By Femi Aribisala
Buhari has been running for president for the last 14 years. Nevertheless, listening to his inaugural speech, it is clear he does not have a clue what exactly to do when in office.
President Buhari tried to make us understand during the presidential election campaign that he is not the Buhari we once knew. He even went as far as wear an ill-fitting western suit and bow-tie to make us appreciate fully his transformation. He went to Chatham House in far away London to assure the world that, although 30 years ago he was a brutal military dictator, he is now a turncoat democrat.
Once elected president, he dropped the title of General and said we should now refer to him as Mr. President and not as General President. Now he has delivered an inaugural speech in which he has again denied his old self by contradicting his earlier postures, while proclaiming new persuasion to democratic tenets.
Should those of us who remain Doubting Thomases finally believe him? Has there indeed been a transmogrification of the old Buhari to a new Buhari? With Yemi Osinbajo, a Redeemed pastor beside him as vice-president, are we now to conclude that Buhari is a new creature in whom old things have passed away, and behold, all things have become new? As far as I am concerned, the jury is still out on this.
New wine in old bottle
Nevertheless, it is increasingly clear that there is an old Buhari and a new Buhari. The old Buhari was an apostle of George Orwell’s “1984.” But the new Buhari is a stickler for democratic niceties. While he doctored judicial processes in 1984, the new Buhari now insists on executive non-interference with the judiciary. While the old Buhari was the chief executive and chief legislative officer combined, the new Buhari proclaims the sanctity of the separation of powers.
While the old Buhari was guilty of the extra-judicial killing through capricious retroactive decrees, the new Buhari laments the extra-judicial killing of Mohammed Yusuf, the original Boko Haram leader. While the old Buhari banned the Ooni of Ife and the Sultan of Sokoto from traveling abroad for a season, the new Buhari immediately proclaimed on assuming office that nobody should be barred from traveling abroad.
While Buhari declared ominously in his first interview in 1984 that: “I will tamper with the press;” the new Buhari is a promoter of press freedom. Instead of issuing threats, he cajoles: “My appeal to the media today – and this includes the social media – is to exercise its considerable powers with responsibility and patriotism.”
At least on the rhetorical level, the inaugural proclaimed this new Buhari, one now somewhat unrecognisable even to his closest associates. This might be responsible for the recent debacle where his overzealous spokesman, assuming business as usual, barred African Independent Television (AIT) from covering his activities, only to be reversed by Buhari himself who denied prior knowledge of the move.
Disappointment and disgruntlement
One thing is certain, the new Buhari will soon be a disappointment to his teeming supporters. Many voted for him on the basis of mythical tales of his past. What they want is the old Buhari who was a raging bull. But what he revealed at his May 29th inaugural is a defanged Buhari, 30 years older and longer in the tooth. He is now as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove. Barring any sudden chameleon-like change in the near future, the “Sai Buhari brigade” will conclude it had been deceived.
The new Buhari is charitable. Opening his speech, he poured encomiums on Jonathan, thanking him for: “his display of statesmanship in setting a precedent for us that has now made our people proud to be Nigerians wherever they are.” Indeed, Jonathan did what the old Buhari failed to do on three different occasions; concede defeat at the polls.
The new Buhari will not go after his enemies, as the old Buhari did to Umaru Dikko and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Instead, he will let bygones be bygones. He said: “A few people have privately voiced fears that on coming back to office I shall go after them. These fears are groundless. There will be no paying off old scores. The past is prologue.”
However, Buhari’s supporters are not charitable. They have no liking for Jonathan and don’t want any good word to be said about him. They are baying for blood, determined that PDP stalwarts must end up in jail on corruption charges; even if trumped up. They are already circling the wagons of Deziani Alison-Madueke and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Through clarion calls on social media, they are telling those who did not vote for Buhari either go into exile or hug the nearest electricity transformer to them.
Signs of betrayal
But Buhari says he will be as mindful of those who did not vote for him as those who did. He declared grandiloquently: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” This assertion is likely to infuriate his South-West ACN supporters in particular. It is not far-fetched to insist the statement is pointedly directed at Bola Tinubu. Yes, the born-to-rule Northern cabal is also already claiming Buhari. But everyone knows they did not play a prominent role in his campaign and election.
