Saturday, September 7, 2019 7:12 pm
By Olanrewaju Osho
President Muhammadu Buhari is a very interesting persona. There are many interesting things to know or learn about him. I will focus on only two of them in this piece. The first interesting thing about the current leader of the most populous nation in Africa is the fact that he is one of the only two people that providence graciously permitted to rule Nigeria both as a military head of state and a civilian president. As a result of this privilege he became qualified to bear two powerful acronyms – GMB –General Muhammadu Buhari and PMB – President Muhammadu Buhari. He is also the second person in Nigeria’s history to have served Nigeria as military head of state, civilian president and minister of petroleum at the same time. By the time he concludes his 2nd term in office as Nigeria’s civilian president in 2023, he would also be taking a new record as the second person to have served Nigeria for more than 9 years. He is beaten in all these records by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo the man who played a crucial role in setting him up to record some of these great achievements. Having been second best to Olusegun Obasanjo in two records, Muhammadu Buhari has a record where he tops Olusegun Obasanjo by coming first. He is the only Nigerian with the longest record as the czar of Nigeria’s black gold. No one will ever be privileged in life to beat Muhammadu Buhari’s unique achievement of serving as Nigeria’s minister of petroleum for three years as a top military brass and eight years as a civilian president. Eleven years of presiding over Nigeria’s oil is no mean achievement. Those who benefit from his three terms as Nigeria’s Minister of Petroleum will never forget him, those who suffer will always remember him and the history of the development or underdevelopment of Nigeria’s oil industry will never be complete without the role he played or refused to play.
The second interesting thing about PMB is his public image. People’s perception of the man Muhamadu Buhari is akin to the perception of the six blind men and the elephant. Six blind men were asked to touch an elephant and report what they ‘saw’. Those who touched the body said it was a wall they touched. Those who touched the legs said it was a pillar. Those who touched the tusk said it was a pipe. In a sense, they may all be right because ‘he who feels, knows’. PMB’s public perception is multifaceted principally because of the man himself. When you look at him and judge him from his stern countenance and his serious mien always, you will come away with the impression that he is reticent. You will conclude that he is a hard man, a difficult person or an unbendable fellow. You may even call him someone who has no feelings or compassion for anyone accused of breaking rules.
There are millions of Nigerians who believe President Buhari has only the side of the hardliner and no other side. They of course will flaunt before you their evidence and convince you their stand is on fact, not bias. Ask the children and grandchildren of Micheal Adekunle Ajasin the darling governor of Ondo State or any of the UPN governors and officials whom Muhammadu Buhari picked up after he became Head of State through a coup he neither plotted nor sponsored in 1983 December and this may be the profile of PMB they have on file and will download for you. They might have indeed been aided into making their conclusions because GMB incarcerated many of these great Obafemi Awolowo converts in the worst of Nigeria’s prisons without mercy for months and months even though they governed in good conscience without a single trace or record of abuse of office found in them.
Ask the family of Dr. Alex Ekwueme the Vice President of the regime GMB toppled and they might not be able to tell you a different version of Buhari other than the hard side. GMB picked up a powerlessly harmless Dr. Alex Ekwueme who was a mere Spectator in NPN’s scheme of things and locked him in Prison but kept President Shehu Shagari the CEO of that rascally reckless government under house arrest. If you have ever visited a prison in Nigeria before then you will understand the difference between prison and house arrest. Nigeria’s prisons are more like reception areas of hell. So if the Ekwuemes have only the hard core Buhari backed up in their Google cloud memory space you can’t really blame them.
If you have been around PMB when he is cracking jokes, throwing banters and making people laugh as Professor Osinbajo once enlightened Nigerians, you will conclude immediately that the popular military picture of the fearsome Buhari that adorned every part of Nigeria from 1983 to 1985 was a mere Photoshop that was the creation of some evil geniuses who wanted to portray gentle Buhari as a mean man. If you have been privileged to watch PMB showcase his great sense of humour while holding official meetings, you will register the humane, soft and emotional Muhammad Buhari in your log book for ever. If you were there at the Cedar Crest Hospital in Apo when he was visiting and keeping watch over his son who was battling for his life after a power bike crash, you will be touched in your heart and you will never be able to erase the memory of PMB the loving father and family man who cares for his own very deeply from your heart.
President Buhari’s public image is very dynamic. It is an ever unfolding phenomenon. He cut the image of the great disciplinarian and no nonsense general in his first advent as Nigeria’s head of state. His War Against Indiscipline program gave him that image in the mind of Nigerians as the man who can weep Nigerians into good behavior, cure us of our indiscipline malady and help us cut off our skyrocketing excesses and impunity which are really our greatest undoing as a people. Through the WAI program, he carved for himself the image of an unparalleled reformer and proved beyond any reasonable doubt that Nigerians can change if the leadership is truly determined and genuinely purposeful. His populist actions including that of ordering his soldiers to break into warehouses where essential items were hoarded and sell them at controlled prices to Nigerians cut for him the image of the friend of the masses.
