Make no mistake, President Muhammadu Buhari is his own problem, writes Olawale Olaleye
In the run up to the 2015 elections, certain assumptions were conceived by some of the anti-Goodluck Jonathan forces and thrown into the mix. This negative puffery trended really good, no thanks to the age of the influential media. The whole essence of this was first, to decimate the stature of the then president and second, undo his chances in an election he narrowly lost, ironically, in spite of the mystique and myth fabricated around his major challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, a self-acclaimed converted democrat.
First was the theory of grace, which sought to espouse the unseen spirituality supposedly tied to his candidacy. It went thus: that in the build-up to his political career, Jonathan might have savoured to the fullest, the significance of his name – Goodluck – and as such, has had grace paved the way for him all along without having to struggle to secure anything, however difficult. The idea, indeed, was spot on.
Now, the conjecture: He was deputy governor of Bayelsa State in 1999 without lifting a finger. That, they claimed, was grace. He became the governor of the state following the misfortune that befell his impeached late boss, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, also without flexing muscles. It was grace, they posited. He had concluded plans to run his own election as Bayelsa governor in 2007, when he was picked albeit against his own wish to be running mate to the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Grace, again, they reckoned.
His boss, as God willed, became terminally ill and the struggle for survival became a collective battle of the Nigerian people, first as acting president and eventually president when his boss heeded the eternal call. Nothing can be more but grace shored-up by luck. In 2011, it was his own election and everyone, including some of his predecessors rose in his support and pleaded that he should be allowed to run. He did with staggering goodwill and support and went on to win the election with as much ease. Remember the man without shoes campaign? Again, grace it was, they contended.
Unfortunately, by 2015, the ease with which he’d always had his way suddenly ceased to flow and Jonathan started to struggle in the battle to return to office. For this, these emergency theorists concluded grace might have left him and that if he was smart, he should not have contested the election but walked away with whatever was left of the sustaining grace.
Well, he didn’t see it their way. He contested the most dramatic election in the history of the country and lost, narrowly to Buhari. Had he seen the spiritual slant to his career progression, these forces reckoned, the case would have been distinctly different. That’s one.
There is yet another. In the thick of some of the challenges that speckled his presidency, Jonathan was at some point labeled a lame president. Those who canvassed this position said at the time that there were literally six presidents in the country and in this order: Patience Jonathan, Diezani Allison-Madueke, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Stella Odua, Mike Ogiadhome and Jonathan himself. The implication of Jonathan being the sixth on the list is that all he did was just to approve whatever the five others conceived or brought before him.
Combined, these two demeaning pictures of Jonathan as painted by those in the opposition, no doubt, reduced him as a person and of course, unsettled his chances at the election. He fought a good fight, no doubt, but lost. Importantly, he moved on peacefully, congratulated his challenger and retired into a quiet but diplomatic life. After all, he would remain in Nigeria’s political history, the one leader who rose through the ranks of political leadership – unbroken from 1999 to 2015 and at different capacities.
However, Buhari’s supporters too forgot that Karma is a sadist. Just about the same time that those two conjectures on Jonathan lasted, a certain assumption about President Buhari was equally in circulation but no one paid attention to it. The change mantra and the propaganda of the era were so overwhelming that attention to the simplest of details was ignored by a majority of the Nigerian people, who wanted change at all costs. The unanimous resolve was anything but Jonathan.
Here is the Buhari version. For 12 years since 2003, Buhari had sought conscientiously to be president but failed because nobody trusted him and his record as a former military ruler was nothing to flash in any ideal democratic contest. He contested against former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar’Adua and twice against Jonathan, first in 2011 before making it through in 2015.
The belief of those behind this school of thought was that, it was perhaps, in God’s wisdom that he declined to make Buhari president all the times he’d tried. The assumption that he was Nigeria’s Abraham Lincoln didn’t fly with God probably because God was shielding him from himself. Those who shared this belief were of the view that against the staggering expectations and goodwill, it might be that Buhari was truly not a hands-on leader or the messiah the country had been waiting for and in order not to expose both his habitual and innate failings, God deliberately denied him the opportunity to expose his own shortcomings.
