By FEMI ADESINA
Have you ever met a religious bigot before? Pray that you don’t. It’s not an interesting experience, irrespective of the faith the bigot professes.
A bigot is obstinately or unreasonably attached to a belief, opinion, and is prejudiced against or antagonistic towards a person or people who don’t share what he believes.
I ask again: have you met a religious bigot before? Pray that you don’t. And if you unfortunately do, don’t argue, don’t remonstrate with such person. Just show a clean pair of heels.
President Muhammadu Buhari is a man that had been serially de-marketed, flagellated and excoriated as a religious bigot. It was a narrative deliberately concocted and conjured by those who were afraid of the probity and integrity he could bring into public office. They tarred him with the brush of bigotry, which hindered the man from attaining the presidency for a long while.
But every lie has an expiry date. A time came when the public no longer bought the jejune argument. Pro-Buhari forces fought back vigorously. One of them was eminent virologist, Prof Tam David-West (God rest his soul). He wrote a book with the title ‘16 Sins of Muhammadu Buhari,’ in which he debunked the lies being told against the former military head of state. One of them was the allegation of being a religious bigot.
A larger number of Nigerians got to understand that the bigotry tag was fake, false, an attempt to give the dog a bad name, in order to hang it. Muhammadu Buhari coasted to office as President in 2015, after three earlier trials.
But there is still a remnant that maintains its entrenched position. And they are the ones who look down on us Christians, for going to “work with a Fulani Muslim, a jihadist who does not want to see Christians at all.” True? False.
Who else can you trust more than the man (or woman) that cooks or serves your meal? Possibly nobody. Buhari has Christian cooks, male and female.
And who can you also trust more than the man that drives you? He can decide to do bad, bad things to you. Buhari has Christian drivers.
I was glad to hear Vice President ‘Yemi Osinbajo touch on the matter early this week. While receiving Senegal-based Grand Khalifa of Tijaniya Movement Worldwide, Sheikh Muhammadu Mahi Ibrahim Niass, he said in seven years of working with President Buhari, he has not had any issues with him, particularly in the area of religion.
Said the Vice President: “President Buhari is a serious Muslim, and I am a pastor. Both of us have worked together for about 7 years, we have not had any issues. The President has shown great leadership, he has shown that he wants a country where people of different faiths live in harmony and with love for one another.”
Well spoken, well proven. And I have stories to tell to buttress what VP Osinbajo has said.
Just two weeks ago, someone who was in the inner caucus when President Buhari was putting together his team in 2015, told me a story. It went this way:
“When the President likes you, he just likes you. I remember in 2015, when they brought three names to him as possible media advisers. They were made of Christians and Muslims. He just brought out his pen, and marked your name. That was all.”
A media adviser is in the inner caucus. You can see your boss whenever you want to, and that was what the President told me the very day I resumed: “Adesina, ensure that nobody keeps you away from me. Whenever you want to see me, just come.”
Bigot? He won’t give such position or latitude to a person of different faith.
Early in the first term, one of my spiritual fathers passed on. Rev Cornelius Obasi had taken keen interest in me as a young man growing up in the Foursquare Gospel Church in Lagos. That was in the 1980s.
He was the Assistant Pastor of the branch I attended in Omole area. The main pastor was Rev Felix Meduoye, who later went on to become General Overseer of the Church for many years.
I had completed National Service, was working as a Current Affairs Officer in Radio Lagos. But I never joked with church services, and soon became a teacher in the Sunday School.
One day, after service, Rev Obasi called me. “Brother Femi, you speak good English. Who are you really?” I told him about myself, and thus began a lifelong friendship.
When he passed on (was it late 2015 or 2016?), a two days funeral was being organized. And I wanted to attend, to pay my last respects. So I went to meet the President.
I asked him for two days off, and told him why I needed it. A religious bigot would never hear of such. But not President Buhari. He told me: “I am happy that you’ve decided to go and give last honors to such a man. Please go. We will be here till you return.” And that winsome smile.
When I returned to Abuja, I went to see him again, to say I was back. He welcomed me, and said something I’ll never forget.
“Adesina (he prefers to call me by my surname), I want to thank you for going to honour a man who contributed to bringing you up spiritually. God will give you lada for it.”
I thanked him and left. But lada, what does it mean?
I sought out my friend, Garba Deen Mohammed, now NNPC spokesman. What does lada mean? I told him the story. He laughed, and explained that lada means reward, or wages. He said the President was praying that God will reward me for attending the burial of Rev Cornelius Obasi.
A bigot? I hear.
Our first Christmas in government. December 2015. I wanted to spend the season in Lagos. And I asked him for permission. By all means, he answered. “I know the Vice President, yourself, and some others are church people. Please go. Spend Christmas and New Year with your families. When you now come back, me too I’ll go for a few days.” And he laughed. Bigot? They never want to hear of Christmas. Since 2015, he would give all Christians working with him time off every Easter and Christmas. I like that kind of ‘bigotry.’
When the Foursquare Gospel Church turned 60 years in Nigeria. I told the President, and he gladly agreed to meet with the leadership. He did. Bigot? Please tell me another story.
The Vice President survived an helicopter crash in 2019. The President publicly rejoiced with him, and then at the next Federal Executive Council meeting, he congratulated the VP again. Jocularly, he said: “I can imagine that when the chopper crashed with a bang, VP as a pastor must have shouted, Jesus!Jesus! Jesus! And fortunately, Jesus was not far away, so He saved him.”
We all laughed. But one instructive lesson. Bigots don’t like Jesus. They never want to hear His name, or attribute anything miraculous to Him. Buhari, a bigot? I beg, comot for road, make I pass.
It is said that as a military commander, he gave opportunity for Muslim soldiers to observe the jumat on Fridays, and Christian soldiers were allowed to go to church on Sundays. A bigot would allow Muslims, and pretend that Christians didn’t exist.
As the administration winds down (in 14 months) I pray for grace to be able to document my experiences with this President. People would then realize how unfair they’ve been to him. A man more sinned against, rather than sinning.
*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity