By Rotimi Fasan
Let us take a few steps back to a section of last week’s column, and please pay attention to the emphasised words: “Here in Nigeria, the beginning of this year should remind us that the present government in Nigeria has less than 18 months to remain in office. Yet many Nigerians have great expectations on what it can still do and are hanging hopes on it for a better governed country.
“Well, government may have come to the end of its tether. Former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, is always a polarising figure whose messages are almost always entangled with his person with many confusing the message with the messenger.
“But he may have said it all when he recently advised Nigerians to more or less accept the truth of his own submission that expecting more from the present All Progressives Congress-led government would amount to beating a dead horse.
The government appears spent having given all it can to address the problems plaguing Nigeria. There is pretty little left for it to do to bring about a turn-around in the fortunes of the country.”
When I wrote the foregoing words the two televised interviews the President, Muhammadu Buhari, had with Channels Television and the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, were yet to be broadcast, supposing they had been recorded earlier.
The Channels interview, anchored by Seun Okinbaloye and Maupe Ogun-Yusuf, came in the evening of last Wednesday, many hours after the column had been published in the early hours of the day (it had been written three days before publication), while the NTA interview came a day after.
For a media-wary president, granting both interviews hours apart must have felt like killing two birds with a stone. It was a way, it seems, of dispensing with a disgusting chore in quick order to concentrate on more comfortable things.
The last major interview the President had with the media, if I recall correctly, was in June last year and it was also like this: first with Arise Television and shortly after, NTA. It would look like the NTA interviews were meant to balance and smoothen out the rough edges that could have emerged from the earlier interviews with the independent broadcasters that would be expected to be less scripted.
Talking points from the last two interviews bear this out. While critical Nigerians have debated the relevance or irrelevance of the president’s responses to the more probing questions of Channels, they have had to discuss the NTA interview in terms of the president’s personal wishes, in other words the interview took a light-hearted approach.
Thus, while Channels wanted the president’s clarification to issues of galloping inflation, unemployment and exchange rate figures that have quadrupled since 2015 when Buhari became president, the NTA was massaging the president with questions on his aspirations after he leaves the presidency and how he would like to be remembered.
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While to the Channels question Buhari left the clearly blazed track and made for the bush, uprooting weeds and bulldosing timber, as he resorts to his familiar tune of calls for a return to the farm when many thought the question had nothing to do with agriculture to say nothing of farms.
To the NTA, he also walked the familiar terrain: he would return to his beloved farm after serving. Here’s another excerpt from last week’s column: “If Nigerian politicians will permit, Nigerians can yet experience the good times even as we move close to the last year of President Buhari in office and the old man is allowed to return to his Daura farm as he has promised to.”
So, there you have it. President Buhari has not only assured us he has given his best but he has also maintained he is eagerly looking forward to life on his farm where his ageing bones can find some rest among his peers who have long since retired. And who can or should deny an old man such a simple wish?
Those who want to may look at the weakening energy of the president as a metaphor for the staying power of his government, its mental alertness and the energy it has left to function. If things are properly put in perspective, then Nigerians may be better advised to moderate their expectations of the president and pray more for the deliverance of the power profiteers surrounding him, hoping they would take less advantage of him as a secret security memo recently warned.
But while waiting for the president to retire to his Daura farm, Nigerians cannot fold their hands and die in silence. Something has to be done about the matter of the crumbling economy, rising inflation, quadrupled unemployment, which at 33.3 per cent, is the second highest in the world.
They would have to address the question of insecurity that has never been this bad with people being kidnapped from their homes and entire villages held hostage if not destroyed. The president recognised this in his acknowledgment of the fact that the job was not thrust on him, rather he applied for it.
He may be exasperated as his statement that he has served in all possible capacities indicate: governor, minister and now two-term president. It is, indeed, time for him to be freed.
As Nigerians could say in a different context: no be only di president kill Jesus, we plenty for dia. Buhari alone didn’t cause our misfortune. Come to think of it, for a man who has served in various capacities in a country where public office is seen as a meal ticket, an opportunity to quick wealth, President Buhari may well be one of our ‘poorest’ presidents ever barring Shehu Shagari and Umar Yar’Adua.
Not a few local government chairpersons would be richer than him. Which is to say, he could be far richer than he presently is.
His vision of farming as the way out of Nigeria’s economic woes is not entirely unfounded and comes from the folkloric wisdom that a well-fed person cannot be poor and once hunger is out of the way, one’s poverty is at an end.
Yet it is a vision, viewed from the perspective of Buhari, that is entirely bucolic and romantic given the complexity of today’s world. Buhari’s idea of farming is frozen in time.
Which may be why his farm in Daura does not have the sophistication of the farm holdings of another farmer-president: Olusegun Obasanjo. One may also ask: which farm does the president want Nigerians given access to?
The same from which bandits, insurgents, kidnappers and other criminal elements have chased farmers, aggravating our food crisis?
Anyhow, Nigerians must cut Buhari a slack. He seems genuinely committed and patriotic within his own understanding even when his best does not seem good enough.