Buhari and the burden of history

RECENTLY, President Muhammadu Buhari gave an indication that the strident criticisms of his administration’s apparent lawlessness in many areas were finally making an impression on him. In a moment, apparently not of deep introspection but of subtle resignation, he expressed the hope that history would be kind to him at the end of his term. Speaking while receiving a delegation of residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) led by the FCT Minister, Mallam Muhammad Bello, and comprising religious, traditional and political leaders and top civil servants during the 2018 Christmas Day homage at the State House, Abuja, Buhari claimed that he was conscious of his duty as president,  and would continue to uphold the country’s constitution.

He said: “I swore to hold this office in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and God willing, I will follow the system diligently to the end of my term and I hope history will be kind to me and Nigerians.” He added: “This administration sincerely believes that if you get infrastructure right, most Nigerians will mind their own businesses. They may not even care who is in government. But when you deny them infrastructural facilities, then there is nothing they can do.”

It is indeed salutary that four years after he assumed office, President Buhari had come to realise the transience of his office and, by implication, the powers attached to it. Throughout the country’s history, and sadly even since the return to civil rule in 1999 when an uncomfortable number of elected leaders at all tiers of government have carried on as rulers and task masters, scoffing at the law they swore with pomp to uphold, it has been confronted with the ugly phenomenon of leaders with neither a sense of history nor of direction and purpose.

The phenomenon has been particularly stark and troubling in the case of Buhari under whose “reign,” as Nigerians have come to characterise supposedly democratic leadership, it has been extremely difficult for the masses to take to the streets in protest against unfavourable government policies, pronouncements and practices. It is therefore significant, if not exactly comforting, that the president is beginning to come to terms with the reality of life after office and, more significantly, of the burden of history. After all, as a Nigerian proverb expresses in sobering terms, if under a king’s reign the community is fragmented, the people will never forget. There is therefore no better time than now, and going forward, for Buhari and his team to take cognizance of the burden of history, especially now that the international justice system is fast tightening the noose on ex leaders who committed significant human rights abuses and corruption.

Truth be told, it is one thing for the president  to be conscious of the burden of history, and quite another to take concrete steps towards positive appraisal. In this regard, evidence that the president did not give sufficient thought to the question was provided by his statement, following the declaration on history, that his conscience was clear on human right accusations, and his statement during the former occasion that he meant well for the country. If the history of governance has taught any lesson, it is the fact that governance is much more than meaning well: it is about delivering tangible results.

President Buhari must not fail  to realise that the job of assessing and judging him, determining whether he has done well or not, is the exclusive preserve of Nigerians. We appreciate the president’s concern, but it must be said in clear terms that the burden of history cannot be discharged by him. He should simply strive, and very hard, to satisfy the yearnings of the people if he wants history to be kind to him. Nowhere in the world can the government reliably be the judge of itself; not with the resilient army of sycophants and bootlickers surrounding public office holders in this clime, anyway.

Since government is not about self satisfaction, it is not difficult to see that the president started on a wrong note, looking at governance from the angle of self-perception. Self-perception, however brilliant, can never discharge the burden of history. Thus, if the president really took cognizance of the import of his words when he told the FCT residents, “You are our eyes and ears, we have to listen to you and I hope you are encouraging your constituencies that this leadership means well and is concerned about them,” he would have realised that the people are much more than the eyes and ears of the government: they are the ultimate judge of it. And on current evidence, the verdict on his stewardship is far from favourable.

In practical terms, the president has a bounden duty, if he really wants history to be kind to him, to shelve the disobedience of court orders, constant and compulsive borrowing to fund recurrent expenditure, persecution of the opposition, intolerance of legitimate criticism, onslaught on free speech and the social media and, more significantly, opposition to the restructuring imperative. The ball is in his court.

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