By Sonala Olumhense,
I extend to President Muhammadu Buhari, my warmest sympathies on his sick bed.
It is a measure of the fragility of our democracy that an elected president insists on hiding his frailty from the people who are compelled to pay for his treatment abroad. There is no hiding place in the constitution.
Nonetheless, President Buhari is scheduled to return to Nigeria tomorrow. He will be welcomed with at least one Lagos street protest that the police are trying to muzzle. That would be another self-inflicted injury, and I urge Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to tell them to back off and go pursue Lagos’ many criminals.
I reiterate that it is a shame and an embarrassment that despite Mr. Buhari’s promises and posturing for many years, he sees no irony in running off to the United Kingdom for his medical needs, leaving behind the nation’s most expensive (and presumably best-equipped) publicly-funded clinic in the presidential palace.
This fact underlines a broader reality. Which is that Buhari’s much-heralded leadership has become a farce, and his ability to make a positive impact on Nigeria, a hoax.
I was one of those who pushed for his presidency. At one level was the mistaken confidence that his age-old claim to being the man best-prepared to stop Nigeria’s slide into oblivion was true. There was no way to tell for certain he could deliver, but it was a strong and persuasive message: give me control and I will take Nigeria back from her army of leeches, shake them vigorously until there is none left of the blood they sucked.
His catchy slogan, just 24 months ago, was: “If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.”
I was an early buyer even before he found a catchphrase by which the children could sing in the streets. In 2011, and again in 2015, I wrote advocacy pieces in which I affirmed that Buhari was “the missing link,” and “an opportunity.” If he fulfilled 10 percent of his sloganeering, I hoped, the planting season would have begun.
At the second level, Buhari faced a rival for the presidency in 2011, but more especially at the tipping point in 2015, whose claim to any credibility was deeply flawed. What seemed to be Buhari’s superiority of morality and mission was obscured by the nation’s hunger for change, and there was no means of rejecting Buhari without endorsing Jonathan.
As it has turned out, every one of us who stepped out of our comfort zone to support his leadership is not now merely disappointed, but betrayed. Buhari’s words have proved to be emptier than a basket of water. Every hope that he would bring enough with him for Nigeria to build on has drowned in a sea of poor policies, no-policies, and cynical manipulation.
To think about Buhari since May 2015 is to observe how power affects individual holders. Sometimes, a man takes office and becomes a prime instrument for building that nation or that community or that era. And then sometimes, a king assumes the throne clothed in layers of gold and the finest linen but only to expose his nakedness. Buhari appears to be the latter.
Yes, Buhari is ailing now, but in nearly two years in office, it is not an absence of health that has held him back but an absence of will, temperament and capacity. The president is not leading with strength, he is being led by his weakness.
Yes, Buhari promised to cleanse and change Nigeria, but it is obvious now that he was better in the chase than in the capture. He has diminished the broad expanse and potential of his office from an empire to a cave.
To be sure, some progress has been made in fighting Boko Haram, and allegedly in recovering some sums of money. But given his and his All Progressives Congress’ (APC) loud bragging, this is but tokenism, and fear and regret are overtaking the land.
First, there is no holistic, transparent and consistent structure to the work of the Buhari government beyond the nepotism the president himself has demonstrated. There is neither clear, strategic thinking about the issues, nor commitment to the quest for answers.
Buhari says he is fighting corruption, but corruption is thriving in every measurement that matters. Buhari has done nothing of note to make anyone wake up in the morning afraid, or respectful, of Buhari.
Sixteen years of the Peoples’ Democratic Party that Buhari lampooned daily, and yet you can count on the fingers of one hand its members who are in trouble. There is a ton of stolen funds all over the place begging to be creatively cornered and plunged into the national cause, but Buhari’s government would rather beg for foreign loans.
The Naira has collapsed, and there is still no electricity, no commitment to the rule of law, no foreign investment, no jobs and no management of what we have: which all mean the same thing.
Yes, there is an armada of excuses, but deception and denial have become standard for APC, which would rather steal the harvest of other farmers than start its own farm. Party chairman John Odigie-Oyegun is going around the country prospecting for prominent Nigerians—particularly the vilest and most sordid—to defect to the party.
This is how far APC, the party of “change” and of Buhari, has deteriorated in two years. But that is too far, and were you to ask the legions who stood in long lines in the hot sun to vote and those who spurned hunger to wait until their votes were counted so Buhari could become president, all he has now earned is a ticket out of Aso Rock, not back into it.
Yes, Buhari spoke tough and acted tough in his first time around in office, in 1983-1985, but he would appear to have been standing on the shoulders of his hard-as-nails deputy, Tunde Idiagbon, God bless his soul. For himself, Buhari has demonstrated neither mettle nor fettle in his second coming. He is far more Goodluck Jonathan than Lee Kwan Yew.
Buhari marketed a product he could not manufacture, and APC used Buhari’s legend to grab power in the center. He has compromised his own cause by treating it as if it were a private skirmish, perhaps to be drawn out over two terms of office and fought in the media rather than in the court of law and the court of personal example, and in which only the opposition, can remotely be guilty. And he gives economic management a bad name.
Perhaps then, Buhari’s health challenge is really motion sickness: he is going around in circles so often he is dizzy and confused.
What next? Unless a miracle has taken place and Buhari returns from London outfitted with the pacemaker Nigerians had hoped for in 2015, he has proved the era of faith in demi-gods to be over. Younger Nigerians—if they can refuse to be bought and if they can see beyond narrow prisons and prisms of ethnicity and geography and religion—must unite and step forward and into the streets and into politics, and demand the soul of their country.
There is no answer any day soon, but through arduous—and inevitable—battles, lies the Promised Land.