Buhari’s biography: Who exactly is Professor John Paden?

Many have heard of the white saviour complex. The white saviour complex is when a first world person (usually white) or nation or organisation wades in unsolicited in a bid to ‘fix’ a third world (almost always African) ‘problem’. Often times, such a move will end up being a condescending and uninformed intervention.

Dr. John Paden has the complex. He proved this before and now, for a new generation, he has put on his white saviour cape and wrecked more harm than good. His own brand of intervention? Biographies of our Nigerian leaders.

There is not very much reliable information to be gathered about this man, but the George Mason University School of Policy and Government website states that he is a Rhodes scholar of the Oxford University with an MA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. However, he has spent most of his adult life ruffling feathers within the Nigerian political scene by writing biographies that many consider to be largely untrue.

How then does an Oxford scholar find himself in such a situation? Having served as a Director of African Studies (Northwestern University), a professor of Public Administration at the Ahmadu Bello University, a Dean, Faculty of Social and Management Sciences, at Bayero University in Kano, and all the while dedicating his academic career to the study of relations between Muslim sub-cultures in Nigeria, one might assume that he would be a valuable asset to the country at this point by providing research that can aid infiltration into the Boko haram camps and ultimately be an anti-terrorism saviour. One would be wrong. Professor Paden prefers to contribute instead to controversial versions of history.

In 1986, he authored his first controversy in a biography of the Northern Premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello, titled: “Ahmadu Bello, Saurdana of Sokoto: Values and Leadership in Nigeria”. It is very difficult to find a positive review of the said book. The consensus is that the book was largely unrepresentative of the complete facts of the premier’s public service. According Femi Fani-Kayode, the book “is essentially a self-serving and comprehensive compilation of Bello’s numerous virtues with little or no mention of his many vices.” Another review of the book by Abba is that the book was largely a misrepresentation of other Northern leaders’ roles in Nigerian politics in favour of Sir Ahmadu Bello.

All that would have been water under the bridge and no politically-conscious millennial would have had any course to label the scholar negatively except that he has roused ill-feelings with his latest biography; one of President Muhammadu Buhari, titled: “Muhammadu Buhari: The challenge of leadership in Nigeria.”

The book doesn’t merely cover the President’s tenure (which would be weird considering the short period), it starts with President Buhari’s early life and education, his military career, and his brief stint as military of Head of State back in 1984. The book also dealt on the 2015 general elections and President Buhari’s campaign trail. And while it is still very early in the the tenure, Paden ambitiously takes on the first year of Presidency; especially as regards security, economy, and political challenges faced by the Buhari-led administration.

Needless to say that this has raised a whole lot of controversy within merely a week of being launched. It was launched on the 3rd of October and there have been more revelations about the untruths and misrepresentation of facts contained in this biography than the President can truthfully reveal about the successes of his administration so far.

One of such topics of controversy, is the Vice presidential nomination of Professor Yemi Osinbajo. It will be recalled that before the elections, and as is usual in Nigeria, there was a lot of talk about the politics of the nomination process’ largely revolving around Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s role in the whole process.

An opinion piece authoured by Femi Fani-Kayode asserts that Dr. Paden’s version of the events are “false and simply an attempt to demean and belittle Tinubu and the role that he played in the whole exercise.” Fani-Kayode also states that the book makes assertions that are incriminating against past Presidents Jonathan and Obasanjo.

Beyond what the truth or real facts are, it is very important to understand who this biographer and controversial writer is and what his real motives are.

It has been revealed that Dr. Paden is well known to the President; which does not seem off, considering the number of years that he has spent in Northern Nigeria. It is said that they have a relationship going that is thirty years strong and so was granted easy access to the President to gather inputs for the book.

Beyond controversial biographies, Paden has authoured several other books and articles about Nigerian, black, African and Muslim economics, politics and social engineering generally. They include: “Post-election Conflict Management in Nigeria: The Challenge of National Unity, Faith and Politics”; “Religion and Political Culture in Kano”; “Understanding Black Africa: Data and Analysis of Social Change and Nation Building”; and “Nigeria as a Pivotal State in the Muslim World and Muslim Civic Cultures”.

Dr. Paden has also served as an international monitor with the United States’ delegation during the Nigerian presidential elections in 1999, 2003 and 2007. He was also part of a team which helped plan the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and has participated in the Nigeria Working Group, Council on Foreign Relations, and the Nigerian Working Group, Center for Strategic and International Studies all in the United States.

It will appear from all indications that this one is one white saviour that has wedged his way into the Nigerian political scene and knowing our brand of leaders, there will be more to be read about Nigerian politicians/leaders from him after this than less.


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