But he seemed to have challenged God in his prayers and evidently prayed amiss. And God, not wanting to been seen as an impossible supreme being, granted his prayers. Two years into his government, there is no mistaking the fact that many people can begin to link the dots and see why God might have protected him all along before granting his prayers.
Although to the ardent supporters of the president, with regards to his body language approach to governance, it might be too early to assess him because the rot he met on the ground was monumental. So, all they are still asking for is time. But need they be reminded that time is not patient enough to wait for anyone? It goes on ticking.
The second stanza of the Buhari theory, which shares closely with Jonathan’s, is the alarm raised some time ago by the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, that there was a government within the Buhari government. Rather than take the message for proper and critical analysis with a view to ascertaining its veracity, the “hailing hailers” descended on the messenger and said he merely cried foul. They said it was an attempt to blackmail the presidency since he was standing different trials. Thank goodness one of the charges against Saraki and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu is cooling off in the dustbin of history. The inherent message here is only for those who can read between the lines.
But maybe, just maybe, those who have since been following events in the government and the country at large can begin to see who was hallucinating between Saraki and the president’s supporters. Besides, nothing more can be authenticating than the recent interview by Nigeria’s ‘gorgeously modest’ First Lady, Aisha Buhari, who claimed her husband did not know about 50 per cent of the people working with him. She went on to warn that if her husband did not sit up and rejig his cabinet in order to live up to billings, she would not support his ambition, if at all there was one, in 2019.
Whatever informed the Aisha interview, if she had thought it was some publicity stunt, she must have been disappointed now, having learnt of how it ended up a spoof, which had confirmed, albeit inadvertently that her husband may not have been in charge after all. Even more disappointing was the president’s response to his wife. Just in the same manner he scoffed at David Cameron’s ill-conceived perception that Nigeria was ‘fantastically corrupt’, he said as far as he was concerned, his wife belonged to the kitchen, the living room and the other room. What a presidential take!
In further exacerbating the tragedy of the Nigerian society, his spin doctors have come to dismiss his response to his wife as a mere joke. How does anyone joke on such an international platform when it was not a Donald Trump entertaining audience on his reality show called campaign? Some have even commended him “for putting his wife in her place” just because they reckoned she crossed the line by stating the obvious and yet, they are suffering too from the mystifying clueless disposition of the government.
As it is now, the Nigerian president is the butt of joke across the globe on account of that slip. Washington post could only liken him to Trump whilst some German women held a press conference, condemning and calling him names. He is trending negatively on the social media and it is because that statement was nothing but sexist. It proves too that the presidential institution in the country is a total mess and suggests also that his handlers are poorer than the president otherwise they should have envisaged that the question would come up at that conference and consequently prepped him on how to handle it.
Without assuming too much, one of the major problems with the Buhari presidency is his excessive immersion in self-glorification at collective expense. His larger than life picture as though the best thing that has happened to the country is unfortunately reductionist, both in form and content. He stands too rigid on an impossible moral high ground as if he could cast that stone for having not walked a similar path before.
His constant de-marketing of the country is without doubt informed by his ignorance of the implications of his utterances and actions. But whether or not the Nigerian people like it, with an already battered image, it would take a very long time for the country to get out of the image jumble Buhari had further plunged her whilst playing the holier than thou card.
Has anyone even asked how many of such endless trips, where he goes to run down the country have yielded forth? How much of the stolen money allegedly stashed abroad has been brought back home? They claimed to have recovered more than they need to fund the 2016 budget, yet they are itching to borrow to fund the same budget.
His resolve to confront and wrestle some of the demons that have stunted the nation’s growth and development over the years was initially a welcome idea, but the style of wanting to step outside the precinct of the law in order to enforce decisions is archaic and an anathema to constitutionality. It is totally unacceptable and no less totalitarian. Yet, some still think the approach does not matter for as long as he gets the job done. Certainly, not where the law is concerned and properly instituted!
For instance, when he too was unable to produce his West Africa School Certificate (even though it is now common knowledge that he probably did not sit for the exam, let alone secure the certificate) – no one bypassed the law to say he would not contest the election or that he should quit the office after he had emerged president. He willfully approached the courts and even had the temerity to hire 23 lawyers as president, a majority of them Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) to defend him. That’s the way of democracy. You cannot apply two standards – one where your interest is affected and the other, where you are less concerned. That in itself is corruption.
Otherwise, what do you call a situation where the president populates the government with his kith and kin in a multi-ethnic and complex nation like Nigeria? What more is corruption than playing the ethnic card and brazenly promoting nepotism in a 21stcentury Nigeria? Yet, people, either by sheer ignorance or conscious decision to play along, decline to note such little details but are quick to cry foul whenever it is “big news” to them.
No one had put this better than Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, who recently took exception to being labeled corrupt in the light of the recent arrest of some justices in the country and the allegation that lawyers defend looters. His points were unambiguous and straight to the core of the issues. His anger was palpable in his writing and his disappointment, crystal clear in a system that seeks to subtly promote double standard.
Hear an obviously flustered Olanipekun, although long, it is worth your time: “Some people don’t know and some pretend not to know that law has its technicalities – both civil and criminal proceedings. They talk of technicalities and say that lawyers delay cases. Look, without being immodest, I have been involved in a lot of cases in this country. I have defended a lot of people.
“During the run-up to the 2015 elections, I was one of the lawyers hired on pro bono basis to defend the All Progressives Congress and its candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. We employed all the tactics available, employable and allowable in the legal profession; why didn’t they blame us then? If we didn’t, the election would not have held.
“If you do that today, some people, even within the profession, will blame you. I know what I’m talking about. The election was to hold on a Saturday and Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, said he was going to deliver his judgment on whether or not card readers should be used by the Independent National Electoral Commission on Thursday, two days to the election. We filed preliminary objection, he overruled it.
“I was in court with Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), Akin Olujinmi (SAN), and Kola Awodein, (when) Asiwaju Bola Tinubu sent an aircraft to pick me in Akure, saying if we were not in court, the election would not hold. There are things that need to be unveiled in this country. Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola (former Lagos State Governor), the Vice-President (Prof. Yemi Osibajo), Lai Mohammed, the AGF (Abubakar Malami) were in the know. And Kolawole overruled us.
“Then he called the plaintiff and said can you go ahead with originating summons? I will deliver my judgment tomorrow. Like someone who was possessed, I rose up and said I was applying for stay of proceedings. Then the other lawyer interjected and asked for my formal application. I gave him two authorities offhand that I could apply orally. That was two days to the election. Kolawole said well, whatever it is I would want to listen to you.
“He listened to me. We did it pro bono in the sense that the APC hasn’t paid us. Nobody even wrote a letter to say thank you. Then, thereafter, he wrote a ruling and granted stay of proceedings 48 hours to the election. The Supreme Court later held that, though the card reader was a good innovation, it was not yet in the law.
“Would Buhari have been President if we had not done that? What could be more technical than that? They filed action against Buhari, we looked at it; we raised objections and we were dragging that. Is that not technicality? And some people will now accuse me when I do it for other people that I’m defending looters. But when you do it for them, it is right; that is double standard. And what baffles me is that some highly placed lawyers, who should know better also accuse some lawyers of defending looters? To hell with anybody who has looted the treasury.
“I believe in my profession and I thank God for what I am. I am a fulfilled person and don’t want any position from any government, but then government should allow those of us who are privately engaged to do our work. In our offices in Lagos and Abuja, we have over 75 members of staff – professionals and supporting staff. We pay more than what the government pays and don’t owe workers. A cleaner in my office earns far more than what government calls minimum wage. And when you say someone is a looter, who is a looter?
“Anybody who loots will have his day in court and God will punish looters, but at the same time, judge not, so that you are not judged. And let the accused person defend himself. All religions give room for fair hearing. I grew up to know that when people came to my father to settle disputes, he would say ‘e je ko so tie, agba ti o gbo ejo enikan dajo, agba osika ni’ (let him say his side of the story; an elder who bases his judgment on only one side of the story is wicked). I grew up to know that.
