There is a saying bequeathed to mankind by the Greek physician/philosopher, Sextus Empiricus, who lived in Alexandria and Athens in the 3rd Century. It goes thus: “The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.”
What does this mean in everyday language? Justice may be slow, but it will come eventually. And for those who pray, it also means that God may not answer your petition immediately you make it, but He will eventually respond-at His own time. The vision is for an appointed time, and it will not delay. But if it tarries, wait for it. For it will surely come. The priest who shouts at God is being unnecessarily impatient and petulant. God will do what He will do-at His own time.
From the human perspective, Empiricus may have had President Muhammadu Buhari in mind, when he coined the saying about the mills of the gods. With our President, there is no rush on some issues, if they demand temporizing and being painstaking. The mills of the gods must be allowed to grind, if slowly, but exceedingly finely.
From his time as military leader, Nigerians who were of age then would recall that the then Major General Buhari often said; “this administration will not be rushed…” And truly, for the 20 months that the regime lasted, things were done with calm sure-footedness, and not at the dizzying speed that some people would have wanted. Easy does it. They stumble that run too fast. “Patience is the companion of wisdom,” according to Saint Augustine, the cleric.
And did the regime succeed? It did. It was on the road to forging a new Nigeria, where probity, accountability and discipline reign supreme, before a spanner was thrown in the works. Fifth columnists struck, and aborted our march to Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey.
Buhari was in limbo for many years. But in 2015, majority of Nigerians remembered what he had brought on the table between January 1984 and August 1985. So, overwhelmingly, they voted for him. And today, he is President.
Yes, President Buhari has changed in many ways. He was an autocrat, now he is a democrat. Then, he adjudged you guilty, slammed you in Kirikiri prisons, and asked you to prove your innocence. Today, if he suspects that you are corrupt, he does nothing to you, till he can prove that you are guilty. That is the way of democracy.
But something fundamental has not changed in the man’s style. The mills of the gods still grind slowly. There are some decisions President Buhari will not take in a hurry. He will chew on the matter, digest it properly, and then come out with his position. There is no stampeding him, no setting of fire to his heels. The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly finely.
On Monday, this week, the Engr Babachir David Lawal and Amb. Ayo Oke saga came to a denouement. The duo had been accused of some unsavoury acts, and sent on suspension in April, this year. A panel was constituted to look into the allegations against them, with a two weeks time frame.
A day before the report of the panel was to be submitted, President Buhari had to travel abroad on the second leg of a medical vacation. He was away till August 19.
In this period, some impatient Nigerians were totally restive. They even besieged the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, urging him to act on the report of the panel. They wanted to turn the man into jury and judge, discountenancing the fact that he had chaired the panel that conducted the probe.
When President Buhari mercifully returned on August 19, his plane had barely touched down, when the impatient people began to ask for the report of the Osinbajo panel. “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time,” wrote Leo Tolstoy. But such people would have none of it. They called for an immediate decision on the lingering saga.
On August 23, VP Osinbajo submitted the report, in six hefty volumes. Of course, there was an executive summary, as best practices would demand. And the noise continued from some quarters. We want action on the submitted report, and we want it NOW. They forget that “patience is not simply the ability to wait, it’s how we behave while we are waiting” (says the preacher, Joyce Meyer). And they also forget the mills of the gods, which grind slowly, but exceedingly finely.
They went forward to accuse the President of treating Nigerians with contempt. With scorn. Derision. Flippancy. Levity. They would rather justice had been miscarried, as long as the urge for blood was satiated. They would rather the President had played to the gallery, swinging the sword and decapitating everyone in sight, not minding whether they were innocent or guilty. Such people were like the mob in Julius Caesar, the work by William Shakespeare. They met Cinna the poet on the way, and accused him of being Cinna the conspirator, one of those who had murdered the emperor. Cinna explained that he was a poet, but they would not listen. They screamed: whether you are Cinna the poet, or Cinna the conspirator, Cinna is Cinna. You are a sinner, and must die. They killed him. And to justify the evil act, they rationalized that he was a poet that wrote bad verses. Good grief!
President Buhari took his time. If you know the man, he must have gone through the six bulky reports with a magnifying glass, a fine tooth-comb. Better that 100 criminals escape, than kill a single innocent man unjustly.
And finally, on Monday “come finally comes to become” (apologies to the late K.O. Mbadiwe). The President communicated his decision to the country, which was acceptance of the recommendation to terminate the appointments of the two men who had been investigated. A large number of Nigerians were relieved that a closure was being put to the saga. But trust those who had murmured and grumbled. They refused to be pacified. They are the type that when you answer their niggling question successfully, they change the question again. They came with many other queries: should the matter have taken so long? Was the matter not to be swept under the carpet, if we had not raised hell? Why were the two men not summarily handed over to the security agencies for prosecution? But if the President had taken the last option, and had directed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to pull in the two men, they would have said: Enhen, we always said it. He was tele guiding the EFCC from behind all these while. Now he has shown his hands. The hand of Jacob, and the voice of Esau.
Head or tail, you can never win with some Nigerians. If you don’t have your bath, they say you are a ruffian, and you stink. If you have your bath too frequently, they say you love the opposite sex too much. No wonder some people say public service is a thankless job. If only we would change our mindsets, and also change our conduct.
But some people forget. Early in the days of this administration, President Buhari had told them: “Some people call me ‘Baba Go Slow.’ I will be slow, but I will be steady.” Isn’t there eternal truth again in the saying that slow and steady wins the race?
There are some matters that require speed. They should be treated expeditiously. No doubt. There are some others in which you could sacrifice fairness and justice on the altar of speed. When you have such, it is better to err on the side of caution. It is better to lay all the cards on the table, consider all the sides of the coin. Such was the Babachir/Oke saga. They were men who had served the President faithfully, from what one could see. He dare not be precipitate in determining their destinies. Fair is fair, and foul is foul.
Talking again of the mills of the gods. The National Executive Committee meeting of the All Progressives Congress held at the party’s secretariat in Abuja on Tuesday. I was there. The atmosphere was friendly, almost convivial. At a point, someone moved a motion of confidence in the Buhari administration. The seconder, a former state governor, added to the motion, seeking an endorsement of the President as candidate for second term in 2019. As he raised the motion, I saw the President gesturing, with his two palms downwards. The gesture meant, please, cool down, not now. This is premature. And the National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, weighed in, accepting the motion of confidence, and deferring the one on automatic candidacy. Everyone was satisfied.
You can imagine my consternation the next day, when I saw the newspaper headlines.. It was as if some of them were reporting a meeting held in outer space. They said a bid by governors to get automatic ticket for the President had failed. One newspaper exulted: “Governors’ bid to get automatic 2019 ticket for Buhari fails.” Pure fiction. Concocted story. It never happened the way the newspaper had conjured. And it was the President himself who had dissuaded those who made the move, by his gesture. Hate news seems to have crept into the polity, and otherwise credible newspapers have eaten the forbidden apple.
Well, we were talking about the need for patience. Jean-Jacques Rousseau says: “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” And Robert Schuller adds: “Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.” That is where I pitch my tent. Under President Buhari, for Nigeria, the storm will pass (and is, indeed, passing), and the spring will come. The mills of the gods grind slowly, but exceedingly finely.
I believe. What about you?
– Femi Adesina is Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari.