President Muhammadu Buhari was elected on the basis of his avowed capacity to solve certain problems. The last years of his predecessor, President Goodluck Jonathan, were riddled with mind-blowing corruption scandals and the growth of a hitherto ragtag group of local thugs into a deadly terrorist group that threatened the peace of the country.
It was the perfect time for the then General Buhari (rtd) to step up the pursuit of his lifelong ambition to return to reckoning as democratically elected President. He and his party and supporters took advantage of the seeming incapacity of the PDP administration to hit the President and his officials both above and below the belt, and ultimately make themselves look like the better alternatives, in the eye of majority of eligible voters.
Based on their perceived poor handling of worsening insecurity in parts of the country, President Jonathan and his officials were variously described as clueless, incompetent and insensitive. Both General Buhari and the then APC spokesman, Lai Mohammed, on many occasions, called on the President to resign since he was not ready to fulfill the demands of his high office: protection of lives and property.
Former APC protem chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, also once called President Jonathan a “Kindergarten” President based on the same issues of insecurity. Most Nigerians joined the APC to send Jonathan packing for General Buhari, a war-tested combatant soldier who also had a pedigree for being zero-tolerant to corruption, to take over and clean the Augean Table.
President Buhari therefore won the 2015 polls with the promise to eradicate corruption, eliminate Boko Haram and other criminal groups, and put the economy on a sound footing.
Expectations were very high on the first two which were regarded as his core areas of strengths. As for the economy which has never been seen as his field of competence, the presence of his brilliant Deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, as well as some former governors in the party was expected to bridge that gap. Again, the President is entitled to ministers and aides who can help to tackle such a technical and professional field. He was therefore expected to assemble a team of world class technocrats (Not politicians!) of Nigerian origin to help navigate the economic challenges the country was facing.
But as soon as the President took over the reins of office, the same issues for which he was elected started rearing their heads. Some observers even submitted that while the President failed to lead from the front and deal with the issues for which he was voted, other unforseen challenges came along and it looked like Nigeria was getting worse, rather than getting better.
The massive recession came in 2016 accompanied by high inflation rate and decreasing purchasing power. Poverty progressively deepened, unemployment skyrocketed and Nigeria became the world headquarters of poverty in 2018.
At the initial stage, there were reports of massive onslaught on the Boko Haram sect by the Nigerian Army and a declaration of ‘technical victory’ which many analysts have declared as hasty. The authorities gave the nation the impression that they had pushed the insurgents out of Sambisa and other strongholds to the fringes.
But the terrorists soon regrouped, changed tactics and started using small girls to attack markets, parks and garages. They soon began attacking soldiers and slaughtering people on their farms. While the government continues to claim that it has restricted them to northeast, Borno and Yobe states which have never known peace for over a decade are parts of Nigeria.
While Boko Haram insurgents under President Buhari resumed kidnapping school girls enmasse and slaughtering aid workers, the herdsmen phenomenon began like a joke in Benue in 2018. With the government’s reluctance or lack of political will to tackle it, it has now grown in leaps and bounds up to the extent that the forests of the northwest, North central, southwest and southeast have been taken over by these people who kidnap for ransom, rape and kill their victims. It’s still a shock to many that President Buhari allowed the problems to fester for this long and develop a life of its own. No one is even talking about the agelong common practice of herders entering into people’s farms to destroy their crops in the name of open grazing. And this has caused tension and mutual destruction between farmers and herders.
In the early months of the administration when Nigerians became restless and impatient due to the failure of the President to hit the ground running – appoint key aides and ministers, declare his assets openly as promised and stop Boko Haram from killing people the government derogatively named as “soft targets”- Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, called the President’s critics “Wailing Wailers”
The phrase has since then been used by Adesina and the President’s supporters to disparage and put down any attempt by opposition figures, critics and all categories of Nigerians to ask questions and make the government accountable to the people.
