Meeting The President

I wrote this last year when President Buhari visited the U.S. I think it was July (or June?). I only just had the time to fine-tune and edit for the blog. Enjoy.
When I first heard of a meet and greet with the president, I was excited and enthusiastic about meeting the president. I was one of the millions of Nigerians rooting desperately for change. Many of us were tired of the endless bureaucracy, and senseless chaos ingrained in every fabric of the Nigerian society. We were tired of the venality of elected leaders and those in government.  We were tired of the inefficacy of the entire system, and how much a of a menace chaos and corruption have become. We wanted to get rid of obsequious, ingratiating people that surrounded the leadership, instead of astute, qualified people.

All the enthusiasm was fast met with utter disappointment however, when I arrived at the Nigerian embassy and met chaos and different clusters of people at different corners, standing outside, with no one being allowed to enter. Worse, nobody was saying anything, and nobody knew exactly what was going on. As far as we knew, we were being deliberately left under the blazing, scorching ninety-something degree sun to wither. I didn’t understand how a process, that should be so straightforward could be so tortuous. After all, all I wanted to do was see the president, I thought. To describe the sight before me as disorganized would be putting it mildly.

One man, clad in his purple buba, sokoto and fila was angry that despite being from Canada, and moving to “this land” (I wonder what land he meant) for 50 years, a Caucasian man dared to talk to him in that manner.  All this Caucasian did was ask him to move back. He wouldn’t budge. Instead, he screamed for about twenty minutes, nonstop, reiterating his status in the land. Another woman had no invitation, but kept screaming she was “press” and should be let inside. Others took to pushing and squeezing. Majority just cut the non-existent queues. The rest of us stood, staring at the sight before us and listened to security men scream “OBEY ORDERS. OBEY ORDERS.” What order, though?  Everything going on reminded me of home. It looked like home. It was home.

Yet, the sun only waxed stronger. It shone in annoyance at a group of Nigerians gathered to pay homage to their president. I was beginning to get frustrated when someone beckoned to those of us with my type of invitation to form a queue. Apparently, there had been different kinds of invitations, and with everyone laying claim to the president (rightfully so?) and wanting to walk into the premises, it was only right they shut the entrance entirely. Except as with everything Nigerian, no one thought to explain to us why a program supposed to end by 7PM had not begun by 7:15PM. Finally, I squeezed myself inside, literally, passed through security, and just when I was about to heave a sigh of relief, I realized I had only just crossed the first hurdle and still had one more. After tossing us back and forth for a while, I gained entrance into the main venue. Relieved to be away from the sun, and hoping to rest my feet that had been in my pair of  4 inches wedges all day, I found empty chairs that were taken. They were occupied with books and purses and bottles and everything else, but actual human beings. Yet, several others also without seats were told by stoned-face people that, “people are there”. Someone finally took pity and let me sit. Many others had to stand. The frown on my face soon gave way for a smile when I saw my president walk in, he too, looking exhausted.  As soon as he came in, there was a beautiful rendition of the national anthem. And so, our town hall meeting finally began.

The president was welcomed gracefully by Mo Abudu, and soon took the make-shift podium to address the Nigeria youths—Although when I took a brief glance around the room, I saw faces that looked very advanced in years. But then again, isn’t everyone a youth these days? Some special guests were each given twelve seconds to briefly introduce themselves and state their wish for Nigeria. The young man beside me must have thought everyone would be made to give the twelve second speech, because I saw him quickly Google “What’s my wish for my country?” Do you really have to ask Google what you wish your own country? I wondered. A young man spoke about wishing Nigeria was more welcoming to youths in the diaspora.

Finally, the president began to talk. First he thanked us all for coming from far and wide. He wished the people who said their wishes “Good Luck”, which made the whole room guffaw. More importantly however, the president spoke on consistency and steadfastness. He urged we Nigerian youths to try to be persistent, tenacious, and committed to whatever we lay our hands on. Citing his own struggle and journey to becoming the president of the most populous black nation, the president stated he was glad he never gave up. After a first attempt in 2003, up till 2015 when he won the historic election, the president is glad to be finally president, and thankful to God, technology, and the willpower of a people determined to see their votes count. Therefore, he said, whatever you pursue, be steadfast and consistent.

“I hope you read our manifesto, and I hope you hold us responsible in the next four years.” The president charged young Nigerians in the room. It is no news that Nigeria has suffered decades of egregious corruption that ate deep into her very core.  During his speech, President Buhari took us back  to his time as Minister of Petroleum, and the accountability the office was tasked with. Alas, transparency and accountability are not two words that describe our current petroleum sector. Rejoice though, because in the president’s words, “we are starting all over.” That we may now be used to such banal expressions like corruption and vested interests does not make any of them right. He also spoke on a matter very dear to my heart, education. He emphasized his commitment to education and promised that his government would invest in education, because he understands the significance of an educated populace.  “We will live to our promises. To those of your friends who couldn’t make it here, please tell them your president is fit to continue.” The president concluded amidst laughter.

I know there are apathetic Nigerians: those whom even if the sky were literally falling in the nation would say nothing or do nothing about it. They have become complacent and can only try to maneuver their way through a wrong system. For such people I say, “Just because you do not take interest in politics does not mean politics won’t take interest in you.” For the rest of us, it is not enough to be disaffected; rather we should practice and live what we preach. If we demand good governance, we better be good citizens. While our president may be fit to continue, lets endeavor to make our nation governable. Let’s never forget that we as a people would always get the leader we deserve.

I am very grateful to Ebony Life TV for the incredible opportunity and for taking the initiative to put together this meeting.

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