When Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as president on
May 29, 2015, his supporters were euphoric. No one could really begrudge their wild jubilations. They were entitled to their moments of delirium. Finally, after three failed attempts, Buhari was president. Their ‘messiah’ had arrived, and their expectations of the good times rolling in were sky-high. They never saw the different scenario that eventually unfolded. Even the millions of skeptics, who doubted Buhari’s capacity for the job of president, didn’t see it coming.
They didn’t see it coming because they had hoped that the enormous responsibilities and the majestic aura of the office would tutor him to become a real leader. Four years in the office, he couldn’t rouse himself to own and master it. His crippling insularity, medieval mindset, as discerned by a notable commentator, and archaic worldview give him the unflattering profile of being a misfit in the office. His words, always insipid and uninspiring, and actions, mostly reactive and inadequate relative to the challenges they are directed at, exude incompetence and disconnect from the demands of his office. He paints a picture of a leader who is being led, programmed and managed into irrelevance.
At the very beginning of his tenure, when his presidency manifested disturbing lethargy, his spokesmen went ballistic in defence of his go-slow style. They said he was “the new Sheriff in town”, feared by all and whose “body language” was making things happen, even when nothing was happening. For nearly six months, there was no government because he had no cabinet. We were told that he was looking for the cleanest people – not the best and brightest – to fill the cabinet. He himself even said in faraway Paris that, “ministers were mere noisemakers” and it’s the civil servants who really do the work of government.
“Now that the curtain is being drawn on his lacklustre first term, which has provoked intense frustration and widespread disappointment among Nigerians, how does his scorecard read? Good, fair or just plain bad?”
When the cabinet was eventually formed, it was quite underwhelming. The deadwood were far more than the capable ones. By then, the economy, already badly hobbled by the global oil crisis, was hurtling into a damaging recession. And the president’s proclivity for blaming his predecessors for everything wrong and he is unable to deal with began to take hold.
His mythical ‘body language’ had no magic, and it failed miserably to deliver results. Instead, it was delivering a harvest of failures. We soon found out, to our collective despair, that the ‘new Sheriff’ was impotent when it comes to solving problems. He prefers pointing fingers at others, and he is only animated while indulging in his obsession for the blame game. It is never his fault. And the army of his cheerleaders echoes that untenable claim again and again. It is 16 years of ‘PDP’s misrule’ that has blown the Buhari mystique to pieces, they lament.
But as Henry Ford, the American automobile-business icon, said, “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” Buhari was elected to find a remedy to what ails Nigeria because he promised that he had what it takes to do so. But it turned out that he couldn’t find the remedy as he failed to do what General Norman Schwarzkopf, the American Gulf War 1 commander, said: “When placed in command, take charge.”
Buhari and his All Progressives Congress, APC, had convinced the majority of the electorate that they could and would do better than the PDP. They were content to wrap themselves in the glory and glow of defeating an incumbent president and dislodging the ruling party from power. But they forgot to learn the lesson from General Colin Powell’s telling admonition to President George W. Bush just before the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003: “If you broke it (Iraq), you own it.”
Powell retired as the US military’s joint chiefs of staff chairman, was America’s secretary of state then. His message was that, if America invaded Iraq and overthrew the Saddam Hussein regime, it must take the responsibility of dealing with the post-war challenges and fixing the country. Powell’s warning turned out to be very prescient.
Seizing Iraq was the easiest part. Pacifying the country became a very bloody and terribly expensive venture. An estimated half a million Iraqis and over 4,000 American combat troops were killed during the invasion and the insurgency that followed. And it cost the US treasury over a trillion dollars and still counting, while the collateral damage to Iraq’s economy and infrastructure was incalculable.
So, when the APC took on the PDP in 2015 and won, it ought to know that taking power comes with the responsibility of owning the challenges besetting the country. It doesn’t give the president a pass from discharging his constitutional obligations to fix the problems and securing the lives and property of Nigerians. It also doesn’t earn him any privilege to incessantly blame his predecessors for his own failure and weaknesses as a leader. Buhari has never taken on board US President Harry Truman’s famous dictum: “The buck stops here.” That is, on the president’s desk, and no one else’s.
Now that the curtain is being drawn on his lacklustre first term, which has provoked intense frustration and widespread disappointment among Nigerians, how does his scorecard read? Good, fair or just plain bad? Actually, none of these words does real justice to the gravity of the unraveling of the Buhari myth. The only redeeming feature of his presidency and desperately poor leadership is that the real Buhari has been thoroughly exposed. He is embarrassingly incompetent and intellectually empty.
If he hadn’t won the presidency at his fourth attempt, the myth of he being the ‘best president’ the country had never had would have endured. Even more troubling is his inclination for barefaced dissembling. For a man who loves to wear the ‘toga of integrity’, that reduces him to the ignominy of being seen as just another lying politician.
He has made the astonishing claim that he respects the judiciary and believes in the rule of law. Really? Well, the Court of Appeal has affirmed that the Code of Conduct Tribunal’s ex parte order he conveniently relied on to suspend Chief Justice Walter Onnogen was defective as it was illegally procured. What has he said about that? Or is he not aware of the Court of Appeal’s pronouncement on the jungle justice that was inflicted on Onnogen with his full endorsement?
The only way to demonstrate respect for the judiciary is by simply obeying court decisions, no matter how unpalatable they may be. When the government persistently treats court orders with absolute disdain, then his claim of respecting the judiciary falls flat. It is a falsehood that collides with the fact of his administration’s serial disobedience of court orders that go against it.
If he is indicating that he wants to turn a new leaf in this regard, (which would be truly miraculous if he did) he should immediately order the release of Sambo Dasuki, former national security adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, and Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, the brutalised Shiite leader, from their illegal detention. Both have been his captives for nearly four years despite numerous court orders that they should be released on bail.
President Olusegun Obasanjo has warned that the country is heading towards the abyss, a dangerous inflection point that could trigger its irreversible meltdown under Buhari’s watch. APC’s rottweilers have resorted to their default mode of abusing any critic of the government.
As he remains in denial of this unfolding reality and does nothing effective to stem it, the democracy he never fought for and of which he is a major beneficiary, is becoming more endangered. And, having presided over the worst elections the country has ever had, Buhari’s pretence to being a Democrat and believer in the rule of law represents an existential threat to Nigeria.
According to John Maxwell, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” But Buhari has, in the last four years, shown he is the antithesis of Maxwell’s pithy assertion about leadership. He simply doesn’t have what it takes to be a leader. This is one major reason why his heavily tainted mandate for a second term would lack legitimacy, even if he survives the legal challenges to it.
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