Two recent events that have affected the nation very deeply in the past few days have raised to the fore once again questions about the leadership mettle of Major General Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria.
While many in the country, hailers and wailers alike, have long come to be persuaded, that for ill or for good, the nation has indeed reached a very touchy point in its long-running search for solutions to its perennial leadership hiatus, the administration’s handling of the Abule-Ado, Lagos explosions and the Coronavirus pandemic would surely rank for the purpose of making a concluding call on the character of the administration, the personality of its flag-bearer and its potential final bequests to the nation.
When the Abule Ado saga came to the fore, many felt that given the scale of the crisis the President would almost immediately deploy to the scene of the crisis to identify with victims and get a personal feel of its scope.
On the contrary, however, and in stark contrast to what obtains the world over where presidents have institutionally now come to function as consoler-in- chief of their people in seasons of disaster, the Buhari Presidency merely sent out a routine statement of comfort in fleeting acknowledgement of the disaster. And even when it moved to do a little more, it was to engage in the emotionally non-intelligent public relations gaffe of authorizing the release of camera footage of the President observing optical images of the scene of the tragedy even as he was being briefed by Lagos Governor, Babajide Sanwoolu in the distant comfort of the Presidential Villa at Abuja. Attempts to make further improvements on these preliminary failings, including the poorly advertised visit of a delegation from the Presidency to the state have also not changed much as they have come through essentially as ‘too little too late.’
It is a similar lack of troubling personal detachment that has been recorded in relation to the ongoing Coronavirus saga. When the Presidency makes the very shrill defence that all that matters is for target teams to be seen to be working on the challenge per se, they miss the point. The office of president of any nation is as much functional as it is symbolic. A president, as leader of the nation, is expected to build, drive and communicate the greatest dosage of hope in the land. After all, without people, there is no leader. He is required to maximally bond with the citizens from time to time through making constant addresses to indicate that he not only feels their pulse but that they can continue to rely on him for leadership in their shared existence within the nation-space. This is what other discerning and responsive world leaders cursorily do and it is evidently what they have been doing to manage the ravaging Coronavirus pandemic since its outbreak. Sadly, as we go to press, General Buhari is yet to address the nation as its prime encourager and consoler-in-chief.
Were these to have been isolated instances, our antenna may not have been raised this high. But they are very unfortunately not. And a few instances would suffice. When a chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN in Adamawa state was brutally murdered in a bewildering incident that led to much tension in the state, he neither visited to douse tension nor sent a representative. Again, in the thick of pogrom committed by alleged Fulani herdsmen against the people of the Middle Belt and other parts of the country, he was not seen as taking prompt and decisive action. Indeed, it took reported pressure from different quarters before he made what some still see as belated lacklustre visits to some of the scenes of the pogrom.
In instances where he had been known to more speedily react, very surprisingly, some polity watchers have seen these as fitting into a framework and established pattern of presumed selective crisis management. When floods ravaged his home state of Katsina, he was speedily there to commiserate. He also recently visited Borno after attending the AU Heads of States summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in the wake of Boko Haram insurgents massacring travellers who had been shut out of the relatively safer precincts of Maiduguri. He equally visited Kebbi to witness the Argungu fishing festival.
Incontrovertibly then, President Muhammadu Buhari is an unusual leader by any standard of leadership measurement globally and his second coming as President of the country has now seemingly exposed the much more untoward dimensions of his personality. Before now, he had basked in the euphoria of a cult-like myth that had been carried over from his first sojourn in the saddle as military Head of State, a period most adult Nigerians still remember with nostalgia but for his draconian tendencies, which in comparison to what we have now looked like paradise.
To say that he has been disappointing as a leader then is trite and dignifying. As a leader he has clearly been less than salutary to even some of his staunchest supporters. If his first term was tolerable, the past year of his second term has been most insufferable: he has hardly put the right foot forward on almost every state and leadership demand. Indeed, it would not be remiss to say that the major challenge facing many in the country today ultimately has to do with how to go through the remainder of his presidential term.
It is hard to get a comparison of his model in any part of the world. This is because in any case, if his type managed to secure the presidency during the first term in any saner society, to secure re-election may prove as difficult as the twelve labours of Hercules. This will be so given his natural disposition, his politics, his perspective on life and the Nigerian state, and his unipolar appreciation of the multidimensionality of the society he governs.
As a newspaper, we have from the inception of his regime taken a critical, if even semiotic deconstruction of the cardinal features of the administration he superintends. What comes out glaringly is a regime with a directive principle of state policy that is anchored on selective crisis management, tainted with unabashed nepotism, instinctive tribalism and such other primordial sentiments and fault lines that have threatened to roll back our progress by as much as thirty years.
It is ruefully surprising that early in his regime Gen. Buhari had neither behaved nor acted as a statesman who is above the fault lines and primordial sentiments which he was supposed to resolve. It would amount to an ugly meiosis if we say he has conducted himself as President for all.
It is further troubling when the response of the president to current events in the country indicates that our definition of leadership as a people and electors is different from the opinion of the presidency. While Nigerians have been expecting the president to address the nation on the rampaging health threat occasioned by the Coronavirus crisis, they are being rudely and insultingly rebuked by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu; as if they were asking for his blood.
While not trying to rein in and discountenance everything about individual traits and personality mannerisms, it is clear that some of the failings being addressed here border on issues of the expressed job description of any who would occupy the office of President. Between the electorate, the political parties and our lawmakers, necessary caution and checks have to be put in place going forward.
It is however not too late in the day for the President to turn over a new leaf for as the ancient Greek historian Polybius wrote: “There is no accuser more indicting and nothing more terrible than the conscience that dwells in us; for whatever we do in life, the judgement of history and posterity is sure.” Should this President turn the leaf then, those among us who are already rueing the prospect of a harsh three years would have some unexpected respite. But would he change?