By Olu Fasan
SUCCESSIVE Nigerian leaders have either been utterly inept or woefully visionless, or both. But none combined incompetence with brazen arrogance. Except President Buhari. He is intolerably inept and unbelievably arrogant! Buhari’s ineptitude is recognised globally. Recently, the international consulting group, Eurasia, said in its 2019 Top Risk Report that Buhari “lacks the energy, creativity or political savvy to move the needle on Nigeria’s most intractable problems”. His stubbornness and arrogance are legendary too.
A British newspaper, Telegraph, once described Buhari as a “Headmasterly figure”, alluding to his didactic, “my way or the highway” approach to governance. In a recently leaked tape, Rotimi Amaechi, the Transport minister, said: “The president doesn’t listen to anybody. He doesn’t care”. Indeed, Buhari’s wife, Aisha, said as much. Referring to her husband, she told the BBC in 2016: “Sometimes, when one is doing something wrong and people talk to them, they should listen”. But what was Buhari’s response? He said: “I can claim superior knowledge over her and the rest of the opposition because, in the end, I have succeeded”.
That hubristic sense of “superior knowledge” has defined Buhari’s presidency. He has shown it in his idiosyncratic running of the economy, and in his insensitive handling of issues of national unity and social cohesion, such as his tacit support for the killer herdsmen and his lopsided, nepotistic appointments. I mean, consider his government’s recent ill-judged, ill-timed and insensitive attempt to remove and replace the Chief Justice of Nigeria on allegations of false asset declaration. Just a month before a general election! But leaving those aside, my focus here is on two seemingly symbolic gestures of Buhari’s uppity.
Have you noticed the APC’s new two four-fingered sign? President Buhari started it when he raised two four-fingered hands in the National Assembly while presenting the 2019 budget. The picture went viral, and the sign has now replaced the broom in Buhari’s re-election campaign. You may ask: why am I focusing on this sign? Well, two reasons.
First, the use of the sign in a self-entitled manner to suggest four more years is presumptuous and arrogant. Buhari’s presidency is internationally adjudged a failure. Just one year into his presidency, the cry across the country was: “This is not the change we voted for”. That sense of despondency remains today. A president seeking re-election in those circumstances should show humility. Instead, Buhari and his supporters are arrogantly raising two four-fingered hands at Nigerians. It is insensitive and provocative!
But the four-fingered sign grates for a more pernicious reason. It’s the symbol of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group linked with terrorism? Recently, the leader of the UK Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, was widely condemned when it was discovered he had used the sign during a visit to a mosque in 2016. If President Buhari didn’t know what the sign represents, then he is appallingly ignorant of international affairs. But if he knew and still used the Rabi’ah sign, then he is unbelievably insensitive to Nigeria’s religious diversity. In any case, how could Buhari say he’s fighting Boko Haram and then promote a sign universally associated with Islamist terrorism? Unbelievable!
So much for the Rabi’ah sign. Let’s take another example of Buhari’s uppity. Recently, he said he would hand over his campaign to Bola Tinubu “in order to concentrate on governance”. My immediate reaction was: Why does Buhari keep insulting Nigerians? I mean, has he governed over the past 3½ years? He spent much of his presidency receiving treatment abroad for an undisclosed illness. As the Financial Times said, Buhari’s illness “has sapped his presidency of strength and direction”. Even when he is at home, he rarely goes to his office or attends meetings of the Federal Executive Council. Now, less than six months to the end of his term, and while seeking re-election, he suddenly wants to concentrate on governance rather than face the people he’s asking to re-elect him!
Where is democratic accountability? Where is respect for the electorate? An American president seeking re-election would never hand over his campaign to a party leader “to concentrate on governance”. Rather, he would be meeting the people, participating in presidential debates and live TV interviews. He would be working tirelessly to sell his record and future plans to the electorate. But Buhari is doing none of these; rather, he is outsourcing his re-election campaign, using Tinubu as a proxy. But Nigerians did not elect Tinubu in 2015 and will not elect him next month!
Of course, this plays into Tinubu’s strategic plan. He wants to run for president in 2023. As he traverses the length and breadth of Nigeria for Buhari’s re-election, he will also be building national support for his presidential ambitions. But this is dishonest and selfish politics. Tinubu should wait until 2023 to face Nigerians; Buhari should face them now. The president of Nigeria should not emerge through surrogacy!
As a Chatham House report rightly says, President Buhari is “an aloof and disengaged leader, ‘walled off’ from Nigerians”. But, even worse, his actions and utterances are disrespectful to Nigerians. This country has never had an elected leader like him!