What does the President carry in his pocket?
There is this apocryphal tale that the president of the United States of America, said to be our planet’s most powerful country, travels carrying a bag that holds the key to war and peace in the world. It is claimed that the briefcase contains the code the U.S. leader may unravel to release America’s huge atomic arsenal. In the event of an attack, if he’s away from the U.S. and he’s briefed on his hotline, all he does to enable a lethal hit-back is to go for the bag and probably a key in his pocket. But if he wants peace, he simply allows his pocket be at peace.
Early in 2016, however, sitting President Barack Obama spiked this story of one man playing God, one man who upon a cryptic call thousand of kilometres from Washington, can decide the fate of billions of souls worldwide, can trigger a contest to destroy mankind. He told a YouTube interviewer that all he holds in his trousers pocket are harmless mementoes, none approximating a nuclear lock.
The gay broadcaster Ingrid Nilsen fired the question that laid all bare: what does President Obama carry in his pocket? The U.S. leader dug into his right trouser pocket and out came an assortment of keepsakes: a rosary given to him by Pope Francis, a tiny Buddha, a metal poker chip he said he got from ‘a bald biker with weird mustache’ in 2007,a Coptic Cross from Ethiopia and a Hindu statuette of monkey god.
A strange collection for a head of state to carry! But he says when he feels tired or discouraged as he battles American and global headaches he reaches into the pocket for relief and mental refreshment. According to Obama, they inspire him and help him “get back to work.”
Now after thrilling myself with Obama’s revelation and observing the travels of our own President Muhammadu Buhari, I have begun to wonder what the Nigerian leader also takes along in the trousers under his flowing agbada. Surely Buhari, the leader of the world’s most populous black nation, would have run into numerous people and well-wishers who would deposit some gifts with him after each encounter.
It is doubtful though if this Spartan ex-general would encumber himself with the sentimental symbolism that these oddities appear to stand for.
By the way, Buhari being a devout Muslim would not be expected to be a devotee of images. Islam forbids any appearance of idol adoration which the possession or admiration of a metal bust suggests. Not known to be a faith extremist, Buhari would nevertheless not lend himself to breach Islam’s tenets on images.
So what does our president carry in his pocket? We can safely submit he carries with him his prayer beads. These would encourage and animate him, not weigh him down as heavy metal trinkets might. If he’s away from home in Nigeria and unpalatable news reaches him, the president can go for the supplication chain in his pocket and cry to God for help. If the Nigerian leader is at a gathering where it may look out of place to pullout the tesbiu to pray for Nigeria, I think the president, while silently praying, can simply press his fingers against the beads in the pocket for assurance that God is always there for Nigeria. There can’t be a greater source of succour.
This reminds me of an undercover policeman who went to a newspaper house to arrest an editor and one of his deputies in the dark days of military dictator Sani Abacha. He and colleagues failed to get their quarries and in exasperation as the journalists milled about in defiance, the officer kept on touching his trouser pocket for assurance that a pistol was within reach for action if the newsmen tried to be heroic.
But President Buhari has gone beyond the age of personal metallic security the pistol stands for. He enjoys what they now call virtual security surveillance.
Buhari must travel light; he must guard against adding to the burden brought on him daily by worrying about his 170 million compatriots.
Ironically, Obama says he shifts the lumbering weight and stress of office on to the metals he carries around. They are items from two groups of people: fellow Americans and those from outside keeping a partisan watch on his conduct. The mementoes, therefore, are not hollow tokens.
When they tinkle in the pocket they assume a cry urging the president not to fail to deliver. Obama sees them as citizens groaning and prompting him to remember his campaign promises.
So what should our own Buhari carry in his pocket?
In Nigeria the underclass like Obama’s “bald biker” would not enjoy space enough to pump a gift into the president’s palm. So let’s rule out such precious experience.
Now there are more inspiring items Buhari needs to have with him as he travels. He must have an independent record of what the citizens say of him and his government beyond what the media report and what his aides tell him. When he’s taken up and down in his numerous trips in and out of Nigeria, let him observe closely the palpable frown and anxiety on the faces of his people. Let him breach protocol by showing up unannounced at public places at odd hours. Let him make random calls to fellow Nigerians and to interactive radio and TV shows. Let him follow it up with visits to the people in their homes and offices.
What Buhari comes up with is what he would put in black and white and carry about to reorient and inspirit him.
Babatunde Raji Fashola, the man Buhari has picked to oversee three utility departments, attributes his phenomenal success as Lagos governor to a pact he struck with a small document he called Black Book. He packed it with his campaign promises along with ‘little things’ he observed among the people. He had the book as his companion wherever he went. Each time the heaviness of work seemed to overwhelm him, Fashola would fetch the book in his sokoto. Reinvigorated, he would say like Obama: “I better get back to work.”
Let President Muhammadu Buhari also carry with him ‘little things’, not in his pocket, not in his briefcase, nor in his iPad. He should keep his own Black Book in his heart. No safer place to secure a sacred treasure! The ancient Latin scholars called such dear notes vade mecum (carry me wherever you go).
• Ojewale is a writer and journalist in Ota, Ogun State.