Since 2015 as well, the President, his surrogates, aides, party men and hard core supporters have developed a pattern of outsourcing the blames for whatever goes wrong in the country with the major aim of selling the narrative that President Buhari should not and cannot be blamed for any lapses in his administration or any avoidable loss of life in any part of the country. They have blamed the PDP’s 16-year “misrule”, they have blamed President Jonathan and some of his predecessors for all the problems. Sometimes, the President himself just says he’s doing his best, that if only past leaders had done better, the country would have been better. When he says this, he forgets that he himself is past leader.
In recent times, Nigerians are now used to seeing “Presidency” in news headlines because no matter the seriousness of the security situations or the secessionist agitation across the country, the President never gets to work, never goes round the country or talks to Nigerians directly, he just remains silent. So when readers see “Presidency” in headlines, they know it’s Mallam Garba Shehu, who now looks like the alternate President, is talking to them on behalf of President Buhari.
But in the midst of worsening insecurity, extreme poverty/high cost of basic items and ethno-religious tension that are putting the country’s unity and corporate existence in jeopardy, the Presidency in a series of recent statements signed mostly by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, has doubled down on his pattern of not accepting responsibility but making efforts to divert attention from the real issues.
It’s either the Presidency is warning bandits killing poor farmers in Zamfara to desist from its evil ways or face the full weight of the country’s Military strength or telling Nigerians not to worry that the Nigerian state has the capacity to deal with the bandits. This is a violent campaign that started in 2018 and the Commander-in-Chief is seen issuing what looks like an infantile warning in 2021!
And days later, after another round of deadly attacks or abductions in other parts of the country, the Presidency is seen appealing to the same bandits to not only release poor, innocent students in their captivity but also to repent from criminality and turn a new leaf.
It’s either the Presidency which some Nigerians now use interchangeably with Garba Shehu is blackmailing critics and accusing them of seeking contracts ( One statement many Nigerians saw as beneath the Presidency!) or blaming all Nigerians for the failure of the policies introduced by President Buhari to address insecurity, one of which is border closure. Rather than admit that his blanket border closure was counter productive and would fail as predicted by experts, the President said recently that Nigerians “who hate their country” frustrated the policy and thwarted his plans to stop the entrance of arms and lethal weapons into the country.
A few years ago, prominent Nigerians like Col Umar Dangiwa (rtd) warned President Buhari that the tendency to ensure that almost all key and sensitive military, para-military and intelligence agencies are headed by core northerners would spell doom for the country. Now, aside the fact that some Southern groups and individuals are now calling for secession on the basis of lacking sense of belonging, the people appointed by the President to head those sensitive beats cannot be said to have done a good job since they were never appointed on the basis of merit and competence, but on the basis of where they come from and perceived loyalty to the President. What is the value of loyalty to the President when the country is drifting apart and nowhere in the country, including wherever the President and his loyal appointees come from, is safe. Now, the President is lamenting that his border closure policy was a failure and blaming Nigerians for that failure, not himself!
Nigerians now see as ironic that the same President who repeatedly called on his predecessor to resign over insecurity is now in other recent statements advocating a bottom-up approach to the issue, and urging local government officials and traditional rulers to take responsibility for their own security instead of looking up to the federal government. It would be recalled that in February 2020, the President had taken his blame-passing acts to another level when he flew straight into Maiduguri from an international assignment in the midst of nationwide uproar over the massacre of civilians and failure of the Army in Borno state. In a massive rebuke, the President actually told Borno leaders and local victims of Boko Haram that its their fault, not his, that the dreaded sect was killing them on a regular basis since they were the ones who refused to report the movement of the terrorists to the security agencies. Before then, Nigerians actually thought It was the duty of the Department of State Services (DSS) and other intelligence agencies and departments to track and trace criminals and help neutralize or thwart their deadly plans. But the President gave the job to local peasants in that statement. In any case, there are credible reports that some of the killings by Boko Haram in Borno villages were actually reprisals against the community dwellers for reporting the terrorists and their agents to security agencies. So, the terrorists kill them for reporting, the military fails to come to their rescue and the Commander-in Chief comes to blame them for getting killed. How ironic.
