President Buhari has just rendered invaluable service to an uneasy nation. He used this year’s political anniversary season to grant two revealing interviews and deliver a beneficial Democracy Day address. With these pronouncements, he has lifted the veil from his troubling trademark silence. The television interviews, one with Arise Television and the other with Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) followed closely by a national broadcast, contain far reaching revelations and disclosures about the mindset of Nigeria’s problematic helmsman.
The man broke from himself at a time of national distress. Many had begun to doubt whether the affairs of state were in the hands of anyone in particular. Some well informed people had even asserted definitively that Buhari was no longer in charge of Nigeria. The mere fact of these pronouncements has therefore resolved many lingering misperceptions about the real present circumstances of the president. His prolonged habitual silence on nearly every occasion and subject had led to an array of speculations and conspiracy theories about his mental and physical shape and material presence in Aso Villa. The contents of the interviews apart, they provide live evidence in a public square ruled by wild hearsay and enlightened gossip. In this summer of troubles, Buhari has said so many things that mean so many different things to a divided Nigeria.
A significant majority of Nigerians see enough toxin in aspects of these pronouncements. Naturally, some sections of the nation see nothing wrong with even the most contentious issues. The immediate troubling indicator of Buhari’s emerging political legacy is the north-south divide in responses to the interviews and broadcast. While the governors and publics of the Southern states may be angry with the president’s stance on open grazing, Miyetti Allah, most of the governors and general public in the northern states are hailing the president. Yet, on the matter of open cattle grazing, it ought to concern us all that we have in 2021 a Nigerian president who is drawing policy inspiration from a regional gazette from the first republic. It turns out that the said gazette applies only to the northern states. It also ought to worry us that our president is comfortable with a culture of wandering pastoral cattle herding in this age of mechanical production of nearly every good. It is of course fair and laudable that the president should be proud of his chosen herdsman occupation, a choice to which he is perfectly entitled as a free citizen.
It is gladdening however that the President fully understands the extent and seriousness of the insecurity in the nation. Interestingly, he seems to have come to accept threats like Boko Haram and widespread banditry as ‘normal’ features of the national architecture of ruin over which he presides. He is more troubled by the pressures of separatism, political dissent and popular protest. For him, the ENDSARS protests had only one aim: to remove him from office, and that, for him, means everything. People may now understand why he was so angry with the youth drivers of the ENDSARS protest that he was most reluctant to address the nation while the mayhem raged. He sees the separatists and dissenters more as direct political opponents mostly intent on discrediting his administration. He ca hardly see the credible threats to national coherence and unity beyond the specific regime survival of his presidency.
Even then, he carefully distinguishes among the separatists. For some reason, Mr. Buhari did not in his interviews for once mention the well orchestrated and highly organized popular Yoruba Nation movement with its overwhelming popular support and very coherent and unmistakable message. But, the president was all bile and open animosity when it came to the pro Biafra IPOB movement. Instructively, he makes no distinction whatsoever between Nnamdi Kanu’s secessionist IPOB club and the Igbos as a strategic Nigerian nationality. For him, the IPOB secessionist bid is an all Igbo movement to move out of Nigeria. He then threatens the Igbos in general with fire and brimstone by openly ordering the police and the army to hound them all over the country. He of course reminds his audience that a nationality who has committed the crime of embracing Nigeria’s diversity and having investments and property all over the federation are not more than ‘a dot in a circle’.
The carefully chosen metaphor of vicious encirclement has resonated across the entire globe as a sigal of genocidal intent. In an outdated British ‘divide and rule’ idiom, Buhari cites fictitious South South sources to boast that an Igbo repeat secessionist movement would be futile without access to the sea. Pitifully however, the president does not even know that even if these was a Biafra repeat, lack of access to the sea has ceased to be an impediment to national greatness. To insist otherwise is almost illiterate in today’s world. We only need to scan the list of some land locked countries to decide how they have fared: Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Jordan, Uganda, Botswana and Rwanda. There are more.
