Why Pombe Magufuli can never grow on Nigerian soil
By: Festus Adedayo
Statesman and late President of Senegal from 1960 to 1981, Leopold Sedar Senghor, through his philosophy of negritude, believed that Africa and its culture had manifest contributions they can make to European thought. Same for Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana who fought vigorously to build an ideology he labeled “a New Africa, independent and absolutely free from imperialism.” In the same vein, musical colossus, Robert Nesta Marley, sang for the actualization of “Africa for Africans” and Tanzanian politician, political theorist and anti-colonial activist, Julius Kambarage Nyerere, promoted a political philosophy he called Ujamaa. A Swahili word for ‘extended family’ or ‘brotherhood,’ the Ujamaa philosophy is predicated on the belief that one can only become a person by being a member of the community. It thrives on the phrase, “I am because we are” and values the spirit of cohesion, service to community and love.
Now, what, if I may ask, is the philosophy of Africa today? No, I am not asking about African philosophy. We know that already. What can be said to be the body of knowledge or thoughts which constitutes how Africa thinks of herself in today’s post-modern world?
John Pombe Joseph Magufuli, late President of Tanzania, tried to re-situate the philosophy of Africa, long after any attempt was made by any African in that regard. Magufuli’s philosophy was close to Marley’s and even Senghor’s and central to his thesis was raising and cultivating “Black consciousness,” reciprocal relationship with other continents as equal partners in the global project, as well as “an inclusive humanism,” all of which would open doors for Africa to integrate with and into “a civilization of the universal.”
But, as you jolly well know, Magufuli went down the way of all mortals about two weeks ago, precisely on March 17, 2021. As the fifth president of Tanzania, from 2015 – the same year Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as Nigerian president – to the time of his death, Magufuli walked the talk of the philosophy he espoused for Africa. Campaigning as candidate of Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) political party before election, Magufuli promised that he would significantly reduce the pandemic of government corruption and waste in office.
As president, Magufuli took drastic and resolute measures in favouring housing for the Tanzanian poorest, bulldozing virgin lands to construct houses and earning in the process the Swahili nickname, Tingatinga – the Bulldozer. He plucked loopholes of tax frauds and corruption and invested saved funds in education and measures to combat poverty. His first major action as president was to cut his salary by a fourth, from US$15,000 to US$4,000 per month and thus became one of the lowest-paid African heads of state. He was renowned for having cut public spending drastically, frowning at lavish ostentation in government social spending and baring unnecessary foreign travels by self and government officials. He used self as an example by driving cheaper vehicles and once shrunk a delegation touring the Commonwealth to a ridiculous four, all the way from 50 people.
At a World AIDS Day exhibition, Magufuli cancelled the ancient showmanship associated with such and diverted money meant to be spent into purchase of AIDS drugs. The same 2015 when he was sworn in, he unilaterally cancelled the klieg rituals of flowery celebration of Tanzania’s Independence Day and instead ploughed the funds into an upgrade of hospitals. He then turned the day into a national sanitization exercise day, geared towards exterminating the scourge of cholera. Personally holding shovel to dig sewages and sweeping the streets of Dar es Salam to show an example, he was quoted to have said that it was “so shameful that we are spending huge amounts of money to celebrate 54 years of independence when our people are dying of cholera.”
Magufuli introduced free education in all government schools and, bothered by the moral slide in Tanzania, banned shisha smoking for its health effects on teeming youths. Tanzania under him became one with about the highest economic growth rate in Africa, even as he smoked out corrupt multinationals from the country.
Magufuli was however very cynical of the west and its modernism. In spite of a doctorate degree in Chemistry from the University of Dar es Salaam in 2009, he disdained science in the mould of America’s Donald Trump. He also literally barked at women who frequented family planning centers, urging them to “set your ovaries free.” He was also a leading light in cynicism against COVID-19. For instance, he was one of the few African leaders to go Madagascar, a euphemism for his embrace of curative herbs against COVID-19, with Tanzania becoming one of the first countries in Africa to pay for the herb. Through Gerald Chamii, a spokesman in the country’s Ministry of Health, Magufuli told the world that Tanzania was not ready to take any Covid-19 vaccine but would explore local herbs as shield against the pandemic. A major contradiction in all these is that he was accused of being a democratic dictator, running a repressive government against opposition elements and flagrantly stomped on media rights. A devout Catholic, he believed that God had cleared Tanzania of COVID-19.
All in all, Magufuli believed in Africa and lived his belief. Like Nkrumah, he espoused a New Africa genuinely independent and absolutely free from western imperialism. He might have taken his battle against imperialist powers beyond measure but he could not be accused of being a stooge, nor a leader with vacuous mind like Muhammadu Buhari.
