By Rotimi Fasan
AT the Eagle’s Square in Abuja during his inauguration on May 29, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari famously said in his inaugural address that he was a Nigerian original who belonged to no individual, group or any section of the country.
In other words, Mr. Buhari was in that address stating for the benefit of the world that, as Nigeria’s president, he would be answerable to all Nigerians irrespective of who or what they are, where they come from or what beliefs they profess.
If he didn’t realise the full import of his statement, at least that was what it meant to many Nigerians and, I believe, others elsewhere watching from the sidelines. Perhaps also in making that statement President Buhari was mindful of the belief in certain quarters that he was a sectional leader, one who prided the interest of his own part of the country over and above other parts of Nigeria.
This particular line of argument was vigorously pursued by critics of Buhari’s candidacy during the 2015 campaigns. Given his rather rigid cast of mind, a trait Ibrahim Babangida and his cohort of palace coupists latched on among several other excuses to justify their ouster of Buhari from power in 1985, his critics were not keen to cut him a slack as far as his profession of impartiality was concerned.
They were worried about what they consider his conservative or, perhaps, more appropriately put, retrogressive and anti-modernist ideological bent. But in spite of his record as a military leader, one whose respect of opponents’ views was scant, Buhari said he was a changed man, a reconditioned democrat, as some would say, and nationalist who would make the entire country his constituency. But no sooner did he take up residence in Aso Villa than Muhammadu Buhari started to show traits of his earlier incarnation as a Nigerian leader.
It all started with appointments into his inner cabinet of close subordinates. Almost to the last man (and I mean that in every degree of his masculinist sense: Buhari doesn’t appear to have much use for women except perhaps when they are in the ‘other room’), Buhari’s appointees were northerners.
This didn’t escape the attention of Nigerians. But his supporters were quick to say that those were appointments of very close lieutenants who must of necessity be people the president felt happy working with.
As far as those who spoke in this vein were concerned, Buhari could very well pick all his personal staff (even if they would be functioning in an official capacity) from among his close circuit of family members. Yet, many of those who spoke this way appeared to have forgotten that just a few years earlier there was an Olusegun Obasanjo who could be accused of anything but surrounding himself mainly with members of his Yoruba kit and kin not to say those from his own extended family.
This is not, of course, saying that Obasanjo was totally above board in that regard. As human beings, it would be the rare individual who would pass such test of cold impartiality without any iota of consideration for factors other than the most strictly objective. No, we can’t entirely escape being human. What we should always strive to do is to ensure that equity and fairness is not entirely absent in our dealings. Many were therefore prepared to suspend judgment on what looked like an incipient case of nepotism in the early stages of Buhari’s presidency. Buhari himself would however not make much effort to convince anyone that he was ready to play fair. Rather than nip in the bud this inclination to self-destruct in the manner his first appointments suggested, Buhari chose to ignore all entreaties that he change his ways.
He was not ready to be generous in victory. Questioned about his scant regard for equity in appointments, he said he could not be expected to devote the same attention and amount of time to those who voted for him and those who didn’t. Statements such as this lack refinement. It’s not just a matter of it being politically incorrect. There was something about it that didn’t show a generosity of spirit. It was a statement of vengeance, bereft as it was of empathy. Which ought not to be the case for a former leader who was already under a cloud of suspicion as a Fulani hegemonist. Thus as president, Buhari was still in campaign mode and seemed not to be giving ‘a damn’ as Goodluck Jonathan too once couldn’t be bothered about.
By the time Buhari made his ministerial appointments after many months of inaction, he had succeeded in confounding all who thought he was ready to yield space to his critics. It was at this point he seemed to have lost many who thought highly of his integrity and were inclined to forgive his wrongdoings. Even while the bar has been progressively set low just to accommodate some of his government’s shortcomings, Buhari himself appears resigned to ‘fate’. Which gives room for many around him to do in his name so many things that are reflecting badly on his administration. The latest of this is the feud between Ibe Kachikwu, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and the Group GMD of NNPC, Maikanti Baru. Before this, there were issues concerning Buhari’s close subordinates and their less than sterling dealings. Last week, a seemingly innocuous statement by the World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, that Buhari had instructed that the body give special attention to the north in its projects ignited criticisms of the president’s conduct. The situation has not been helped by revelations that the north has been enjoying more than its fair share in the number of projects embarked upon in the country.
While some of these issues could have been exaggerated, Buhari’s tendency to ignore concerns like this while treating with apparent levity calls for the restructuring of the country is bound to make people even more uncharitable in their assessment of the present administration. President Buhari may have said that he belongs to everybody and to nobody but his actions need to match his utterances more. So far they give the impression that he belongs to some people more than others. The worst aspect of this all is that the president does not seem to be bothered that an increasing number of Nigerians feel alienated from his government following the sense of entitlement that certain elements around him display in their conduct. It is difficult for many to believe that the president does not know anything of this. But irrespective of what he knows or not the buck stops at his desk and he must take responsibility for the actions of his ‘people’ to whom he now appears much beholden.