There remains a worrisome intellectual laziness and sickening bigotry in a presidential mindset that equates a whole nationality with IPOB. Most sensible Nigerians see IPOB for what it is, a minority separatist association of misguided but frustrated youth led by an unelected demagogue of doubtful intent. Seeing all Igbos as synonymous with IPOB would be equivalent to insisting that every citizen from the northern states is either a Boko Haram terrorist or a fanatical jihadist zealot. Worse still, it may be equivalent to assuming that every Nigerian from the north is necessarily in support of Mr. Buhari’s divisive and clannish notion of Nigeria. The truth of course is that the vast majority of decent northerners are today thoroughly embarrassed by Buhari’s lopsided appointments and undisguised nepotism. Worse still, all the highly accomplished and decent northerners that I know are even more scandalised by the fact that Mr. Buhari has carefully chosen to foist a hegemony of mostly incompetent northerners on the nation. The northern elite understand the current virtual collapse of the Nigerian state is the result of the epic incompetence of Mr. Buhari’s peculiar personnel choices.
Similarly, the president has failed to understand that the IPOB support base consists mostly of a negligible minority of young Igbos and people of the South South region who are dissatisfied with what Nigeria under Mr. Buhari has degenerated into. The majority of Igbos who experienced the civil war and all others who have voted for a united Nigeria through their pan Nigerian habitation, investments, business operations, marriages and fellowships have no business with the IPOB rascality.
This does not of course mean that the memory of Biafra does not resonate with all Igbos across generations. Biafra is a deep wound in the collective psyche of the Igbo nation. And they are not the only people in history who habour a collective injury inflicted by a nasty national history. Armenians, the Tutsis, the Hereros, the Jews, the native Americans, the Aborigines have all been there.
But there seems to be a troubling subliminal impulse in this president that is allergic to the identity of sections of the Nigerian diversity. Yet the president’s job description requires that he should live with and manage our national diversity without the slightest suggestion of discrimination against any segment of the national family. This is a minimum democratic prescription and requirement. But the burden of such divisive hegemony is usually not that of those discriminated against. It is rather squarely that of a leader who chooses to brand himself so poorly in the world and for all time.
On the vexed issue of his copiously lopsided high profile federal appointments, Mr. Buhari was literally off the hook. He indicated that those he has kept appointing or promoting over and above their other Nigerian compatriots were people who have been in the services for 10-18 years as the case maybe. In his view, you do not expect him to bypass those with long service records to appoint more junior people just to fulfill a constitutional requirement! The explanation was not only devoid of logic but also stood merit on its head with neither a redeeming logic nor statistics. Asked about the absence of people of the South East at the apex of the federal establishment, Mr. Buhari casually admitted that he sees some Igbo names in the federal service list!
Blatant lopsidedness in key appointments is not nearly as atrocious as using Nigerian tax payers’ money and extortionist foreign loans to build a railroad to Niger Republic simply because some of the President’s blood line belong there. But Mr. Buhari defends this outrageous project with the casualness of donating a few bags of maize to a hungry neighbour at the expense of one’s starving family.
There are other atrocities in the interviews and the broadcast. In the Democracy Day broadcast, Mr. Buhari claims that his administration migrated a whopping 10.5 million Nigerians out of poverty in the last two years. This wild claim, which was backed by neither statistics nor scientific evidence, has since come under diverse disputation. The feat was achieved at a time when the world is reeling under the devastation of the covid emergency and in spite of abysmal oil prices. But barely four days after the chest thumping broadcast, the World Bank has come out to say that a combination of higher prices and desperate economic conditions has led to a descent of 7 million more Nigerians into the abyss of abject poverty in the last two years. Other sensible economists have sent out similar negative indications and warnings. This claim would seem to be an offshoot of the president’s earlier sweeping promise to migrate 100 million Nigerians out of poverty over a ten year period! Of all the subjects for political football, poverty is the most risky because it is hard to conceal and has a way of fighting back.
In spite of their heavy negatives, Buhari’s latest avalanche of testimonial disclosures and confessions all add up to a huge dividend. First, it is pleasing to know that Mr. Buhari is real. He is himself and not some Sudanese double or look alike clone conjured to rule over us. His health does not appear compromised in any substantial way. He is reasonably sane, alert and aware of his political environment. He is neither demented nor mentally challenged as many street side chroniclers had stubbornly insisted. He is informed of current developments around the nation. The derelictions appear willful while the tardiness in the management of the affairs of state may just be Buhari at his best.
