***Democracy Day Edition***
One year after assuming office, President Muhammadu Buhari is still struggling to understand, let alone deliver change, writes Olawale Olaleye
There is a convenient argument and in a manner of speaking, an excuse often advanced by some of the ardent supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari. It is the fact that had former President Goodluck Jonathan continued as president, the economy of Nigeria would have totally collapsed. That is common knowledge and in fact, a statement of fact. But these supporters have yet to come to terms with the fact that even Buhari does not appear to be in a position to take the nation to the Eldorado.
The 2015 choices between Jonathan and Buhari were the most horrible the nation had come to deal with at such a critical time in her national life. The political space was deliberately narrowed to allow for those two choices, sadly in a nation of over 170 million people. There was no mistaking that Jonathan was clueless and lacked the capacity to make hard choices that could have ended up the “turning point” in the life of the country, nothing in Buhari’s antecedents or records shows he had the intellectual credentials to turn the tide too.
As former governor and minister, nothing was stellar about his performance that could have drawn attention to him. As former head of state, the story was that he was not in charge but his late deputy, Tunde Idiagbon, translating that he was not a hands-on leader. During his days at the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), he was said to have made very good use of consultants and could hardly conceive any idea original to him.
Yet, he got away with all this and 12 years after many attempts at the presidency, a combination of forces across the geo-political zones made it possible for him to eventually reify his presidential dream. But in just a year in office, he remains the same yesterday, today and evidently, tomorrow. One year after a struggle that has rendered some persona non-grata in their home states and others, extremely broke, the story of the hyped change is now one of ugly choice, indeed, what many would consider an error of choice.
Thus, if you are still one of those, who are unable to see that the government of Buhari is already in trouble, perhaps, completely bereft of ideas on the way forward, then, you are evidently one of those the president should personally start to cut off from with immediate alacrity. There is no doubting the fact that the president has been caught in the frenzy of two categories of people – the wailing wailers and the hailing hailers – the time to begin to sift, who truly belongs where is nigh. The president has a problem and it is fundamentally one of capacity – indeed, on rudimentary governance.
Although the circumstance of the choice of President Buhari can be explained away without much ado, certainly, the margin of disappointment factored into the decision could not have been in the region of what is currently playing out. The stakes in the period leading to the 2015 elections were high, no doubt. Perhaps, the highest in history! Former President Jonathan had lost it. The country was in total decrepit with no help in sight. Government was evidently helpless but only living each day as it came. The future was too inexact.
Even more unfortunate for the country and her people was that the party in power, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had been there for sixteen unbroken years and as a result, had become an institution of sort. In addition, the federal government was the biggest dispenser of patronage with thriving corruption, complicating the degree of stake, akin only to the “sleeper cells” as obtainable in the world of terrorists.
Yet, the last election provided the biggest opportunity to rout the PDP and possibly, give the country a fresh and promising beginning. However, crucial in that decision was a very strong candidate that could be sold across the country and with the kind of following that would compete with anyone or even trump them as a collective. Buhari readily came to mind as he aptly fits the bill. With his experience and assumed passion for the country, especially having taken several shots in not less than 12 years at the presidency, he naturally wore the image of the messiah.
Suffice it to reiterate that the choice between him and Jonathan was a rather disappointing one save for the urgency of uprooting the PDP. The former had exhibited a high degree of his clueless ineptitude and the inability to make hard decisions in collective interest and had become a hard-sell at the time. But because he had been granted the right of first refusal by his party and also the only one who could fund such a huge project, he became indispensable for the PDP until Nigerians disposed of him.
The incumbent, on the other hand, did not prove to be significantly better. Apart from going round the country campaigning with some of the nation’s best, who had partnered him on the project Nigeria for obvious stakes, he failed to give a good and convincing reason why it should be him. He could not even debate the issues and the stakes. The truth was, he neither understood nor could sell the issues. But he had a rich following, which was key and those who had bought into his candidacy were willing to fund him – all for Jonathan to go. It was not so much about the PDP.
Ultimately, those who had bought into the Buhari idea had something fundamentally instructive in mind. It is the fact that even if he failed in terms of performance, he would not be as difficult to upstage, both at the party and national election. Besides, his own election would have been a lesson to him too that no one is indispensable. If Jonathan’s PDP could be taken out after 16 years of staying in power, then APC’s Buhari would only be for the asking.
Since he assumed office, nothing has critically changed to justify the frenzy that typified his election of change. A former military head of state, whose reign was notoriously draconian, Buhari professed to be a democratic convert even though he would never apologise to Nigerians for overthrowing a democratically elected government. “We intervened to save the country”, has remained his lot. Yet, he has been more of his old self than the “polished” civilian image that was sold to Nigeria and the world.
From what is on the card now, President Buhari’s problems are legion and rightly so, intrinsic. From his attitudinal disposition to the underpinning philosophy and the window of time through which he sees things, these traits have always been present and sadly, remain unchangeable.
