Ben Murray-Bruce: Charlatan Or Charmer (2) - Tunde Fagbenle
The first of this two-part article had hardly gone out than a flurry of vitriol against the person and character of the subject hit the waves. In newspaper reactions, on Sahara Reporters and Premium Times blogs, everywhere, the anti Ben Bruce feeling, especially amongst the youth, was overwhelming. And going by the reactions that greeted the first part the verdict of the youth is that Ben is a charlatan and this second part may as well be pointless. Amazing, I escaped being tarred along with the guy whom I had never met but felt touched by his messages.
Nigerian youth are angry. And it is important we quickly summarize their issues with Ben before going into what this second part set out to present in the first place.
Ben Bruce is believed to be a fake. His words don’t match his actions, they claim. At the recent launch of his book he committed two “unpardonable” crimes, one directly against the youth (University students) he had invited and the other against his “buy Naija” preachment. The students who had attended the launch at his invitation were treated with disrespect and the promised “free copies” of the book was mere words, not a copy for any of them. Then worse, the beautifully printed and well-bound book was printed in America with foreign exchange. To come and talk “buy Naija” the least expected of him would have been for the book itself to be locally printed, “abiif beta printer no deyyaBayelsa, demno boku for Somolu or Ibadan?” Ben needed to walk the talk, they admonish.
Perhaps the most vitriolic of the anti-Bruce reaction was a lengthy diatribe by ModiuOlaguro, “a youth corps member (who) teaches mathematics at Jebba,” published on the Sahara Reporters blog and titled, “Ben Murray Bruce, the Janus-faced Naira Activist” wherein Modiu characterized Ben as an “unprincipled politician who has an incorrect sense of patriotism.” Another, Egoigwe, who claims to know Ben Bruce from way back in “his vacation job days at Domino Stores, Yaba (his father’s supermarket and their golden goose), to St Gregs and down to Silverbird and Marathon Ventures, he had always been a dedicated and unrepentant hypocrite,” says Ben “has always craved the limelight, fame and fortune…” and concluded, “Ben Bruce is a walking advert of everything Western. From his cowboy Stetson hats, cars, beauty pageants to cinema house down to his shoes and cloaks, they all scream “My Wannabe Nigga!” Ben Bruce is a walking portfolio of deceit that stutters in dubious decency.”
I see too much bad belle, if you ask me. Being born with the proverbial silver spoon in the mouth and living the part shouldn’t be a crime; neither should craving “limelight, fame and fortune,” provided such craving is not pursued fraudulently. Nor should having political ambition, even a vaulting one at that. But certainly it would be a “crime” against morality if one is a fake and does not genuinely have the interest of the public one wants to serve at heart.
Against the volume of abuses and denunciation heaped on Ben, there were two lonely voices of support. One was from Jay who wrote: “Ben Murray-Bruce might not be the absolute political radical or activist we want but he is by far the best of what we have at the moment. If he indeed printed his book in the USA, I see little sense in it but maybe, just maybe that shouldn’t overshadow what his message is.” And one from a Javscong on Premium Times who wrote: “The ‘patriotism’ is actually in Ben’s DNA. Anyone who knew the father will attest to the fact that he was a very humble and deeply patriotic man. In his last days, despite his wealth and the promptings of all his children, papa refused to be taken abroad for treatment. He opted to be treated by his doctor of many years. I remember visiting him in hospital, virtually next door to his house. When I asked him, papa, don’t you think it will be better if you went abroad? His response was stunning: “are those doctors better than Denloye?” Ben is just following in the father’s footsteps and there is more to come from him.”
We may now visit Ben’s other “Just want to make commonsense” interventions via his blog: Benbruce.org to see how much commonsense he is making.
So far they include “Wailing on the Economy” in January 2016, where he took umbrage at the CBN’s restriction on using of Nigerian credit/debit cards from paying for goods/services abroad. Contradiction? Ben says in that article: “I buy majority of the books I read online. So you could imagine my shock when I tried to purchase some leadership and management books from a foreign bookshop (emphasis mine) online only to find that my account, which is well funded, would not work! Then I got an email from my bank explaining to me that due to the realities of our economy, my ATM card is being restricted. I was shocked!” But Ben, what happened to our Nigerian Glendora or Booksellers bookshops? This is all part of the story. You can’t be crying for your candy when you just said candy is bad for the tooth!
But typically he figured and lumped some good points of his message with the bad reflecting a mind weak in clarity. Poignantly he asked, “What do Nigerians who are in foreign hospitals for life threatening illness do if they can’t access funds via ATM? What do Nigerian students schooling abroad and who depend on their parents to fund them via naira ATM do? How do bloggers pay for hosting if ATMs will not work on foreign sites? Is this the anti Social Media Bill via the backdoor? What do thousands of young Nigerians who promote their businesses to the world via Facebook/Twitter Ads do?”
