Last week, the top three presidential candidates in Nigeria’s 2023 elections were in London, holding meetings with people considered political eminences in Nigeria. They ensured that these photos were sent and most Nigerian newspapers featured them on their cover. Most of the people in the photos were on vacation in Europe or on a medical trip, while a few were on short-term visits.
The interesting, or rather sad, part of the story is that there is no one in all these photos who is from Europe or a country outside of Nigeria. No one in these photographs lives in Europe or is there as a temporary worker. All of them recently flew in from different Nigerian cities.
Atiku Abubakar, the People’s Democratic Party presidential candidate, met with Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike. Also present at the meeting were Governors Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and Ahmadu Fintiri of Adamawa State.
Similarly, a former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, met with Wike and Labor Party presidential candidate Peter Obi in London. Also present at the meeting were Ortom, Ikpeazu, Makinde and former Cross River State Governor Donald Duke.
Wike also confirmed that he and Ortom, Ikpeazu and Makinde also met All Progressives Congress presidential candidate Bola Tinubu in London. In the past, of the three leading presidential candidates, only Obi had visited Wike in Rivers State since the end of the presidential primaries in early June. Even Abubakar, who is in the same party as Wike and wanted to resolve the dispute between him and the Governor of Rivers State, was unable to visit Wike in Nigeria. He had to go to London to see it.
Some might argue that the reason for preferring London was due to security concerns. But that cannot be true. Over the past few weeks, many politicians had traveled to Rivers State at Wike’s invitation to commission some of the projects he had done. There has never been a story of an attack against them.
Some also said the reason was Wike was vacationing in London with Ortom and Ikpeazu, facilitating his itinerary to accommodate his visitors who need his support as governor of the oil-rich Rivers state with a significant number of voters in Nigeria.
But all these excuses are untenable. The perspective of a former President of Nigeria, a former Vice President of Nigeria, leading presidential candidates, incumbent governors and former governors meeting in a London hotel to hold political meetings among themselves – with no non-Nigerians present – was awful. It was a slap in the face for Nigeria.
Could you just imagine the political leaders of New Zealand, South Korea or Austria traveling to London or New York to hold political meetings among themselves? Even the thought of the political leaders of these countries vacationing in another country is something that would not make their citizens happy.
All serious countries take pride in showing things that portray them as patriotic, while Nigerian politicians take pride in showing things that portray them as unpatriotic. They derive particular joy from showing off their foreign tastes as a mark of their sophistication.
Yes, Wike is an important figure in the 2023 election. But if the Independent National Electoral Commission keeps its promise to be detached, disinterested and impartial in the conduct of the election, no individual – including Wike – will have any control over how voters vote.
The best many politicians can do is use the money to incentivize voters. But as millions of voters will vote, contrary to what was achieved in the party’s primaries, the number of people to be induced will be too high to be possible. Despite the hunger in the country, many people are angry with the condition of Nigeria and are eager to register their anger with their vote.
A few days ago, Wike and his fellow governors returned to Nigeria. One wonders then what was so important about meeting Wike in London that he couldn’t have waited until this week or next week for the meeting to be held with him at Rivers State. He had hosted various political party leaders lately in Port Harcourt in Rivers State. Why could these meetings not be held in Port Harcourt rather than London?
National pride is not just about wearing national colors and saying slogans such as “I love my country”. It shows up in small acts like giving medical care to Nelson Mandela in South Africa until the day he dies. If he was Nigerian, the Nigerian government would have airlifted him to a hospital in Europe, North America or Asia.
Over the weekend, Ondo State announced that it has become a crime for state-employed teachers to enroll their children in private schools. The state chairman of the Universal Basic Education Board, Victor Olabimtan, said the order came in response to dwindling numbers of students in public elementary schools in the state. South West State has expressed concern that despite its investments in primary education, enrollment in public primary schools continues to decline.
Normally, this action by the Ondo State government should be welcomed. But it’s his hypocrisy that makes him sick. The federal government and the various state governments have a habit of trying to impose patriotism on others, especially the weakest in society.
In a country where federal and state officials send their children to foreign universities or private universities in Nigeria or go abroad for medical treatment or vacations, what moral right does the governor of the state have Ondo, Rotimi Akeredolu, to force state-employed teachers not to send their children to private schools where they will receive a better education?
If Akeredolu, along with the deputy governor, commissioners, members of the House of Assembly and members of the civil service, had their children in public primary, secondary and university schools, it would be justified to order teachers employed by the government to keep their children in public schools. This is how we lead by example. You cannot sell a product that you do not use.
Patriotism is not decreed in law. It seeps into the system and becomes part of the national culture when citizens see that those who lead them practice what they preach by putting the country first and showing a willingness to make sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice, for the country.
– Twitter: @BrandAzuka