“So, you don’t want people to be heard? If that is the case, change the constitution. So once someone is accused, he is arrested and taken to prison. Then, abolish the courts. That is my position. And what goes around comes around. You may be the accuser today; tomorrow it may be your turn to face accusations. Let the law take its course. It is tyrannical, dictatorial and smacks of militarism when you start accusing lawyers, who defend people.
“You cannot have democracy without free speech and people having access to courts. You cannot be the accuser, the lawyer and the judge. They say lawyers and judges delay the prosecution of looters, then if they have already been adjudged looters, don’t prosecute them. It is only a court of law that can come to the conclusion that someone has looted the treasury after evidence has been produced.
“I believe in anti-corruption. You know, I said earlier that woe betide anybody who has looted the treasury or any person who uses his position to amass wealth. But when you keep on describing Nigeria as a country that is corrupt, investors will stay off. And if you know some judges are corrupt, deal with them, but don’t go to another country to say that the judiciary in your country is corrupt. Nobody will come there because it is about investment and the rule of law.
“And when you talk of corruption among lawyers, who are the people? It takes two to tango. Let every politician in Nigeria swear by the god of thunder that he has not tried to induce a judge. Let the president take a cue from the United States President, Barack Obama. George W. Bush squandered American funds on the Gulf War as President of the US because he wanted Saddam Hussein by all means –dead or alive- after the September 11 attack.
“The economy of the US was comatose when Obama took over, but did you hear him say any bad thing about Bush? He had his own agenda. He started issuing presidential orders and proclamations and within two or three years, the economy was revived without him condemning anybody. To me, government is a continuum. I’m not in the Peoples Democratic Party or the APC; I don’t even see any difference between the two of them when it is so easy for the PDP people to move to the APC and immediately become progressives. You don’t sell that to me, Mr. President.”
Particularly more troubling about the president is his capacity to understanding issues and propounding same in apt context. The word ignorance, ignorant or ignoramus is rife amongst kids of certain age category, growing up. The tendency that every child within that age range picks it up early is likely because they find it quick to use. But there is a reason the word is popular amongst the kids of that category. It is because there is a definition every child can relate to, whatever the quality of education – private or public – the definition is universal, standard and easy to comprehend. What is this definition? Here, very simple: “He who knows not and knows not that he knows not,” is either ignorant, an ignoramus or suffering crass ignorance.
For clarity, there is no place for an ignoramus in leadership as it is in most of the hard core callings. But there is always a room for leaders to learn and acquire more knowledge as they advance in their leadership or mentoring, age regardless. Such knowledge acquisition, also, could come in different forms. But at least, the knowledge acquisition enhances their capacity to know something about everything and everything about something. It is all about leadership and its dynamics.
This distinction helps to identify quickly between a leader and a “wanna-be”. It distinguishes between a starter and the tested. It helps to sift, without slanting in a particular interest, the chaff from the grain. It helps to unveil leaders, who boast content, substance and knowledge and as well exposes those with sheer flashes and pizzas, gallivanting as if they are the big deal, when truly they are empty.
The Buhari presidency is today the big deal – big deal in terms of its leadership perception. He came on board in 2015 after 12 years of failed attempts on the strength of “change mantra”. Those who sold him knew he carried with him a baggage of attitudinal burden that must be shed and fast too. That was the whole essence of the repackaging done to his physical outlook – remember the suit wearing and the different traditional attires that signify the nation’s diversity.
His backers could also tell of his capacity and intellectual credentials, but they would not play it up because they thought they had it all tidied up. They avoided debates in the lead up to the election and promised what they could not achieve in a century just to garner votes, chase out the PDP and acquire power.
Today, as providence would have it, they have that power but are unable to use it right and well. They are better off as being in power, certainly not in government as governance is absent on all major and critical fronts. They are often tempted to travel their old way and bully people to stay in line. They seek to bypass the rule of law and ignore the principles of separation of power. They pretend to know what the issues are, when clearly, they are far from it and keep running in circle at the detriment of the generality of the people.
