Niger Republic

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

IN his kairotic moment at the dispatch box in the British House of Commons on January 31, 2022, Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party since 2020, gave the then British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, a full dressing down. It was a remarkable speech. Johnson “is a man without shame… damaging everyone and everything around him along the way,” Sir Starmer said. What was Boris Johnson’s crime?

At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic when British people were asked to make the most heart wrenching sacrifices, which Starmer described as “a terrible collective trauma, endured by all, enjoyed by none,” a time during which funerals were missed and dying relatives were left unvisited, Johnson, whose administration made the rules and who should lead by the force of personal example, routinely broke the rules.

For taking the British people for fools and holding the people’s sacrifice in contempt, the leader of Opposition said the Prime Minister had showed himself unfit for office. The British people, he said, “think the Prime Minister should do the decent thing and resign.” But he doubted that possibility. “Of course, he won’t. Because he is a man without shame. And just as he has done throughout his life, he is damaging everyone and everything around him along the way,” Starmer lamented.

He was dead wrong. Boris Johnson’s tenancy at No 10 Downing Street ended precipitately, albeit ignominiously, with his resignation on September 6, 2022. In Igboland, a man without shame is someone to be dreaded because he is capable of committing the most heinous atrocities. If we extrapolate it to the position of leadership, a shameless leader is more dangerous than a clueless leader. A political party without any sense of shame is a national plague. I decided before now not to comment again on the calamity that befell this country in 2015 because it is tantamount to talking to the deaf and dumb. The Buhari administration and the All Progressives Congress, APC, that birthed it are impervious to reasoning.

But recent events have proven that what we are dealing with goes beyond incompetence and lack of capacity. In President Buhari, we are dealing with a leader, just like Boris Johnson, without shame, a man who is busy damaging everyone and everything around him. How do I mean? It is sheer shamelessness for Buhari to leave Nigeria at a time of unprecedented flood disaster for South Korea to attend the so-called World Bio Summit, an event organised by the Korean government and the World Health Organisation. The idea of the Summit was to gather leaders of the vaccine and biotechnology industry to discuss innovations and ways to strengthen global health security. 

Of the about 300 people that attended the Summit, aside President Yoon Suk-yeol, whose country hosted the event, Buhari was the only other head of state present. Other than the President of the Asian Development Bank, Masatsugu Asakawa, and former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, other participants were representatives from global organisations and multinational pharmaceutical companies.

Buhari is not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. So, what was he doing at the Summit? What does he know about the issues? What value did his presence add? I can envision in my mind’s eye some of the scientists surreptitiously casting a contemptuous glance at the man in resplendent agbada, wondering what the heck he was doing in their midst at the Grand Walkerhill Seoul, venue of the Summit. Defending the shameless junket, presidential aides said Nigeria was invited to the Summit based on her selection with five other African countries by WHO and the European Union, EU, during the February  EU-African Summit in Brussels, Belgium for mRNA technology transfer and bio-manufacturing of vaccines on the African continent.

And so? Must President Buhari attend? Couldn’t any of the chief executives of Nigerian pharmaceutical companies, the Director-General of NAFDAC, or at most the Minister of Health, people who have a good grasp of the issues, represent Nigeria? Why didn’t the presidents of the other five African countries attend? The fact that Buhari attended summit themed – The Future of Vaccine and Bio-Health – where his presence added no value whatsoever, underscores how hopelessly idle he is in Aso Rock. But more appalling is the fact that as at the time he embarked on that trip, floods have killed at least 603 people across Nigeria, leaving 2,407 injured with 1.3 million others displaced from their communities.

These frightening statistics were released by no less a person than the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, who also revealed that about 82,053 houses had been totally destroyed, 121,318 others significantly damaged.  While 332,327 hectares of land were completely washed away, 108,392 hectares have been severely affected. In all, well over 2.5 million persons have been adversely impacted by the floods.In Bayelsa, the worst hit State, 300 communities and villages in seven out of the eight local governments were totally or partially submerged and 700,000 persons displaced as at the time Buhari jetted out. The two major entry points into the State by road from Delta and Rivers States were impassable as water had washed off most parts of the road.

Yet, Buhari neither deemed it necessary to visit any of the states, nor address the nation as any president worth his salt would have done in such circumstance. In fact, even if the president was on a trip abroad, such a natural disaster would have forced him back home. But in Buhari’s case, the reverse is the case. Truth be told, Nigerians have cut this president too much slack. Yet, Buhari who could not condole with Nigerians was quick to extend his heartfelt condolences to President Yoon Suk-yeo, the government and people of the Republic of South Korea, as well as families of victims of last Saturday’s stampede at Itaewon district of Seoul in which at least 150 people were killed. His condolence message came just a day after the tragic incident.

On Monday, Buhari dispatched yet another heartfelt condolence message to the government and people of India following reports that at least 141 people had died after a British-era bridge collapsed on Sunday evening. As I write, Buhari is in London on medical tourism. This is coming on the heels of the terror alerts issued by the United States, United Kingdom and other foreign missions last week. The countries did not only stop at issuing the security advisories, they took the very telling step of evacuating their non-essential staff and their family members from Abuja, Nigeria’s seat of power. The Buhari government has been huffing and puffing ever since, taking umbrage at the countries that warned their nationals of an imminent terror attack in Abuja.

Yet, after all the braggadocio, he hopped into one of the many presidential jets and headed London for a “routine medical check-up.” Aso Rock said he is expected back in the country in the “second week of November” as if Nigerians care. Could it be that appreciating the fact that he has become a non-essential staff at Aso Rock, Buhari heeded the British call to return to his second home – London – until things cool off since his other family members are already in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. 

It is sad that the irony of this trip at a time other countries are asking their non-essential staff to quit Nigeria is lost on Buhari. That is the hallmark of shameless leadership.  

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