By Rotimi Fasan
THIS past week of Christmas as Nigerians groan under the excruciating pain of fuel scarcity the presidency thought it was time to screen a documentary that will in their view show the human side of President Muhammadu Buhari. One wonders what side of Buhari Nigerians have been treated to up to this moment. The president’s apparent lack of warmth must have been striking enough for his minders to think that the next thing to do is to try to sell him to Nigerians at a time his government is generally punching below its weight, light as that might be. Are Nigerians interested in knowing or seeing the human side of Buhari at this time? Should that be their concern at all? What idleness could have led to this kind of activity? Why are members of the president’s inner circle thinking this up now? Shouldn’t it have occurred to promoters of the documentary that whatever Nigerians thought of the human side of the president can be best seen in the kind of policies his government pursues and how he responds to their concerns?
No, Nigerians do not need PR managers to tell them of the human side of the president who has held public office long enough for people to know him. His wooden disposition says a lot about him. While this may not be an indication of his real feelings it is at least a pointer to his nature. That he would require a documentary to tell Nigerians about his human side says a lot of how poorly he has responded to the advice of his PR managers. It’s all an indication of how he has failed to allow the demands of public office to shape his conduct. He wants to hold public office but insists on being assessed by the standards of a private citizen. That is not likely to work. That the president is reserved, that he appears naturally taciturn is no reason why his human side should be a matter of mystery. There was no better opportunity for the president to have shown his human side than during the hardship caused in the last few weeks of fuel scarcity. More than any contrived PR job his response to this scarcity crisis would have shown how human he is. But as has become typical of him, he chose to lead from behind.
For the first two weeks that the crisis raged, there was no word from our very human president. And when he finally chose to speak, his words were as tepid as tepid could be. He did no more than issue orders to his surrogates in the petroleum sector to put an end to the crisis by ensuring sufficient supply of fuel in a matter of days. The president as usual seems to be living in the past by relying on his famed body language, an expired quality that seems to be a poor replacement for initiative. Without actually specifying how the scarcity was to end in practical terms, without any one seeing the president bestir himself in any meaningful way, he stays back in the coziness of his residence to issue orders in the fashion of an emperor or the military man that he was. But to whom exactly was the president issuing his orders? Who did he expect to execute those orders when he, as president, bears full responsibility as petroleum resources minister for the management of the country’s oil sector?
The president fails to see the ineffectualness of his orders, to realise that his orders were an indictment of his own position as both minister of petroleum and president of the country. By his order, he was acknowledging he has been remiss in the discharge of his duties. Was it any surprise that nothing came out of his orders? Why is nobody shocked that weeks after the president ordered an end to fuel crisis that Nigerians are still at the very heart of it and the crisis gets aggravated by the day? There is a lot more to leadership than giving orders or relying on the initiative of others to govern a country. The president needs to do more than he is doing. He needs to show himself capable rather than living in the dreamland of surrogates playing politics with the hardship of a people. The entire purpose of the ‘human side of Buhari’ documentary is to sell him ahead for the 2019 election. But nothing could have sold him better to Nigerians than the evidence of his own work which is increasingly abysmal. Buhari’s response to the fuel crisis as to many other crises in the country has been less than human.
He has lost grip of his own administration and everything seems to be happening to him and around him without evidence of his own input. Rather than allowing himself to be positioned to continue in office after the end of his present term, he should start the process of making a retreat to his retirement home in Daura where his body language with the evidence of overage tells us he now truly belongs. This is no time to purvey the anachronism of a man living in rustic simplicity with its simple-minded solutions to the hard-knuckle questions of twenty-first century governance as evidence of his humanity. Nor will it do to praise him for doing nothing while ensconced in semi-retirement in the presidential palace. Buhari just must fulfill the demands of his office for the time he has left and he should be made to rise to the occasion by being required to respond to the right questions. Not the kind being asked by leaders of the Ohaneze Ndigbo or the Christian Association of Nigeria that is making an ethnic or religious issue of a clear case of failure of leadership.
The fuel crisis could not have been directed at just the Igbo or Christians simply because it occurs in December when Christians among whom are the Igbo travel home to celebrate Christmas. We stand the risk of losing sight of the point at issue when matters are cynically pushed into the emotive realm of religion or ethnicity. It leaves room for all kinds of misinterpretation and gives our inept leaders room to explain away their failures. That Nigerians are being accustomed to the annual ritual of end-of-year scarcity of fuel which often precedes yet another increment in fuel prices says something about the ineptness of our leaders. This annual ritual of pain preceded Buhari’s arrival as a tenant in Aso Villa. It was in fact part of what he was elected to correct. That he has not been able to do anything about it should be a matter of shame to his administration. But let nobody twist the narrative.