Buhari and the failure of style and strategy

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Dele Momodu

“God forbid.

A P what?

I am with Sunday Igboho, any Southern politician contesting without an amendment of the Constitution is a traitor and should be dealt with as one!

Thank goodness Tinubu is already facing his own judgement… God willing, we shall first fix the faulty foundation…”

Fellow Nigerians, the above quotation was a response I got from my Sister-in-Law, a die-hard Buharist, once upon a time. Let me assure you that she’s not a frivolous person. Sister T had read Law and won laurels both in University and at the Law School over 30 years ago. Prior to the 2019 general elections, she was so fanatical about President Muhammadu Buhari to the point that I stopped discussing politics with her since, by then, I had lost confidence and faith in the President’s ability and capability to steer the ship of the Nigerian State. It therefore came as a rude shock when I taunted her yesterday about her political party, APC, causing so much trouble in Nigeria and she responded with the above bazooka and I was momentarily stunned.

I had no idea when she stopped seeing Buhari as an infallible leader who can do no wrong and what triggered it. Knowing her as a woman of impeccable pedigree (her Dad was a State Attorney General) and such a deep thinker, I concluded Buhari must have really crossed the red line for her to have responded in such a manner. And for this woman, and many more like her, to even choose Sunday Igboho Adeyemo over and above Buhari should be a source of worry for the Presidency.

Believe it or not, I know of many distinguished Yoruba people who are pledging allegiance to this man from Oyo State who was practically unknown to most of them until the cold indifference of the Buhari Government threw him up as a child of circumstance! I have always opined that Buhari’s ceremonial, monarchical style can no longer work in this time and age. Not even a military leader in his full majesty can enjoy the lifestyle of an Emperor again. The world has shifted base since those days of military dictatorships in the 80s and 90s. The youths of today are ready to do almost anything to liberate themselves from oppressive regimes. A good example is how our beloved First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari, openly spoke up and rebuked the government of her own husband, and even lashed out at some of its most powerful operatives. Such would have been unthinkable in the past.

I wish Buhari truly knows the extent of disappointment he has inflicted on many of his supporters and devotees, of which I was one in 2015. I’m still hoping that what’s going on is a bad dream and that I will suddenly wake up and see Buhari fulfilling all the promises he made to Nigerians in 2015 and 2019. I understand the trepidation with which most of those working for the President treat him, so it is obvious that they will never tell him the truth. It is even more dangerous when everyone around you decides to edit every statement they want to make to you, out of fear. The ruling party today cannot rein in its Party leader. Its own internal crisis is a topic for another day. More than two years away to the 2023 Presidential election, most of the Party’s apparatchiks are busy positioning themselves in a game of thrones. So, none of them has the time and temerity to approach Buhari and tell, or remind, him of the unaccomplished gargantuan promises he made before attaining power.

For example, I was very certain of the following. One. Buhari, as a retired army Major General and no-nonsense personality will waste no time in sacking and completely obliterating the army of bandits operating like the Janjaweeds of Somalia. Our misplaced expectation was so high that I almost imagined that he would even adorn his combat camouflage fatigues and military gears in a symbolic gesture to serve as inspiration to our soldiers from their Commander-in-Chief, even if for mere photo-ops! Just picture how much of a morale-booster this would have been. Instead, our military got more entangled in the ethnic politics of Nigeria due to no fault of theirs. It has even been alleged by a respected Muslim cleric that the Christian soldiers have been responsible for the summary killings and harassment of bandits. Nothing could be more dangerous than dividing our armed forces along ethno-religious lines. Unfortunately, our President has remained funereally silent. This coming from a man who travelled energetically and crisscrossed the whole of Nigeria from 2003 to 2019, desperately searching for power which he now possesses, but is clearly clueless as to how to use or deploy it. He spoke at rallies to a beehive of rambunctious fans and Party members. How can the same man become so tongue-tied as his country continues to haemorrhage to death? Nigeria is possibly far worse today than Iraq in terms of insecurity. The Pope just landed yesterday in Iraq. I’m not sure he would consider coming to Nigeria any time soon. Is Nigeria more Islamic than Iraq? Nothing is more annoying than the head of a nation switching off like NEPA/PHCN in its time of tribulations!

Let’s digress a bit. Is it that President Buhari does not watch international news? He and President Joe Biden of America are age mates. Is he not seeing how Biden has been going about his job meticulously and methodically, selecting some of the best brains it has pleased God to bless America with? Just yesterday, another Nigerian, Mrs Adesuwa Ogiamien-Adesotoye, originally from Benin City, Nigeria, took her oath of office in Washington DC, after being picked by President Biden. I doubt he can even properly pronounce her name, but what matters is her meritorious services in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Let’s go back to the issue of insecurity. One would have expected President Buhari to continue to reassure Nigerians directly. He was employed to serve Nigerians and not vice versa. But what it seems now is like Nigerians employed a Lord and Master over themselves. Hordes of visitors daily troop to the Aso Rock Presidential villa and these include Governors who should be too busy attending to a myriad of challenges in their States (and please consider the cost implications in a very depressed economy); Royal fathers who should be the ones inviting Buhari to their palaces (May God bless the souls of some old departed Oonis, Alaafins, Obas of Bini), Sultans, Emirs, Obis who knew about their spiritual superiority over temporal powers; Corporate titans (Joe Biden had to visit Pfizer to physically examine how well the fight against Covid-19 was going on with the production of vaccines)… Not so in our own country. Presidents are treated as Emperors who must be worshipped, and billions of cash are wasted on unnecessary visits to Abuja! The President who came to power on the promise of frugality and accountability has inadvertently and unwittingly encouraged jamborees and profligacy. That is the hallmark of this administration. Everything including the good, the bad and the ugly is happenstance.