Magufuli’s exploits as Tanzanian president were not in the Nigerian public domain until his unfortunate demise. And when they did, not only did they go viral, Nigerians went comparative about what they have and what Tanzania lost. Except the pre and immediate post-colonial Nigeria when leadership was committed to and worked assiduously for Nigeria, the only Nigerian leadership that can be compared to Magufuli’s was Murtala Muhammed’s. The others were a pot-pourri of self-serving leaderships which invariably begot a despondent following. The worst ever is Buhari’s.
Let me ask you at this juncture: What is Buhari’s philosophy for Africa? If you ask me, does Buhari even know anything of that magnitude? This and others have prompted people to ask repeatedly why the worst of us rule the best of us; why, for instance, a Buhari, with his multiple failings and failures, should be Nigerian president and why Nigeria, as it is constituted at present, may never have a Magufuli-kind as leader. The reasons are not far-fetched. Chief among these is that same incubus called the 1914 mistake. Other manifestations now began to follow in tow. Our 350+ ethnic components, which should be a diversity arsenal, began to show their disadvantages.
Magufuli’s Tanzania has almost similar challenge. With over 100 distinct ethnic groups and tribes, excluding refugees residing in Tanzania due to conflicts in neighbouring countries, most Tanzanians are Bantu-speaking and a few speak Nilotic. Unlike Nigeria, however, none of the ethnicities constitutes clear-cut majority dominance as the Hausa Fulani does in Nigeria. Even the Sukuma, which is Tanzania’s largest ethnic group, boasts of merely about 16 percent of the country’s total population. The country has nevertheless never faced any major ethnic conflict due principally to the soldering influence of the Swahili language which they all speak.
Using the 1914 mistake as canon-fodder, there has been a rat race to deploy ethnicity as weaponry and confer ethnic advantage on holders of offices. Falsification of population census figures, favouritism in appointments by ethnic holders of office and conferring undue advantages on one’s ethnicity have made these divides to widen by the day. With it, mutual acrimonies are all over the place. With the introduction of federalism as system of administration, leading to the 1952 regional governments, ethnicity momentarily became a diversity advantage. Since 1966 when Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi unitarized the country, however, the ethnic contours have become more manifestly destructive.
Until the last two decades or so, Nigerians could feel Nigeria and saw it manifest in their lives. Gradually, Nigeria began to disappear from Nigerians. Today, Nigeria has totally evaporated from Nigerians. With a combination of an acute, unexampled ethnic bigotry manifested by Buhari and his governmental hirelings, the die became cast for Nigeria. Every step is seen from ethnic prism and Nigerians’ allegiance to Nigeria vamoosed. That is why, as I have cited elsewhere, Rotimi Amaechi can be constructing railway lines and people are going there to calibrate its steel components. It is also why North-Easterners can act as informants to Boko Haram insurgents who daily kill them, as against being friends to Nigerian soldiers. This is because Nigeria has ostracized itself from its people’s lives. It is also why Buhari can claim to be constructing rail lines from Heaven’s Gate to Hell and purportedly building infrastructure that no government had ever done and yet, no one reckons with him. Conversely, they submit, and rightly so too, that his’ is the worst government in the history of Nigeria. Garba Shehu and other Buhari lickspittles are too analytically circumspect or too lost in the maze of governmental servitude to realize these complexities when they naively make a show of this so-called lame infrastructure.
The truth is, at this juncture, what should have been Buhari’s greatest achievement is if he possesses or makes pretension to demonstrating capacity to unify Nigeria. However, he is too far lost inside the oeuvres of his bigotry to be capable to show this capacity to engender citizenship. The lack of trust in the Nigerian system and the dearth of core national values have destroyed and eaten deep into the fabrics of Nigeria like the metastasis of cancer. That is why anyone who is able to “liberate” enough billions from the non-existent Nigeria, through corruption, is considered a man of valour. To worsen matters, unlike the Babangida era when governmental attempts were made to refill sagging values through the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Buhari is just running an auto-pilot government with him busy sleeping at the center of the periphery.
The long and short of this epistle is that, anyone who looks forward to any redemption for Nigeria in a leadership that will cater for Nigerians as a collective, even at the expiration of this lack-luster administration, must be living in Alice’s Wonderland. It can never come from the PDP or APC or anywhere. Nigeria is not wired to be administered by qualified or Magufuli-kind leaders, but the Buhari type caste. If there is still Nigeria by 2023, it will be administered by another charlatan and ethnic bigot. And like the myth of Sisyphus, the country will roll its boulders ad-infinitum. Until thy kingdom comes, unless, of course, by a definite act of divine intervention.