The Presidency has also issued a couple of statements in recent weeks to blame politicians, opposition figures, pastors and haters of President Buhari for the instability, insecurity and secessionist threats all over the country.
A statement by the DSS a few days ago which was corroborated by another statement by the Presidency went ahead to threaten clampdown on critics and pastors who were accused of inciting division, hate and revolution against constituted authority. Many observers, however, see the series of threats from the DSS and the Presidency as shadow boxing. Informed analysts have been of the opinion that the government is supposed to turn the screw on criminal elements across the country and ensure good governance and justice instead of threatening critics for talking about government’s failure. Some critics also submit that the way and manner the President and the Presidency complain these days make them sound like a broken record and also like “Wailing Wailers.”
Perhaps the most ridiculous part of the Presidency’s recent narratives is telling people who suffer from poverty, joblessness and insecurity to show understanding and bear with the President, and look up to God for salvation. President Buhari in recent meetings with local and foreign guests have again failed to accept responsibility but called on Nigerians to pray for an end to banditry and terrorism. Many Nigerians have expressed displeasure about the President asking long-suffering Nigerians to pray about problems they elected him to solve. The President in his Eid-el-Fitr goodwill message also repeated the calls for prayers as his suggested solution to the country’s socio-economic challenges.
The resort to prayer did not however start today. After his swearing-in for second term in May 2019, the President attended Tafsir (Islamic lecture) at the State House Mosque where the Chief Imam, Sheikh Abdulwaheed Suleiman, called on Nigerians to repent from their sins and pray without ceasing, as the only solutions to banditry and other security challenges which he said were trials from Allah (SWT) and were beyond what any President or leader could be blamed for. The President ,who attended the sermon with top government functionaries, welcomes such a sermon and nodded in agreement with the cleric. To him, such a narrative was a Grammy award winning music that is palatable to the ear. What critics of the President are however wondering is why he and his supporters didn’t call for prayers in 2013 and 2014 but chose to present themselves as better alternatives to Jonathan and his team, only to win election and start talking about prayers.
Recently, as the Presidency continued to outsource blames and deflect attention from its apparent mishandling of the country’s security, unity and economy the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, to the shock of many Nigerians, also blamed the 1975 coup against General Gowon that brought General Murtala Mohammed to power for the country’s fragile security. According to him, the coup brought an end to a massive school enrollment policy of the Gowon regime which has now worsened the country’s Out-of-School Children figures. He added that the kids on the streets have become the number one recruitment centre for all criminal elements troubling the nation.
Observers like former Presidential spokesman, Dr Reuben Abati, are now warning of a situation whereby a Nigerian President will appear to be so helpless in dealing with criminal non state actors that he begins to sound like a motivational speaker, rather than a leader with the mandate, resources and paraphernalia of office to take decisive actions to protect people and bring forth prosperity .
In their separate reactions to the recent statements credited to the President and his surrogates, the northern sociopolitical organisation, the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Peoples Democratic Party and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum scolded the President and urged him to stop giving excuses.
The ACF in its reaction to Buhari’s appeal said what Nigerians expected from the President was for him to secure the country and not blame the victims of insecurity, politicians, past leaders or give excuses.
According to the National Publicity Secretary of the ACF, Emmanuel Yawe, Nigerians demonstrated a lot of understanding by re-electing the President in 2019 even after he failed to perform above average in his first term.
The ACF spokesman said: “Nigerians demonstrated a lot of understanding when they elected the President into office in 2015 and more understanding when they re-elected him in 2019.
“What we expect from the President is for him to understand the plight of the ordinary Nigerian who feels unprotected.
“He should understand that the ordinary Nigerian and maybe his community can be mowed down as it were, kidnapped en mass and heavy ransom placed on them.
“We expect the President to understand that things are bad in terms of security in Nigeria and ordinary farmers are expected to pay bandits before they are granted access to their farms. Nigerians have never really had it this bad.”