While Buhari might not be said to belong to Tinubu, there can be no question that he owes his presidency to him. Without Tinubu, Buhari would not have even secured the APC presidential nomination. Northern APC members preferred Kwankwaso and Atiku to him. Therefore, this is a cynical time to declare his graduation and independence.
Even Buhari’s wife, Aisha, admitted during the campaign that her husband is indebted to Tinubu. She said: “My husband, General Muhammadu Buhari, has been contesting presidential elections for over a decade now, but this particular election is unique because our leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, jettisoned his personal interest for the sake of Nigeria.”
If Buhari were to distance himself from Tinubu, now that the election is done and dusted, this will be viewed as a great betrayal. It will lead to the fulfillment of our prophecy that the two of them are strange bed-fellows engaged in a marriage of convenience that is bound to end in divorce sooner than later.
End of “change”
But the greatest disappointment of all for Buhari’s supporters must be the inaugural speech itself. Those who praised it were not being candid. The truth of the matter is that the speech was sub-standard. It did not even achieve the pass mark of the average inaugural speech; not to talk of the speech that should be expected of a candidate who went round the country proclaiming “Change, Change.”
The speech failed to identify any innovation to Nigerian’s problems. The only discernible change in it is the strategic movement of the military command centre against the Boko Haram insurgency from Abuja to Maiduguri. In this, Buhari shows he is an astute general indeed. In effect, those charged with directing the war can no longer be physically abstracted from it.
Otherwise, it would appear that the much-touted change is already over. What Buhari and the APC intended all along was just a change of government. No more, no less. Now that this has been accomplished, we are back to the humdrum and the mundane. Buhari has been running for president for the last 14 years. Nevertheless, listening to his inaugural speech, it is clear that he does not have a clue what exactly to do when in office. Either the APC never really believed it would win the election, or it was too preoccupied with winning to pay sufficient attention to what it would do in the unlikely event that it won.
Buhari’s inaugural speech cannot raise the dead, which abound, in Nigeria. Neither can it inspire the living. There is just nothing in it but the same old, same old. Habakkuk says: “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.” There is nothing to run with in Buhari’s speech. Apart from “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody,” it was even lacking in sound-bites.
Buhari himself is an uninspiring public-speaker. He is an imposing personality, head and shoulders taller than everybody else. But at his inaugural, he seemed tired and confused. The whole process seemed a distraction to him. It looked like he would rather be somewhere else. Throughout, his mien was sour and dour. Our new president needs to lighten the national mood by learning to smile, even if occasionally.
Buhari blundered royally on protocol. He had to be prompted to go round and greet the foreign dignitaries who came for his inauguration, showing he had not been coached about this beforehand. He started his speech by recognising himself, a very strange practice. He then recognised his wife before the vice-president. But a president is not expected to recognise his own wife. He then seemed to forget the name of the vice-president’s wife, referring to her as his spouse. Such faux pas should not recur. The president needs to be conversant with the protocol list.
We must soon come to terms with the fact that Buhari is not a Maitama Sule or a Jerry Gana. He is not an orator. But on Friday, he even seemed to be unfamiliar with his speech. Buhari might not have written his speech, but it was imperative for him to own it. At the very least, he should read his speeches and practice their delivery beforehand. It is embarrassing that Buhari could not pronounce some of the words in his speech. That is unacceptable for the president of Nigeria.
I entirely agree with Lagos lawyer, Ebun-Olu-Adegboruwa, who condemned the president’s speech, saying it was illusory and vague. He said: “It would seem that the President is still on the soap box, whereby promises and promises and intentions are the order. My expectation was that since March 28, 2015, when he won the election, General Buhari would have outlined his main policy direction. But alas, that has not happened today”.
On the burning issue of petroleum shortage, Buhari offered no definite solace. Part of the reason behind the fuel scarcity was the uncertainty of marketers and banks about the incoming government’s position on the question of petroleum subsidy. Should the new government be inclined to jettison the scheme, the marketers wanted to get their outstanding money beforehand or have assurances that they would be paid by the incoming government in full.