The economy, today in Buhari’s Nigeria, is comatose, sadly without any clear and definite roadmap on the way out. It is true he inherited a not-too-good economy, but what has he done to contain the threat and is that idea working? In the area of security, attention is shifted to Boko Haram as if the only security challenge in the country, while kidnapping and armed robbery hold sway in practically all parts of the country. Nearly every other day, people of different status and class, including schools pupils are kidnapped. The fight against corruption died on arrival because of the approach which seems to be selective and disingenuously deceptive.
The recent release of 21 of the missing Chibok girls which should have served as some form of reprieve in the light of the prevalent disappointment is already mired in controversy. Some say it was a trade-off but government insists it was not. Whether or not it is true, the truth about what transpired would soon be available to the public. Government has forgotten so soon that a certain body in a foreign land was alleged to have brokered that deal. If that is correct, then access to information is not going to be as difficult and in no time, the truth will be unveiled.
By and large, this government appears too dishonest and sells lies as though the incontrovertible truth. Yet, all these are about a man who embodies the country. His body language says nothing but people give it their own interpretation and go to town with it. His personality is a confusing lot between the realist and the idealist. He grandstands in sheer nothingness and the resultant effect is a failing state – a government without party and a party in total disarray.
Short of sounding like an anti-Buhari, his government or style, one thing is certain though – give it another year (because in a year and a half, the government will be on its way out), Nigerians – the sensible and honestly fair ones – will start to apologise to former President Jonathan, not because he too did not fail the people in many ways than one, but because too much than he did was recorded against his presidency in the name of politics and the struggle for power. Even if their decision would not change given a different scenario, their choice would be better informed.
It is, therefore, clear to all now that Buhari assumed office on a moral ground too high for any mortal to sustain, thus precipitating impossible expectations. It wasn’t going to take long before the imperfection that distinguishes his individuality starts to manifest. One of the most flawed narratives of this administration, albeit propounded by the “hailing hailers” is the struggle to compare the misdeeds of this government to those of the Jonathan era and infer that the people are somewhat impatient.
The question, then, is: why ride to power on the crest of change? The whole idea of sending Jonathan and the PDP packing was to pave the way for a breath of a completely fresh air. Why drive the ship of state near the misfortune of the past and expect that the people look away on the pretext that “Jonathan did worse after all”? How dumb, idiotic and unpatriotic can that be? If this government wasn’t going to do anything differently, why not leave Jonathan and the PDP to continue with their “destruction of the country” as was the story then?
For a government and leadership that are mercurial, both in words and actions, Nigerians may have indeed expected too much, hence the seemingly inconsolable disappointment that is pervasive. It does seem very clearly too and without sounding pessimistic, that this government may not end well and nothing good may indeed come out of it at the end of a wasted four-year mandate of one chance, but of course, except the style and disposition change.
A few weeks ago, when an American, Pete Hoekstra, wrote an article that was published on Wall Street Journal, wherein he described Buhari as Nigeria’s problems and not its solution, his traditional defence team failed to see the “message” in the message but pounced on what was no less a genuine intervention.
In the article, he accused President Buhari of stiffness, lack of vision and reactive approach to issues. “Nigerian President Muhummadu Buhari writes of building an economic bridge to Nigeria’s future. It’s hard to see how his administration’s inflexibility, lack of vision and reactive approach will achieve this.”
Thus, when his die-hard supporters say ‘don’t blame Buhari for the problems the country is going through’, the critical minds would query who to blame? After all, it was his decision to waste about six months shopping for ideal lieutenants to work with. It was his decision to populate his government with kith and kin. It was his decision to discountenance the place of the party in his government at collective detriment. It was his decision to pick fight with the legislature when they should be partners-in-progress. It was his decision to choose what advice he takes and which one he dismisses because he has trust issues. To now think a gamut of all of these ‘deliberate errors’ would not have their effect in the final analysis is to live in self-abnegation and disillusion.
At this juncture, President Buhari must accept the fact that there is no ‘perfect leader’ anywhere in the world. What is plausible and achievable is an ideal leadership with realist tendencies – one that is not quick to putting up a face, but living through his failings and making them count for collective good by opting for an opportunity to correct those failings even more intelligently. But, assuming such an opportunity avails itself, is President Buhari willing to take it?