There is a category of Nigerians who believes GMB or PMB is an abuser of people’s trust like most leaders Nigeria have been unfortunate to have. They believe he has made himself rich like the others and they support their claims with the story of 28 brief cases that ‘disappeared’ whine he was Nigeria’s oil chief during the military era. In spite of many efforts to cast aspersion on him and dent his Mr. Integrity image without minding his heartfelt explanations about the truth regarding the infamous briefcases, he remained in the eyes of millions of Nigerians as Mr. Incorruptible. It was these qualities that made Nigerians yearning for true change to band together and drag Buhari out of his self-imposed retirement from perennial jostle for Nigeria’s presidency since 1999 to confront the then incumbent Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in the 2015 general elections.
On May 29, 2015, PMB delivered an inspirational speech after he was sworn in as the second army general to become Nigeria’s civilian president at the Eagle Square in Abuja. His public declaration that he belongs to everybody and is not to be ruled by anybody reverberated across the country for a season. That speech instantly gave him the image of the Moses Nigeria has been waiting for in the eyes and minds of more than half of Nigeria’s population. He would have been Christened Nigeria’s biblical Joshua, the man who will take Nigeria to the Promised Land immediately, but the problems foisted on the 54 years old Nigeria by past visionless, reckless, selfish and wasteful leaders were too much to fix in four years. Asking Buhari to be Nigeria’s Joshua would therefore simply be asking him to jump into the middle of Atlantic Ocean to go and catch a shark with flying wings to be used as sacrifice for Nigeria’s deliverance. In six months of vacillating and detouring before he could put his cabinet together, PMB had squandered almost half of the goodwill Nigerians wholeheartedly bestowed on him. In the three years six months that followed, half of the remaining half of his goodwill had been swept away by rampaging herdsmen crisis which he was accused of handling with kid’s gloves; his perceived clannish ideology which put strategic positions in government in the hands of people from his tribe and religion; inability to truly deliver on his promise on security which saw more Nigerians wasted under his watch than under any civilian president since independence; and the unwholesome manner in which his flagship anti-corruption war was being fought.
Many Nigerians are happy and grateful to PMB for all the Billions (or is it trillions?) that his war on corruption has recovered for Nigeria, but they are sad because of the dozens of people who plundered the wealth of Nigeria but are now comfortably taking shelter under PMB’s broombrella. They are not happy at the monumental corruption that is reportedly going on at every level of government and the public sector in Nigeria while his government continues to noise anti-corruption war that appears to be a mere slogan in the ears of Nigerians. They are also not happy with the fact that they can’t see the impact of the so called recovered loot in their lives as Nigeria’s infrastructure continue to get worse by the day.
One of the perceptions that stuck to Muhammadu Buhari both as GMB and PMB like a leech is the perception that he is a terrible manager of the nation’s economy. As GMB, he was accused of laying the foundation for the superstructure of the economic woes that General Ibrahim Babangida came to masterfully build for Nigeria. As PMB, he supervised the devaluation of the Naira from around 150 to a dollar to 500 to a dollar before it climbed down to around 360 where it has been for about two years. His pedestrian economic policies allegedly became the undertaker for many businesses that either moved out of Nigeria or collapsed altogether leading to the loss of millions of jobs. Nigeria entered into a debilitating economic recession that Goodluck Jonathan’s misrule invited upon Nigeria during the time of PMB and since then most Nigerians have been managing to stay afloat of economic suicide as they watch their country take number one position as the poverty headquarter of the universe. The fact that our revenue from oil fell by nearly 400% is a terrible blow that may never allow PMB to change the narrative that he is a bad economic manager as two times CEO of Nigeria enterprise.
The President Buhari that defeated Goodluck Jonathan in the April 2015 general elections was perceived as Nigeria’s messiah, the hero we have been waiting for, the champion of the talakawas and the menace cum nemesis for those who have plundered Nigeria’s resources and crippled Nigeria’s destiny. The President Buhari that stood for and was declared winner of the February 23 2019 general elections was largely perceived as nothing compared with the Buhari of 2015. In the minds of most Nigerians, he was mostly seen as the lesser of two evils fighting for the jugular of a hijacked and dying Nigeria. The enthusiasm he stirred in the hearts of many Nigerians in the 2015 elections had significantly been doused by his record of poor performance across board even though his inner caucus kept telling him he has made all things well for Nigeria. His victory in 2015 was not the victory of APC alone; it was a victory for Nigeria’s movement for change. His victory in 2019 was a heavily discounted victory and was more of APC’s victory than Nigeria’s victory. It was a victory tainted by the shabbiness, shoddiness and substandard performance of INEC the electoral umpire. It was a victory tarnished by hPMB’s unwillingness to declare like President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan that his ambition for second term is not worth the blood of any Nigerian.
