Governments all over the world are saddled with the responsibility of providing leadership, inspiring their people and solving problems. Majority of countries are battling with the impact of climate change, global warming, post-Covid economic crises, COVID-19 itself, vaccination, local political turmoil and so on.
In Nigeria, people move about wearing a frustrated look as poverty, hunger, unemployment and under-employment bite harder. Insecurity, power outage and other socio-economic challenges are making life difficult for the people.
While solving the above problems is paramount, government anywhere in the world cannot afford to lose sense of its responsibility to show empathy and care, and emotionally connect with people especially in their moments of distress. Whether these low moments are caused by natural disasters, automobile/air crashes or avoidable tragedies, leaders must learn how to come down from their high horses to shed a tear or two for their grieving followers, give them a sense of belonging, mourn with them, make them feel important and show them that the entire state feels their pains. This is just as important as building schools, health centres, roads and bridges, though the former is simpler than the latter. But in a country where a leader, his surrogates and enablers lack empathy and do not understand optics and symbolism, the former which is the easiest and cheapest thing to do as a leader becomes as difficult as rocket science and as complex as nuclear physics.
But in serious countries where human lives are valued, one won’t be surprised to see a President Joe Biden going on his knees to seek the forgiveness of the little son of George Floyd for the gruesome manner in which his dad was murdered. It won’t be a big deal to see President George Bush(Jr) personally taking charge of burials of fallen heroes or memorials of 9/11 victims just like President Barack Obama physically mourning with American grieving families and making his characteristic moving speeches that could provoke the deceased to rise from the dead… Same way the world saw President Vladimir Putin getting drenched in rain recently just to conduct a memorial service for some Russian fallen heroes. All over the world, when the state loses heroes, even mid level officers, the President personally conducts the funerals as a mark of last respect to the deceased.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari came to power on the basis of his promise to prioritize and fix insecurity, corruption and poor state of the economy. Six years down the line, not many Nigerians are convinced that he has scored up to average in any of these areas, rather, majority of observers are of the view that things have got worse as some of those problems he met have taken new dimensions and grown in leaps and bounds.
More worrisome to observers is the President’s seeming failure or inability to carryout the simplest of his tasks as the Commander-in-Chief, symbol of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as father of the nation. Since coming to power, the President has displayed a gross lack of capacity to feel the pains of Nigerians and show empathy when and where necessary.
Some other critics however view the problem as less of the President’s insensitivity to, or lack of awareness of events around him but more of his disdain for Nigerians. This is because there have been too many examples of the President committing what is called “Afghanistanism” in journalism, in the course of his Presidency. A massive tragedy would happen in a part of the country and the President would keep mum or react after two days but immediately something goes wrong in Western Sahara, South Sudan, Venezuela or Yemen, the President of Nigeria would be the first to issue a strongly-worded statement to express the condolence and solidarity of Nigerians.
In terms of attending funerals of national icons, fallen heroes and distinguished Nigerians, the above theory also applies. President abandons the home front and when a foreign version of the events comes up, the President is the first guest on seat.
Many Nigerians were taken aback when in November 2015, hundreds of our soldiers killed by Boko Haram in Gujunbali, Borno state, were buried and the President was conspicuously absent. The dust was yet to settle when the President in January 2016 flew all the way to Nairobi to attend the funeral/memorial service of Kenyan soldiers killed by Al Shabab. No one could really say how and why his priorities were in Kenya’s, not his own country’s fallen heroes.
The same President had in December 2015 attended the funeral of former President of Benin Republic, Mathew Kerekou. But he shunned the funeral of Nigeria’s former President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 2018!
Apparently the most devastating of the President’s disdain for Nigeria’s fallen heroes occurred in 2017 when 8 of the country’s best young officers who were primarily responsible for the gradual decimation of the Boko Haram sect were ambushed by the same insurgents and murdered in Borno.
The fallen troops were led by the extremely brave Lt.-Col. Muhammad Abu-Ali. Others include Seargents Muazu Ibrahim, Bassey Okon, Hussani Jafaru, Cpl. Chukwu Simon, Private Salisu Lawal and Seaman Patrick Paul. They had led the battle to recapture the following towns: Monguno, Baga, New Marte, Bama, Gwoza, Banki Junction, Gamboru-Ngala, Yale, Yanteke, Bita, Deruwa, Daira Kangaruwa and Mallam Fatori.
They were killed when the terrorists attempted to seize Mallam Fatori on November 4.
On the day of their burial, the President was not there. He merely sent his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, now late, to represent him. A lot of Nigerians rightly felt that such a shabby treatment was not the right way to honour young officers who took bullets for the nation and died in the process.
If members of his own professional constituency can suffer from his insensitivity and lackadaisical attitude, the civilians too can therefore not be spared. Benue is one state that can be said to have received the shortest end of the stick from President Buhari as far as insecurity is concerned.
