The Awkward Mr. Awkright
By Obi Nwakanma
A very dangerous rumor is floating around in Nigeria these days about the health of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari. It is feeding the tank of many conspiracy theories. It is dangerous because it has the potential of igniting the tinder of remorseless action whose consequences will be dire for Nigeria as a nation – and the conflagration this time might be too difficult to douse. Let me first tell the nature of this rumor, and its implications for the political terrain.
First, it is being quietly circulated, particularly northwards, that president Buhari’s ill-health was specially engineered by an inner circle of power in the APC in order to hold him captive and control the outcomes of his presidency. It all goes back to the early days of Buhari’s nomination as his party’s candidate, and the moves to sell him beyond the bounds of Nigeria.
It was assumed that one of the great factors that held down Buhari’s aspiration in those days to become Nigeria’s president was the then common view of him as too principled and unbending; his inability to yield to external influences when it came to Nigeria’s strategic interests. He was not the kind of man “the West” was willing to do business with in the first place.
There had to be certain reassurances; guarantees made; a quid-pro-quo. Buhari was thus packaged and brought to London, and like all men hungry for power at that point, nudged towards convenient agreements. Buhari, it is now being said, went into the election as Muhammadu Buhari, and came out of it, as something else – a man with health issues, uncertain, compromised, and malleable. A man in chains – unable to act.
These were no ordinary things to happen to a man, once known for his fierce discipline, his almost fanatic devotion to his faith, and his unwillingness to compromise, but whose voice is now so mooted, and whose constitution is now so weakened, that he is now compelled to seek refuge – medical in London. So, the rumor goes. And what’s beneath this? The rumors have it that when Buhari was led to London prior to his election to be introduced, and retailed to British powers – and their powerful secret societies, it was not only to back him, but also to cage him.
They would back him and make him president certainly, but on the conditions that he would guarantee the security of British commercial and political interests in Nigeria. That was not a problem. Buhari agreed. But to secure their hands, the rumor goes, he was secretly poisoned. They not only control his mind from London, they now also control his body.The foregoing is the rumor floating in Nigeria, and which I’ve heard even educated Nigerians themselves beginning to participate in.
Rumours may not be true; they may be half-truths; they may be the inventions of fertile minds; they may just simply be mischievous fibs calculated to engineer conspiracies and raise political tension in the land. It certainly is dull, possibly insane to believe all this, about Nigerian conspirators and British shenanigans, but conspiracy theories are also exciting because they are like thriller novels and action movies. They heighten our dormant adrenaline, and compel us to imagine.
Muhammadu Buhari’s supporters, especially in the north, where these conspiracy narrative is gaining grounds are imagining all sorts of things right now. The rumors float quietly, circulated by mouth to ear. That is why it is important to call out the British High Commissioner in Abuja, Mr. Paul Awkright, who, responding to another tense and hazardous issue, attempted to behave like a headmaster over his pupils in Nigeria, regarding democracy.
It was a tactless and undiplomatic outburst that is anchored on the presumption that it is up to Britain whether Nigeria remains as a nation or disintegrates. It raises the red flag of British intrusion into what Nigerians consider their sacred sovereign interests and authority.
The British High Commissioner’s allusions feeds these rumours of Great Britain’s unseemly interests and hold on Nigeria. Mr. Awkright who was born in 1962, was just a one-year old baby when Nigeria declared its charter of the republic on November 16, 1963 (a date calculated to honor their Nationalist leader and first president), and in that act of their sovereign parliament, removed themselves as subjects of the Queen and suzerains of the British Commonwealth.
It is awkward diplomacy to intrude in another country’s internal or domestic issues, or to even presume that Britain, no matter its past with Nigeria, has the duty or the power to protect Nigeria from itself. Nigerians have not signed a new treaty of protection, and do not consider their country a Protectorate of Great Britain. But that is what Awkright implies in his very offensive intrusion. It might have been a statement uttered with the best intentions, for indeed there are many Nigerians who are foresworn to the protection of Nigeria as a single national entity, and who are committed that it should not disintegrate.
But it is not Mr. Awkright’s business. Mr. Awkright has been making statements in the public about British involvement in Nigeria in ways that places him as the new British Governor-General of Nigeria – and he with all the answers to Nigeria’s problems. Here is what Mr. Awkright may not have been told, or have not noticed yet: Nigerians fight amongst themselves; they quarrel like old hens over issues of religion, ethnicity, regional justice – and there is often a tribal feeling by those who feel themselves unjustly treated by the Nigerian federation, or who feel that Nigeria has not lived up to their hopes, and the ambitions of the nationalist leaders who met at various conferences between 1951 and 1958 to fashion the compromises that created the modern nation of Nigeria.