“We have been sinking into crisis, yet we hear no clear summons from the center of power.”
TED Kennedy said this in November 1979 in describing the administration of fellow Democrat, United States President Jimmy Carter.
Kennedy, then U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, made the statement when he officially launched his own bid for president.
A charge of incompetence was hanging over Carter’s head like the Sword of Damocles and Democrats who feared they would lose the election if Carter flew the party’s flag, his incumbency notwithstanding, challenged him in the primaries.
“Government falters. Fear spreads that our leaders have resigned themselves to retreat,” Kennedy said, almost poetically.
Though he lost the primaries to Carter, the obvious happened. The incumbent president lost the election to the Republican challenger, Ronald Reagan.
In recent times, I have been ruminating over Kennedy’s admonition to Americans almost 40 years ago.
Nigeria, like the U.S. of the Carter-era, has sunk into crisis without clear summons from the centre of power.
Americans pulled their country’s chestnuts out of fire by electing Reagan who restored the national pride. But the question that concentrates minds as the Nigerian presidential election on February 16 approaches is whether Nigerians can do the same.
For every well-meaning Nigerian, the goings-on right now are sobering. They make an unequivocal statement on the negative tendencies that stultify development.
The happenings bring to the fore our predicament and why it is almost impossible to realise the Nigerian dream.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s candidacy in the election bothers me. His mental and physical incapacitation is real, leaving us not only with a gravely hobbled administration but also a diminished Presidency.
In any other clime where premium is placed on capacity, a president in Buhari’s condition would head back home for a well-deserved rest rather than hustle for a second term.
There are two reasons for this:
One is enlightened self-interest. Buhari’s fragile frame cannot carry the burden the office of the president places on his shoulders.
While it is true that the office affords him the resources to hire the best medical doctors or to use the best medical facilities in the world, the fact remains that the demands of the office exacerbate his health crisis.
Two is patriotism. If he loves the country and truly wants it to become great, he can only be the Moses, pointing out the direction of the Promised Land. Nigerians will be grateful.
But it will be a disservice if Buhari insists, as he is doing, that he is the man to take us there knowing he does not have the capacity to lead the way on that tortuous and highly tasking journey.
However, it is apparent that Buhari won’t let go because the decision is not his. He is a puppet to a vicious, avaricious and capricious cabal.
Buhari, like many of his predecessors, is held hostage. The complexity of the problem is accentuated by the fact that right now, he does not get it.
A man who neither remembers the day of his inauguration nor the fact that he is the presidential candidate of his party, cannot be said to be in control.
But the political jobbers who see Buhari’s continued tenancy in Aso Rock as the only guarantee of their continued presence in the corridors of power brook no opposition. They don’t love. They don’t wish him well.
They are only out to exploit his predicament to maximum advantage.
In just one week of very poor performance on the campaign trail, Buhari’s infirmities were on full parade. What Aso Rock has been hiding for months became public knowledge; the man in whose hands the fate of almost 200 million Nigerians is placed is physically, mentally and psychologically fragile.
I am surprised that some Nigerians seem flabbergasted. The penchant of Buhari to go off tangent is not a recent phenomenon. That explains why the only media chat he has had in his almost four-year Presidency was three years ago – on December 30, 2015. I hope people have not forgotten Buhari’s interview with Phil Gayle, the German Deutsche Welle television reporter, at the end of his state visit to Germany in October 2016.
The reporter asked: “One of your big election pledges was to tackle corruption and this strive has seen you jail judges, police chiefs and even your own former National Security Adviser; what was the problem as you saw it with corruption in Nigeria?
Buhari’s riposte was incredulous.
“Well, I think I will tell you what I clearly understand. The foreign companies especially, oil prospects and development companies, have been in Nigeria for about two generations – 40 years and above and so on.
“So, they know the environment, they stayed that long, they continue to invest because they know the potentialities Nigeria has in oil and gas and the capacity of the people to learn and work hard.
“That is why they are still prospecting in Nigeria and so on. But the thing that the Nigerian government will do is to secure the environment. If the environment is not secured, then unfortunately, the investments wouldn’t be coming in,” Buhari said.
It was a long-winded, incoherent, confused and rambling response.
With a smirk on his face, the interviewer must have told himself that Nigerians were in for it. It was the ‘some countries, indeed, have them’ kind of look. That was over two years ago. Buhari’s condition is a lot worse today.
Those bent on railroading him for a second term know that he lacks the capacity to function as president.
How do I know? Ask any of his most trenchant and vociferous supporters if Nigeria were to be their personal business in need of a turn-around manager, they would hire a man with his competences and capabilities and watch them keep mum.
It is bothersome that the same people who think that Buhari is not competent to run their private businesses insist when it comes to running Nigeria that he is the man for the job. Sheer hocus-pocus.
It is worse when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo tries to wheedle the unwary by blaming faulty microphone for the president’s underwhelming performance at last week’s two-hour town hall programme, tagged ‘The Candidates. And even more so when Osinbajo rationalises his principal’s inability to communicate meaningfully. The issue is not whether Buhari has the gift of the gab. He doesn’t. We know. But he does not have to be an orator to understand questions and give intelligent answers.
Effective leadership is all about communication. We must stop lowering the leadership bar to accommodate Buhari’s embarrassing inadequacies.
His problem runs deeper than just lacking oratorical prowess. It is a medical condition. He needs help. Those using him as their ace on the political chessboard are neither fair to him nor to the country.
It is a shame that in 2019, some Nigerians are promoting Buhari’s candidacy. Electing him in 2015 can be excused. Four years later and knowing what we know now, it is unconscionable to insist on his Presidency for another four years.