SAI BABA! The insatiable quest for Change…


It has been an exhausting political season in the Nigerian polity that finally saw General Muhammadu Buhari, former military dictator, now a “reformed democrat” emerge as the President-elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And even though I was never on the campaign trails of any of the political parties, one needn’t be on one to feel the sense of relief that greeted many after  the last months that our streets have been tainted with an avalanche of posters of the various political parties— with promises of change and transformation flooding our senses of perception.

After the  elections,  the precarious streets were deserted, informed by the blizzard of reports over the weeks of what could happen should any of the side lose the battle—the prognosis was nothing short of a looming danger and the clouds for an immutable civil war had  gathered. Also the suspense and the melodrama that has unfolded since the elections were held last Saturday and the keenness of Nigerians to know the outcome had been second to none since the history of democracy in Nigeria. Everyone was glued to their TV sets and the rating for INEC electoral proceedings would have been at the acme  on cable TV, with Professor Attahiru Jega being the man of the show. For those without power, the radio and internet became their sources of news. Everyone was in their own “situation rooms” with pen and paper computing and comparing results while posting same online simultaneously. It won’t be too long to deduce that the ruling People’s Democratic Party was playing the catch up game this time and the prospect of an incumbent president been kicked out of office, albeit through the power of the polls, was imminent.


The whole hoopla then reached its crescendo by 5:15 P.M., the exact time when President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who must also have felt lethargic as he watched on hopelessly on the ginormous screen in the palatial Aso Rock villa, with the figures heading north, put a call through to General Buhari to congratulate him over his victory at the polls.

Throngs of youths and political aficionados turned to the streets and celebrated into the nights as the news of the triumph of the “people’s General” filtered the air. The scenery that greeted the streets of the most populous black nation was reminiscent of the joyous mood of 1960 when Nigeria gained her independence. Everyone associated with the broom-flinging party busted into exhilaration, with the chanting of “Sai Baba!, Sai Buhari!” renting the air. Even those who did not subscribe to the political notions of the All Progressives Congress joined in the chorus—it was too potent to quench. Deep down within me, I wished I was a part of this change that was sweeping across the nation and could genuinely join in the chorus of “Sai Baba, Sai Buhari!”


I did not vote for General Muhammadu Buhari—call it swimming against the tide and I wouldn’t begrudge you. And while I was only about a year old when he first took the reins of power in Nigeria as a military potentate on December 31, 1983, the trails and tales of his iron-clad rule are well documented. If those where not enough, I could recall the lyrics of the Beast of no Nation album by the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti that talked about “…. wan dash us human rights!” The “War Against Indiscipline” and the flagrant human right violations, which were well doused and sophistically converted into a selling point by a Promethean PR team during his 2015 campaign, remained vivid in my consciousness.

I don’t need to dwell much on these as Nigerians have been reminded of many atrocities of the Buhari-led military government by the opposition in the smear campaigns that littered our media. If all these indelible marks of injustice which many have become insulated to or see as an exaggeration, can be tolerated, the sheer fact that General Muhammadu Buhari toppled a democratically elected government was enough for me to pitch my tent against him no matter how “born again” he had become. I didn’t think someone who has scuttled a process should be made to benefit from that process, no matter how hard he tried and no matter the “conditions” that we are in presently. I didn’t think that only ex- generals have a repository of knowledge on marshaling the affairs of this country. For me, a Buhari coming back would be an unfortunate precedence and a travesty of justice—an assault to our collective psyche as a people.


 Unlike me, however, Nigerians nary cared about that sentiments earlier expressed – they wanted change—and rightly so. They wanted a government that is more vociferous against corruption—they wanted to see a leader that would impose himself on the affairs of the nation and the seat that he occupied; they wanted a government that would provide power, they wanted more jobs, more roads– and all the perennial wants of the Nigerian populace that governments after governments have never been able to give to them. They wanted the Boko Haram insurgents to be pulverized and “Our Girls” to be brought back. If that meant that they will pitch with a “reformed dictator” who is famed for his incorruptibility and competence, so be it. They felt President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is a “nice guy” but has not always being in charge. For many,  he didn’t deliver the goods and his barrage of unimpressive gaffes didn’t help his popularity—the “I have no shoes” rhetoric had lost his potency and many wanted to see him commute back to his Otuoke base with alacrity. This insatiable quest for change intertwined with the main opposition party’s quest to get power at the helm, coupled with the depleting power of the ruling party, helped form an unstoppable force that was always going to lead to a political Tsunami.