On its part, PANDEF faulted the President over his call for Nigerians to show understanding, saying it was unacceptable for him to keep passing the buck to the people.
Spokesman for PANDEF, Ken Robinson, said Nigerians were very understanding people and ‘that is why we are still where we are.’
He stated, “The President should lead the way in showing that he understands the suffering, the disaffections, the hunger and anger and hopelessness that is creeping into the land.
“The President should show understanding that he feels the pain of Nigerians and the way to show that he understands the pain, suffering and the hardship in the land is by acting in a way and manner that will show that he is sincere and serious about not only security issues but also about governance and the wellbeing of Nigerians.”
He identified nepotism as the greatest problem of Buhari’s regime.
“The greatest problem of Nigeria today – as PANDEF has said before and we will keep repeating without any contradiction – is the nepotism and biased conduct of the Buhari administration.
“A typical example and we will continue to say this, is that out of 17 top military, para-military and intelligence positions in the country, the southern Nigeria occupies only three, while you have some states occupying two.
As you are aware, some prominent Nigerians including the national leader of PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clark, are in court against the Federal Government of President Muhammadu Buhari over the serial breaches of federal character principles? So, that is the greatest problem we have,” he stated.
Also, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, said the only way Nigerians could show understanding was for the President to do the will of the people.
The outgoing Secretary General of the organisation, Bashorun Sehinde Arogbofa, said Buhari has failed Nigerians because of his inability to protect the country.
He said, “Any government that fails to protect his people is a failure because we govern people to give them protection and to cater for their welfare. So if these two issues are not addressed, it is unfortunate. People cannot show understanding.”
Expectedly, the PDP also took the President to the cleaners for seeking the understanding of Nigerians while he has failed to fulfill his part of the social contract.
The major opposition party said it was obvious that his best which he claimed he was doing to tackle insecurity and improve the economy was not good enough.
PDP spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, said said in a press statement: “We note the appeal by President Muhammadu Buhari for Nigerians to show more understanding for his regime’s lethargic approach to governance. It is obvious his best is so far not enough; Nigerians are hungry and dying.
“We also invite him to also note that Nigerians are getting tired of an endless stream of excuses coming from his regime. He was elected to find solutions to problems not give excuses.
“We urge Mr President to wake up from his lethargy and address problems. Blaming the past has been the favourite sound bite of this regime since 2015. The other day, a minister was blaming the General Murtala Mohammed regime of 1975/’76 for Nigeria’s security problems. We can’t make progress this way.”
Also speaking on whether the President deserves the understanding of Nigerians, the Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, said the Buhari regime was bedevilled by nepotism and corruption.
He said that the deteriorating economy which had led to widespread poverty was as a result of lack of ideas by the Federal Government.
Mohammed said this in an interview
with journalists at the Ramat House, Bauchi shortly after the recent Sallah parade at the palace of the Emir of Bauchi.
On the issue of nepotism in the distribution of appointments Mohammed stated, “If you are not fair and equitable in your administration, in your management, if there is nepotism, only one section is given positions in government; then what the southern governors said is true. Some people are given too much attention to the detriment of others.
“What we know in this country, as a federation, there is always a balance in terms of appointments of federal offices, in terms of appointments even at the local level because if you don’t practise fairness at the top, then you cannot get it at the lower level. And people will begin to think of self-actualisation, self-determination, and so on.”
Mohammed stated that the Buhari regime had no ideas on how to grow the economy, noting that it was best known for blame game.
He said that corruption was thriving in the regime more than previous administrations.
He stated, “I think the Federal Government has lost ideas on how to grow the economy. They are just involved in a blame game. What they are best known for is blame game, always saying this and that.”
In a nutshell, the President Buhari has two years to make a choice between leaving the country worse off and without a legacy on the one hand or stepping out of his comfort zone, rolling up his sleeves and doing all it takes in terms of appointments, statements and actions that will begin the process of bringing the country back from the brink of collapse.