Conventional wisdom teaches that when you get to a situation where your friends and enemies are singing from the same page on issues affecting you, it is time to reflect on what you are doing wrong. Against the background of a groundswell of disaffection to his stewardship and the yet-to-be declared aspiration for a second term, that wisdom will serve President Muhammadu Buhari very well. For a man who came to office with much adulation, the president has squandered such enormous goodwill that he is now the object of all manner of unpleasant memes on social media, including those being promoted right from The Other Room.
It is indeed very instructive that Mrs. Aisha Buhari, using her official Twitter handle, @aishambuhari last Friday retweeted the video posts of Senators Ben Bruce and Isah Misau, both of them speaking on the seeming inability of the president to protect the lives and property of Nigerians as well as the nepotism in recent appointments. In the Bruce post that Mrs Buhari found worthy of retweet, the “Commonsense” Senator says “Nigeria is becoming a lawless country where there is no consequence for bad behavior” while in the one by Misau, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) Senator assailed the president not only for his appointment of people he described as incompetent to critical positions but also for the selective nature of the anti-corruption war before he added: “…This Attorney-General is becoming a nuisance, going to court to stop Maina (probe) and we are still here.”
With his wife, Aisha reposting such video footages at the same time that some unpleasant but loaded quotes are being circulated from the Twitter handle of his daughter, it is obvious that all is not well in the Buhari household. While the president should put his house in order by resolving whatever may be the issues causing such family disharmony, the statement, on Tuesday, by former President Olusegun Obasanjo has added a new twist to the unfolding drama in a nation already bogged down by many challenges.
I have read the tepid response from the federal government (signed by Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed) as well as that by APC (signed by spokesman, Mr Bolaji Abdullahi) but given my little understanding of Nigerian politics, that cannot be the end of the matter. In the coming days, we should expect rallies by jobbers who would drum up support for Buhari, with harsh words for his critics, especially Obasanjo; and perhaps even for his wife, Aisha. In the season that we are in, there will be no shortage of sponsors for such characters, but in his quiet moment, President Buhari may have to introspect on how things have degenerated to this level for him and his administration.
For sure, Obasanjo’s statement deserves a serious interrogation in terms of content, tone, timing, motive (given the character and pedigree of the writer) and the curious political prescriptions that offer no real solution to what ails us as a nation. But there is no denying that his intervention rhymes with public mood, essentially because, aside his x-ray of the economy, the former president touched on the mismanagement of two critical issues that helped in bringing Buhari to power: The fight against corruption and national security cum unity. Yet, it is not only Obasanjo who feels that the president has failed on both counts; many other Nigerians also feel the same way and that is what should worry the administration.
Indeed, to the extent that nothing kills an idea better than the application of double standards, only few people still take the anti-corruption posture of this administration seriously. But the example cited by Obasanjo is that of ‘Mainagate’, one of the big scandals that consumed President Goodluck Jonathan but has been given fresh impetus by the current administration. Not only was Abdulrasheed Maina brought back to office under dubious circumstances, the dismissed fugitive civil servant was given double promotion, paid hefty sums of money from the treasury and has practically enlisted the Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami, as his personal counsel, even against the National Assembly.
Therefore, it is difficult to fault Obasanjo’s brutal assessment that what has transpired on the Maina scandal under the Buhari administration amounts to “collusion, condonation, ineptitude, incompetence, dereliction of responsibility”, before he added a poser: “How many similar cases are buried, ignored or covered up and not yet in the glare of the media and the public?”
The second issue highlighted by Obasanjo goes to the core of what government is all about: security of lives and livelihoods; and it is precisely the handling of it that has actually turned many Nigerians against the president: The killings in the Middle Belt arising from the perennial conflicts between farmers and pastoralists. Incidentally, it is the video footages of the interventions by some Senators in the course of a debate where the president came under heavy attacks that his wife re-tweeted on social media. While the problem persists and all that we keep getting from the authorities are excuses, the latest is that those killings were being perpetrated by the agents of the Islamic State, a very ridiculous proposition that flies in the face of both facts and common sense; and I can prove that very quickly with just three examples.