Now this “change” has come and Nigerians have high expectations and their sense of optimism is highly commendable,but before we get too consumed in the ecstasy of this moment, I hate to play the naysayer, a lot of work still has to be done in our democracy. It will not be uhuru. The sheer voting patterns that trailed this election haven’t shown that we are one people. The reality of the statistics that came from the election indicated that the issues of ethnicity,religion and vested interests are still the drivers of our polity. How could you explain that General Buhari never won in any state of the South- South and South-East of our geopolitical zone? How could you also explain the overwhelming votes that General Buhari got in the Northern region other than everyone rooting for his own?

While there were a lot of hopes from the process that is playing out right now, our democracy is still very much an electoral democracy and if we must move to a liberal democracy, we must strengthen our democratic institutions—the legislative arm, the judiciary, the watchdogs, the civil unions…. Our political parties must also go beyond umbrella and broom-flunking and all the gerrymandering that characterized the recently concluded “free and fair” election. Our lives must not “shut down” and our future hanged in the balance because we are going through an electioneering period. We must not be on tenterhooks as to whether the nation would still be knitted as one because we want to get a new leader.

While I congratulate the never-say-die General Muhammadu Buhari who can now be aptly dubbed as the Abraham Lincoln of Africa and could inspire even his hardest critics like me never to give up,  the burden of proof as a reformed democrat is on him. He must take this opportunity of a rare second chance to rewrite his legacy in our political stratosphere. He must not toe the line of vindictiveness and divisiveness as he exercises his power as the new Commander-in-chief. The economic issues that confront this nation at this critical time require all the right moves and he must tackle this head on. While I will admit that Nigerians, for some reasons, require extra nudge to do things rightly at times, his disciplinarian approach should be done with all sense of civility—wars against indiscipline and fights against corruption should not be a cop-out to humiliate anyone in this nation—I warn!

I must not fail to lavish praise on President Goodluck Jonathan. Although it had appeared that his good luck ran out when the momentum was shifting towards the opposition and was always going to be difficult for him to match the likeability that his campaign had in 2011, he never lost his dignity. After all, everyone knew how he became president in the first place and I sense a man who has gratitude for the opportunity he has had to serve this nation. Posterity would judge him whether he was able to take that opportunity well or not. His bravery to congratulate his conqueror even before he was officially declared as President-elect will go down the history of this nation as his greatest achievement. By that call, he doused the inferno that could arise and the lives that would have been lost should he have insisted to cling to power or resort to anything mischievous. He  also made us proud in the comity of nations and set a good precedence for our democracy by that singular act.  I wish him well in his future endeavors.

I believe Nigerians deserve the best and the commonwealth of this nation should be evenly distributed for everyone to enjoy—we pray this new administration deliver on their promises and once again lead us to the path of greatness.

O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.

Shot To Glory: Malala Yousafzai

Malala mama

When school girl cum global phenomenon and Nobel Laureate, Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban at noon time on October 9 2012, it was no doubt a cowardice act by a group of men with a sinister agenda to silence a girl whose voice has been vociferous against the latter’s insistence to stop the girl child from having education and a right to aspire for a better future. On this regular day, Malala was on her way back from school with her classmates, when the messenger of death masked in a gunman’s costume waylaid the kids and asked after Malala. Once her target was introduced, he cocked his gun and fired three shots: one journeyed beneath the victim’s epidermis and sank into her shoulder. She could easily have drawn her last breath that moment, and if she did, the world would have condemned it and Malala would have attained martyrdom. But that was not all. Fate still had more in stock for the wunderkind.