History has been kind to Muhammadu Buhari in the same manner it was kind to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Buhari was therefore offered another chance by the Almighty Creator on a platter of Gold to determine the kind of image he wants to wear for the rest of his life. How he does that will depend 100 percent on him. He had Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP’s woeful performance in office to blame all through his first term as civilian president. He will never successfully hide again under Goodluck Jonathan and PDP in this second term to underperform and expect Nigerians to swallow his excuses pie. It will be him and him alone that will be the architect of his own success or otherwise.
If how President Muhammadu Buhari began his second term is used as the perception index to gauge his downloading public image, he might likely go down in the years ahead and in history as a man who saw, came and worsened Nigeria’s woes by his indifference. It was barely a week he informed Nigerians that his second term in office will be a harbinger of rapid actions, development and progress for Nigeria that the RUGA word became trending as Buhari’s flagship agenda for his second term. The bad blood generated by that agenda to allegedly grab land in all the 36 states of Nigeria for cattle colonies immediately killed the hope of many Nigerians who were still grappling with the plea of numerous Buharists to give PMB the benefit of the doubt.
When Femi Adesina the president’s spokesman announced to Nigerians that PMB will not allow them to wait for a day more than necessary before releasing his ministerial list, he heightened hope of many Nigerians and presented the image of a president ready to redeem the wasted months of his reign. But when the ministerial list did not come out until nearly two months after, the profile of a new improved president who understands Nigeria’s fierce urgency of now that Femi Adesina tried to paint suffered a terrible setback. It backfired and painted the image of a PMB who does not understand how terribly Nigeria is doing in the committee of nations and how redoubling or even tripling our efforts through effective utilization of time is one of the two hopes of getting Nigeria out of the woods.
The second hope of getting Nigeria quickly but smartly out of her terrible state is the deployment of Nigeria’s best talents to lead the Fix Nigeria into the Next Level agenda. Nigerians patiently waited for PMB’s ministerial list hopeful that the list will be worth the wait and will show PMB’s understanding of that second hope of putting our best foot forward by tapping the brains of Nigerians’ professional across the nation and across the world. He had raised their hopes when he promised to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty even though he gave the caveat that the people he will work with to set that in motion will be people that he knows. Most of these hopes were eventually dashed by the colourless list of ministers PMB announced to Nigerians after keeping them waiting for two months. With that singular action PMB earned for himself the image of a president who lacks capacity to put a great team together. With that action also, he sold himself to Nigerians as a president who is very weak in taking risks and who is not bold to embrace innovation and creativity.
The new President Muhammadu Buhari has portrayed himself as a stickler for status quo. An easy does it leader who is unwilling to stick his neck out for Nigeria at the expense of party loyalty. Like many normal politicians that have traversed Nigeria’s political landscape, he voted for the winners take it all strategy and selected all his ministers from his political party APC and from EFCC hunted PDP members who ran under his wings for cover. He failed to note that Nigeria’s presidential election’s field had never been as rich as it was in the February 2019 elections. He was too busy campaigning for his second term that he failed to notice the array of stars like Kingsley Moghalu of YPP, Tope Fasua of ANRP, Omoyele Sowore of AAC, Fela Durotoye of ANN, Donald Duke of SDP, YY Sani and a host of others with burning passion for Nigeria’s rescue and restoration and with amazing ideas that he could leverage on to lead Nigeria out of the abyss.
Currently downloading image of President Muhammadu Buhari is that of a leader who will be intolerant of opposition. The manner in which Sowore Omoyele and Ibrahim Dan Halilu were arrested and locked up by the Department of States Security last month is a strong message from the government that it is in full support of that image. Sowore Omoyele was picked up in Lagos in a Gestapo like manner by DSS operatives in the night of August 3, 2019 for calling for #RevolutionNow, a mother of all protests intended to let President Buhari see and feel the pain of Nigerians. Ibrahim Dan Halilu was picked up in Kaduna for posting his support for the protest Sowore was calling Nigerians out for. The Nigerian Police also weighed in to help Nigeria add the perception of an intolerant leader who is gradually becoming a civilian dictator to the ever changing image of PMB. They showed that Obasanjo wasted his time by changing their name from Nigeria Police Force to Nigeria Police by savagely bullying and battering the peaceful protesters in Lagos who turned up for the #RevolutionNow protests with all manner of weapons. They beat some of the protesters and journalists to a state of stupor. In Abuja, the police prevented #RevolutionNow protesters from moving an inch forward and offered full protection and support for the Pro Buhari protesters. Our darling PMB kept mum as dozens of innocent protesters were badly injured and hundreds were hounded into detentions in our democracy by the Nigeria Police. He and his overzealous security operatives did not see the millions that have been protesting in Hong Kong for twelve weeks and the protesters that even boldly blocked the convoy of Boris Johnson and pelted him with rotten eggs and tomatoes without fear of being hounded into prison.
