VIEW OF THE GALLERY BY Mahmud Jega
The story of the weekend when US President Joe Biden fell off a bicycle allowed me to see the truth in what the philosopher of history EH Carr once wrote, namely that everything that s What happened is not a historical fact. During my primary and secondary school years, I often fell off a bicycle that I had rented from Imamu Shehe’s shop near my grandfather’s house, but no newspaper ever reported this fact. Isn’t a fall from a bicycle a fall from a bicycle?
President Biden was trying to get off his bike during a morning ride in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, to speak with well-wishers near his vacation home. Instead, his 79-year-old legs caught on the pedal and he fell. His large Secret Service detachment rushed to his aid but he got up and said he was fine. The White House quickly borrowed a sheet from Nigerian media officials. Instead of blaming PDP, the White House press office blamed the president’s bicycle pedal for the incident. The event happened in broad daylight and since reporters and cameramen from the White House press pool follow the US president wherever he goes, just before the bedroom, videos from the smartphone cameras were quickly released on airwaves around the world.
I thought Americans were by now used to the fact that snafus happen to even the most powerful people. In 1975, I think, US President Gerald Ford arrived at Tokyo airport for a visit to Japan, and while walking down the stairs of Air Force One, he fell and fell to the ground. The Japanese Prime Minister, who was waiting at the foot of the plane to receive him, rushed forward and helped Mr. Ford to his feet, his jacket a little crumpled.
Two or three years later, in the late 1970s, Newsweek magazine published a photo of Ford’s successor, President Jimmy Carter, being chased by a large carp while on a fishing trip in a Georgia creek. Carter was rowing alone in a canoe, and he frantically used his paddle to chase the open-toothed fish. I thought at the time that the commander-in-chief of the most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world had to defend himself with a paddle, since his Secret Service guards were sitting on the river bank.
The presidential vacation snafus didn’t end with Jimmy Carter, either. In about 1991, President George Bush Sr. was on a fishing trip in Kennebunkport, Maine when he swung a hook to catch a fish and the hook quickly caught the President’s ear. White House doctors rushed to the scene, removed the hook, and gave the president a tetanus shot, just in case.
It was at least his own ear that Mr. Bush caught, but years later Dick Cheney, who was vice president to Mr. Bush’s son, George Bush Jnr, was on a hunting trip in Wyoming when he shot what he thought was a quail. It turned out that he had shot a man! The victim survived because he was shot with pellets, not bullets. I don’t remember if the police filed a complaint against Mr. Cheney, the permanent intransigent of the Bush Junior administration.
Not only American presidents, but their top aides often had their own snafus. In 1971, when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger went on a secret trip to Beijing to set the stage to “play the China card” against the USSR, he was seen wearing an oversized shirt. Kissinger later explained in his memoirs that during a secret stopover in Karachi on the way to Beijing, his aides forgot the suitcase containing his clothes, so he had to borrow a shirt from one of them for his meeting. history with Chairman Mao.
It wasn’t exactly a snafu, but there was this historic 1966 photo of Chairman Mao swimming like a dog in the mighty Yangtze Kiang River, with only his head visible above the water. As we read in the captions, it was at the start of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, when the Chinese Communist Party purged many of its top leaders.
Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada of Uganda also caused a stir in the late 1970s. DRUM magazine published three photos of the huge man, side by side. He headed for the pool wearing only pants. He then stood on the plank above the pool, and the next minute he dived powerfully. The caption for the three-part photo read: “On a hot day in Kampala…President Idi Amin Dada…Made a brief appearance.
The snafus of other powerful leaders has made global headlines over the years. During a trip to West Germany around 1980, General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party Leonid Brezhnev could not get up from his chair after meeting Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Veteran Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko quickly grabbed Brezhnev’s arm and helped him up. Apparently, the Soviets didn’t have the Nigerian Armed Forces rule that a junior officer cannot touch a senior officer without his permission, even if he is dying. Remember the story told by General Sani Abacha’s chief of security, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, that when he rushed to a guest house and found Abacha unconscious, he shouted at several times: “General Abacha, can I touch you? When no permission was granted, he could not touch the dying head of state.
There was this famous 1978 photo of Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai, who was over 80 at the time, drinking from a small cup. It was his own urine he was drinking, the caption to the photo read. Desai, a conservative Hindi gentleman, believed that human urine was a very effective medicine. Probably no VIP snafu, if you can call it that, made it past the story that broke in the mid-1970s. French newspapers alleged that Elizabeth Bagaya, Princess of Toro, Foreign Minister of the Uganda, had been caught having sex with a white man in the toilets at Orly airport in Paris. She denied it, but Marshal Idi Amin fired her.
Here in Nigeria, reporters attached to Aso Rock and Government Houses can be trusted not to report VIP snafus which is why we don’t hear from them or see them on TV screens. Unless they happen in the open. In 1974, when the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, was visiting a certain state, airport cargo handlers were unloading crates from an advanced aircraft when a crate opened and the Ms. Victoria Gowon’s wigs spilled on the tarmac. All the personalities queuing at the airport to receive the Head of State pretended not to have seen him.
In Sokoto in 1996, it was a minor scandal when a limousine from the Sultan’s Palace, with Sultan Muhammadu Maccido seated inside, drove into a gas station to refuel. The Sultan was at the airport to receive the new military administrator of Zamfara State, Colonel Jibrin Bala Yakubu. Unexpectedly, the new Milad asked the sultan to accompany him to Gusau to facilitate his takeover of half the state. The Sultan agreed but as they drove out of town the shivering driver announced that he did not have enough fuel for the sudden trip. So the sultan said, “Let’s go into the gas station.”
Military leaders did more than that. In 1997, the military administrator of a northern state, a policeman, was about to leave Kaduna for his state when he was told to go to Abuja. Along the way, his aides told him that the State Lodge in Abuja was not ready and that they had no money to pay for a hotel, having exhausted their funds in Kaduna. It was already dark when they arrived in Tafa, so the Milad stopped the procession, took off their police uniform, put on the mufti and told everyone to go find a place to sleep and gather at 7 am. The Milad then disappeared, allegedly to a cheap roadside hotel, only to reappear in the morning and continue the journey to Abuja.
Let’s end with this one. During the years of the Second Republic, there was a story of a northern state governor who was on a tour of his state. At this time, governors traveled regularly to their local government areas, with long convoys of vehicles on mostly dirt roads. Apparently His Excellency the Governor was in a hurry so his car suddenly stopped in the middle of the bush. Helpers rushed out of the other vehicles to see what was wrong, only to see the governor grab a bottle of water and rush into the bush. Everyone quickly pretended not to have seen what had happened.