When on the first day of 2018 the agelong farmer/herders clashes degenerated into a full time campaign of terror and over 70 indigenes were massacred by gunmen alleged to be herders, despite the nationwide uproar it generated in view of the anti-open grazing law which the herders had promised to resist, the President, aside the usual press statement of few paragraphs, did not empathize with the victims in any significant way neither did he take any notable step to bring the killers to book and stop the killings. Similar killings have now happened hundreds of times in different parts of the state
Neither the President nor the Vice President showed up in a widely publicized state burial conducted for the victims. In fact, rather than visit the state on a condolence, the President invited the governor and other Benue leaders and stakeholders to the State House, Abuja where he ended up telling them to be more accommodating and more tolerant of their “fellow countrymen”
Rather than rein-in the suspected herders who turned Benue to a massive killing field, the President and his ministers were busy looking for all manners of provocative and controversial policies to appease them to stop the massacre. Meanwhile, the killers were emboldened to move into other states as Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto, Taraba, Niger and Plateau states soon came under fire with massacres and reprisals. Nigerians therefore began to wonder how a President who came on board to defeat Boko Haram had not only failed to do so but had also supervised the birth and growth of another menace.
In the midst of the consistent killings, the President stayed characteristically aloof. He therefore decided to visit Kano for the wedding of the children of the then Oyo state governor, late Senator Abiola Ajimobi and his Kano counterpart ,Abdullahi Ganduje. Pictures emerged from the wedding with the President, APC chieftains and governors glowing and having a ball while the country burnt. Nigerians took the President to the cleaners and called him the most unprintable names for choosing to attend a lavish wedding in Kano while staying away from troubled spots across the country.
The unprecedented outrage that greeted the Kano show of shame made the President to reluctantly agree to visit those states. He was in Taraba, Plateau, Benue and other states. But not many observers were impressed with his conduct and attitude in those states. He never went to the real troubled spots in the villages to see the victims. He merely stopped at Government Houses where he met traditional leaders and commissioners and where he dressed them down for not protecting their people and for calling on him in times of crises. In Plateau, he praised Governor Simon Lalong for not talking too much on the killings in the state and aimed a subtle jig at his Benue counterpart, Samuel Ortom, for talking too much and criticising the federal government for the killings in his state.
In Taraba, he pushed back on those who insisted that he must go round the states to know the state of affairs, saying he was capable of monitoring and knowing everything from his Abuja base. A day later, the same President told a bewildered nation that he never knew the then Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, did not relocate to Benue as instructed. The President had months earlier ordered the IGP to relocate or remain in Benue until the killings are brought to an end. But IGP Idris apparently ignored the C-in-C, without consequences.
Throughout the tour and in subsequent local and international outings, the President assumed the role of spokesman of the herders. He kept on defending them against the atrocities traced to them. He kept on comparing the number of casualties in different states, saying the non-Fulani victims of Benue and Zamfara killings put together were not up to the Fulani victims killed in Taraba. He therefore wondered why there was so much noise coming from both Benue and Zamfara.
Nigerians gradually learnt to accept the President for who he chose to be. While he kept on remaining aloof and uninterested in scary developments in parts of the country, his spokesmen spinned this to be his own style of governance.
In December 2020, days after he shunned an invitation of the National Assembly to explain the security challenges under his watch, the President flew to Daura for a few days break. Not long after his arrival was announced, news filtered in that some bandits had invaded Government Science School, Kankara, in same Katsina state and abducted hundreds of boys. It was days of doom and gloom for the parents of the boys. Some Nigerians who had not lost hope on the President expected him to at least interrupt his break, move to Kankara to comfort and assure the parents of the safety of their sons but he never showed up until the students were released.
The same President who doesn’t find time to apologize or travel round the country to empathize with school boys and school girls and other vulnerable groups when the country fails them, doesn’t miss any opportunity to attend all manners of jamborees in different parts of the world, no matter how far the venue is. The same President does not waste time to rush to London for treatment at the slightest headache or nose or ear problem including routine checks. In fact, earlier this year, he went to London for routine checks in the middle of nationwide strike by resident doctors. He came back from that medical tourism and met a more insecure and more divided nation, yet, he never went round to calm nerves. He has remain stuck in the villa. He also recently flew to Ghana to meet with other African leaders to find solutions to the Mali political crisis.
This year alone, two air crashes involving a lot of military officers had occurred and when the fallen heroes were buried, the President was not there on any of the two occasions. The handling of the third one involving the Chief of Army Staff, General Ibrahim Attahiru, and other gallant officers was scandalous, to put it midly. General Attahiru and ten other officers died in the Beechcraft 350 air crash in Kaduna on Friday, May 21. The burial and memorial service of the fallen heroes signalled the beginning of a lot of comedy of errors on the part of the President.
