By Ochereome Nnanna
CAN a President lie? If a President says something that is obviously untrue, can he be called a liar? I ask these questions bearing two things in mind. We Africans have our own ideas of things that we consider culturally correct to do or say, even if they do not represent the true situation of things.
For instance, it is believed that one should not speak ill of the dead. Why, because the dead is gone and no longer in a position to defend himself. Though people know that when this chap was alive, he was the Devil’s incarnate, the fact that he is dead says it all for him: the river has taken the tattered basket downstream and away from sight. It becomes petty and small for anyone to mount the magisterial podium to pronounce judgement, which is an assignment for God alone.
Another reason is that the President is like the head of a household. It is unseemly to look the head of the family in the face and call him a liar, even if he is inveterately such. In Nigeria as in many parts of the world, the President is the living symbol of the nation’s sovereignty; the Chief Executive, Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic. It is a position of enormous symbolic proportions, the import of which is often lost on those who occupy that exalted office.
A President who understands the importance of the office he is privileged to occupy cannot just talk or behave anyhow. That is why every little nuance of his words or actions, even as a candidate for that office, is minutely analysed in the public arena, and rated to see how “presidential” he is, or whether he is “qualified” to be President.
When President Muhammadu Buhari visited his hometown, Daura, to celebrate the Muslim festival of Id el Kabir, he made a statement that was obviously and scandalously untrue. He said to his people: “I want Nigerians to realise that what this government inherited after 16 years of PDP government was no savings, no infrastructure, no power, no rail, no road and no security”.
Even the most brainless moron knows this is an impossible statement. You can talk about little savings, poor infrastructure, epileptic power supply, serious infrastructure deficit, a rail system that was just being revived after its total collapse during the years of military rule, bad road network nationwide and grave security challenges.
The word: “no” has no place in the speech of anyone who sat on a classroom bench and broke a chalk, let alone the President of a country like Nigeria. It calls into serious question the mental capacity of the user or his motive. It is either he does not know what he is saying or he is saying it to deceive the common people and continue to blame the past governments for his failure to grapple with the challenges of leading a country like Nigeria, unaware that the whole world is listening.
That the world was listening was evident shortly after that preposterous speech. It trended like a hurricane over the Internet and made the front pages of newspapers the following day. It did so, not because President Buhari broke earth-shaking news, but because he said something that should never come from a serious president.
The truth is, there is nothing that Buhari has right now which he did not inherit from the past regimes – from the military through to ex-Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan. It ranges from the plush Aso Villa he is enjoying to the National Assembly where he sends his Bills and the Judiciary complexes; from his rich fleet of presidential jets to the airports where he takes off and lands on his way to Daura and his frequent foreign trips (including his medical tourism), to the roads he travels on while visiting any part of Nigeria.
Even the arms and ammunition he is using to finish the war against Boko Haram which Jonathan had mounted amidst sabotage by some Northern leaders and military personnel, and the rail system which Obasanjo started to revive and Jonathan almost completed while Buhari merely commissioned – you just mention them.
The only leader of Nigeria who inherited “nothing” was Sir Frederick Lugard, but even he took off from the properties acquired by the Royal Niger Company, which operated the Nigeria franchise on behalf of the British Crown before we were formally colonised.
It is obvious that Buhari made that statement to divert the attention of his Daura townspeople from the failure of his administration to effectively tackle the challenges of an economy in recession. This falsehood peddling seems to be a policy of the APC Federal Government because Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a supposed pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, has also been on record as saying that the Jonathan regime did not build “a single kilometre of road”, which is a barefaced lie.
I have a feeling that Buhari did not realise the enormous responsibility involved in vying for the presidency of this country. The fact that he was a military head of state was neither here nor there because any hammerhead who is a senior military chief can suddenly be asked to lead after a successful coup.
Perhaps, he watched Obasanjo, a former military ruler, become an elected President who enjoyed years of oil boom. Then, Buhari decided that he too could equal Obasanjo’s feat. Perhaps, he thought that being President is nothing more than spending billions of oil money stacked somewhere for him by a former President.
It does not work like that. Government is an unending relay race. You take the baton, run your lap and hand over to the next runner to continue. You prove your own mettle.
Luckily, when the time comes it will not be Daura people alone that will mark his papers. We Nigerians already have our pens and papers out, ready to mark. As we graded Jonathan, so shall we grade Buhari, based on HIS performance, not predecessors.