A leader who listens to no one is of course his own problems. A leader, who sees everyone else but himself as a thief, either has an unidentified social case or is at best, a glorified follower. A leader, who feigns to know all things or have the solutions to all the problems bedeviling his people, can only be one thing: an error of choice. A leader, who delights in vindictiveness, hate politics and is palpably ethnocentric in a multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria is definitely limited in all ways by his beliefs and faith or is at a huge disadvantage by class complex.
Unfortunately, a gamut of all these are gradually beginning to define what ultimately would be recorded in history as the highlights of the Buhari presidency in a civil rule. With a poor, uninspiring and somewhat disappointing take-off, the last thing that would happen to the Buhari presidency and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) is to assume that lame excuses would give way when another election bout beckons.
This is because beyond performance (which is not likely to be above average in another three years if it manages to attain the average mark), the government would be required to also stand before the people to give explanations to some of the developments that have so far been defining his presidency. He would be unable to avoid debate and Jonathan would have ceased to be a handy excuse for failure.
Particularly instructive is that the president would someday have a reason to explain why his appointments have been consistently lopsided in favour of a certain ethnic group. He would explain to the Nigerian people why it took him almost six months to appoint ministers, at the end of which he was unable to bring onboard angels from different planets.
When eventually, the story of the trial of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki is written and properly documented, he would explain why under his watch, covert attempts were made to subvert extant laws and provisions just because there was an alleged plan to achieve a premeditated goal in the trial of the nation’s number three citizen.
The story of his presidency would not be complete without a mention of the embarrassment caused during the Kogi and Bayelsa States governorship elections. The violence in the Rivers State elections too would not be shoved aside.
His fight against corruption – his only unique selling proposition – would be analysed and the fault lines, identified without prejudice to those affected. The need to justify his endless travelling cannot be skipped when the time comes. The cost would be placed side-by-side with the gains.
What with his budget of embarrassment? The controversy that attended the 2016 budget is not one to be glossed over. In fact, it is an area scholars of political economy would focus sometime in life and situate who played what role in a series that brought the nation under huge disrepute. That the economy is out of his control is evident. But how is what explanation to make to the Nigerian people.
So far, government’s definition of technical defeat of Boko Haram might have begun to make sense with its recent routing of the sect, government would certainly not be condoned for allowing some suspected Fulani herdsmen get away with the murdering of other nationalities in daylight across the country, even while it is ready to do battle with the South-south Avengers.
Another undoing of the government is its poor management of the recent fuel crisis, for which the government was seen to have taken the people for granted. Both as president and substantive minister of petroleum, the president didn’t deem it fit to address the nation, when the crisis was not a child’s place. But he would carry on with his superiority complex as if all is well. After all, he was begged to come and serve.
His constant de-marketing of Nigeria is one stigma he has helped to further establish and unfortunately, he would not be an exception to the consequences even though he enjoys setting himself aside as different from the rest. Even the President of Panama has done nothing but defend his country.
The British and the French, who came to Nigeria and stole many of her artifacts never admitted to corruption. David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Britain, whose name came up in the Panama mess had the impetus to dismiss Nigeria as fantastically corrupt and Buhari said he was right. He failed to realise that such a blanket dismissal of the country in such a condescending manner didn’t leave him out and everyone, including his own family too would have to deal with the consequences of his apparent lack of wisdom.
What’s more, his recent disappointment of the Lagos State Government and her people over a suspended state visit is a manifestation of his attitude to work, which of course explains why Nigeria has remained in this horrible state since he took over. Three reasons were in circulation for why he did what he did and only one could sufficiently suffice. The excuse that he had scheduling difficulties was the dumbest it gave. This, evidently, was an appointment that must have been secured months ago with the exchange of many correspondences. In fact, an advance team was said to have arrived town preparatory to his coming.
Whatever later turned out difficult in his scheduling is yet to be understood as he would later entertain a private visit that was heavily celebrated in the media. The other excuse that he had an ear infection was unable to fly too. That was too cheap, coming from the presidency, if it ever did. However, what sounded as the most plausible was the political slant, which alluded to a no-love-lost between the president and a former governor of the state, Bola Tinubu.
Thus, while the second and third reasons were no less some gutter gist, the official was unthinkable. In all, it is a reflection of how unreliable the government can be. Those who have continued to claim it is too early to assess the government are the biggest enemies of the administration. They said the same thing when it was 100 days in office and one year after, they are saying the same thing. By the time it is another election year, they would say the same thing the way Jonathan was urged to carry on because he needed more time to “perform” and further plunge the nation into a mess.
If no one is telling the president the truth, it is important he knows that the situation in the country is very bad and excuses of time or how bad the economy was on assuming office would not fly on the day of reckoning. It would simply be recorded that he had his time and he messed it up.
Nigeria is not his personal estate and his leadership is constitutionally tenured, therefore, he should know that a one-man show is no longer in vogue anywhere in the world as it is a one party system. Whatever he does with his time will be recorded against his name and he would be solely responsible for his scorecard. But so far, this change is no less a mirage.