act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate.”
Yes, that virus is well and alive in Nigeria. It is even deadlier than Coronavirus. But those who harbour it will not always get away with it. There will always be a fightback.
Adesina is Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Buhari