Today, President Muhammadu Buhari is in a position that no one can envy. His ride to power followed a rough terrain. He had critics including myself. He had admirers too. They were full of hopes in what his military-induced sense of obstinacy would bring to bear on Governance in a Jonathan-battered Nigeria. After all, Olusegun Obasanjo before him, had shown how easily a former military General could step on toes for the good of the country, at least, in his own perception. He also had haters and die-hard ones at that. His irredeemable haters will have nothing to do with his ethnic descent. They consider northern Nigerians as enemies of the country for their historical arrogance in leadership. Above all else, though, they naturally detest his military home-based attachment to the unity of Nigeria and that is what the minds that are endeared to his predecessor hated and still hate the most. Buhari was known for modesty and a measured lifestyle. Not known to be corrupt or encouraging corruption!
To make Buhari President, we the critics – and “we” were in the shadow of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka – had to make an about-face on Buhari to see the back of Goodluck Jonathan with his destructive agenda.
Everyone, except the separatist-minded and non-patriotic Nigerians, was full of hope when Muhammadu Buhari became President. His phlegmatic inaugural speech was, however, everything else but revolutionary. It was the initial shot that struck momentum in the spine. It was soon followed by a long-drawn wait for a cabinet that bore the early signs of unpreparedness on the part of the new President. These negative surprises were willfully suppressed by an overwhelming audience of supporters, who were convinced deep down their heart that this President is, nevertheless, the Messiah they envision him to be.
And when cleansing started, he did not disappoint. He ordered the relocation of the central military command to the epicenter of insurgency and in rapid succession, the insurgents soon realized why the Nigerian Armed Forces had a regional reputation. The military was redeemed from the chain of battlefield disgraces that Buhari’s predecessor had subjected it to, in the aftermath of corruption, pillaging and willful decimation.
Henceforth, priority was given to the adequate funding and equipment of the armed forces with armory and no longer the arming of militants in the creeks.
In a parallel action, the President quickly turned his attention to the corruption that crippled the military and started from his own tribal kinsman, who served as the arrowhead of the National Security Advisory Team, Sambo Dasuki. He was arrested and his financial crimes credibly exposed. Today, he languishes in detention and hardly anyone has tears to shed for him in the light of the gravity of what he collaborated in. This has, so far, made it difficult for critics and haters to wear the President the cloak of tribal and ethnic bigotry. The battle against corruption was launched in earnest. Partial revelations began to make the round and it became apparent, who got what share of which bounty and at what point in time. Money was recovered in quiet domestic diplomacy and prominent arrests were made to signal to the larger audience that the government meant business.
Unfortunately, however, it was becoming apparent, in the run-up to the inauguration of the administration, that the fiscal life of the administration was bound to be constrained by some money crunch of sort. The price of the economy’s mainstay had crumbled to a shocking depth in the global market. The economy was going to be cash-strapped and all the ambitious projects that were promised and predicated on a projected level of earnings were bound to run into trouble. A barrel of oil that has sold over several years, for an average of $100.00 on the global market suddenly fell to as low as $30.00. Recession crept in inevitably. While this made neutral minds and admirers of the President sad, it made his haters upbeat and elated. They wasted no time, hammering on what they characterized as the President’s inefficiency. They were promptly tagged “The Wailers” since there was nothing the President did or will do that they will ever appreciate in spite of obvious adverse conditions.
One after the other, problems multiplied for the President. As the noose tightened around efforts to recover looted funds and as former President Jonathan continued to feature prominently in looting-related confessions, calls grew, for the questioning of the ex-President. In the absence of sufficient proceeds of oil sales though, it became incumbent on the government to concentrate on recovering stolen funds. Then the enemies suddenly mounted a formidable front. Sabotage actions began to take hold and the saboteurs called themselves the Niger Delta Avengers. Oil pipelines were blown in succession and output fell dramatically in addition to the plummeting market prices.
From nowhere and seemingly, without warning, a new secessionist movement launched destabilizing activities in the East and was led by a little know anti-intellectual youngster of immense nuisance value.
It was difficult not to point accusing fingers at the President’s immediate predecessor in the face of the bitterness that trailed his ejection from power. A novum in the political history of Nigeria, where incumbents hitherto, never lost elections!
The President’s Health
One bizarre feature of President Muhammadu Buhari’s governance since inauguration has always been his profound invisibility. Many times over, Nigerians clamored for reassuring public addresses by the President in puzzling times when the President’s authority was challenged or the sovereignty of the country threatened. One highly interesting development was noted when news emerged of acts of corruption perpetrated by the President’s inner circle. Most dramatic, was the charge of millions of Naira brazenly spent on grass-trimming. Insinuations emerged, of some elements in the government’s circle that have hijacked a part of leadership. In each of these cases, the President excelled in silence and inaction when the folks expected decisive and intimidating leadership to draw the line on errant adventurers.
Then, the President would often launch surprising actions to take corrupt officers unaware. Most notable was the attempted cleanup of the judiciary that is littered with corrupt judges. It was a cosmetic venture of one step forward, two steps backward that, in the end, virtually left the status quo largely intact. Nothing was followed through.
