Pathetic Interview and the Story of a Shambling Presidency
I felt very embarrassed watching the interviews that President Muhammadu Buhari granted on Arise News and NTA on the 10th and 11th of June 2021 respectively. Unfortunately, when I took up a pen to make a conversation out of it, I found myself heavily weighed down by guilt. The reason is because I supported Mr. President and his party, the APC when they swaggered into the Nigerian political space in 2015. Such feeling of guilt as I experienced, I later discovered, was not only peculiar to me. Other conscientious citizens who also gave their supports to the president and his party are feeling guilty and ashamed.
Notwithstanding the above, those who voted for a Buhari presidency did commit any wrongful act. What they did was simply support one evil against another. Unfortunately, it turned out the evil they chose became more catastrophic for the nation. The lesson here therefore is that no evil is lesser. The choice of Buhari is now fatal but that’s the nature of democracy.
President Buhari in the interview last week attempted to comment on many issues in Nigeria ranging from the Twitter suspension, IPOB, insecurity, economy, and corruption. Take note that I chose to say that he “attempted to discuss” because as far as media parlance with a commander-in-chief was in focus, Buhari’s performance did not meet up with the standard of a presidential dialogue. And I doubt if it would have even met the standard of a presidential monologue if he had put up a solo performance.
In the interview with Arise News particularly, the reason Buhari’s handlers always shield him from talking to the media as a matter of usual practice was exposed. The reason became very clear that it is not because the president is ill or there is anything wrong with him mentally. It is because the president, when he talks, makes the headlines for several reasons including gaffes.
In Buhari, we have a president who is yet to accept the reality that the world has changed so drastically since he was forced out of power in 1985 and that it is virtually impossible to continue to run government in old idealistic, rigid fashion.
Presidential interviews are very important because at least, it helps us understand the mindset of the president. In last week’s interview, we also understood clearly that president Buhari is fully aware of what is going on in the country as against his rumoured amnesia. The problem is that he just doesn’t care or know what to do about them, a situation that the late Bola Ige once described as “sidon dey look” attitude.
Another important thing that we learned from the interview is the fact that the president seems to believe that every political and economic problem facing Nigeria can be fixed by just the application or adoption of his personal principles. He also played his usual blame game, offered some unrelated analogies and showed complete detachment from the reality surrounding him.
When asked on the challenges of fighting corruption for example, the president blamed the Babangida regime for overthrowing his military government, freeing those he put behind bars for corruption and returning their stolen property to them as well as putting him too behind the bars. This has always been the Buhari’s classic explanation as to why Nigeria is still suffering corruption till date.
On protection of children and schools and lifting families out of poverty, he blamed modern day teachers for not regarding the pupils as their own children and vice versa. He buttressed this point with an analogy from his days in primary school when, according to him, the teachers and the pupils were still living up to this beautiful dream (see the interview on NTA on 11th June).
On south east security crises, Mr. President said that “IPOB is like a dot in a circle, if they want to exist, they’ll have no access to anywhere. And the way they are spread all over the country, having business and property, I think IPOB doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Anyway, we’ve said we’ll talk to them in the language they understand, we’ll organise the police and military to pursue them, that’s what we can do and we’ll do it.”
On the issue of open grazing, the president responded as follows, “what I did was ask governors to go and dig the gazette of the first republic. There are cattle routes and grazing areas. If you allow your cattle to stray into any farm, you are arrested. The problem is trying to understand the culture of the cattle rearers. The Nigerian cattle rearer has nothing else apart from machetes and sticks to cut trees for cattle. Fulani herders from outside Nigeria (who look the same as Nigerians) move to Nigeria and they look like they are from Nigeria and some of them carry AK 47.”
The above response of Mr. President is an indication that he has no idea or imagination of what a realistic or functional leadership is all about. This is the same response that he kept giving, almost in exact line and phrase, since the last 4 years or so that the issue of herdsmen has dominated national discourse. The simple conclusion one can make out of this is that the president doesn’t have the ability or boldness to drive the country out of serious trouble, whether it is about the herdsmen or not. He has failed woefully and can be compared to a disgrace.
On devolution of power, the president said, “the problem is that the local government has been virtually killed because those who became local government chairmen have been compromised. If you as a LG Chairman is entitled to N300m, a letter will be prepared for you to sign that you’ve received N300m and you’ll be given N100m.”
The above statement is only half truth. The other half is a disappointing testimony that the president is yet to welcome the contemporary arguments on the need for a more restructured Nigeria. The country is not a perfect federation that it claims to be. It is highly disturbing if the president is citing the above example as reason why Nigeria should not be restructured. Perhaps he has other hidden agenda why Nigeria should not be restructured which I suspect must be clannish.
On State Police, the president said, “I’ve told governors who came to me to complain about herders and farmers crises to go back to the old system where traditional leaders, police, traders and elders meet regularly to discuss security situation in their localities and solve them. And if it is above them, they pass it on. Governors can’t go round and win elections and then sit tight and wait for somebody to do their jobs for them.”
The above argument is unpersuasive; in fact, it is unintelligent. The introduction of state police into Nigerian policing system has been widely suggested as the only solution for the current security challenges facing the country. Not only did the Constitution make the Police a Federal parastatal, it vested enormous powers of control over the force in the president. Assuming the old system much cherished by the president should be reintroduced; the question that will need to answer is whether the so-called traditional leaders, traders or vigilante groups created by governors will have similar or different powers from federal police and the army? The president needs to answer this question.
Philosophy is good for man; it teaches him to think critically and evaluate arguments and truth claims. If Buhari’s philosophical viewpoints had anything to do with these noble ideals, I am sure there wouldn’t be any point for this long essay in the first place.
The president concluded by begging Nigerians to show fairness in judging his administration. I would have loved to show a little fairness to him but the problem is that the president hasn’t been fair to the people he begged for fairness. The only fairness the president has shown is at proving that he’s biased and discriminatory.
When asked on including south easterners (and the south in general) in government, president Buhari said: “positions in government/military have to be earned. You can’t just pick somebody to balance up. People have to go through the system to rise up.”
By the above statement, he claims that all his appointments were based on merit and that there was no Igboman found in the system that merited a high office. This the Buhari that is begging Nigerians to show fairness in judging his administration. Meanwhile, if we can recall, the president’s past response to issue of his lopsided appointment used to be an outright denial, followed by weak attempts to cite a few Igbo ministers in his cabinets. This is no longer the case. He is now bold in rationalizing his prejudices.
There are many qualified non hausa-fulani in the system who have earned and merited the same positions that the president so preferentially fills with his own people. And for the records, there’s nothing wrong with balancing out appointment. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic federation with the Federal Character Commission Act, which is an existing law in Nigeria, enacted to ensure equity in federal recruitment and appointment.
Being fair to President Buhari is the most difficult thing anybody can do. He blames everybody else except himself. It is true that we have seen a significant improvement in infrastructures in this administration than in previous government such as road rehabilitation, railway construction and electricity supply, the credit for these work can only go to no other Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN. His visible leadership in his portfolio, for me, is the only selling point for this administration. Aside that, there are no other areas anybody could give credit to Buhari and his team for doing something real.
And if there was any iota of hope or expectation left before now that the President has any chance of pulling some magic in the less than two years to complete his second and final term, such hope or expectation evaporated and vamoosed into thin air after his last interviews. His administration has become a hope dashed violently on the rock.
Although we never expected that a Buhari presidency will take us to the promised land but we never thought, in our wildest imagination, that any leadership, no matter its background, would ever be so incompetent that it will lead Nigerians back to the days of gloom.
Izu Aniagu is an Enugu-based litigation lawyer and social commentator.
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