• A trip southward, a misspelt name and tales of a snub

    A trip southward a misspelt name and tales of a snub - nigeria newspapers online
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    A trip southward, a misspelt name and tales of a snub

    Stephen Angbulu

    When President Bola Tinubu arrived in South Africa last Tuesday, he had no inkling he would be leaving the country with a new name, one the South African Presidency’s social media team bestowed upon him.

    But before that, let me tell you some backstory. When former United States President, Barack Obama, turned 50 in 2011, his chief strategist, David Axelrod, planned to surprise him with something special for the big 5-0.

    Considering his Chicago roots, Axelrod thought an autographed poster from the Chicago Bulls basketball legend Michael Jordan would be a perfect gift. In a New York Magazine interview in 2015, Axelrod narrated, “When the President turned 50, I wanted to get him something special…so I sent it to Jordan to have him sign it for me. In black Sharpie, Jordan scrawled, ‘To Barrack: you still owe me dinner. Wishing you well, Michael Jordan.’”

    However, what would have been a thoughtful gesture went south when MJ added an extra ‘r’ to the President’s first name, making it a building or group of buildings meant to lodge soldiers. “I gave it to the president, and he said, ‘I can’t put this up; he misspelt my name!’ So I said, ‘Fine, I’ll take it,’” Axelrod concluded.

    The name suffered a similar fate during Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2015 when a road sign read, “Welcome Home Barrack Obama.” That year, it was reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin had his share of misspellings in Egypt when a poster displayed at the Cairo International Airport read ‘Welcome Puin’. Perhaps the most hilarious of them all was when former President George W. Bush was addressed as “George W. Brush” during a state dinner in China in 2001.

    After attending the inauguration ceremony of South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, President Tinubu and his counterpart held a private meeting at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Johannesburg. Before the closed meeting, Ramaphosa thanked Tinubu for honouring the invitation to attend his inauguration for a second term in office.

    “Thank you so much for coming for the inauguration. I was very happy to see my brother at the ceremony,” the South African President said.

    Tinubu noted that Ramaphosa’s inaugural speech captured most of the challenges faced by African countries and the need for more collaboration among leaders and citizens to provide solutions.

    “I really enjoyed your speech at the ceremony. I was delighted listening to you. We have lots of issues in common, and we need to work more closely together. It was a good celebration,” the President said.

    Later that day, the South African Presidency shared photographs from the meeting on its X account with the caption, “His Excellency President Matamela @CyrilRamaphosa in a bilateral meeting with His Excellency President Bola Ahmed Adekunie Tinubu @officialABAT of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. President Tinubu is in South Africa, where he attended the. Presidential Inauguration yesterday to witness the swearing-in ceremony of President Ramaphosa.”

    Nigerians know their President by many names, but Adekunie is not one of them. And the calls for correction were loud. A netizen named @IfiokDavids, wrote, “Adekunie? Sorry. Those of us in Nigeria are not familiar with that name.” On X, @Adekunle spoke out of second-hand embarrassment when he tweeted, “Adekunle is the correct name. Not Adekunie. Please correct it!” With the Yoruba language being ever so complex, one can understand how a slight change in the intonation of the same word can mean a different thing. As of this writing, Adekunie sits comfortably in the President’s name, per the X update.

    What cannot be mistaken is the atmosphere in which the bilateral meeting was held. While some saw it as a regular bilateral engagement, others perceived it as damage control for a purported social faux pas. A viral footage showed President Ramaphosa in a brotherly exchange with Dennis Nguesso of the Republic of Congo as President Tinubu looked on from behind. The clip got its fair share of interpretation from many Nigerians who saw Ramaphosa as a snub.

    Tinubu, who was seated on the second row alongside his Zimbabwean, Angolan, DRC and Tanzanian counterparts, stood still, awaiting their turn to exchange pleasantries with the ‘celebrant.’ Concluding with those in the first row, Ramaphosa proceeded to greet those seated in the second, concluding each pleasantry with the promise, “We’ll talk later.” However, not many netizens saw that part. It was possible that President Tinubu was not the only Head of State Ramaphosa visited privately. More so, most of the faces on the first row looked very much like South African bigwigs, not fellow heads of state, except for Nguesso.

    In any case, the President seems to be watching his steps closely now after the Democracy Day incident at Eagle Square. As he rose through the flight of stairs to take his seat among other dignitaries, Tinubu could be seen taking a closer look at every thread and riser. He paused at the landing and then continued with a closer look. Once fallen, twice cautious.

    President homesick again

    Before South Africa, Tinubu continued his tradition of observing major holidays outside the Aso Rock Presidential Villa. Given this pattern, one can argue that he lives in the Villa out of necessity, as it took him months to move in after assuming office.

    So, on major holidays like Eid-el-Kabir, like birds on seasonal migration, Tinubu led his team far away from the seat of power to catch another glimpse of Lagos. For his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, it was Daura. And if Daura could not offer the needed rest, London could.

    Typically, most political and business bigwigs residing in Abuja would temporarily relocate to Lagos. For instance, the President received a delegation from the National Assembly who came to felicitate with him on Monday evening.

    His close allies in Lagos did not need to travel to see the President who had come to their doorstep. Aside from those who make it to the news, other private visitors who do not frequent Abuja wait for such seasons. I call them the patient vultures. Beyond the handshakes, photo ops and small talk, the truth remains: most presidential guests come to mark an unseen register.

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