The incoherence and incompetence are not quite accidental. The limitation in knowledge and exposure are real and not inflicted by his enemies. A good deal of the wrong headed communications that issue from Aso Rock are not being mechanically ascribed to an ‘absent’ president. It is not quite his spokesmen who sit in the shadows of power to concoct that avalanche of bewildering releases and outrageous pronouncements. The words may be theirs but the spirit in the words is their master’s voice. These court messengers can now sleep better, finally spared the barbs and bullets of public anger. Buhari, it turns out, is actually the man behind the mask, the author of his serial infamy and the architect of his own misjudgments and reflexive presidential blunders. Yet, for the courage to break through the mask and remind the public of who they really voted for, the president deserves more medals than he already has dangling from his tattered military uniform.
Easily the most consequential dividend of these pronouncements has to do with the insight they provide on how to navigate the country out of the present dangerous pass. The current widespread insecurity and political discord have put a question mark of uncertainty on the future of the nation. In response to questions about restructuring and amendments to the1999 constitution, Buhari offered the ultimate conundrum. He insists that he is running a constitutional democracy. Therefore, only the National Assembly can effect either an amendment of the 1999 constitution or the restructuring and reform of the country.
Clearly, Buhari has drawn the red line on the possible outcome and limits of the spate of separatist agitations and other reform movements currently plaguing the country. They can only go as far as the constitution and institutions of the existing constitutional order allow. On the surface, the president is right. You cannot use disorder to unseat order no matter how imperfect that order may seem. But the lingering questions are still nagging and many: can an existing constitutional order rule itself out of existence? Can those sustained by the existing regime of benefits and group interest compromise the system to allow for an overturn of the system?
But the forces at work in the present uncertainty derive from outside the existing system of order. The ethnic agitators, secessionist activists, and restructuring pundits and supporting sundry gunmen are operating outside the parameters of the existing constitutional state. They are not even necessarily supportive of the existing partisan architecture. The agents of widespread insecurity which are poised to unsettle and unravel the nation are operating outside the parameters of the state. From Boko Haram to armed bandits, IPOB and other sectional militants are all non state actors. The mob leaders and their supporting cast of thugs are emissaries of a clear and present anarchy. Therefore any calls for national resolution predicated on the existing state institutions like the National Assembly will not wash with these forces.
Yet, the political agitators and non- state militant actors are all Nigeerians. They are all powered by a hunger for a better Nigeria and, failing which, places of their own to call home. We cannot expect to achieve an amicable resolution of the current crises if we do not include them all in any dispute resolution mechanism we may choose. Therefore, effective statesmanship now demands that the president looks beyond the confines of the institutions of the democratic state. Buhari can only resolve the present crisis unless he assumes leadership of the nation as an inclusive totality. The hard work is in walking the tightrope between democratic institutions and the other forces at play in the context of national unity.
The value of the president’s recent utterances is in their subversive contributions to our democracy. We now have an idea of the type of president that we must never again allow to assume the mantle of national leadership. The dividends of the Buhari exposes do not belong now. They ought to accrue to the future of Nigeria. Buhari has demonstrated to the full the worst aspects of his character and the 1999 constitution in the hands of a fake democrat.
In a sense then, Mr. Buhari has laid the groundwork for the qualifications of the next president, having clearly exposed his personal inadequacies for the exalted position. And that make the job of the next president much easier. The recipe for success is simple: Nigerisa’s next president has to be the opposite of everything that Buhari is. Joe Biden will end up one of the best modern presidents of the United States simply by being the opposite of Donald Trump with a little topping!
At the general level of political theory, Buhari nonetheless raises important questions for democracy: Can a democracy punish a bad leader in office or on his way out when its very institutions are compromised? Ordinarily under the presidential system, the tool of impeachment ought to enable the system to subtract a bad leader. But Buhari’s party controls the majority in parliament? Buhari’s impeachment would be pointless and unnecessarily disruptive. Let the lame duck sit out his tenure to deliver his fullest subversive benefits to the nation either for good or for ill.
In sum, then, the Buhari summer disclosures have an abiding dividend. If indeed the electorate has a collective mind and rationality, Buhari has outlined the type of president that Nigeria now needs to heal its wounds after the years of the Buhari locust.