TINUBU’S FALL: MATTERS ARISING

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There were anxious moments last Wednesday at the nation’s seat of power. It was at Eagle Square, Abuja, venue of the 31st anniversary of the June12,1993 presidential election, won by the late Chief MKO Abiola, now being marked yearly as Democracy Day.

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, 72, who was himself a protagonist of the titanic struggle that birthed the current democratic experiment, was to ceremoniously ride an open-air motorcade round the venue to review the military parade mounted to commemorate the historic event.

As Mr President, being literally chaperoned by his military aides, was climbing the presidential motorcade, he tripped and fell flat into the vehicle. And for a split second, the nation was held in suspense as Mr President was being helped to leap on his feet and steadied. But anxiety soon graduated into a relief as he regained his composure and continued with the programme, smiling broadly.

The mishap, however, immediately elicited the question about how the constant alertness or otherwise of presidential security/protocol aides can save Mr President from danger or easily imperil him. Lethargy on their part at any time could be costly. It is debatable if the president’s fall was completely ineluctable or if his aide-de-camp (ADC) could probably have prevented him from hitting the ground the moment he slipped if he (ADC) had been more alert!

Thank Providence that it was not a fatal fall. But going forward, the president’s security handlers need to be properly imbued with maximum alertness and the presence of mind to prevent the recrudescence of last Wednesday’s near-fiasco.

Two presidential aides immediately assured the nation that all was well with their boss. First, the Special Assistant to the President on Social Media, Olusegun Dada, said the incident was no big deal. ”Mr President missed his steps while climbing into the truck at the June12 Democracy Day celebration and tripped. It was a mild misstep. He immediately went on with the ceremonial rounds. No issues,” he said.

Second, Bayo Onanuga, Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, said Tinubu would not be the first world leader to fall. So, it(the fall) should not detract from the importance of the Democracy Day celebration. He cited the cases of President Joe Biden of the United States of America and former President Barack Obama.

“President Tinubu is not a superman. He is human like all of us. President Biden has had several slips in the last three years. Even the young Barack Obama slipped as a president.

“Political leaders are human. Slipping should not detract from the import of the Democracy Day celebration,” Onanuga wrote.

President Tinubu has thus joined the array of world leaders who have recorded historic falls, denoting that they may be wielding enormous powers and perching atop secular thrones etched in ethereal connotations, they are human after all!

Some of the world leaders who have, at one time or the other, tripped and fallen include President Joe Biden of the US, who fell at the US Airforce Academy; Chinese leader, Xi Jinpings who, slipped in 2019; Hillary Clinton, who stumbled in 2016 during a 9/11 memorial service in New York and Vladimir Putin of Russia, who fell also in 2019 during a victory lap on an ice hockey game.

Former US President Donald Trump also had a historic fall in 2020, a descent down a ramp at the US Military Academy that attracted criticisms. Other world leaders who slipped or fell at one time or the other include former British Prime Minister, Margret Thatcher; another ex- British PM, Boris Johnson; former Cuban leader, Fidel Castro; President Emmanuel Macron of France, and some former African leaders like Jacob Zuma, Arab Moi, Jomo Kenyatta, Robert Mugabe, among numerous others.

Expectedly, the president’s fall momentarily sent the ever boisterous social media buzzing with frenzy. While some commentators mocked the president, many others, across ethnic and party lines, were highly sympathetic. The incident, in fact, stoked up the typically legendary spirit of empathy among Nigerians in times like this, in spite of our diversity.

Some of those who somewhat gloated over the fall tended to find justification in what they believe is the president’s questionable state of health, which was a big campaign issue during the last presidential election. They all had a big ally in Atiku Abubakar, Tinubu’s political associate-turned-foe and his arch rival in the hotly contested 2023 presidential poll. The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) couched his message of sympathy to the president in a veiled sarcastic language.

“I sincerely sympathize with President Bola Tinubu over this unfortunate incident as he was set to review the parade on Democracy Day,” he wrote in a post on his X. If he had stopped there, it would have been a truly sincere sympathy. But Atiku added for effect: “I do hope that all is well with him.”

What blighted the message is the last sentence. Reading it between the lines, it reeks of mockery draped in the garb of empathy. It is a disguised way of reiterating his major campaign point that Tinubu was not fit to run for the presidency. It amounts to gloating in disguise over his arch rival’s fall.

However, if Mr President’s fall were a health issue like Atiku had sarcastically quipped, he(president) would certainly not have been able to continue with the Democracy Day programme after his fall. He would probably have ended up in the hospital. But not only did he continue with the programme smiling at the crowd, he went ahead to attend a dinner later in the day as part of the day’s activities and he was ebullient throughout. He betrayed no sign of ill-health.

Again, although there were genuine concerns about his state of health during the campaign, but all that became history the moment he mounted the presidential saddle. He has since been carrying on with an agility that is relative to his age, hopping from event to event, betraying no visage of someone who has a health issue. So, Atiku’s veiled reference to the president’s health in this contest is clearly unnecessary. It is couched in political mischief.

Conversely, Peter Obi,the presidential candidate of the Labour Party(LP), who was one of the three main contenders of the 2023 presidential battle, displayed a high sense of statesmanship and humanity in his own impressive and apolitical message of sympathy to Tinubu, his arch political rival.

Obi, in his own post in his X, chided those gloating over an incident that can happen to anyone. “I was saddened to learn President Tinubu’s unfortunate fall today(last Wednesday),” he wrote, adding: “I wish him well. We achieve nothing by gloating about an accident that could well happen to any of us.”

He continued: “We are all human beings and while we profoundly disagree on how to move Nigeria forward, we must remember our common human frailty. Let us stay focused on the issues that will lead to a new Nigeria.

“May this moment serve as a poignant reminder of our shared humanity and the need for compassion, empathy and unity in our pursuit of a brighter future for our great nation.”

Toeing the same line, a northern group, Arewa Think Tank(ATTK), posited that there was nothing abnormal in the president’s fall, arguing that as human beings, anyone could walk and slip irrespective of position in the society.

The chief convener of ATTK, Muhammad Alhaji Yakubu, who spoke on behalf of the group, cited the cases of many world leaders who slipped and fell, some tumbling, concluded: “So, it is our sincere stand that those rejoicing over the slip and missing steps by President Tinubu are enemies of the country and there is nothing they can do than to wait for their time because Tinubu is healthy and working hard to take Nigeria to greater heights.”

The Kaduna senator, Shehu Sani, also sympathized with the president, writing in a post on his X handle: “Not just President Tinubu, anyone alive can trip and fall; it happened to Presidents Biden and Fidel Castro. Presidents are human beings and mortals.”

President Tinubu himself made a big joke of the issue later the same day at the dinner lined up as part of activities to mark the Democracy Day celebration, sending the whole thing into a note of denouement. “Early this morning,” Tinubu started, “I had a swagger and it’s on the social media. They’re confused whether I was doing ‘buga’ or doing ‘babanriga’(two popular dance moves in Nigeria).

“But it’s a day to celebrate democracy while doing ‘dobale’(Yoruba term for prostrating to greet elders) for the day. I’m a traditional Yoruba boy; I did my ‘dobale.’ Democracy Day is a day that is worthy of falling for.”