Mr Ray Ekpu’s piece at the back of The Guardian yesterday, December 1st was an excellent one. Not so because of the writer, though Ekpu is one of the most respected columnists in Nigeria, but more because it appeals to the sentiments of most Nigerians. No need to stress that we are a set of sentimental human beings laced with emotional tread with capacity to throw away reason sometimes. Politicians and some business people have leveraged on this singular weakness to suck us dry.
My heart leaped for joy when Mr Ray Ekpu and Dr. Reuben Abati returned as columnists for the Guardian newspapers some weeks ago. For many reasons, I have missed both intellectual writings. Somehow Ray Ekpu was not found on the radar. When Dr. Abati dinned with the presidency; he lost his vibrant voice and pungent stands on issues. Understandably so as he has to speak what his boss wanted, not necessarily what is correct. Of course, he has no option. Dr Abati either speaks for him or leaves the system. But he chose the former. In this clime, people don’t leave that way. Appointments are seen as prayer answered for the appointee and his family members. Praise to heavens, we have Dr. Abati back now to where he truly belongs.
As an undergraduate late 90’s, I never missed the views of these men. They shaped my writings, influenced my journalistic instinct and convinced me that the pen profession is the best among others. In those days, the opinion page of Dr Abati was never a miss for me. Even when I joined the Guardian as a freelance reporter, I still never miss the page of the chairman of editorial board. Dr. Reuben Abati is blessed with words and he has paid his due for the industry. I am eternally grateful to Fred Ohwahwa, my editor in the Guardian then and many more like Lekan Otufordunrin. However, today is not for praise singing exercise, it will come in my pending book.
Back to Mr. Ekpu’s piece. While I appreciate the fact that columnists will the prowess to express their views as distinct as possible, I wish to note some missing links in my oga’s write up. The issue of president Buhari shaking hands with female ministers is none issue as far I am concerned. Mr Ekpu made reference to the report of one Olalekan Adetayo, Punch State House correspondent, saying “that the President had shaken hands with women before. He remembers that when Buhari relocated to the Villa he shook hands with female journalists, held their hands for a few seconds while they introduced themselves to him. He did the same thing with the male journalists. Adetayo says further: “I also sighted him shaking hands with the same public officials (including the women) after taking group photographs with them outside the council chambers after their inauguration.” So above confirms that president Buhari has no belief or religious etiquette of not shaking hands with women at all.
Oga Ekpu said” In the etiquette of shaking hands, it will be bad manners for any citizen to offer his or her hand to the country’s President first”. While I speak not for the presidency, but I think Buhari only conforms to Oga Ekpu’s position above of shaking those who stretch forth hands. He is a president of Nigerians not male or females alone. President Buhari made it clear in his inaugural speech that he belongs to everybody and does not belong to anybody.
Personally, I watched the ministerial oath taking ceremony. The women themselves never stretch forth their hands for the president. In particular, the current minister of women affairs, Mama Aisha Alhassan deliberately held her hands behind. Others prevented the president one way or the other from shaking them. The Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun obviously shook the president. Since Mr Ekpu admits that President Buhari does not have issue shaking hands with women according to Adetayo’s report alluded to by Ekpu, what should Mr President do to women who folded their hands behind during the swearing in ceremony? Should he force them to shake hands? Must he compel them for hand shake?
In one of the paragraphs, Mr Ekpu posited “Buhari must find a meeting point between his beliefs and the demands of democracy in a modern era. His ministers must understand precisely where he stands on these. If his female minister travels abroad will she refuse to shake hands with foreign dignitaries? If she declines that will be a diplomatic faux pas. Buhari was pumping the flesh during the campaigns and no one held it against him. If the President travels with his wife overseas will she shake hands with foreign dignitaries? If she doesn’t that, too, will be a diplomatic faux pas even though she is not a government official.
The President must strike a blow for the full emancipation of Nigerian women. Nigeria will experience only stunted growth if its women continue to be kept in inferior status because of some practices that have been abandoned or bent in other climes to suit the demands of this era. The President needs to break down the barriers that hold us down, by offering a handshake across frontiers: Female/male frontiers, region/region, religion/religion frontiers and rich/poor frontiers”.
Contrary to this view, I have always maintained that our issue in Nigeria has never and will never be about belief or religion. No developed nation play up sentiments as this. Our country has remained under this clog for long and we must break loose. Buhari’s personal beliefs remain his, not ours as a people. Fine, he is the Nigeria president and he cannot, in a democracy setting, compel us to follow his personal belief that has little or nothing to contribute to national development. Our concerns as citizens should be policies pronouncements and foreign policies to move us out of this dark room we are currently to the path of progress. This is how developed nations made it. Institutions and policies are established not individual. Female emancipation is good but has this president made or pronounced any policy against this in his almost eight month’s administration? We as a people must move away from perceived impressions that are vague to seeking improved and better governance. We must demand developmental policies from our leaders, not their personal ideas.
The etiquette of shaking hands is extremely a personal stuff for those who refused or accepted to do so. Other women who didn’t stretch forth their hands for the president also should be left to their beliefs as such have no place or value in the constitution that governs Nigeria and Nigerians. What should be of deep concern to us all should be what merits or values for national development are these set of “change” ministers bringing to the table? What are these people going to effect differently from those before them? What national vision has this government crafted for Nigeria’s future? What are Buhari’s policies trusts?
As citizens, we should be more concerned about where we are currently and how to get out fast so we can be relevant among comity of nations. All hands must be on the deck to salvage the future of Nigeria. The level of corruption under previous administrations is blood-curdling. We should task president Buhari’s administration and his ministers on the change mantra which Nigerians voted for during the last elections. Constantly, we must challenge them with all the electoral promises, not trivial matters as hands shaking.
Nigeria must be better after four years under president Buhari in major critical sectors such as Power, Economy, Security, Education, Housing and Foreign relations among others. Otherwise, this administration will go down in history as one of the evils Nigeria will experience.