It would be unfair to criticize the operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS) for barring Senator Bruce from having a handshake with President Buhari at the presidential anniversary dinner- a subject I will return to later- that was held in Abuja early this week.
There are two issues here that the action of the security operatives raises.
First, it highlights how the desire to pay courtesies to presidential power, or better put, to exchange pleasantries with the holder of presidential power, can be inhibited by political power in very nasty and totalizing ways.
Hear: that the wielder of presidential or prime-ministerial power is the wife of a certain Dennis Thatcher, or the husband or lover -whichever is applicable-of a certain Dilma Roussef, does not make her susceptible in the public to the masculine dictates of the matrimonial closet, does not grant the husband or lover the privilege to publicly undermine the anatomical power of his wife or lover, for instance.
It is even worse for the ordinary citizen who has no real anatomical, feminine, or masculine power to exercise or chummy up to the wielder of political power in the public simply because power resides in his vote. He will be shimmied by political power, reminded of the ordinariness of the Office of the Citizen.
Two, and more importantly, that being a Senator of the Federal Republic confers certain privileges, but it doesn’t not confer the right to free and uninhibited access to the holder of presidential power. Distinguished Senator Bruce knows this as a fact.
Every partisan and controversial political subject that creeps into our public space takes a partisan and controversial life of its own. The claim by Senator Bruce that he was barred from greeting President Buhari while an unnamed Senator from the President’s party was allowed to greet him has long taken a partisan and controversial life of its own. Knowing our divided country, such a claim, while it runs its course, certainly feeds into the chasm, articulates a certain meta-language that appeals to what divides us, widens fault lines, and opens a huge field of destructive politics for which bad blood becomes not only the cause but also the effect.
To dismiss Senator Bruce’s claim is to deny that he wasn’t barred.
Senator Shehu Sani have since confirmed that many Senators were barred by security operatives who were doing their job- protect the president from rancorous Senators who rushed at once to greet the president at his dinner table when he was having his meal.
Senator Bruce was not specifically targeted, singled out, or barred. He lied.
Even if he was barred, so what?
Presidents everywhere, including President Buhari, surrounded by an armada of protocol details, are always protected by a panoply of secret service agents charged with the sole responsibility of protecting their lives.
There are protocols for exchanging pleasantries, for having presidential handshakes, even in the most public of places and the most private of circumstances.
No matter the familiarity or the filial affinity to the first citizen, protocols demand that one must not shunt or subvert security cordon.
As someone who centers himself around commonsense- at least, his struggles to give voice to the “unrepresentable within representation” make commonsense- it would do him a great deal of good if he learns to understand the dangers of aporia, and to borrow Paul Celan’s phrase, learns not to “build on inconsistencies” and pettiness.
I return to the subject of the presidential anniversary dinner in the time of hunger.
Addressing this subject is important because it highlights how our elected leaders conceive the inhuman condition we live in, fulfill the promise to eliminate the condition, make the offer of our eventual collective encounter with jouissance, pose the demand for the sacrifice of enjoyment, and how they rob Peter in us to pay the Paul in them.
There is, in effect, something hypocritical about having a presidential dinner when the poor are whipped daily by hunger, overwhelmed by the worries of the next meal.
There is something paradoxical about the way the poor are asked to accept the reality of poverty while our elected leaders live off the commonwealth.
While the cups of the poor overflow with the wines of their tears, our elected leaders become the connoisseurs of fine wines brewed by the finest wineries of the world.
How can this paradox be resolved when the leaders deceive the people?
There is a way in which reality is articulated at the level of the symbolic- the elected leaders do what they say- that such articulation invents belief in what is articulated- or what the elected leaders say- and what the symbolic- or what the elected leaders do- conveys as the truth.
Truth is: the narrative that our country is broke can only acquire general acceptance when our elected leaders show that they are frugal, they are tightening their belts like every citizen, they are making sacrifices, they are not looting the commonwealth to enrich themselves, and they present themselves as monks who inhabit the monastery of self-denial and selfless sacrifice.
Let me put it this way. The idea that our elected leaders live frugal in the time of hunger invents a sense of identification with all that they say and do.
When elected leaders tighten their belts, citizens identify again and again with them without questions.
Of a truth, the presidential anniversary dinner was not only a failure of identification with the symbolic but it was also a failure on the part of the diners to appreciate the mood of the nation. The president correctly captured that mood when he cancelled the first anniversary celebration of his coming to power, but the presidential dinner no matter how it is viewed was truly a tad reading of the nation’s mood.
My worry here is that the diners would forever be taken as a point of reference, the point de capiton, to borrow from Jacques Lacan, for political monks who neither behaved like hermits, nor spent time in contemplation; but who rather gorged themselves on sumptuous meals and fine wines.
But, I worry more for the governors of those bankrupt states who spent millions of naira on advertisements and glossary newspapers pull outs to celebrate vanity projects and grandiose edifices- the year-long benefices of their stewardship, with no cure for the economic conditions of the states they govern.
Conservative costs of the advertisements and glossary newspapers pull outs are in the region of three billion naira or more.
Imagine what those humongous sums would have done to their ailing economies.
Vanity projects and grandiose edifices serve the purpose of wowing the people, but they also serve as the points de capiton for the ingenious ways big monies are stolen big from big projects even in leaner times.
Sadly the people always applaud their governors for the coolness of grandiosity, close their eyes to criminal heists when they christen them “Action Governors”.
It is all good. Coolness doesn’t place food on the dinner table!
Here, again, how can we exact the demand of sacrifice of enjoyment we are asked to make on our elected leaders?
This is my answer: we should become like Benjamin, the cynical character in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, who is not fooled by the lies and propaganda of Squealer, and ask questions. Ask our elected leaders what they have ever sacrificed? Ask that they give up their jumbo allowances? Ask them to take pay cuts.
If have not sufficiently answered the question, at least I have surely provided the pause for every reader to ponder our wasted years.
The economic recession is somewhere out in the country.
Our elected leaders are supposed to be frugal in the time of recession, but it seems to me that there is an unwillingness to curb the culture of extravagant spending of prodigal beings inside government.
At least, this is the sense of what I make of the presidential and of the many wasteful advertisements and glossary pull outs placed in newspapers on Democracy Day.
We don’t need the Oracle in Ife to crystal gaze and pronounce those areas draining out our public purse. We don’t need the pipes of civil society pipers to sound the solemn marches toward grieves for us to know that our elected leaders are heading country to destruction. Our country is bleeding from the wounds inflicted on it by greedy politicians who stab dripping blood with tourniquets- cosmetic downward reviews of fiscal allocations that do not address the fundamental issue of bloated government spending, wayo pay cuts, jumbo allowances bottoming public tills out.
During the prosperous years, our elected leaders smiled to secret foreign banks with our prosperity; now that the country is broke, they are asking us to render our grains to the collective Grain House.
Remember the wily tortoise that asked all animals to store their grains in the Grain House of the animal kingdom. “Seven years of famine are nigh”, it warned.
Every night, the willy tortoise would ferret through the tunnel it secretly dug from its home to the Grain House to steal the grains of maize. Remember? Be wise.
The seven years of famine arrived, there were not enough grains in the Grain House.
The prodigal son who wasted his fortune returned to his father pleading forgiveness.
If our prodigal leaders cannot return to us to plead forgiveness, we can as well say a short prayer of forgiveness for them.
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do- have done- or are doing to us.