El-Rufai’s son, Tunde Bakare and Sowore, By Azu Ishiekwene

(Re-issued) Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai, set the social media alight on Monday when he published the photograph of his six-year-old son, Al-Siddique, as the boy was being enrolled in the state government-owned Kaduna Capital School.

Al-Siddique’s attendance was news because in Nigeria, public schools have collapsed. Attendance is not just for the poor; it’s for the poorest of the hopelessly poor.

Two years ago, El-Rufai promised during his re-election campaign that he would enroll his children in public schools to show that the public school system is redeemable. 

But first, he said, he needed to carry out some reforms. In one of the most audacious, but controversial reforms, El-Rufai weeded the staff register, removing 21,780 or two-thirds of the teachers who, through incompetence and lack of commitment, had damaged the system over the years.

Poor infrastructure and scandalous funding were also serious problems. But as long as the system permitted the recruitment, retention and even promotion of poorly qualified teachers, putting in more money was a waste.

A few criticised the governor out of genuine concern about the weeding process, but the main resistance from vested interests clearly suggested that some folks love the students so much they wanted them to have more of what was killing them. 

I’m not sure how far the reform has gone but El-Rufai’s Monday post is an indication that things could, at last, be looking up in some state public schools.

But did the governor have to drag Al-Siddique through a horde of journalists, bring activities in the school to a standstill, and bombard social media with pictures of the boy’s enrolment to tick off his election promise? I know that El-Rufai has many political adversaries, some of who will not pay attention until he beats them over the head with his achievements.

Yet, using Al-Siddique as a stick to drive home his point was a poor choice. Even before the photos of the young pupil landed on his Facebook wall, questions were already being asked about why the governor enrolled his son in Kaduna Capital School, instead of one of the schools at the Local Education Authority in say, Tudun Wada, for example. 

Why the “elite branch” of public schools which, in fact, speaks to a dichotomy even in the public school system? The governor’s critics were also asking if Al-Siddique is a scapegoat of his father’s politics or a mascot for the change that El-Rufai promised in public schools.

I’m not sure ordinary people in Kaduna care much about whether El-Rufai’s decision was good or bad politics. They just want decent schools they can send their children to, hospitals that can care for them when they’re ill, a fair chance for opportunities to make ends meet, and safe streets to walk and play. In recent times, Kaduna has, regrettably, been a hotbed of ethnic and religious violence and safety remains a major concern.

It’s on this last point that I find El-Rufai’s Monday post wrong-headed. After the internet warriors have had their say and the journalists who accompanied the governor have gone home, Al-Siddique will be left alone with his teachers, his classmates and whole world that now knows he is in a public school in a town fighting to secure itself.

The child’s safety and security as well as those of his teachers and classmates should have been the overriding consideration for El-Rufai in deciding whether or not to publicise his enrolment. If the story had been scooped it would have been a different thing, though no less concerning. But to nail Al-Siddique’s picture to his Facebook wall for all the world to gawk at the kid on his first day at school was one needless spotlight too many.

It may be good politics for the governor to use Al-Siddique to tick-off his election promise, but given the tense situation in Kaduna, prudence ought to have dictated otherwise.

If at the end of his eight years as governor Kaduna public schools have been redeemed and have become accessible, affordable with good results to show for the government’s investment, that would be the legacy El-Rufai would be remembered for. Not because he chose to make Al-Siddique a mascot.

And talking about mascots, it appears some people are determined to damage Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, easily one of the best faces of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. It’s a distraction too chilling to contemplate.

Where the most scurrilous attempts at fabrication – from the alleged unauthorized release of NEMA funds to a phantom raid of the FIRS account – failed, the merchants of mischief have grafted a February 2018 video of Pastor Tunde Bakare into the narrative. 

In the video, Bakare said in the scheme of things (now interpreted to mean numerology of political succession), Buhari is #15, while he is #16. If you count Nigeria’s heads of state (only once) since 1960, the country has had 13 heads of state – and that’s counting in the controversial Ernest Shonekan. 

Only by counting the second coming of Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari would you arrive at #Buhari15. Bakare obviously used this second approach, allowing those who think they must find an explanation for every fancy, to exhume an old video and graft it neatly into the vicious plot against Osinbajo. 

The mundane thinking of course, is that if Bakare would succeed Buhari, then Osinbajo must go first, to create the perfectly whimsical scenario of Southwest for Southwest, Yoruba for Yoruba, Christian for Christian, evangelical pastor for evangelical pastor. That’s how toxic our politics has become.

But if Bakare said he is #16 and Buhari #15 (and he could have used any other contiguous numerals), it could also be a metaphor for his relationship with the President – or yes, a declaration of his interest in the Presidency; an interest that he has never made a secret of and which he would not shy away from canvassing when the time comes. Why drag him out over a matter totally unrelated to the video recording?

Only those overwhelmed by the futurologist’s fatigue would dredge up an old video, shave it of context, and make it appear that Bakare is either behind Osinbajo’s temporary problems or is being used by those behind it because he can’t wait to take over from Buhari. That may be convenient, but it’s lazy and uncharitable. Social media can sometimes be a compulsive taskmaster, but we’re not obliged to run its fool’s errand.

Or to swing the axe at those whose views make us uncomfortable the way the Federal Government is swinging it against the publisher of Saharareporters, Omoyele Sowore. 

After detaining Sowore for 45 days on some ludicrous pretensions, the government finally arraigned him in court on even more ludicrous charges of “treasonable felony”, “insulting” the President, and “laundering” $74,400, between April and July 2019, among others.

They obviously arrived at these confetti of charges after preparing to charge him for allegedly collecting a large amount of money from a prominent politician in Dubai, only to find, just before pressing the charge, that Sowore had never been to Dubai all his life! 

I have known Sowore for nearly 20 years and in all that time he has been a force for real change, an iconoclast totally committed to justice, fair play and the protection of the rights of the weak and vulnerable. 

The strong and powerful may not like him, but he has demonstrated by the courage of his journalism that he’s not obliged to feed their ego or indulge their paranoia. In the last 13 years of its existence, Saharareporters has done more than most to keep the public square honest and to challenge itself and mainstream journalism to higher standards. 

An insult worse than anything Sowore may have published against the President is for Buhari to be misled or for him to mislead himself into believing that the Saharareporters publisher can actually overthrow his government by force. Believing that is a disgrace worse than any insult.

The government should drop the charges and let Sowore go.

Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network

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