Clearly, one of the things required here was some words from the president about his position on this issue. But Buhari gave no indication. Even in his inaugural, not a word was spoken that could calm the frayed nerves of oil-marketers and the anxieties of “battle-weary” petrol-seeking Nigerians.
All-in-all, the inaugural was a lost opportunity. The president lost the opportunity to ignite an agenda. There are difficult decisions he needs to make that should have been broached in his speech. That would give them momentum since he still has the wind behind his sails and this is the dawn of his honeymoon period. However, he squandered this opportunity by presenting a bland and vacuous speech.
He could have announced the removal of the petroleum subsidy and gotten away with it. He could have announced a “Marshall Plan” for the North-East and he would get the support of the new legislature. He could have announced a call-to-arms for a return to agriculture, and that would become a beacon of his presidency. He did nothing like this. He failed to understand that a new president is only guaranteed a honeymoon of just 100 days.
President Buhari acknowledges that: “Nigeria has a window of opportunity to fulfill our long-standing potential of pulling ourselves together and realising our mission as a great nation.” However, instead of getting down to work in order to capitalise on this “window of opportunity,” the president declared a plan to go back to the drawing-boards.
On the NEPA situation, he declared: “Careful studies are under way during this transition to identify the quickest, safest and most cost-effective way to bring light and relief to Nigerians.” Careful studies? Are we still at the stage of careful studies? During the campaign, Buhari promised 20,000 megawatts of electricity by 2019. On what basis did he make this promise if he is still at the stage of careful studies?
He says: “We shall quickly examine the best way to revive major industries and accelerate the revival and development of our railways, roads and general infrastructure.” This is disappointing. Buhari is still lost at sea. Now that he has been elected president, he is going back to the classroom. It seems he will use his first-term to study the problems of Nigeria and then perhaps offer solutions for a possible second-term.
No foreign policy
Listening to Buhari’s inaugural speech, Nigeria has no foreign policy. Scores of foreign dignitaries were in attendance; far more than we have seen recently. Nevertheless, Buhari’s speech provides no cogent foreign policy blueprint. You cannot get more pretentious than his assertion that: “Our neighbours in the sub-region and our African brethren should rest assured that Nigeria under our administration will be ready to play any leadership role that Africa expects of it.”
This is nonsensical on several levels. It means Nigeria has no foreign policy; therefore, its foreign policy apparatus can be readily lent out to support ANY leadership role. It is also unrealistic to expect African countries that have watched us in the past few days grind to a halt over petroleum shortage be waiting to ascribe any leadership role to Nigeria. Who made Nigeria a leader in Africa? How can we lead without direction? Buhari supplied no answers.
The president further blundered by saying: “I would like to thank the governments and people of Cameroon, Chad and Niger for committing their armed forces to fight Boko Haram in Nigeria.” This is a slur on the integrity of the Nigerian armed forces. Our sub-regional partners have not committed their armed forces to fight Boko Haram in Nigeria. They have committed their armed forces to fight Boko Haram in their own countries.
These countries delayed fighting Boko Haram until the insurgency spilled over into their own countries as well. This has helped Nigeria by foreclosing Boko Haram escape routes. But we have not been dependent on them to fight Boko Haram on our behalf. Buhari’s statement is not going to motivate the Nigerian army, which has recently been achieving great success against the insurgency.
Talking to CNN after his election, Buhari said of the Boko Haram: “We will deal effectively with them in two months when we get to office.” He has since tried to back-pedal from this unrealistic deadline. But at his inauguration, he made another promise likely to haunt him in the future. He said: “We cannot claim to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage by insurgents.”
He might come to regret saying this. Compare it with what he said during the one-year anniversary of the Chibok kidnapping: “We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown. As much as I wish to, I cannot promise that we can find them.” If the girls may not be found, then according to his new position, Boko Haram will not be defeated.
Rather than thank the Nigerian army for its recent victories against the Boko Haram, Buhari thanked Britain and the United States, countries that refused to sell arms to Nigeria against the insurgents. He made our foreign policy the appendage of the interests of these two Western countries. Listen to him again: “I also wish to assure the wider international community of our readiness to cooperate and help to combat threats of cross-border terrorism, sea piracy, refugees and boat people, financial crime, cyber crime, climate change, the spread of communicable diseases and other challenges of the 21st century.”