First, the President never attended the burial of any of the slain officers, not even that of the Army Chief and also didn’t send his deputy. Two, the Minister of Defense, General Bashir Magashi (rtd), sent to represent the President bungled the whole ceremony. He couldn’t read a prepared speech, could not recognise dignitaries properly and his coordination and appreciation of the solemnity of the ceremony was suspect.
The President failed to declare a period of national mourning and also failed to order the country’s flag to fly at half mast. He waited till Monday to make such declarations and even a day after then, some journalists went round and found out that the flags were still flying at full mast. And apparently to over-compensate for the mishandling of the whole episode, the government through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, announced a holiday for the Armed Forces at a time the country was faced with all manners of war from different angles. Many observers said that was unprecedented and unreasonable except if the President could as well order Boko Haram, ISWAP, bandits, killer herders, Ipob militants and other criminal groups to also proceed on holiday.
The President was already inside a hole over his curious reaction to a national tragedy but he dug deeper. Same President who had gladly travelled all the way to France to attend a periodic talkshop whose impact is unknown, refused to drive few metres away from his Villa comfort zone to attend the burial of his Army Chief and also failed to visit the deceased family to personally express Nigeria’s solidarity to them. He rather chose to call General Attahiru’s widow on phone and in that conversation he made it clear to her that he won’t be calling the wives of the other ten fallen heroes, so she should extend his solidarity and condolence to them. Many Nigerians are of the view that this is not good enough. The mishandling of the aftermath of the crash of that ill-fated aircraft has to be one of the remarkable lows of the Buhari administration.
While the President’s paid and unpaid social media defenders had claimed that an unfavourable security report made him stay away from the burial, his spokesman, Garba Shehu, later said the President’s dislike for disrupting traffic was the reason he shunned the funeral of his own Army Chief. Anyone who has witnessed how this President disrupts traffic when he’s going to the airport to fly to one of his favourite destinations in Europe and America would find Shehu’s excuse laughable. In fact, many analysts described switching between the two different excuses as moving from the curious to the ridiculous.
On the day of the funeral, pictures of some governors and top government officials making merry at a wedding in Kano were also seen. The son of the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, was getting married and since the President didn’t attend the burial of the Chief of Army Staff and also didn’t even declare a period of national mourning, every other person in the ruling class decided to be reckless. Another reason critics gave the governors less blame than the President was because the wedding had been fixed long before the unfortunate air crash and if the President had led by example and taken the matter seriously and solemn enough, other key stakeholders who were busy laughing heartily in those pictures could have followed suit. Again, no one knows if the pictures of the wedding were released by unauthorised persons.
Unlike President Buhari, his predecessor, President Goodluck Jonathan, personally attended the funerals of some of the country’s servicemen who died on duty including that of his National Security Adviser, General Andrew Owoeye Azazi. He also once abandoned a trip to Mozambique midway and returned to Nigeria to attend to a national emergency. He had just finished attending an African Union session in Yammoussoukro in Cote d’Ivoire and was supposed to proceed to Mozambique for a similar international engagement when the Ombatshe crisis erupted in Nasarawa State. He ,however, shunned the meeting and moved to Abuja to take charge of series of security meetings that resolved the matter. President Olusegun Obasanjo had also walked out of an international business session in Singapore and returned to Abuja when some soldiers died in a plane crash in Benue state. He personally took charge of the whole proceedings and declared a three-day mourning period immediately.
Among other several commentators, Daily Trust columnist, Abdul Bukarti, described President Buhari’s handling of the funeral services as disappointing while veteran journalist, Dare Babarinsa, held that it was a missed opportunity to assure the country’s gallant officers that Nigeria is worth dying for.
President Buhari has also been accused of being insensitive to the nation’s diversity, in terms of his policy statements, actions and appointments. A lot of prominent northerners had called on him to appoint one of the Generals of southeastern extraction who were said to be very competent as the next Chief of Army Staff, to douse the tension in the land. Popular journalist and publisher, Jafaar Jafaar, and several other opinion leaders from the north and beyond specifically appealed to the President to choose General Benjamin Ahonotu as Attahiru’s successor because he’s not only one of the next in line but also one of the best senior officers in the country. Again, they believe his appointment would begin the process of addressing the feeling of alienation among the people of the southeast. Again, the President ignored such a patriotic admonition.
The earlier this President realizes that governance goes beyond occasional appearance in front of camera, seeking Chinese loans and award of bogus contracts at Federal Executive Council meetings, the better for the whole country and the better for whatever legacy he wants to leave behind. Governance is a 24-hour job which requires physical and mental presence as well as attention to details. At this stage of the country’s life, it needs a leader to be there at all times and in record time to nip all emerging threats in the bud, and to consciously unite both the rich and the poor, the north and the south so that different groups would stop working at cross purposes and stop tearing the union apart.