ILORIN HIJAB: BETWEEN BABARINSA AND KAWU
The needless crisis over the wearing of veils called Hijab by students and pupils of Kwara public schools, like an ill-wind, has provoked all manner of toxic dusts in the polity. Trapped in the vortex of the arguments for and against the wearing of veils are the two religions of Islam and Christianity. While Christians seek the continuation of the status-quo of a practice of nil religious identification of their students with religion in their mode of dressing, a practice that is about a century old, Muslims insist that their wards and children needed physical demarcation of their religiosity, in the form of the Hijab. As much as this sounds very petty, very insignificant and at best diversionary, the instigator, from all intent and purposes, is the government, led by Abdurazaq, the governor. The question people ask is, what is the motive in this policy from Abdulrazaq as he deliberately pollutes the peace of a people who had worn their religious identities inside their souls, rather than on their lapels, for ages?
Two interventions in this regard caught my fancy. One was from respected columnist, Dare Babarinsa and famous zealot, Ishaq Modibo Kawu. While the former, in his piece for The Guardian entitled Ilorin and the crisis of identity, did a commendable historical journey into the Ilorin Hijab crisis thus far, Kawu’s bile-ridden rejoinder was consumed by the usual fire of intolerance and religious insensitivity that has been the bane of Nigeria till today.
In a world that is fast erasing religious fault lines and is moving at a supersonic speed into a technological age, Kawu is still encumbered by a religious identity that has little or no bearing on human development. The truth is that, obsessive fascination for religion, to the level of the Kawu fanaticism and the kind being promoted by Abdulrazaq, is getting anachronistic. It was the same model thrown up by ex-Osun State governor, Rauf Aregbesola, who took his’ a notch higher into the realm of absurdity. Today, the whole religious pack of cards has fallen abysmally.
Christianity and Islam are both anvils deployed by politicians with sagging credibility. I will not be surprised if this Hijab conundrum is a ploy by Abdulrazaq to scoop up unmerited support and Kawu is one of the messengers employed to deepen the bile. Time will soon tell.
GREAT SOLOMON AT 72
One of journalism’s icons from the South East of Nigeria would be celebrating his 72nd birthday tomorrow. He is ex-Akokite, (University of Lagos Mass Communication graduate, 1984) ex-Staff Writer of Enugu-based Star Printing and Publishing Company Ltd, who later rose to become its General Manager; ex-Enugu Commissioner for Information and a gentleman par excellence. I intend in this piece to use my encounter with Nnomeh to exemplify the thesis that if Nigerians manage their diversity appropriately, they will live together in peace.
In what sounded like an unexampled sacrifice to nationhood taken too far, in 2003, then governor of Enugu State, Chimaroke Nnamani, appointed me as his Special Assistant. I remember that on a visit to President Olusegun Obasanjo in Aso Rock two or so years later, the president was excited and verbalized it while welcoming us – Enugu State delegation – to the Villa. My mother and many other friends and family members were worried for me. How could I cross several rivers to go and live with people “who eat people,” one of them retorted. Nnomeh and other colleagues offered me a shield from whatever hostilities that might come.
Fast-forward to early 2005. One bright morning, the governor summoned me to his office at the Lion Building and told me that he had told Ossy Ugwuoti, the Chief Press Secretary, to hand over to me. What name did I want my office to bear: Special Adviser or Chief Press Secretary? I was too numb to reply him.
And I walked languidly out of his office and down to the adjoining building, the Press Unit. Gathered were my colleagues – Igbonekwu Ogazimorah, who had then just been named Commissioner in charge of Information; Dan Nwomeh; Nnomeh; Maxwel Ngene; Obiorah Ifo – all Igbo and the information had filtered to them. I was greeted with a deafening shout of celebration. They carried me shoulder high and their joy knew no bounds. Ugwuoti, their Igbo kinsman, had just been relieved of his duty and an ofe n manu – a pejorative name given to Yoruba – had been asked to take over his office and yet, these Igbo men were happy and excited! That day, I swore never to allow tribal, religious classifications stand by my estimation of humanity.
Nnomeh is widely known for his early morning words of wisdom programme on the Enugu State Broadcasting Service (ESBS) years ago and was thus appropriately nicknamed Solomon. He deploys his versatility in native wisdom to intervene in discussions and even in his writings. This is wishing the Great Solomon a very happy birthday.