By Ikechukwu Amaechi
After three months of standing aloof, President Muhammadu Buhari finally decided to tour states ravaged by senseless violence and bloodletting.
It was obvious from the onset that what he says or refuses to say during the tour will be important. Nigerians were on the lookout for the telltale signals that would emanate from his fabled body language.
Before now, as the country’s consoler-in-chief, which is what presidents in other climes become in moments of crisis when their people are grieving, a lot was expected from the man who is the father, literally, of the nation.
But Buhari disappoints most in calamitous moments. He shows no empathy. He does not address the people personally. He does not visit trouble areas. He would rather advise the victims to accommodate those butchering them in the spirit of brotherhood.
The outrage such disposition elicits across the country does not move him. In fact, he seems to be amused anytime anyone suggests that he should be empathetic.
But as the months roll by, it is becoming glaring that the political blowback to Buhari’s “I am not aware” presidency and inexplicable indifference to the horror in the land would devastate the morale of many in his camp and turbocharge the enthusiasm of the opposition ahead of the 2019 elections.
His lethargic slumber
So, when 2019 politics finally roused the president from his lethargic slumber, all eyes were on him. What will he say? What will he do? Will the graphic details of the carnage in the states he was visiting make him to take far-reaching decisions that will not only stem the ugly tide but also help him in clawing back some of his vastly diminished political capital?
Will he make pronouncements that would tell the bloodthirsty barbarians in no unmistaken terms that it will no longer be business as usual? Will the president, for once, disappoint those who are so disappointed in what they have seen of a Buhari administration in the last three years that they have come to expect nothing from him?
Will the president use the opportunity of the tour to take charge of his government as he should without allowing aides to run rings round him while he luxuriates in his nominal presidency? Will Buhari stop sleepwalking in office?
Some Nigerians believe the president is a good man with a heart of gold who means well for the country. To them, Buhari’s Achilles heel are the people around him, his subordinates who they claim don’t share his vision for Nigeria. One of such subordinates whose name readily pops up is the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris.
But those who espouse this view fail to acknowledge the fact that one of the hallmarks of good leadership is ability to spot talent. A subordinate is as good as his principal. There is something fundamentally wrong with a virtuous, competent and proficient leader who only attracts debauched, bungling and ineffectual assistants.
So, all eyes were on Buhari in Benue. What will he say to assuage the feelings of the people who felt terribly let down by a president they supported to the hilt in 2015 and a government they helped install? What will he say to convince the people that he does not support his security chiefs, including Idris, who have blamed the victims for the carnage in Benue by insisting that only the abrogation of the anti-open grazing law will stop the killings?
Shouldn’t the president be bordered about such utterances? Or do such utterances represent his own thinking?
On Monday, March 12, Buhari denied insinuations that he was not interested in what was happening in Benue State.
“I cannot overlook the killings in Benue or any other part of Nigeria. I cannot do that. I am genuinely worried about the attacks in Benue and we are doing everything to end them,” he said.
The snag is that nobody seems to know what exactly the president is doing to stop the killings and how long it will take and how many more should be killed before his efforts will start yielding positive results because the killings continued apace even while he was on the tour.
And the bombshell. Three months after Idris contemptuously walked out on the long-suffering people of Benue, the president said he was unaware of such impudence.
He said he was surprised that the police chief did not spend 24 hours in Benue when he directed him to relocate to the state and remain there till peace was restored.
“I am getting to know this in this meeting. I am quite surprised,” he said.
This confession raises a lot of questions. If Buhari truly does not know that Idris spent less than a day in Benue despite his marching order, what exactly does he know?
Shouldn’t the president know? His media aide, Femi Adesina, says not necessarily. Speaking Tuesday, Adesina said the fact that Buhari didn’t know about the antics of his police chief is a proof that his principal is not all-knowing.
“It just tells you that the president is not omniscient,” he said.
“As president and commander-in-chief, he has other channels, but it doesn’t mean that he gets every information under the sun.”
Shouldn’t the president be sagacious enough, well-informed and all-seeing in security matters, considering his military background? Wasn’t that one of the reasons Nigerians opted for him in the 2015 election?
Adesina demurs. “It is not correct, even in the best countries in the world, the super powers, there still would be security breaches and failures. It is not correct.”
Doubling down on his claim that Buhari shares no responsibility in the carnage, Adesina blamed the people.
“Security is a collective responsibility; it is not the responsibility of the president alone. What Nigerians expect is that everything will flow from the top to bottom, which is not correct. It rather should even flow from the bottom up.
“What Nigerians expect is that the president would be like a knight in shining armour who comes to settle all security issues even in wards and villages and hamlets. No, it doesn’t work that way,” he rationalised.
Both the president and his media aide are being smart by half. By pushing the blame to the police chief, Buhari was playing politics and living true to his Teflon reputation. Nothing sticks to him. He revels in having “undamageable reputation.” There are always fall guys who take the rap on his behalf. But blaming IGP Idris for the president’s personal failures is not smart politics. Whatever victory that accrues therefrom will be pyrrhic. Buhari should learn to take responsibility for the failures of his government.
That said, now that the president knows the Inspector-General of Police flouted his order, what will he do?
Many people believe nothing will happen. He will once again sleepwalk over the scandal.
Nigerians have become increasingly cynical. Understandably so. They are distrustful, or even contemptuous of the government and the man they hailed as the messiah barely three years ago.
Many believe that the president is feigning ignorance of the happenings in his government as an alibi. By claiming always that he does not know anything, the president thinks he can be shielded from culpability.
The success of such tactic is ephemeral because it cannot trump the judgment of history.
Ikechukwu Amaechi is the MD/Editor-in-Chief, TheNiche on Sunday newspaper, Ikeja, Lagos.