None of these came to me as a surprise. These and other antics have been characteristic of presidential power game in Nigeria. So much drama would always be orchestrated around the simple act by the incumbent president of declaring interest to re-contest a position he occupies. The president, who has the right of first refusal to the presidential ticket of his ruling party, would have to be pampered, persuaded and begged to heed the call of his minions.
You wonder why it takes the president the needless observance of these hackneyed ceremonies to tell his countrymen and women that he would like to seek re-election and, therefore, would count on their maximum support. The Yoruba have a proverb: “Ti iwo ba se rere, ara ki o ya o bi?” meaning “If you are doing or have done the right thing, will you not be eager to stand up to be counted?” It is like a man who is free of guilty conscience. A conscience that is gripped by guilt has a way of acting as a force of restraint on godly individuals. Whereas, an incumbent president who has done well in office would have appealed to the sensibilities of a vast majority of the people and would thus not need the theatrics of speaking through some minions to test the waters of acceptance as President Buhari is doing at the moment.
For a president whose performance in office has been overwhelming and inspiring, Nigerians would have risen in unison to place a demand on him to seek re-election. But it does appear to me that Buhari, being an honest man, knows that he probably has under-performed by his own estimation and he is at great pains to submit himself, willy-nilly, to a confidence vote, which the 2019 presidential election typifies.
This civilian administration has unraveled Buhari as not democratically, physically and emotionally suited for leadership. This is not Buhari, the military head of state, who held the nation in a vice-like grip from December 31, 1983 to August 27, 1985. He is far the opposite of the jackboot general who did not brook any nonsense in the form of ethnic or tribal colouration in his fight against corruption at the time.
Not anymore, his persona, which effects immediately after his 2015 electoral victory put Nigerians on their toes, ready to follow his exemplary leadership, has since been tainted by the vagaries of politicisation, ethnicisation and socialisation of his so-called anti-corruption fight. For his selective war against corruption, Buhari’s presidency has become an anti-climax of sorts. But this is almost certainly not the Buhari that my late godfather, Chief Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyi, recommended so highly to me before the 2003 presidential election such that I fanatically lent my support to him and took time out as a journalist on coverage of the election in Abuja to be at my voting unit to cast my vote for him.
If Awoniyi were alive, what would he have told me or what explanation would he have offered for Buhari’s slipshod leadership? It is unbelievable how quick the president has squandered the enormous goodwill of Nigerians, especially the “cyberspace” youths who were not born when he was military head of state about thirty-two to thirty-four years ago but who relied on his much-trumpeted antecedents to invest their faith and fate in his hands. How disappointed they have become!
But I still believe that there is something fundamentally wrong about our public perception of Buhari. It is either we have all suffered from a collective error of judgment by trying to rekindle in him the virtue and capacity we believed he once had but which he has now obviously lost or did not have at all. Maybe we really did not know him, after all.
It is also possible that he has been a master at dissembling and has successfully lived and acted the lie all these years. It is much more difficult in the military than in the democratic milieu to see through a president’s chicanery and shenanigan. But time has fortuitously revealed Buhari’s underbelly. His messianic garb has been torn into pitiable shreds.
Although, it is easy to indict his health as a factor that has hamstrung him from effectively governing or monitoring governance, if this point is agreeable to many, then that should be a good reason for him to disdain the plan to conscript him into the 2019 presidential election. Will he, for instance, have the strength to mount the soap box to undertake a rigorous campaign? Besides, Nigerians having been fooled once cannot afford to be fooled again. They will, henceforth, forcefully interrogate those who aspire to public office. It is with that same force that they will defend their votes. With the hardship that a vast majority of Nigerians have been through, I am not sure they will be ready to be party to negotiated or compromised election results that do not reflect the true reality of what transpires at the polls.
I like Buhari as a person, being the handiwork of God’s creation, but I do not like his leadership style. He has lost the passion and the redeeming features of a patron saint and the saviour that those who voted for him had hoped would rescue our beleaguered nation from the clutches of the buccaneering leaders.
Sadly, there is no more fire in President Buhari’s belly and we should not be unnecessarily sentimental about this: his position, let another from the north, who has capacity, take. Those rooting for his re-election do not mean well for him; they also hate Nigeria. The greatest personal tragedy will be for President Buhari to allow himself to be led by the nose into the race by sycophants around him.
Nigeria is at a crossroads. Buhari would go down in history as a patriotic leader who reined in when it mattered most by taking a decision that doused tension. He has an opportunity to prove to the world that his much-talked about force of moral character is not a fluke by refusing to be dragged into seeking re-election.
However, whether he seeks re-election or not, I have completely lost hope in Buhari’s capacity to effectively control the mechanics of the political economy after listening to his New Year speech on January 1, 2018. Apart from the ebbing voice, the content of the speech itself was largely uninspiring. He lost me in the opening gambit of the speech when he talked about the fuel scarcity as a product of sabotage by some unpatriotic Nigerians who would be dealt with.
And, I asked: when would they be dealt with? Is it when he has left office or during electioneering which begins this year at which time he would try to curry the support of every shade of opinions? I could not believe that Buhari would talk as politicians dishing out campaign promises would talk when he is already in power and should have done the needful to deal with the situation as president and substantive minister of petroleum.
Nobody in government today is more experienced and better positioned than the president to provide solutions to the problem in the downstream petroleum sector. With a robust antecedent as former federal commissioner of petroleum resources and head of state, he is in a good stead to nip the lingering problem in the bud. He did not do it. If he had done it, that would have been his administration’s legacy. Promising to deal with the saboteurs when he should have dealt with them instantly is not only tokenistic but also dishonest.
I really do not care about the achievements of his government that he reeled out in the speech. The fuel crisis and its attendant hardship on Nigerians have rendered those acclaimed achievements seemingly insignificant. Nevertheless, time will tell whether they count for something in the bigger picture of the administration’s “change” mantra.
Sufuyan Ojeifo, a journalist, wrote from Abuja.