By Idowu Akinlotan
A YEAR or two before he left office in 2007, ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo suddenly became aware of his mortality. Sensing the ephemerality of office, he unleashed a plethora of plots to elongate his stay in office and attempted to solidify his achievements into an indestructible legacy. He failed of course, both to elongate his tenure and to produce a legacy that would stand the test of time. And by vengefully orchestrating a guided succession, he virtually sealed his fate and doomed his presidency. On Christmas Day 2019, when the Federal Capital Territory minister led selected residents to visit President Muhammadu Buhari, he said he hoped history would be kind to him. He had begun to be acutely aware of how his presidency would be assessed. But last month, when he gave an interview to Arise Television, he had changed from expecting kindness to his presidency to calling for fairness for his legacy. It is not clear how the public could be ‘fair’ to his legacy, but he had told his interviewers that he wanted fairness. However, whether kind or fair, the president had at least become aware that a judgement day beckons. What he does between now and 2023, he hopes, will not counteract what he claims to have done to elicit kindness and fairness.
What is, however, not in doubt is that President Buhari has altered Nigeria in ways that will be difficult to reverse or remake. Ex-president Richard Nixon of the United States, in his book, Leaders, attempts an analysis of leadership, particularly in terms of legacy. “When the curtain comes down on a leader’s career,” he began surefootedly, “the very lives of the audience have been changed, and the course of history may have been profoundly altered” Going further, Mr Nixon postulates: “The surefire formula for placing a leader among the greats has three elements: a great man, a great country, and a great issue.” Of the three elements, only one is present in Nigeria – a great issue. The other two – a great man, and a great country – do not exist. Indeed, President Buhari has spent his six years in office negating the greatness which those who did not known him really well before he assumed office read into his person and leadership. Concerning a great country, not even the most patriotic Nigerian would describe the country as great.
History will be fair to President Buhari, of course not in the way he expects it. Because it cannot lie, it will consign him to the bottom of the presidential table. As for showing kindness, no matter how much Nigerians try, and history, they will be unsparing. The reason is his response to the great issue of the day, a response that has left many Nigerians bewildered, wondering how he was sold to them as the deus ex machina capable of fixing the shortcomings and failings of his predecessor, the paradoxically enlightened Goodluck Jonathan, PhD. The great issue of the day encapsulates a number of minor issues, to wit, Fulani herdsmen attacks, open grazing and outdated animal husbandry methods, and the wider subject of restructuring that has birthed self-determination campaigns and even secession. President Buhari’s response has actually remained engagingly simple. He was expected in all situations to view the country’s existential crisis from a nationalist’s perspective, had he recognized the greatness of the issue that confronts his presidency. He chose early in his first term to view the great issue and the crises it fathered from the perspective of his ethnic background. That perspective is the fulcrum upon which all his responses are tragically balanced.
History will be fair to President Buhari, of course not in the way he expects it. Because it cannot lie, it will consign him to the bottom of the presidential table. As for showing kindness, no matter how much Nigerians try, and history, they will be unsparing. The reason is his response to the great issue of the day, a response that has left many Nigerians bewildered, wondering how he was sold to them as the deus ex machina capable of fixing the shortcomings and failings of his predecessor, the paradoxically enlightened Goodluck Jonathan, PhD.
In the early part of his administration, the president had bristled at any suggestion of him being a Fulani irredentist and religious extremist. Now, he does not so much as take umbrage. He carefully selected his aides, all of them birds of identical plumage, and together with him have focused on policies and ideas that directly or indirectly confer caste advantage on their narrow group, almost to the total exclusion of all others, particularly the Southeast. They, however, hope that some roads and bridges here and rail lines there should mollify the anger and resentment anyone might harbour or express. The controversy surrounding the past antics of Communications minister Isa Pantami was dealt with and disposed off from a shockingly insular and detrimental perspective. The Department of State Service (DSS), in the name of national security, has become almost a state within a state. The president and the Attorney General of the Federation Abubakar Malami, both of them loathing democracy or viewing it with revulsion, have built a monumental shrine dedicated to subverting the three arms of government and abridging human rights. It will get worse in the months ahead, as more laws aimed at stifling and choking the country will flow from compromised lawmakers, from the executive through direct orders, and from the security agencies whose top brass have sworn full allegiance to the president rather than to the constitution.
Insecurity has worsened beyond the country’s worst fears, and there are no initiatives to give hope that the administration understands the forces at work. In a perverse way, the administration sometimes gives the impression that self-determination advocates and secessionists promote insecurity and put the country on edge, despite their agitations being a clear reaction to the impotence of the government in enthroning fairness in the polity and restoring peace to the highways and countryside. Now, everyone waits for the other shoe to fall. If the administration will not attempt a scientific study of the factors at play, if it will not recognize that the country has a wobbly foundational structure needing remediation, they are unlikely to ever find a solution. Any hope that such a study would be undertaken are, however, fast receding. The Buhari administration is set in its ways, and the president’s close aides are cut from the same cloth.
President Buhari does not have any incentive to change. He has ridden roughshod over the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and the party is now at his beck and call. He has vaccinated the judiciary against the highest principles of juristic brilliance and independence, thus making the third arm of government to see its role as regime protection. He has done to institutions, in a democracy, what neither Ibrahim Babangida nor Sani Abacha attempted or even thought possible as military heads of state. With the massive defections depleting the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of strength, courage and elected officials, executive impunity may even be rewarded at the next elections. Worse, the administration may have done a canny study of the weaknesses of the geopolitical zones to call the bluff of everyone and every region.
The Buhari administration, which is unadulteratedly core North, knows that the distrust between the Southeast and Southwest is probably stronger than the two southern regions’ antipathy towards the North. In 1959, 1966, 1979 and 1983, the Southeast spurned alliances with the Southwest and headed north. The Southwest is also too fractious and regicidal to appreciate the consequences of the withering attack on their leading politicians, thus indirectly weakening them before their enemies. And the administration also knows that the North has the population and the lack of education for its electorate to make impactful, uninformed choices. It is said of the Ottoman emperor Suleyman the Magnificent that his achievements in modernizing the empire was so solid that 100 years of inept successors could not destroy the empire. Well, just six years into his administration, President Buhari has bankrupted national values, banished the notion of Nigeria, set ethnic groups at war, and demonstrated how easily it is to move seamlessly from democracy to dictatorship. If these profound genetic mutations do not doom the country, they will at least be difficult to mitigate.
*Akinlotan piece culled from The Nation