Though the happenings so far since President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in on May 29, 2019 for his second term have not shown Nigerians much promise of radical positive and progressive performance, he however still has the luxury of time and ample opportunity to determine how he wants Nigerians to remember him in the days and years ahead. Posterity is gratuitously offering President Muhammadu Buhari three clear choices of how he wants his future public perception to look like in this last lap of his public life. The first choice is to become the hero and father of a truly modern Nigeria. With his men in firm control of the Senate and House of Representatives, he can achieve this with effortless ease. One major problem with Nigeria is the bastardized and over expensive federal system of government that we are running. PMB can direct Nigeria into the practice of true federalism as it is done in the clime from where we borrowed it. That alone will set Nigeria on the course of revolution for accelerated development. The National Assembly has become a burden that Nigeria could no longer bear. The money making machine it has become is the reason every governor that governs a state for eight years now descend into rabid aspiration to become the representative of just a third of the whole state they once governed at the Senate. Winning election into the House of Reps and the Senate has become a million dollar adventure. This ensures that brilliant and passionate Nigerians with excellent track records and infectious passion are ruled out while many people with questionable character are allowed to take over the law making machinery of our nation. Buhari can go down in history as the man who rescued Nigeria from this anomaly by ensuring that Nigerians hold a referendum to decide whether they want a National Assembly of part time legislators or full time legislators that take a third of Nigeria’s annual budget and expend it on their lavish lifestyle. The referendum will also help Nigerians to decide whether they want a bicameral legislature or a unicameral legislature. Unless we do the needful, this current national assembly will kill Nigeria financially and morally.
PMB can also in the spirit of midwifing the birth of a truly modern Nigeria inspire the correction of the humongous lie that we have been calling our constitution for over two decades now. His majority in the upper and lower chamber will help Nigerians to prepare a true constitution that can be introduced with “we the people”. To become the true hero of Nigeria, PMB must not shy away from restructuring Nigeria. He must see the failure of previous presidents before him to restructure Nigeria as a golden opportunity to eternally write his name in gold. A restructured Nigeria has all to gain and nothing to lose. PMB must also go beyond supporting negotiation with elements that are taking up arms against the state to genuinely engaging people with great passion for Nigeria’s development and find a way of harnessing their talents and ideas for national progress. He must embrace the philosophy that the worst of us can not lead the best and the rest of us to achieve the vision of a truly great Nigeria that will become the pride of black people all over the world.
The second choice PMB has is to continue the business as usual strategy that has been Nigeria to the ground and has made it difficult for him to achieve appreciable progress while other nations around us are innovating themselves into greatness. To achieve this, he must continue to make his Chief of Staff the Supervising minister of all the ministers as many Nigerians have deduced from his directives to the ministers to always pass through the COS to see him. He must not redouble his efforts to regain the trust and reverence Nigerians reserved for him. He must leave the ministers unchecked as he did during his first term and care less whether they performed or not. With this style of leadership, he will successfully establish the image of the leader who saw, came and chose to be indifferent while thinking he is performing. If he chooses that route, he will understand in his post 2023 years the pains, heartaches and regrets Olusegun Obasanjo is currently going through. He will understand why Obasanjo tore his PDP membership card to throw his weight behind him in 2014. He will understand why Obasanjo became frustrated with him in 2018 and decided to support Atiku Abubakar in the 2019 elections. He will learn though painfully, that you can not easily correct the errors you willfully make now by becoming a political father later and enthroning someone else to help you correct them.
The third choice available for PMB is the most ignoble of all. It is a choice a general like him who fought a bitter civil war to keep Nigeria as one should never make. As President of Nigeria, a president that wants to govern for all must grow to the level of placing Nigeria in the hands of God but above religion, tribe and clan. Failure to do this will cause disaffection in the land and will make a lot of people feel alienated. The result of this will be a rise in ethnic consciousness and feelings of marginalization. A lot of people see this as the style PMB has been adopting since May 29, 2019. They believe Nigeria is more divided under him than at any time in history after the civil war and Babangida’s annulment of the June 12 elections. PMB is expected to correct this impression in action and words and become the father of all Nigerians. Not a few people share the opinion that if PMB didn’t rise up to the occasion, he might even succeed in creating a new record of becoming the last civilian president to rule over Nigeria. Let me say as they always say in Nigeria: God forbid!
Olanrewaju Osho is a development specialist, a public speaker, and change advocate.