Everyone had problem, understanding what the driving forces of the President were. No reaction to credible charges of corruption and power-grab by his inner circle. No visible address to the nation to show that someone was in charge. In more than two years in office, the President has hosted just one comprehensive media chat.
Then, news broke out that the President had serious health problems (probably life-threatening) that required a long-drawn residence overseas for proper medical attention.
A few things but not all began to make more sense. His shortage of appetite for and inability to wage an all-out war on the enemies of the country could be appreciated against the backdrop of his declining health.
In the long period of his absence on medical leave, the President respected and honored all the relevant constitutional obligations to empower his deputy in his absence much to the chagrin of his inner cabinet, who would have loved to wield his powers. A novum in the country’s political history. A huge success and a serious problem at the same time since it became incumbent upon the President to address the obnoxious deal of a daring cabal.
In spite of his silence and health-induced absence, within which secessionist agitations thrived almost uncontrolled, he soon moved to restore the unity of the country upon recovery and return to the country much as he had wrestled down Boko Haram long before it. He had also resolved the Avenger’s challenge with visible ease albeit with non-transparent compromises.
The extent of damage that was done to the economy inherited by the President’s government is well known to the discerning mind. The worst single hallmark was the fact that the owing of salaries by government institutions simply became a routine affair over the years in the face of boom and plenty. At a point, the preceding government took to borrowing from banks to pay Federal employees. Pension allocations were simply stolen, and pensioners left to wallow in pains. Contractors’ fees were routinely owed till “thine Kingdom comes”. The foreign reserves that several governments had struggled to boost for the rainy day, were simply stolen and depleted in the understanding that a President from the Niger Delta, which ‘lays the golden egg’, was simply taking or stealing back what rightly belonged to him.
That a nation with a serious intention to grow and better the lot of its citizens cannot thrive on this pedestrian mentality to say the least of the practice of owing salaries and pensions, is undisputable to the discerning mind. On this note, President Buhari launched a fight against many adversities to rectify this basic requirement of fixing the economy, without which no progress can ever be made. The President has released bailout funds repeatedly, to help states return the payment of wages and salaries to normalcy while revenue inflow had dropped dramatically. Yet, some states resisted this blatantly and with impunity invoking their autonomy in the running of their states. The bailout funds were misappropriated, partly stolen while some states continue to owe salaries all the same, without outrage from the wider public – not even the employees that are owed. President Buhari has moved to reset the clock of routine and regular pension payments to normalcy, while revenue intake has fallen dramatically. The recession that greeted the government’s initial days in office with the crash of crude oil price and little reserves to fall back on, has long fizzled out.
The foreign reserves that are accumulated for the rainy day is now back on track and are being boosted once again. Infrastructural projects are reported to be quietly on course. Now, I hear that the construction of the second Niger Bridge to ease the traffic link of the East with the rest of the nation has quietly made enormous progress.
Much as it counts as a part of the President’s weakness, the fight against corruption is also one of the President’s success stories. His daring attack on the corrupt judiciary was unprecedented. That will go down in history. Unfortunately, it wasn’t followed through to the bitter end.
That avowed enemies of the administration will have none of this should not change a thing in the perception of the obvious. In part, the enemies do not only live in denial, they take active steps to sabotage progress. That, practically, explains the recent surge in the kidnapping of skilled foreign workers in the country as one act of sabotage to scare off foreign investment, while pipeline sabotage now seems to have become a bit more difficult to execute. And thank goodness, the price of crude oil is bouncing back while efforts at diversifying the economy is quietly in progress
The greatest weakness of President Buhari and his administration has been his election as President. To make Buhari the President of Nigeria, the leading priority of many well-meaning Nigerians, was to see the back of a disastrous Goodluck Jonathan. Many forces teamed up and the forces were not homogenous in purpose. While some were “sowing seeds”, others were genuinely interested in the good of the country. One notable force that had and always has the good of Nigeria at heart was and remains former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
How much President Buhari is presently at the mercy of any of the forces who “sowed seeds”, who they are and where they are is largely unknown. But it is true that the very expensive campaign that he ran to win the Presidency was financed by someone. It is also true that his own wife has had cause to cry out repeatedly, that President Buhari is being held hostage by the elements. Many of the President’s supporters do this privately too.
The President has the ill-advised habit of avoiding dialogue with the country when it is most needed. Precisely then, his silence turns out to be poison. By now, the President is well aware of the presence of a cabal in his inner circle burning to usurp his powers and even doing so at any opportunity given. The role reportedly played by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation to undermine Acting President Osinbanjo during the sick leave of the President is not forgotten. Cries of corruption in his inner circle are growing louder by the day and when action is taken, it is obstinately slow and largely cosmetic or too little, too late. Matters that should be referred to the EFCC for action are often referred to commissions of enquiry with reports that never see the light of day.
