Last week, many Nigerians mocked the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), over the pigeons that refused to fly at the Armed Forces Remembrance Day 2021 ceremony in Abuja. When a similar thing happened in 2014 to the then president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, a Roman Catholic priest, Rev. Father Ejike Mbaka, proclaimed that it was a sign that God had abandoned Jonathan. A presidential election was scheduled the next year. Therefore, politics was in the air. In 2019, the pigeons released by Buhari also refused to fly. He was ridiculed over that, too.
Traditionally, as a sign of peace and unity, the President of Nigeria lays a wreath and releases some white pigeons every January 15 in honour of soldiers killed in different wars and conflicts involving Nigeria.
Reactions to the refusal of the pigeons to fly when Buhari released them last week came from even prominent Nigerians. According to a former minister of education, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, the refusal of the pigeons to fly was an act of “civic disobedience.” She wrote: “The pigeons will at least not be attacked for their effective civic disobedience.
“They will also not be told by scoundrels of patriotism to relocate just because they pointed out evident facts of bad governance in their country. Thank God for small mercies.”
In his own reaction, a former minister of aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, said on his Twitter handle: “When the white doves of peace refuse to fly and when the white pigeons of the Villa fail to leave their cage, it is an ominous sign and a bad omen.
“Buhari, beware the ides of March.
“Even the pigeons refused to fly! What type of bad luck does this man have?”
Going spiritual about the matter, Mr Olusegun Bamgbose, National Coordinator, Concerned Advocates for Good Governance, noted that the refusal of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day pigeons to fly signalled impending doom for the country.
The lawyer explained: “When you house them (pigeons), you hardly can experience sudden unexpected evil. The refusal of them to fly at the Armed Forces Remembrance today is a clear indication that something serious is wrong somewhere.
“It’s not just a sign of bad omen, but also a serious warning that except certain things are put in place, disaster looms.
“The Presidency has 21 days to make amends or the undesirable will happen. The 21 days will expire by the 5th day of February, 2021.
“I plead with the Presidency to take this seriously. If nothing is done, the unexpected might happen. This is a very serious warning that has a time limit of just 21 days,” Bamgbose pleaded.
Some other Nigerians joked that the pigeons realised that there was insecurity in Nigeria, and preferred the safety of their cage. Others said that the pigeons knew that there was serious hunger in the land, and preferred to remain in the cage where their feeding was guaranteed.
As was stated earlier, it was not the first time such was happening to Buhari. It had also happened to different state governors while they were celebrating the day in their own state capitals.
The penchant for us as Nigerians to tie everything to the supernatural makes us blame our incompetence and mediocrity on powers beyond us. In the past, plane crashes in Nigeria were blamed on “witches and wizards” by someone supervising aviation. A snake was blamed for swallowing some missing millions of naira in Nigeria. When the supernatural is linked with an incident, those who should take responsibility for ineptitude or incompetence are let off the hook indirectly. The error is not corrected, thereby leading to a recurrence.
A serious leader would have fired the person in charge of protocols or at least penalised that person. There are veterinarians and animal handlers who understand how birds react that should have effectively handled the issue concerning the pigeons. It could be that the birds had stayed for too long in the cage and did not feel comfortable leaving. It could be that the feathers of the pigeons were recently plucked, making it hard for them to fly. It could be that the pigeons were afraid of the crowd. It could be some other reasons.
Those in charge of protocols should have ensured that before the January 15 date, professional bird handlers had regularly released the birds within a closed environment to see them fly. Everything that would ensure that the birds fly once released would have been put in place before the arrival of the president to perform that ceremonial role. In simple terms, professionals would have done their job behind the scene before that public display by Buhari.
Making the President release birds that would not fly before the cameras was a huge embarrassment. The reason such embarrassment recurred was because nobody paid for ineptitude the first time it happened.
There is too much ineptitude and complacency in governing circles. Officials and their aides are fixated on deals and opportunities to make money that scant attention is paid to issues of state. So many things that should be adequately taken care of are treated with levity. Attention to details is near zero in government issues. There is always the just-do-it-anyhow attitude. The presumption is that the things to be paid attention to are the big issues. But the reality is that it is an amalgam of small issues that forms big issues. Those who don’t pay adequate attention to small issues cannot manage big issues. The level of attention paid to details differentiates a professional from an amateur.
However, from what we know about Buhari, he does not penalise subordinates for incompetence, dereliction of duty, corruption or the like. He has also not shown that he is passionate about excellence. He just ensures that the minimum is achieved and everybody carries on as if all is well. Those who point out acts of mediocrity or incompetence are branded “wailers” and “haters”. And the beat goes on.
If there will be a turnaround in the fortunes of Nigeria, our leaders must learn to take responsibility for their actions. People must be held accountable for their acts of commission or omission while in office. When people resign in some other countries over issues, including things like natural disasters, it is not because they believe that they should have prevented such natural disasters from taking place. They resign because they want to show that they did not take enough precautionary measures to protect the people and the nation from such disasters. They also want to show that their life is not tied to such positions they hold. They want to show that such positions are merely for service, not for benefit.
However, in Nigeria, the life of most people is tied to the positions they hold in public office. It is through that position that they make the type of money that catapults them from the turf of “commoners” to the realm of the elite. Such positions also help to ensure that they are accorded excessive respect by the common people. Therefore, they do everything possible to hold on to such positions. It is part of the reason for the backwardness of Nigeria and many third-world countries.