Mr. Murray Bruce further listed a number of bad consumerist habits of the Nigerian, especially the elite class to which Ben himself can claim to belong. Nigeria is the biggest consumer of Moet &Chandon champagne, he laments. But, for a notable celebrity and renowned beauty pageant promoter, how are we to know if fridges in his home or offices are not full of same product he preaches against? Religious pilgrimages next came for bashing. “In the past 50 years, Nigeria has paid for maybe a million people to go on pilgrimage. Imagine if we had paid for a million people to start businesses instead!”
And there, Mr. “Commonsense” Bruce’s run of popular sentiment stopped, laundering Jonathanism, he said: “I advise the present administration to swallow its pride and instead of vilifying Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, should consider consulting her for advise on how she was able to coordinate the economy in such a way that Nigeria enjoyed seven years of economic stability in which our currency maintained its value and workers were paid on time and regularly too.” Haba, Ben Bruce! The question is to be asked: is this guy real? But then, Ben is a staunch PDP member and senator and should be excused for seeing an opportunity to pick up the fallen ladder (or umbrella) of PDP to climb on to possible higher political position. His piece of December 29, 2015 titled “When an Election Becomes an Execution!” falls in this category, and not worthy of commenting upon.
Just before that, on December 15, 2015 he had written one titled “Five Thousand Naira is Possible,” and said of the APC government’s intention to introduce “Unemployment Allowance” to the unemployed youth, “I give my whole hearted support to this policy and I promise that I will do all I can possibly do to make it a reality.” Ben asserts that, “it is possible to fulfill this promise,” and went on trying to show how. Proposing that the policy should be open “only to graduates who have passed out of the NYSC programme and should be accessible for no longer than two years after passing out from the programme,” hethus sees the lackof reliable database argument as no challenge, positing that with the cashless policy already in place, “every graduate has a bank account with a Bank Verification Number (BVN) to be complemented by any or all of: Permanent Voter Card, National ID Card, and NYSC records. Rather simplistically, he believes transactions in the individual bank accounts should be sufficient to determine who is employed and who is not! Funding? O, well, that can come from inflicting “unemployment tax” on the employed and the wealthy.
Then in February this year, Mr. Ben Bruce, wanting to play the non-partisan “statesman” tried to warm his way into the favour of President MuhammaduBuhari by pleading that Nigerians should be more patient with the president because, “nations grow over time not overnight,” and that “Nigerians elected a man not a magician.” Premium Times further quoted the senator as saying:“My idea of opposition isn’t to attack Buhari\APC. Opposition to me is proffering alternative solutions/ideas for the betterment of Nigeria”. Ben, however, quickly revealed the ulterior motive to such altruism when he cautioned against attacking preceding governments. “The more you attack your predecessor the more the bar is set for you. Know how slippery a road is before knocking those who slipped on it,” he said.
For someone with a PR bent Ben Bruce disappoints with his approach so far and needs a lot of working upon. A few days ago, I was drawn by a link provided on Dele Momodu’s Facebook status to a Ben Bruce video that’s part of his all-media “Just making commonsense” campaign offensive. Ben, whoever is your scriptwriter (and you are not free from blame either) should be mindful of correct usage of the English language, especially when you are going on video for global reach via the Internet. When I heard him say: “…yet, we are asking this country (Gt. Britain) to borrow us money”… blablabla. I cringed. That is “Nigerian English.” It should be “…yet we are asking this country to lend us…” You can’t say, Britain or America borrowed us money. Lend to; borrow from. Bruce must bring that video down and correct it please. The world is watching!
I started the first part of this article quoting my first notice of the man when last year as senator-elect he had vowed to lead a campaign for the reduction of the present, in his words “unjustifiable”, salaries and allowances of the National Assembly members. He had then promised to sponsor bills that would force the Nigerian leadership and government officials to fly “down-to-earth” classes and “live a humble lifestyle.” Indeed, Ben Bruce had then sworn to publish names of senators who dissent to the bills, for their constituencies to take note! The question is: nine months down the line how many bills has this senator proposed? What campaign has he led against continuing excesses of the NA as reflected in the recently purchased exotic cars for the senate leadership?
There is evidently something that doesn’t add up with how Ben looks and talks and who he is and how he acts. But he still has my sympathy. I see a young guy – well, he’s just turned 60 so he is not so young after all – with a lot of political ambition but going about it with the wrong foot forward. One, you cannot take the Nigerian youth for a ride; you need them on your side. Two, your words must match your actions. Three, you must look the part. There must be sincerity about you.
If Mr. Ben Bruce is not to give credit to those who doubt his sincerity and who denounce him as a charlatan, then he has to up the ante by putting to practice what he preaches. And the place to start is in the National Assembly. We eagerly wait for the bills he will be proposing and their aftermath. He has the charm. Good luck, Ben.
And that’s saying it the way it is.
Tunde Fagbenle can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org