By Dele Sobowale
“When all think alike; none thinks very much.” Walter Lippmann, 1889-1974. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 245).
An acquaintance of mine, resident in the US had been in Nigeria for over six months for undisclosed reasons. He was here during the primaries and with the emergence of Hillary Clinton, as the Democratic Party candidate, and Donald Trump, as the Republican Party candidate, he announced that “Clinton will win by a land slide”. Before making that statement, he had asked me what I thought would be the outcome of the Presidential election. My answer to him was: “Trump might win because he is saying what white Americans would like to be done”. My friend followed with almost two hours of “analysis” aimed at proving to me that Trump could not win. He ended up by asking me to “take a bet one dollar from me to one naira from you” that Trump can never win. I don’t bet – out of personal principle. But, I told him we will talk after the November elections.
As it turned out, we met at a watering hole in the Campos area of Lagos Island ten days before the election. Clinton had what appeared like an insurmountable lead. With more than fifty patrons drinking and having fun, my friend was there. And right there and then he announced to all those present that “One of your great journalists in Nigeria has arrived; the man had the guts to tell me Trump might win. You can see what is wrong with journalism in Nigeria.” My reply was short. “My friend, wait until the day after the election, then come here and talk.” Since the results were announced, the fellow had not shown his face in Lagos Island; he no longer picks his phones. This fellow serves as metaphor for millions of Nigerians who were misled by Nigeria’s brightest and best – in academia and in media.
For some reason, 170 million Nigerians thought that the American election was organized to elect a President Nigerians would want in the White House. I read with amusement all the insults cast on Trump by our media practitioners and opinion leaders; knowing fully well that they were deluding themselves and fellow Nigerians. It was incredible to me that none of our local champions realized that their, invariably, biased opinions, were for local consumption. No Americans read all the puerile opinions published by our most erudite individuals. Three examples will be sufficient to illustrate how sometimes the “gods” we worship in public discussions of important matters can lead us astray.
First, Professor Wole Soyinka announced a few days before the election that he would “tear my green card if Trump is elected”, as if Americans are bound to vote the candidate of his choice. It is their country after all, and a foreigner was threatening to revoke a privilege they extended to him if his wishes were not accepted. It was not only unnecessary, it must have demonstrated to Americans, even Clinton supporters, that even the best of Africans don’t know what democracy is all about. Now our great Professor had placed himself in a dilemma. He will either tear the card and place himself at the mercy of the American Embassy, or, he fails to tear it and be forever damned as a dishonourable man. Now the entire world is waiting to see what one of our brightest and best will do. But, I am not waiting. I strongly believe that a wise man should always consider the consequences of what he says or does. That Soyinka is now waffling regarding when to shred the card is an indication that he spoke first and thought later.
Second and less spectacular was Professor, columnist for the PUNCH, who wrote a “send off” column saying he was going to America “to be a part of history.” He returned with his tail tucked behind his legs; like a beaten dog. He was going to vote for Clinton, who, certainly, was going to win. Well, even that erudite Professor is learning anew that “Men make history, but not just as they please.” (Karl Marx, 1818-1883, VBQ p 93). And that should be an everlasting warning to fellow Nigerians that when our opinion leaders all think alike, then is the time to worry because it means that nobody is thinking very much.
Third and very amusing was a syndicated columnist for DAILY TRUST and THE NATION. Her column was titled “59,017,382 Stupid Americans”. I deliberately underlined the word stupid to illustrate how emotional Nigerians, including opinion leaders, can get. An election result is only fair if our candidate wins. More Americans went to the polls than Nigerians; yet nobody heard of thugs snatching ballot boxes; the result was not contested in the courts. Our own President had contested every election he lost until he won. Every one of our “clever” Nigerians’ elections had been attended by violence and scandal involving electoral officers; followed by cases in court which last years. Yet, we condemn a nation because the majority did not vote as we instructed them to do. “Stupid” Americans have invented virtually everything we use including Facebook, computer, Twitter, aircrafts, and they are on their way to the planets. Yet a descendant of people who have not invented anything calls them stupid. Even with Trump as President, a thousand times more Nigerians will still want to enter America, legally or illegally, than Americans wanting to gate-crash into Nigeria.
She went further with scare-mongering by pointing to the fact that America’s nuclear weapons can be released at the touch of a button by Trump. It was sheer ignorance. Since the two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to end the Second World War, by the Americans, at least six nations are now known to have the capability. None had used it since then. Meanwhile, the US, a nation where institutions work, unlike our Banana Republics in Africa, had evolved an elaborate procedure for the release of such weapons. No President can unilaterally order their release for any reason. Is that intelligence?
So, what went wrong? How did our “gods” fail us? They failed us because they were not sufficiently detached. They accuse the Americans who voted for Trump of bigotry, but they were just as guilty of the charge themselves. They started with Nigerian’s interest as the most important consideration in the election. What the Americans felt was secondary. Clinton was the candidate they knew will help us. Individually and collectively, they gave little thought to what Americans considered was in their best interest. While our think-alike commentators were reading the NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST, etc – all the papers which supported their prejudices, they neglected papers and media in the Midwest and Southern America which were more accurately reflecting the views of grassroots America. Trump was the only candidate from the start saying what main stream Americans wanted to hear and done. That was why all the “mistakes” he made which would have doomed another candidate to ignominious defeat only strengthened him. His Unique Selling Proposition, USP, as Sales and Marketing professionals say, was solid. Was it emotional, impractical and dangerous? Perhaps. But, Americans and the world will find that out later. The most important thing is for our “gods”, the great opinion leaders, to admit that they have failed us. We now must find a way to live with Trump. The first thing we do is to stop insulting him. From January 2017, he will be the most powerful man in the world.
ADVICE TO BUHARI ON TRUMP
God grant me the courage to change the things I can change, the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.” Irish Prayer.
Meanwhile, President Buhari will be best advised to ignore the temper tantrums of the defeated Nigerian elite – even if, like them, he wanted Clinton to win. He must accept graciously what he cannot change. Trump is the man to do business with from now on and as long as he remains US President. Buhari owes it a duty to Nigeria and Nigerians, including those at risk in the US, to get the best deal out of Trump. He will not get it by approaching Americans with the attitude that they are stupid red necks. They voted for what they believe is best for their country. One might ask: what are the illegal Nigerians doing there anyway? Is it their country? Nigeria, in 1984, under General Buhari, bundled out all the Ghanaians we could find resulting in the term “Ghana Must Go” till today. Was Buhari a lunatic or was he stupid for doing it? We point accusing fingers forgetting that history had already pointed one at us.
Nigeria needs the US more than the Americans need us. Famine we have been told is imminent next year. Those “stupid” Americans have the largest stock of grains that might stand between millions of our people and the graveyard. We cannot afford to alienate them just because they expressed their preference for a leader. In the end, if well-managed, Trump might even do more for us than Clinton.
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By Dele Sobowale