The All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign train on Thursday moved to Onitsha, the commercial capital of Anambra State in a bid to swing additional votes from the region ahead of the February 16 and 2 March presidential elections.
Inside the Obi’s palace, located at Fegge, Onitsha North Local Government Area, where the Obi himself Alfred Achebe and his council members, the Igwes were already seated alongside clergymen patiently waiting, one could feel the pulse from the ambience of anxiety in the hall.
I was among early arrivals, yet in the President’s entourage but careful not to be locked out by the protocol officials. As I sat gazing at the Igwes, I listened with rapt attention what these grass root leaders discussed in low tones. They spoke mostly in Ibo language but mixed English. So, I could understand clearly.
These enlightened personalities wanted to clear their doubts about the true identity of President Buhari. His rumoured death and alleged changed identity began not too long after he returned from the last medical trip to the United Kingdom. It lingered quite into the last months of 2018. The story was that President Buhari had indeed been allegedly cloned or replaced by a purported impostor, Jubril Aminu Al-Sudani, from Sudan.
Political commentators have had cause to argue that the mystery and lack of transparency that dogged the President’s health status and other issues surrounding his medical vacations in the UK gave room for the rumours and speculations which also made the rounds worldwide about his true identity.
I was not surprised since these class of Nigerians, the Obi, his Igwes and community leaders have not been alone in this doubting game. For some of us, it has not been an easy task trying to convince people against the ‘Jubril’ story. In fact, I have been asked severally to establish if the man inside Aso Rock is the same President Buhari that Nigerians widely voted for, in 2015. ”You see him often, ” a few inquisitive persons would query.
My answers till date, remain that nothing in terms physical looks, has changed about President Buhari, including his sense of humour known to many of his close aides and associates.
For those who would not believe me, apparently, they are soaked in doubt on whether I have also been compromised by the system. The President himself had cause to answer questions from a cross-section of Nigerians in far away Poland where he broke his long silence on the issue.
He was interacting with Nigerians based in the country where he had gone to attend the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP24) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December last year.
Buhari told the gathering in Poland that “a lot of people had hoped that l died during my ill health. I will soon celebrate my 76th birthday; I’m strong. Yes, a lot of people had hoped that l was dead and call the Vice President and asked whether he should consider them because they thought l was dead.
“He visited me when l was convalescing. It is really me, l assure you. I will soon celebrate my 76th birthday, and I’m still going strong. I only get harassed by my grand children because they are getting too many,” he said.
There in Onitsha, as I watched and listened to the Igbo leaders at Fegge, it was glaring on their faces that the elders once and for all, needed to see for themselves, the real President Buhari. Like the Biblical Thomas, touching and feeling him was not out of place.
They expected to meet and interact with him the last time he was in Anambra for the gubernatorial campaigns. It was not possible due to tight protocol schedules.
Not quite long, the August guest walked into the palace precisely at 10:57 am, heavily guarded by presidential security details as usual. The President was flown via a presidential Nigerian AirForce helicopter from Enugu and landed at the helipad located within the prescient of the Obi’s palace.
The arrangement here was for President Buhari to respond to enquiries from selected individuals on behalf of the different groups. He would speak later at the official commissioning of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Mausoleum.
It would not be out of place to insinuate that he had also sensed the mood within the palace or may have gotten security tips about the feelings here. As he addressed some of the issues raised by the community leaders, the President veered off. He spoke briefly about the identity question.
The Jubril narrative did not come without some people arguing that the President cannot speak his mother tongue, Fulfude. President Buhari seized the opportunity rightly.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is among prominent Nigerians who have doubted Buhari’s identity for his inability to speak Fulfude.
During a rally in Jigawa State, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) allegedly said that Buhari was not a ”full-fledged Fulani man because he cannot speak Fulfulde.”
As he spoke about this viral matter during the interaction at the Obi palace, in relation to security challenges in the country and what his government was doing, President Buhari said “To be honest, from where I come from, in my family, I think I am the first Fulani child to go to school.
“Because we don’t value education much. If you get your cattle, the only time you visit the number is when there was tax on the cattle, then you may sell one to pay. Otherwise, it’s the number that matters. And going to school doesn’t make any sense at all.
“I went to school because let me say, my father is 60 percent Fulani throughout his life. My mother I think is 55 percent Kanuri because on her fathers side, they are all Kanuris. It’s only about 25 percent, I am Hausa. But I grew up in a firmly Hausa culture, that is Daura. That is the beginning of Hausa.
So, I don’t even speak Fulfude.
“You can accuse me of looking like them, or tolerating cattle herders because I look like them, but I don’t speak the language. But I am very proud to be a Nigerian.”
What I do know is that the Igbo community leaders were not disappointed by this frank talk from the President. With the photo session at the event, they have seen, felt and can now believe.