While it is incumbent on the President to choose his lieutenants and aides from amongst people that he can best work with, it is also a recipe for disaster to work covertly or overtly, to rekindle the age-old nostalgia for the northern dominance of political power. Even though I consider cries of the extreme northern dominance of the President’s team as superfluous and irrelevant, I still do not think that the cries should be obstinately ignored. This is now even termed ‘nepotism’ in some quarters. Here, President Buhari should have learnt a lot from the colour-blindness of Olusegun Obasanjo in the tribal ordering of things. So far, President Buhari has stuck strictly, to the constitutional requirements of the Federal Character and is doing the rest in line with tribal dictates. Even though I have no problem with this at all since those northerners are Nigerians, many others would have followed my line of reasoning if performance by such people was unblemished and corruption was not involved.
In the fight against corruption, many steps have been taken. Yet, the real big bang is waiting to be seen. Aside the half-hearted incursion into the Judiciary, no intimidating, deterrent or exemplary case or cases has/have been recorded. No doubt, a lot of quiet diplomacy may have led to the recovery of stolen funds. Yet, it is, unfortunately, not the essence of fighting corruption. Fighting corruption, the Ribadu-style is the language that Nigerians understand best no matter how much minority deviants will preach one element or the other, of the rule of law. It must not be one-sided. But it must be spectacular to provide a semblance, at least, that no one is above the law. Disgrace the culprits openly and they are well known everywhere. Prominent prosecutions cannot be done for Nigeria only in England while James Ibori comes back to town to become a kingmaker and not warned sternly to take a back seat for being a discredited role-model. Again, Buhari failed to embrace this crucial lesson from the Obasanjo days and it boils back to the question, who the silent “seed-sowers” may be behind the scene. Even though this assumption of “seed-sowers” may be wrong completely, the fact alone that the President’s approach and attitude have encouraged this insinuation is serious enough as quality lapses and omission.
The reason that President Buhari still remains silent on the serious issue of the Fulani herdsmen and the troubles surrounding their activities is puzzling indeed and may have been the last straw for many observers. Thank goodness, the debate in public space has now served to provide information also, on the herdsmen’s own side of the story that the public had hitherto, known little about. The President has nonetheless continued to do what he does best, namely remaining silent. If the President had applied this obstinacy of silence to the open fighting of corruption and step on powerful toes stubbornly, no matter whose ox is gored, his solid public base would have forever remained reassured and prove battle-ready.
The Obasanjo Conundrum
Now, like every other observer, former President Olusegun Obasanjo is no doubt, also troubled by multiple developments, most of which the public may not even be aware of. I have, therefore, had reasons to be troubled by the reaction of a few intellectuals, to the recent open letter of the former President admonishing the incumbent on his performance and possible future ambitions. From my intellectual friends, I always expect more constructive caution. Social media road-boys for whom the forums represent an outlet for a limited scope of self-realization will always do what they do best, namely abuse and vilify the former President. That will not come as a surprise. The intellectuals, however, always owe a duty to separate the wheat from the chaff.
From my information so far, I have reasons to believe that the problems of the Fulani herdsmen that have been allowed to persist for so long, may have played a crucial role in the timing of President Obasanjo’s letter to the incumbent President. President Buhari’s inordinate and obstinate silence on the issue has not helped matters any bit.
While I feel very uncomfortable with President Obasanjo’s accusation of the incumbent President’s dismal performance on the economic front because I know the challenges that the Buhari administration has had to confront and the steps it has taken to solve the basic problems, without which progress can never be made, I am, nonetheless, very cautious because I do not know what President Obasanjo knows that is beyond my reach. Since I have the very rare privilege of direct interaction with the former President, I will hold my breath until I meet him personally for a very frank exchange that he always permits and learn my lessons from him in the usual fashion.
So far, Nigerians are aware of a marauding cabal in the President’s inner circle and the charges of corruption associated with them. Who knows the extent and depth of this malaise and how strongly they are impacting the President’s performance? Does former President Obasanjo know more? Does anyone know why President Buhari is not overhauling the engine of his government in spite of the loud outcry also from his own wife? Would former President Obasanjo lose confidence in the system completely and call for a coalition of well-meaning individuals without a serious cause? What simplistic self-actualization would the former President need at this point in his life that he has never had?
Until the present moment, the public has no clue, what President Buhari’s health challenges were or are. He is an old man that is not growing younger. His health dossier was never made public and Nigerians do not know the nature of the President’s health challenges. Who knows the extent and depth of these challenges and their possible impediment on the President’s capabilities?
President Obasanjo’s submission is impatiently predicated on “early recovery and substantial growth” in the economy. Would he say this unless he knows of a serious restraining condition on the President’s part?
While I also feel very uncomfortable that President Obasanjo is presently gaining applause from the wrong side of the fence, which he himself will not cherish, I fully understand that the Obasanjo conundrum will remain unresolved in the precarious Presidency of Muhammadu Buhari, until the questions asked above are genuinely answered. For now, helpless separatists and irrational haters of the person Buhari, may seek comfort in the submissions of the former President as much they will, the fact will ever remain that President Obasanjo is principally driven by nothing less than patriotic, nation-building and never separatist or hate-based sentiments and precisely this makes the strictly fact-based reaction of President Buhari’s team and the APC a constructive move to make.
Frisky Larr is the author of “Lost in Democracy” (amongst others) advancing possible indigenous alternatives to democracy as a political system in Africa.