On June 20, 1941, Soviet archaeologists, led by Mikhail Gerasimov, opened the tomb of Timur (1336-1405), a Turco-Mongol warrior who had conquered a vast part of Central Asia. He had founded the Timurid Dynasty, with its capital in Samarkand, present-day Uzbekistan, which was part of the USSR at the time, and was turbaned the Emir. He had also conquered parts of Russia, Mongolia, India, Afghanistan, Persia and Egypt, reportedly costing the lives of 17 million people.
Armed with a signed order by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, Gerasimov made plans to open the tomb and was confronted with an inscription in faint Arabic saying, “Whomsoever opens my tomb shall unleash an invader even more terrible than myself.”
Gerasimov was a rational man, a scientist, not one given to superstitions. So, he ignored the warning and opened the tomb anyway.
While there is no scientific evidence linking the opening of the tomb and what followed immediately, what is known and is a fact of history was that two days later, on June 22, Hitler’s army launched a devastating surprise attack on the Soviet Union, blitzing through the country and killing hundreds of thousands of people.
Human curiosity is both a wonderful and terrible thing. So wonderful that sometimes it leads to incredible discoveries. Other times it unleashes terrors like Timur or worse than him, if one believes in curses and other such things. Sometimes, it leads us to re-traumatise ourselves by opening things that should stay buried.
For some reason, curious Nigerian journalists at the NTA, like those curious Russians, decided to excavate former President Muhammadu Buhari and interview him. Against his better judgement, the former president decided to step out of the shadows of his recent retirement, yet again, to grant an interview in which, as usual, the Nigerians who made enormous sacrifices to make him president were tongue-lashed by the old general.
In an interview with the NTA, the president again spoke about not missing his days in government, which shouldn’t be a surprise, considering that he treated those days in the villa as a pre-retirement retirement of some sort that has now continued in his days in Daura. Again, he talked about his desire to escape to Niger Republic if the borders were open.
Frankly, this persistent self-denigration of his country and constant voicing of his preference for Niger to Nigeria is troubling. I understand that Daura is not far from Niger Republic. He does have “cousins” there, as he had claimed before. Still, here, we are speaking of a former Nigerian president who once famously said, “Nigeria is the only country we have. We must stay here and salvage it together.” Or something like that.
But perhaps I am being unfair to the former president because, if anything, the last eight years have shown us that despite the reputation and myth desperate Nigerians weaved around him, he is not a man to be taken for his words. You only need to look at the campaign promises he had made and repeated over the last two decades of his politics and how he promptly swept those promises aside once he got the chance to be president.
Regardless, this obsession with Niger is questionable. Imagine a former American president, Barack Obama, for instance, saying he would rather leave the US for Canada to enjoy his retirement. That is what this sounds like. This obsession could possibly be from his desire to have his calm, domesticated life without being reminded daily of the guilt he should be feeling for his role in ruining Nigeria. But I speculate. This is on the assumption that he has any capacity for remorse.
One of the worst things he said during the interview was when the host asked him what he thought about Nigerians, saying that he surrounded himself with corrupt people. Buhari had laughed and said, “Well, what have they done, in their honour, to fight corruption as Nigerians? That is their own problem. It’s not my problem.”
I had to listen several times over just to be sure I heard him right or if he meant it as a kind of sick joke because that is not even something he should joke about in the first place. Since 2003, when he first announced his decision to run for president, he had always promised to fight corruption. That was basically his selling point.
To an extent, though, Buhari is right. What did Nigerians do when Diezani and her cohorts looted the country dry? What did Nigerians do when those who looted money in the Jonathan days returned some of their bounty, which was then promptly made to disappear by Buhari’s appointees with no explanation? What did Nigerians do when some dubious public servants realised Buhari was all bark and no bite and padded his first budget in 2015? What did Nigerians do when Buhari’s minister of aviation, Hadi Sirika, blew away N87 billion to design a logo and present it as Nigerian Air, defrauded the country by borrowing an Ethiopian Airline plane and dressing it in the livery of the fictional flag carrier and with the dying breath of his government, insisted that the airline would begin operations before May 29? What did Nigerians do? What did Nigerians do when Mr Buhari took loan after loan after loan and left the country heavily indebted?
Well, for a start, they voted in Buhari. That was what they did. They voted for him not because they believed he was the sharpest tool in the shed but because he had succeeded in selling himself as the man who was going to fight corruption. It is even ironic that at the opening of this interview, he said his government set the objective of “fighting corruption” as one of its key objectives. Just forgot to say that they forgot about that objective the moment they set it. For him to turn around and dump this on Nigerians is dubious and petty.
But it is not the man’s fault. When he should have been enjoying his first retirement, some Nigerians went and excavated him, convinced him that he was the messiah, the saviour of Nigeria. Now in his second retirement, the NTA had gone and dragged him to come and not take account of his failed years in power but to continue to gloat and goad the people who trusted him, voted for him, defended him until they couldn’t defend him anymore.
That was what the NTA dug up, and now they, and Nigerians, must say enough of this abuse, bury what ought to stay buried and move on, like the Soviets.
After completing his study of the remains of the conqueror, Gerasimov informed Stalin of the inscription on the tomb of Timur. Stalin, being from the countryside and a superstitious man, ordered that the conqueror be reburied immediately with full Muslim honours.
This reburial coincided with Soviet success over the German invaders in the battlefield in the Battle of Stalingrad. Less than two months later, they managed to force 100,000 German soldiers to surrender. Nazi Germany never recovered from that defeat, and the Soviet Union would never be the same after that German invasion.
Nigeria would never be the same after the last eight years. But it is time to bury our relics. It is time. Some fossils are reminders of troubling times and terrible mistakes. It is not fair to remind the suffering people of them, is it?