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News and Society Expression Unfold

A PRESIDENTIAL TUMBLE IN ABUJA  BY KEEM ABDUL

Read Time:6 Minute, 55 Second

    Tinubu Shows He Is Human, After All

 

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu did not get to where he is in life by letting things get to him. 

Moments after he missed his footing and fell while boarding an open-air parade vehicle at this year’s annual Democracy Day at the Eagle Square in Abuja, the Nigerian federal capital, he attempted to put a light-hearted spin on the incident. “I dobale (‘bowed down’ or ‘paid homage’ in Yoruba) for democracy,” he said. Democracy, he added, was worth falling down for. 

Reports say the President quickly regained his composure and continued with the ceremonies – which itself says a lot. 

The President’s jocular comment on his tumble was, in the circumstances, rather apt – coming from someone with his pro-democracy credentials. During the dark days of military rule, he was among activists at the forefront of the often bitter struggle for the restoration of constitutional government in Nigeria, especially in the wake of the political impasse occasioned by the then military junta’s annulment of the widely-acclaimed June 12, 1993 presidential election. 

On a serious note, though, the fall raised renewed questions and speculations in certain quarters about the President’s health and fitness. These questions had trended – especially on social media – during the months of campaigns prior to the 2023 presidential elections which brought him to office. In many cases, especially among those who had opposed his quest for the highest office in the land, these questions and speculations had bordered on sarcasm, innuendo, misinformation and gallows humour. To these ones, the recent presidential tumble was proof that the former Lagos State Governor was physically unfit to shoulder the onerous task of governing Nigeria. In the days after the Democracy Day incident, these sentiments trended once again – albeit mixed, this time, with expressions of concern for the well-being of Nigeria’s number one citizen. 

Among the political class – both from the President’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition – reactions were muted but generally respectful and sombre – in line, perhaps, with the admonition by senior members of the Tinubu Administration who called on Nigerians to acknowledge the humanity of the President, and to not allow the incident to detract from the import of Democracy Day. Two of President Tinubu’s closest opponents in the last presidential elections took to their respective X (formerly Twitter) handles to express their sympathies and their concern for his well-being. Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) wrote: “I sincerely sympathise with President Bola Tinubu over this unfortunate incident …  I do hope that all is well with him.” On his part, former Governor Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) echoed the Presidency’s admonition and rebuked some of the negative sentiments that trailed the President’s slip: “We achieve nothing by gloating about an accident that could well happen to any of us,” he wrote. ” We are all human beings and, while we profoundly disagree on how to move Nigeria forward, we must remember our common human frailty. Let us stay focused on the issues that will lead to a new Nigeria. May this moment serve as a poignant reminder of our shared humanity and the need for compassion, empathy, and unity in our pursuit of a brighter future for our great nation.”

At 72 years of age, President Bola Tinubu is no spring chicken; therefore it is not out of the ordinary that, like other men of his age, he would miss his footing once in a while – even in full  public view. In fact, among world leaders – including his contemporaries – he is in robust company in this respect. 

US President Joe Biden offers a ready example; in the over three years since he assumed office, the American leader has slipped and fallen in public on at least three occasions, most notably while ascending the stairs of the presidential plane, Air Force One on a trip to Atlanta two years ago. Two of Biden’s predecessors, Gerald Ford and Barack Obama, also suffered similar moments during their respective tenures. Ford, in particular, had to be  helped to his feet after he slipped and fell all the way down the stairs (made slippery by rain) while disembarking from Air Force One on a trip to Austria in 1975.  Obama missed his steps, also on the stairs of Air Force in March 2015, while returning to Washington DC from a golfing holiday. 

Another contemporary of Tinubu’s, Russian President Vladimir Putin fell heavily on the ice at an ice hockey tournament in the Russian resort of Sochi in 2019.

Among past leaders, the late Cuban revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro comes readily to mind; he made global headlines when he fell off a stage in the city of Santa Clara, Cuba in 2004, while making a speech – breaking his knee and an arm in the process, for which he had to undergo surgery. 

On February 4, 2015, the late President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe slid off a staircase and fell as he walked off a podium after addressing his supporters upon his return from an African Union (AU) meeting abroad. 

Other examples abound. So, the assertion by presidential spokesman, Bayo Onanuga, that Tinubu was ‘not a Superman, but human like the rest of us, ‘ and Obi’s comment that what happened on Democracy Day ‘could happen to anyone of us’ are statements of fact; the incident should not detract from the dignity of the President’s office, or the vast range and enormity of the responsibilities the holder of the office carries on his shoulders. The onus is on all patriotic and right-thinking Nigerians to help ensure that when it comes to fulfilling the mandate upon which he was elected into office, President Bola Tinubu and his team do not ‘fall our hand’ (as the Nigerian parlance goes) and that he is not forced to ‘dobale’ for the negative indices or the divisive forces that continue to hamper our development as a nation.

However, the point must be made that there was something in the manner in which the President tripped and fell, that suggested that his security detail and protocol personnel did not have their eyes on the proverbial ball. Either the affected officers were fascinated (and therefore distracted) by the spectacle of the occasion – or they were still savouring the glamour of their assignment (as seems to be case these days, unfortunately). What happened to the President was clearly a lapse in concentration on the part of said security and protocol officials. 

Whatever the reason for this lapse, there is a Golden Rule pertaining to assignments of this nature – especially having to do with the protection and escort of a high-value security asset such as the President of Nigeria: KNOW YOUR PRINCIPAL. 

In other words, do everything humanly possible to keep your principal alive and safe – and that entails knowing his strengths and weaknesses, the better, not just to respond to emergencies as soon as they arise, but to anticipate them well in advance. 

For example, the protocol officer must enter the vehicle in question and look at its architecture for possible danger, before  allowing the President to board, while the President’s aide-de-camp (ADC) should guide him through the process of ascending the steps, to make sure he doesn’t lose his footing. Experts say this is what the protocol officer to the immediate past President, Mohamned Kazaure, would have done, and that the current relevant officials will do well to emulate his example. 

In the end, it was an accident, no more; apparently, the President mistakenly stepped on his flowing agbada regalia on the said occasion. But it is precisely because of the eventuality of such mishaps that these officers were hired in the first place. They mustn’t forget that their task is far more complex than just lining up in a procession behind the President. They are to be the eyes at the back of his head.

Nigerians hope that the appropriate lessons have been learned from this innocuous but embarrassing episode. It is in our collective interest, and a plus to the image of our country (as embodied to a large extent by the person and office of the President) that such an episode is not allowed to happen again. 

 

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