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A Sepulcher Of Scared Smiles -By Kene Obiezu

The image of the president with the bishops may have painted a picture of rosy conviviality. But it did not capture the prevailing national mood which the bishops had a responsibility to transmit.

A nation’s mood is its mirror.

There is a thing or two to be said about the prevailing mood of the country amidst searing challenges as it approaches the 2023 general election.

The mood is predominantly one of anger but also one  of docility as the country approaches a make-or-mar election having survived eight gruelling years of the current administration.

It is almost eight years since President Muhammadu Buhari first rode on popular will to win historic elections and occupy Nigeria’s highest office.

In the days before the elections and even in the earliest days of the current administration, hope had surged among Nigerians that finally a messiah had come.

How desperately the country stood in great need of someone to lift it! The Peoples Democratic Party had been in power for sixteen years. Those years had turned out to be utterly wasted.

The honeymoon for the Buhari administration was painfully cut short however as brutal reality soon set in shortly after  he assumed office. The relationship  with Nigerians quickly turned sour.

Tellingly, for a people whose difficult history had helped them build extraordinary levels of fortitude, it took them no time to run out of patience with the new administration.

It did not help that it inauspiciously took the administration six whole months to constitute its cabinet. It was ominous because the administration has come to be defined by  a slow pace of doing things.

Even otherwise routine exercises take an inordinate amount of time and there have been no results to justify the time-wasting. If anything, the results have been extremely poor.

So, as non-state actors have marched through hapless communities slaughtering innocent villagers with reckless abandon, there has been a drought of genuine laughter in Nigeria.

Many people have learnt to show no emotions whatsoever as a national chill has descended on Nigeria..Those who must show any emotion at all are careful to ensure that it is  anger they show and no more.

Apparently, this prevailing mood of anger is not shared. In Nigeria, few religious bodies have the reputation of  the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria.

 The umbrella body of the leaders of the catholic church in Nigeria’s sterling reputation is well earned.

The  conference has never been one to shy away from speaking up on key national issues. In recent times, it has emerged as one of Nigeria’s clearest voices.

However, a picture paints  a thousand  words and during a recent visit to Aso Rock  by the executives  of the Conference, images captured a moment that has quickly proven contentious.

The moment was when the bishops in greeting with the President showcased a a full array of bright smiles. Of course, shared human experience dictate that warm  greetings should elicit smiles.

Of course, thepresident’s most aggressive  apologists have seized upon the images to argue that even the president’s worst critics are at peace with him.

This has prompted the question whether or not thesmiles were not  unguarded at best. What was there to smile about in the first place?

Unarguably, under the present administration, Christians in Nigeria have lived a calvary. In states such as Borno, Niger, Ondo but  especially in Kaduna State, Christians have been slaughtered with chilling premeditation.

Predominantly Christian settlements have been targeted for annihilation. People have been killed  while in church. Christian schools have  also been targeted for attacks.

In Kaduna State, ruthless and relentless barracks on Christians and their clerics has made a strong case for the attacks being a means of religious cleansing.

While these attacks have gone on, perhaps what has been more jarring is that the authorities have done next to nothing to preclude the attacks. Simply put, very little has been done.

It was why the images of the Catholic bishops appearing so relaxed in the presence of the man on whose table the buck stops has proven so jarring to many.

What was there to smile or laugh about? In the presence of a man under whose derelict eight-year rule Christians have known no little slaughter, nothing was supposed to be funny.

The president was said to have promised the bishops that he would  reposition the economy and improve security  before leaving office in a few months time.

But how much credit has he got? How much do those words weigh given that he has had eight years in Nigeria’s highest office but done so little in that time.

Is it now that he is counting days to leave office that he will do what has defied his powers in the last eight years? Nigerians must take his words with a pinch of salt.

The image of the president with the bishops may have painted a picture of rosy conviviality. But it did not capture the prevailing national mood which the bishops had a responsibility to transmit.

The tragedy of the last eight years is best summed up by the fact that no matter how bright any face in Nigeria may look, it has been  no more than a sepulchre  of scarred smiles.

 In the last eight years, the task of the bishops as shepherds has been made more arduous by the many shockers thrown up by an ailing country.

The hope is that the message  was not lost on anyone at the meeting even an incongruous laughter rung out.

Kene Obiezu

Twitter: @kenobiezu

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