By Ochereome Nnanna
A LOT of Nigerians who believed General Muhammadu Buhari was a befitting replacement for former President Goodluck Jonathan are now being given reason to have second thoughts. The irony of it is that Pa Muhammadu Buhari, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is the one deflating their balloons of enthusiasm.
On 6th May when he met newly elected All Progressives Congress (APC) governors in his temporary abode at the Defence House, he expressed his worry that the expectations of Nigerians from him were “too high”. How do you expect Nigerians to feel when you ask them to tone down their expectation of a new administration that campaigned on the mantra of change? They will feel disappointed and begin to doubt if they took the right decision to give you their mandate.
Again, at the African Union Summit in South Africa, Buhari met with a group of Nigerians and delivered an even bigger shocker. He said: “I wish I became the head of state when I was a governor, just a few years as a young man. Now at 72, there is a limit to what I can do”. Even though he went on to say that his administration would bring “positive change” and implement the APC manifesto, telling us that his old age is a burden was a dramatic departure from what he told us when he was campaigning and his opponents made a big issue of his age.
Unless there is more to the issue, why should Buhari, without being prompted or cajoled, make an issue about the burden of old age? For me, there is nothing hard and fast about age. That is why, throughout the campaigns, I never made an issue of it. Even the idea of Buhari paying regular visits to London hospitals and taking frequent times out to “rest” were not an issue to me. Anyone at any age can see a doctor and take a rest. For that matter, anyone can die at any age.
Ronald Reagan was elected for a second term at the age of 73. He had Alzheimer’s disease, which makes people to be forgetful to ridiculous levels. He was renowned for his many public gaffes and got frequently heckled in the Press. But this was the man who eventually dissolved the Soviet Union, brought down the Berlin Wall, and drove the USSR out of Afghanistan, without firing the proverbial single shot. He certainly was one of the most epical of the presidents of the United States.
Back here in Nigeria, the Father of African nationalism, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, ran for the presidency in 1983 at the age of 77. Beat that! If he had won the election he would have served two terms (everything being equal) and rested for another four years at Onuiyi Haven, Nsukka, before boarding his eternal flight to the Great Beyond. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was 74 when he contested along with Zik, died in 1987. He would have died in office had he been elected. Our own General Olusegun Obasanjo is officially 78 but is believed to be well over 80. But he is still physically and mentally agile enough to do some of the things much younger people have since retired from.
Therefore, it is not the age that matters. It is what you have, what you do with it. It was unwise of Buhari to dabble into it at a time when his ovation is still loud and he needs to keep it going for the onerous tasks ahead. It was not surprising that his media aide, Femi Adesina, came out with a commendable effort at damage control, saying Buhari is good wine that gets better with age. If Buhari is afraid of failure, he should tackle his fears privately with the help of professionals and learn not to transmit it to the public.
It is not just the “I’m too old” gaffe that is making Nigerians nervous. That bit about being stymied by the refusal of former President Jonathan to give him “useful tips” on how to kick-start his administration also did not do him much credit. What “useful tips” would a former state military governor, head of state, Executive Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) and four-time presidential candidate be looking for from his erstwhile opponent? Shouldn’t he have perfected his vision and mission years ago, ready to explode on arrival? I don’t expect former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Governor Sule Lamido or even Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso to need “expo” from anyone to take off if they found themselves in Buhari’s shoes.
Another issue that made Nigerians to shake their heads in disappointment in these past, non-eventful three weeks was the manner in which the president and his deputy declared their assets. Many Nigerians expected that on submitting their completed forms to the Code of Conduct Bureau, copies would immediately be made available to the media for public perusal. That way, they would have sent a no-nonsense message about their anti-corruption agenda. But the president reminded us that he promised to make it public “within the first 100 days”. Fine. But some of the wind has gone out of the sail.
The CCB has not proved itself to be an anti-corruption agency so far. Rather, it tends to protect the interests of highly placed government officials such as governors, presidents and vice presidents. It has never come out to expose corruption. The CCB appears to be a very convenient hiding place for executive big shots.
But we are consoled by the fact that whatever is eventually disclosed will be savagely and minutely tooth-combed in the public. We are watching to see if it is true that our president was living only on his military pension before he got elected. We will examine the plausibility of his needing to obtain 27 million Naira “bank loan” to pay for his APC presidential form.
We will extend our searchlight to the assets of Hajiya Aisha Buhari, a beautician who reportedly owns a N10,453,000 Cartier Baignoire Folle 18-karat white diamond-encrusted wristwatch. She proudly displayed it for all to see during her husband’s inauguration. If a president’s wife wears a N10 million wristwatch, then can you fault federal lawmakers for their wardrobe allowances of N21.5m for Senators and N17.8m for members of the House of Reps?
This apparently wealthy wife of a pension-sustained husband had also donated N135 million worth of drugs to Internally-Displaced Persons (IDP’s) in Adamawa during the campaigns. She got us wondering why she did not give some of that hefty cash to her husband to purchase the form. After all, she would bathe in the power and glory of her husband emerging as the elected president of Nigeria.
Indeed, she is already doing so, in lavish style. Though President Buhari had promised, during the campaigns, to abolish the office of the First Lady, which his predecessor’s wife, “Mama Peace” had occupied rather scandalously, it did not stop Hajiya Aisha from organising a grandiose “thank you” gig for women, during which she played court just like a First Lady. Or, are we going to see another Abacha episode? General Abacha announced the scrapping of the First Lady’s office. His wife, Maryam, answered “Wife of Head of State” and ended up more regal and ostentatious than “First Lady” Mariam Babangida!
And did you hear how APC spokesman, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, claimed that Buhari has already “surpassed” in three weeks what Jonathan achieved in six years in tackling the Boko Haram insurgency? Apart from his foreign tours to garner support and moving the command centre of the operations to Maiduguri, Buhari has not made real move to engage the terrorists, yet Lai says he has “surpassed”.
Lai Mohammed should stop awarding himself non-existent plaudits. We, the Nigerian people, will be the judge of Buhari and APC’s performance.