The issues listed here are those Buhari knows are of primary interest to the West. Is Nigeria’s foreign policy now to be mortgaged to Buhari’s new European and American friends?
Britain and the United States blatantly interfered in Nigeria’s domestic affairs on behalf of Buhari and the APC during the elections. Not minding their business, they complained about the postponement of the election, in spite of the fact that it was done lawfully and was necessary because INEC was not ready. They interfered by making insulting statements while the votes were still being tallied, insisting that the election must not be rigged. The United States then added insult to injury by decorating Attahiru Jega with some ridiculous award immediately the election was declared in favour of Buhari.
The president told CNN in April, 2015: “The actual division (in Nigeria) that I think is worth bothering about is social instability, that is, insecurity, in the North East and the Delta area.” He is highly mistaken. The major problem of Nigeria is lack of national integration which goes beyond the North-East and the Niger-Delta. Nigeria is divided between North and South. We are divided between East and West. The Niger Delta used to be in alliance with the North. However, the way the campaign against Jonathan was conducted and the manner by which APC secured its victory against the PDP has driven a wedge between the South-South and the North.
Nigeria is divided up North between Christians and Moslems. The APC campaigned on Nigeria’s secularity in the South. But up North, the message was loud and clear: Jonathan must go because he is not a Muslim and a Northerner. It is all well and good for Buhari to say Boko Haram is not true Islam. But there can be no question that Boko Haram set out to destroy Christians and Christianity in the North. The evidence is in the overwhelming number of churches it has destroyed.
Even Buhari’s early approach to the Boko Haram insurgency itself was divisive. He saw the conflict through regional goggles, claiming that it was an insidious attempt by the South to undermine the North. Some of his Northern cheer-leaders still hold this position. Recently, Junaid Mohammed said Goodluck Jonathan was behind Boko Haram. He said: “Some of them were sponsored by the government while others were sponsored by Niger-Delta militants to destabilise the North.”
Problem with APC
Buhari needs to be a quick learner because he still does not get it. As presently constituted, APC itself is a big problem for Nigeria. The election it won constitutes a major threat to Nigerian democracy. APC is a sectarian party that effectively divided Nigeria along regional lines. A situation where PDP could not campaign in the North without threats, blackmail and even violence, while APC campaigned without hindrance everywhere in the South does not augur well for Nigerian democracy. There must be a level playing field for all candidates everywhere if true democracy is to flourish.
In the North, PDP billboards were destroyed. PDP buses were fire-bombed. PDP chieftains were threatened. President Jonathan’s campaign train was stoned. The intimidation has not stopped. Even after the elections, PDP chieftains, like Babangida Aliyu, were stoned during their handover of power to successor APC governors. APC supporters even disrupted the swearing-in ceremony of their own governor-elect in Kaduna. Buhari cannot keep mum while his “people” and supporters continue to be trouble-makers. The case of the murderous Fulani herdsmen is yet another case in point.
He cannot talk about change without confronting the national question. That is the centrepoint of the call for a national conference. Nigeria cannot move forward until we come to a definite agreement as to the terms of membership in Nigeria, of its constituent federations and nationalities. A situation where states gather every month in Abuja to receive handouts from the proceeds of an enclave oil sector is a recipe for national unproductivity. It also provides the fodder for endemic corruption because the oil proceeds are deemed to belong to everybody and to nobody.
Buhari ended his inaugural with a big blunder. He decided to quote Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar: “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life, is bound in shallows and miseries.” When I heard this, I was flabbergasted. We might as well have started off the inauguration with the British national anthem as well.
At the inauguration of a new Nigerian Head of State, watched the world over, Buhari could not find a Nigerian to quote. He could not quote a Wole Soyinka, a Chinua Achebe, or even a Maitama Sule. Instead, he sought refuge in William Shakespeare. It seems to me the British are back at the helm in Nigeria.
Buhari pleaded with Nigerians for patience to fulfil his vague mandate. Indeed, it can be argued that, for Buhari and the APC, the mantra is no longer “Change” but “Patience.” But in the cynical words of an intrepid blogger: “We are not going to be patient with the president. That would be adulterous. Patience is married to Jonathan and has left Abuja for Otuoke. The president should be satisfied with Aisha.”