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12 Feb Written by  Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

Dreaming of Buhari

It looks like a hotel room.

Young men mill about chatting good naturedly about the events of a few days ago. Anyone listening would assume the topic of discussion is either a wedding or a campaign rally. I am both listening and participating in the discussion as I load my backpack with clothes used in the preceding days.

It takes a while before I realise that seated at the base of a bed, so large it uses up half the living space, is the retired General. He is silent in the midst of the rituals of packing, undisturbed by the ruckus of male camaraderie around him.

Someone unwraps a Nylon bag, another shoves ironed shirts into a rucksack, dry cleaned suits appear from carryalls and disappear unto bodies. Shoes fritter out from boxes, in one corner a guy bends to apply polish on his shoes, some lazybones lies on the bed half awake, unperturbed by the din.

The conversations are brisk, elliptical entities.

“Bros, how far?”

“Chairman, you go reach there?”

“Do well, make we dey go.”

General Buhari sits still, so silent, he may not be here at all.

I find I am now by the window and someone has put on the sound system, playing a song I do not recall. From where I stand, my bag on a shelf, I see a crowd many metres below. They look uncertain until a member of the group points up to my window, and the crowd begin to march with purpose, chanting words I don't catch.

Moving away to grab a few more pieces of clothing, I tell some of the boys about the creeping crowd. They are excited, some go over to look out the window; one shouts, announcing he has seen a pretty girl in the throng. Someone else slaps the back of his head, and there is a mock pursuit.

No one has spoken to Buhari in all this time.

Maybe that ought to be the first sign that there is something strange about the proceedings, but the man comes across well served by solitude, someone with an inner life.

Yet I should have known no one really stays that silent for so long in the middle of such convivial activity. That should have been the sign, that and the strange transition of events. And the compression of time. And that just weeks ago I had been in a similar room. And just what exactly do I have to do with a political rally?

So how did I get to be in a room with Buhari?

Two possibilities.

One. After a late rally, the man and his supporters, including an unlikely me, had retired to a hotel with too few rooms and so had to cohabit. But a campaign rally is only possible when INEC says it is. This brings me to the other possibility.

Two. I went to bed, and the illogic of dreams took over.

“Three missed calls” is the notification on my phone upon waking— none from Buhari.

Four notable events involving Buhari and I:

Recently, I reviewed Max Siollun’s book, the very impressive Soldiers of Fortune: Nigerian Politics from Buhari to Babangida (1983-1993), which is actual history as different as is possible from a daydream. The review can be found elsewhere on this site.

And I remember discussing with a friend on the day of the last presidential elections, comparing the principal candidates. Through a series of unpredictable events, I registered in Edo state but was in Abuja on Election Day, failing to vote, an occurrence that has never prevented anyone from holding strong opinions on the fallout of that election.

Upon release of the results another encounter took place. A different friend and me were on a trip to Makurdi when we encountered a number of young men, many too young to vote, had blocked a road in Nasarawa and were chanting war songs in Hausa and were clearly in support of the retired General whose poster they brandished. They beat on the bonnet of the vehicle and ordered us to go back, all of our entreaties rejected.

The Thisday columnist, Waziri Adio, referred to him as the politician with “the most popular following…today,” an idea as hard to argue with as it is to understand. How exactly did a military officer come to matter to so much of the electorate? This has, to me, seemed inconsistent. Perhaps it is a tribute to the man’s often vaunted integrity. Or maybe the formidable followership, in number and in intensity, is the sign of the Nigerian electorate’s endless capacity for forgiveness.

Whatever the reason, he has been in the news so often, it led to the fourth ‘meeting,’ intruding into my usually dreamless sleep. An amalgam of the personal and the political is starting to look more normal as we look ahead to 2015. Days ago a friend branched at an APC stand to register on the way to see me from work. This is the Nigeria we live in now: the personal, the professional and the political are not wholly distinguishable anymore.

This is the magic of 2015: Once, dreams may have been aspirational, now they are only gubernatorial.