It is wrong and offensive to every sense of decorum and decency for a leader not to personally empathize and sympathize with victims of violence and their families. The habit of issuing Press releases in reaction to monumental disasters should stop forthwith. The impression is that these alleged missives from the President are simply penned by the authors with or without his authority. If the President is unable to cope with the rigors of his job on account of any unknown incapacitation or debilitating ailments, he should be humble enough to assign his Vice President on such important missions. He needs to endear his government more to the people of Nigeria. The general impression out here is that he is too standoffish to care about us. This is so unfortunate.

Two. We expected the President to fight corruption in a more serious and professional manner devoid of the obvious witch-hunt that has become the biggest existential threat to EFCC, ICPC, SFU, and all our other anti-corruption and anti-crime agencies. Before our very eyes, we have seen the body language of this government, in its attitude to protecting members of its own clique while bullying and intimidating others. What we expected was a standardization of the operations of crime investigators and the offices of the prosecutors. A situation where dusty files of a leader are whimsically resurrected because he wants to be stopped from contesting Presidential elections is utterly reckless, deplorable and reprehensible. Those citizens who applaud such rascality and display indifference towards such apparent intimidation of former benefactors will soon have their own day in similar circumstances.

The way to go is for the President himself, and his Vice President, to make their assets declarations public and compel all public office holders to do same. This should be the starting point and there should be no sacred cows. When that foundation has been laid, it would be much easier to build on it.

Three. Many had warned us against supporting Buhari for two reasons, that he’s too tribalistic and over religious and may not be tolerant of other ethnic and religious groups. Many of us argued that after 30 years out of office, he would have learnt his lessons and calmed down. But if truth must be told, Buhari seems to have confirmed the worst fears of his traducers and they are now reminding us that “didn’t we tell you a leopard can never change its spots.” The way and manner Buhari made certain appointments could not have been more provocative. The infractions are too many but let but let me just pick a few samples.

How could any leader have selected most of his military service chiefs from a particular ethnic group as if no other parts of Nigerian are represented in the armed forces. Worse still, even when these guys displayed abject incompetence, the President ignored all calls and kept them in situ. And when he eventually removed them, he compensated them with diplomatic jobs abroad. How could a leader have removed a Southerner from an appointment and replace him with a Northerner but retain a Northerner for much longer in office or replace him with another Northerner. A sad example is how Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman was retained as the Managing Director of the extremely powerful Nigerian Ports Authority but Dr Dakuku Peterside was removed as Director General/CEO of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency and was immediately replaced with a Northerner, despite the general acclaim that he added much value.

4. Many of my Northern friends have expressed dismay at the ethnic profiling of bandits as Fulani but they have failed to place the blame where it really belongs, at Buhari’s doorstep. Till this day, the President has never directly and openly spoken against or about the herdsmen who happen to be his kinsmen. He has not proscribed them or the infamous Boko Haram sect. However, he was quick to proscribe IPOB that has not engaged in mayhem compared to the Northern groups. They have certainly not been involved in any kidnapping, raping, despoliation of farmlands and all that. Where they have been militant, it has been clearly for a cause and any bloodshed has come only from their being attacked by the Nigerian military. He has never called or labelled the Northern elements or foreign Fulani mercenaries and insurgents as terrorists. He has seen how some Northern leaders have been strolling in and out of the forests of the North without as much as casting a glance their way, yet the military is quick to crush supposed rebellions in the South even before they erupt.

What’s my advice and solution? The President should know that his present style is faulty, and his strategy has failed. That is if he is really in control of such strategy or policy. He should admit that he has not been fair to a large chunk of Nigerians and he should reach out very quickly to all people in all parts of the country. He and his Vice President should urgently begin some goodwill trips to different parts of the country, alternately. They should visit campuses, palaces, leaders of faiths, civil society groups, cultural leaders, captains of industry, the media, host town hall meetings and warm up to the people of Nigeria instead of this unproductive aloofness. This idea of sitting in one place and expecting people to come and pay homage is outdated.

Leaders must be visible to the generality of the populace and proactive in meeting and dealing with them.

The President must look inwards and do things that would develop Nigeria first, before thinking of developing Niger Republic. I have no problem with whatever ties he has to Niger Republic but, for God’s sake, Nigeria is bleeding and crying for help in all areas of human existence.

The President has two years to redress the wrongs of six years. He should set up a Federal Character task force to ensure power and positions are equitably distributed. This will help bring down the tension in the land.

The current system of government cannot be sustained. The country must be restructured. The President is in possession of many documents containing useful recommendations. He should act on them urgently. Many fantastic bills were also passed in the recent National Assembly headed by Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki and Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, they should not be wasted.

Finally, I’m worried about the shoot at sight order given to security forces against hoodlums. While a crazy situation deserves a crazy reaction, the President should ensure that this won’t become an excuse to get rid of some Southern agitators while the Northern ones are being over-pampered in the forests. I believe in miracles and this can still be achieved…

I just woke up from my dream…

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