On 2nd February 2017, the Police Headquarters paraded 17 men suspected to have committed “culpable homicide and disturbance of peace in Southern Kaduna.” Presenting them before newsmen in Abuja, police spokesman, Jimoh Moshood, said that 29 assorted firearms were recovered from the suspects. And perhaps to indicate that the Police were working with the Kaduna State authorities on the breakthrough, Governor Nasir El-Rufai posted a Twitter message: “The 17 Suspects are being paraded for culpable homicide and disturbance of public peace in Southern Kaduna.” It is almost one year after that revelation and nothing has also been heard about those 17 suspects who definitely are not ISIS members.
On 21st April last year, 19 persons said to be members of a notorious gang responsible for large-scale killings in Zaki-Biam, Benue State, were paraded before journalists in Abuja. Preliminary investigations, according to Moshood, revealed that the gang was led by one Terwase Akwaza, said to be a serial killer, who had also been involved in the murder of about 50 people in other locations in Benue State. Some of the recovered arms and ammunitions from the suspects included three AK 47 rifles; one 3FN Rifles; one G3 Rifle; one LMG; one SMG; one double-barrel gun and Mark 4 rifle; four single-barrel guns; four locally-made revolver pistols; five locally-made RM revolver pistols; 36 hand-grenades; two local short guns; 141 AK47 magazines; 20 FN magazines and 18 6x G3 magazines among other arms and ammunition.
Even when none of those criminal suspects has been arraigned in any court, there were never suggestions at any point that Terwaze and his men came from Syria or Iraq. So, the officials who are peddling tales that members of some nebulous Islamic State in West Africa have penetrated the country and are responsible for the killings are doing so for unclear but definitely not patriotic reasons. The fact that is in the public domain is that several arrests have been made of Nigerians involved in these killings without any action taken to bring them to justice.
For instance, on 27th May 2016, following a military “Operation Safe Haven” in Plateau State, Major General Tagbo Ude paraded six members of a syndicate of cattle rustlers that allegedly murdered a 35-year-old Adamu Yusuf and rustled (stole, in simple language) his 32 cows and 22 sheep while he was grazing around Sagas village in Mangu local government area. While the stolen cows were scattered by the rustlers with some moved into Fan in Barkin Ladi and Bukuru in Jos South local governments of the state, security agents reportedly recovered 19 of them and all the sheep. Those arrested rustlers, about whom nothing has been heard ever since, were identified, not as ISIS members, but rather as bona fide home-grown criminal suspects with known names and addresses.
What the foregoing says is that this government should stop looking for silly excuses and begin to proffer solutions to the security challenges plaguing the nation. That people who ordinarily do not like Obasanjo are celebrating his statement speaks to a growing disenchantment with the manner in which the current administration has handled critical issues. If it is not that the handing-over note is delaying important appointments, rat would be chasing the president from office while Federal Executive Council meeting may not hold because the president is reading some reports on which he would not even take any action!
While Nigerians are tired of these excuses that are not even clever, what is perhaps more damaging is the seeming insensitivity that has become the hallmark of this government. From releasing a meaningless documentary just to prove that the president can crack jokes to receiving governors asking him to contest at a period of national distress, not only have the choices made by President Buhari called to question his judgement, he has most often looked aloof and distant when the occasion demanded that he be the consoler-in-chief. Yet, what Buhari and his handlers fail to appreciate is that whenever human emotions are exhibited in a leader, people take hope while a tear for the distressed, a sigh of contrition in moments of mistakes, one heartfelt utterance of genuine grief when people are hurting etc. are some of the attributes of a genuine leader—it is not about taking all tidings with equal indifference, as Buhari does most times.
Notwithstanding whatever may be his failings, President Buhari has a right to seek a second term if he so chooses and it is left for Nigerians to decide whether or not they consider him worthy. So to that extent, between now and May 2019, emphasis should be on how he can make course corrections. Buhari is still our president and whatever he does (or refuses to do) will still impact us as a nation, even if he ends up not seeking re-election. However, I am also of the strongest conviction that when the time comes for him to decide, the president should look beyond those who are making their own cold calculations not because they love him but rather because he is the only political vehicle (they believe) that can deliver to them power and privileges.
That time, I must add, has not come.