Much Ado About A Handshake,By Mabota Alata



sylvaThe fundamental ills in the character of Nigerian politics are often ignored or sidestepped by the journalists and commentators in the rush to sensationalise. This is a blot that diminishes the reputation of those that should be bringing the trouble with Nigeria to public attention. But more troubling, perhaps, is the fact that on the rare occasions when they try to face the issues, they indulge in hysterical analysis. In so doing, they confuse the issues. Such assessments offer little insight into the kernel of the problems and the solutions to them. Inadvertently, they offer a disturbing insight into the shallowness that gnaws at the sense of wellbeing of those who are supposed to be giving form to public opinion.
A good example is the street level interpretations that have followed Chief Timipre Sylva’s presence at the recent wedding of the daughter of Dr. Peter Odili. The misinterpretations centred on the usual courtesies of greeting and having a handshake, which Sylva exchanged with President Goodluck Jonathan, alongside other dignitaries at the event. It is the basic level of decency that you expect from a man of Sylva’s standing at such occasion.
But that simple gesture of courtesy to the president has been given diverse interpretations by fifth columnists seeking occasion against Sylva. One public commentator, Okey Ndibe, used the incident to garnish the picture of an emerging “Emperor Jonathan” that he quite excitedly painted of President Goodluck Jonathan in a widely syndicated column. Then with the vibrant tone of a fascinated participant observer, Ndibe went ahead to celebrate Sylva’s unjust exclusion from a governorship election he was very eminently qualified to contest.
Democratic humanity had reacted angrily to that injustice done to Sylva. And there was hardly any media organ of repute in the country that did not do an editorial condemning the injustice. Till date, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has not given any reason known to law for the exclusion of Sylva from an election he had only few months before been certified and ordained by the same party to contest. The singsong of subversive agents that seek to undermine Nigeria’s democracy for their own selfish ends has only been that Sylva showed excessive pride and ambition by daring to voice his political convictions.
It is hard to understand Ndibe’s fascination with autocracy and injustice. And it is even harder to understand his interpretation of a simple handshake Sylva had extended to Jonathan at a public event as “a symbolic capitulation.” The simple conclusion that comes to mind is that this ‘reputable’ commentator is working for the Goodluck Jonathan syndicate, consciously or unconsciously. Nothing better demonstrates the truth about Ndibe’s solicited or unsolicited support for the Jonathan syndicate than his desperation to draw a link between Sylva and the current ordeal of the Rivers State Governor, Rt. Hon Rotimi Amaechi. In a show of manifest pettiness, Ndibe’s piece tries to send a message to Amaechi.
Why are the forces of reaction working relentlessly to ‘fix and finish’ Sylva politically and literally becoming so desperate that a mere handshake with Jonathan has been orchestrated beyond belief? This is shameful.
In some other reports, Sylva was alleged to have breached protocol to have a handshake with Jonathan. Nothing in the handshake or the events that preceded it suggested either breach of protocol or capitulation.
Sylva was duly invited to the wedding ceremony by Odili, a family friend and neighbour. He neither crashed into the event nor expected to meet the president there. Besides, Sylva and Jonathan were not the only dignitaries at the event that exchanged a handshake. The president’s wife, Dame Patience Jonathan, also shook hands with Governor Rotimi Amaechi at that wedding ceremony, despite their perceived frosty relationship.
Interestingly, President Jonathan came to the wedding that day with his full complement of security aides and they could not have allowed the kind of breach that is being peddled around Sylva’s presence there.
The other side of the coin is that those who are imputing motives to Sylva’s handshake with the president will be the first people to condemn the former governor if he had snubbed the president at the wedding. Not only would it have been disrespectful to the host who invited Sylva, it would have meant that Sylva takes the injustice done to him personal. On the contrary, the exclusion of Sylva from the 2012 Bayelsa governorship election by the PDP mandarins and his current ordeal in the hands of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) puts a serious question mark on the integrity of our democracy, our country and our institutions.
Sylva is a victim of tyranny. What he deserves is justice – not chastisement or even pity.
Interestingly, even aides of the president are now acknowledging the enormity of the kind of political wickedness that Sylva suffered, when he was unfairly excluded from the governorship race. As Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, rightly put it recently, “Can there be a greater tyranny than the tyranny of removing governors via undemocratic means and barring legally entitled persons from contesting elections?”
But such was the cruel fate that Sylva suffered. And despite his decision to keep a low profile since his unjust removal from office, he has continued to face sundry harassments from state agents. The EFCC has been groping for evidence against him in a prosecution obviously targeted at the destruction of his political career and programmed to arrive at a predetermined judgement. In the absence of any sustainable case against Sylva, the commission has seemed to settle for a media feast purposed to drag his name in the mud, as part of a larger plot to affect his politics.
Impunities like these represent an ill abhorrent to civilised humanity. They are not things to be celebrated by any sane person. They should be condemned and not glamorised under any guise.

Dr. Mabota Alata is a Governance and Development Expert based in Abuja. She can be reached on: [email protected]


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