Malala Yousafzai comes from a family that oversees a group of schools and she had been advocating for human right advocacy and education for women in the Swat valley in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwest Pakistan. This is where the Taliban had been making life unbearable, stopping young girls from attending schools. Not too many people will able to confront a band of insurgents armed with not just guns, but a morbid philosophy. But Malala at a tender age of 11 or 12 believed that she had two options: to speak and pay the supreme price with the bullets of the Taliban, or remain silent forever and have her dreams and indeed that of many other girls in Pakistan annihilated. She chose the former and started venting her reservations by blogging for BBC under a pseudonym— narrating what life feels like when you have Taliban watching your back and cherry-picking how to go about your life.

Her obscurity gave way for global interest when Adam B. Ellick, a NewYork Times journalist, made a documentary about her struggles and the Pakistani military intervention in the region. It won’t be long before she will be nominated for the Children’s Peace Price by Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Malala’s recovery was nothing short of a miracle. Her battle for her life had started at a Pakistani Hospital before she was transferred to a military hospital in Birmingham, UK, where veterans with severe war injuries were treated. Her recovery gave prominence into the reason she was shot in the first place—the right for the girl child to aspire for a good life; her right to education and dignity. Her adversity gave her the veneer of legitimacy to be seen as an enigma for the struggle for freedom from human slavery and everything that had bedeviled the girl child and collectively, every woman. Recently, she was seen in London lending her voice to the bringing back of  the girls who were kidnapped in Chibok, a Local Government Area of Borno State, Nigeria. When Malala speaks, the world listens.

It is however interesting or maybe ironical, to point that not everyone in Pakistan is rooting for this phenomenal young lady. In a nation that is starved of equality, educational opportunities, and has little to cheer about, the news of Malala winning the peace prize was treated like an information suited just for the classified adverts section of the newspaper. It has been reported that about 25 million children don’t have access to education and the girl child make up a colossal 60% of that figure. Again, it’s a fact that the plight that Malala has been agitating for, which is the plight of most girls in Swat and other regions of that society, is not felt by the elites who still have access to the best government-funded schools in the land. Some in the Bhutto dynasty are even Oxford trained. Recent poles however, have also shown, that it is in those elite climes that you wouldn’t  find many fans of Malala. Other Pakistanis are simply disinterested and even feel that there are more compatriots worthy to wear that crown than a school girl that Western forces have connived with to make the next big thing. There are some conspiracy theorists who have also claimed that the whole Malala story was a big hoax in spite of the fact the Pakistani military claimed recently to have apprehended those who tried to gun her down and Taliban had since claimed responsibility.

While Malala was receiving instruction in Chemistry class at her school in Birmingham, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the Nobel Peace Prize 2014 is to be awarded to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.” The latter who hails from India has been lauded for his long fight for the child’s right cause and for maintaining Mahatma Gandhi’s tradition of spearheading several peaceful protests and demonstrations against the exploitation of children for financial enrichment.

As the youngest Nobel Laureate ever was awarded, only 17, I marveled if fate has not connived with those who tried to shoot down this brave, intelligent and compassionate young lady whose aura radiates the peace that she passionately talks about. The Taliban had purported to keep her muted forever and had shot her—but with hindsight, they would probably regret that they had shot her to glory! You don’t plan to get shot by Taliban and become a global phenomenon, do you?

Sharing the Nobel peace with Indian child right’s activist was also something laudable and strategic as that may help foster a better relationship between India and Pakistan– Malala already hinted that they will be working together to achieve peace and had  extended an open invitation to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi to the award ceremony proper in Oslo, Norway, come December 10, 2014.

My reflections on Malala’s journey would have been incomplete without mentioning Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala’s father. Here is a fine gentleman who is an epitome of proper fatherhood. One would suspect that he was perturbed by the plight of the girl child in Pakistan and had supported her daughter when it was not the convenient thing to do. He didn’t lose site of the fact that the best legacy any parent can bequeath to their children is education and the knowledge that the children have human rights which are inalienable. He supported his daughter all the way—something both could have easily paid for with their lives. Credit must be allotted to Malala’s mother as well, and by extension, her siblings. Malala is no doubt a product of good parenting and a supportive family. I wish her all the best. She has affirmed my thinking lately that the voice of change lies in a new generation.

O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.