After listening to President Muhammadu Buhari’s three minutes, fifty-six seconds national broadcast on Monday, August 21, his first since coming back to the country from a 103-day medical tourism in the United Kingdom, I concluded that he still does not get it.
I doubt if he ever will.
Prior to his speech, I was not overtly hopeful I would hear anything grand, ennobling and soul-lifting.
Yet, after a three-month absence from duty post, during which time he presumably had time for sober reflection on what ails the country of 180 million people over whose affairs he superintends, I had hoped he would have realised the need to calm frayed nerves and bring people together through moral suasion.
How wrong I was.
But again, this is not the first time Buhari would wrong-foot me. I voted for him in 2015 despite his unflattering reputation as a closet dictator when he was military head of state between December 1983 and August 1985.
My reason for voting for him was simple.
President Goodluck Jonathan had become so ineffectual that handing him another four years would be, in my thinking, ruinous to the country. Buhari was, for me, an antidote to the bad governance staring us in the face under the Goodluck era.
I reasoned that age would have mellowed Buhari – the man Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, once described in very unflattering terms long before the 2015 election – and that he had possibly purged himself of bigotry and raven dogmatism.
It took me only a couple of weeks into his presidency to conclude that electing Buhari president of Nigeria in the 21st Century may well be a potential national rabbit hole that could lead, and has indeed led, to some weird places and issues.
I had hoped that being president at 72 years would make a world of a difference in Buhari’s style and outlook without reckoning with the words of wisdom by former United States First Lady, Mitchell Obama, at the national convention of the Democratic Party on September 5, 2012 that, “Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.”
Being a civilian president has revealed how provincial, insular and bitter Buhari has become over the years.
He saw the pan-Nigerian mandate given to him at the poll not as a tool to unite a highly fractious country but to fan the already smouldering embers of disunity. And that, perhaps, is the greatest tragedy of this dispensation.
It is a mix of the highhandedness, lack of empathy, arrogance, and even ignorance that Buhari brought to bear on his presidency that has brought us to this sorry pass, which is proving to be Nigeria’s biggest political train crash since after the civil war.
Imagine what would have happened if, one week after taking the oath of office as President and Commander-in-Chief of this country, Buhari had flown to Port Harcourt for a town hall meeting with stakeholders from the region to deliver a speech like this:
“Fellow citizens, I am glad to be here with you today. It is not by accident that I am visiting barely one week after assuming office. I have come specifically to solicit your support in this onerous task of rebuilding our dear country.
“It is a task that requires all hands on deck. My major opponent at the election is your son but, as in every contest, there must be a winner and loser(s). In a sense, however, there is only one winner in this instance – Nigeria.
“And because we are all Nigerians, we are all winners; because what is at stake is our collective destiny, our shared values and vision of a prosperous country.
“So, I have come to ask for your hand of fellowship. Whether you voted for me or not, I will be the president of this great country for the next four years and, therefore, I will be the president of both those who voted for me and those who didn’t.
“Now that the election is over, it is time to go to work for the sake of our dear country and we need the support of all.”
And then he leaves Port Harcourt for Enugu to deliver the same message of hope.
Rather than doing that, Buhari went abroad to lecture the international community on how best to share the spoils of office with his misguided 97 per cent versus 5 per cent formula, forgetting that the national values and patrimony he has been called to allocate belongs both to those who voted for him and those who didn’t.
He even queried what the Igbo want in their own country, forgetting that crude oil – Nigeria’s biggest foreign exchange earner, with which he will take care of the so-called 97 per cent in his column, to the exclusion of others – is extracted from the areas he vowed to discriminate against, particularly the South South.
The result of such thoughtless disposition to nation building and inclusive governance was immediate and dramatic. The spectre of virulent separatist agitations reared their heads again.
Buhari does not get it. That is the simple truth. He is too far gone on the supremacist boulevard to retrace his steps. Anyone waiting to see him as a conciliator, peacemaker, and pacifier may well wait for eternity.
And that is another tragedy of the macabre dance on national display, because, at his age, Buhari is the father of the nation literally and metaphorically. As a father, he should be a force for good, a causal agent of unity, and a national healing balm to assuage the grievous wounds inflicted on many by acts of injustice, bigotry and prejudice.
But any iota of doubt he will ever change was erased by the speech he gave after his return. It was full of fury, threat and innuendo.
Despite the few fringe elements in the country, the majority of Nigerians prayed for Buhari’s recovery because of the common humanity we share; as the death of one diminishes all. Any other leader in the same circumstance would use his first speech in months to thank all, sue for peace and give hope to the disconcerted.
He talked down and threatened those who proffer a different roadmap to nation building. Such people, to him, “are irresponsible elements” who would “start trouble and when things get bad they run away and saddle others with the responsibility of bringing back order, if necessary with their blood,” a not too subtle jibe at the same man who left the comfort of his home in 2003 to join him in Daura for two days in a bid to find lasting solution to the country’s festering problems.
If those who disagree with the president’s tunnel vision of patriotism are not “political mischief makers,” they are “terrorists and criminals” who must be fought and destroyed.
Such contempt for others is sickening.
By alluding to farmers versus herdsmen clashes, he brought a moral equivalence to bear on the shame of the country, particularly since he became president.
His speech was a no-brainer. But just as we are seeing in the case of the rabble-rousing U.S. President Donald Trump, no matter what Buhari does, his base, which has been intact since his first shot at the presidency in 2003, will be there for him.
Buhari’s supporters see no evil and hear no evil in whatever he does. He throws political red meat to them at every turn. In reciprocation, they cheer him up as the Lion-King, threatening to deal with, and in fact dealing with, any dissenting voice.
But unlike in the U.S. there is no push back from any quarters here. There are no voices of caution. Instead, many queue up to be admitted to the table of the all-conquering lord of the Nigeria manor even as the augury gets starker.
Buhari must know that what Nigeria needs now is a leader who will heal our wounds. A president who will engender hope and peace in the land, not one who will perpetually challenge his enemies, both real and imagined, to a duel.
We need a president who will permanently bin the seeds of prejudice, bigotry and waste of human life. Not one who will ceaselessly water our national faultlines with the blood of fellow citizens.