President Buhari’s May 29 inauguration: Are congratulations in order?

It is best to begin this reflection with the invocation of Lasisi Olagunju’s recent Nigerian Tribune column article titled ‘Nigeria’s Ship of Fools’. In that prophetic article, Olagunju painted a grotesque picture of Nigeria under the captain-ship of its power-intoxicated leaders. “So, where is the tipsy ship headed? When a system goes on a lawless, ‘drunken pleasure cruise’ as Plato’s Ship of Fools, it cannot end well… Sailors in this ship are of that ilk,” he lamented.

This ominous rendering encapsulates Nigerian framework under the captain-ship of President Muhammadu Buhari. The pronouncement by Buhari after he mounted the deck that indicated he would steer Nigeria like a drunken captain with drunken a crew, was when he posited he wished he could rule a democratic Nigeria like a military man. This means he probably did not understand what it meant to be a democratic leader or he did not understand the pressing realities of the country. This was reflected in his complain–ridden and snail-paced first-term administration.

Any objective reviewer of Buhari’s 2015 campaign promises, as published on May 29, 2015 in The Vanguard with the title: ‘What Buhari Promised Nigerians’, would agree that out of the 81 promises grouped under 11 major ones, if he was able to accomplish thirty per cent of them, Nigeria would have been in a better next level. Rather, what the electorate reaped was ‘Next Level’ of propaganda and shenanigan and rigged elections that returned him and his cohorts into the wobbling ship.

It is difficult to pin-point any sector or people under this administration that has experienced any real positive change not to mention moving to the next level. Is it agriculture, education, health, infrastructure, governance? The economy and security have drowned. The Central Bank is currently warning of another recession, as if Nigerians have recovered from the previous one. Just a few days into Buhari’s second inauguration as president, The Punch reported on its front-page headline reported, “Insecurity: Buhari says community leaders, police have failed Nigeria.” Yet, the president would claim he has defeated Boko Haram and other metro menaces over and over again. This and other negative indices led The Economist to report that Nigerians got poorer in Buhari’s first term.

If Buhari’s May 29, 2015 inauguration speech was anything to go by in the face of Nigeria’s current existential challenges, it sounded more like a speech of someone who did not comprehend the reality of the country. “Insecurity, pervasive corruption, the hitherto unending and seemingly impossible fuel and power shortage are the immediate concerns. We are going to tackle them head on,” Buhari had pontificated in his 2015 inauguration speech. It is now 2019, on his second inauguration as president, how far? In his 2015 inauguration speech, he had also added, “I intend to keep my oath and serve as president to all Nigerians… I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” Four years later, it is obvious the tribe and section of the country the president belongs to.

The president’s ‘I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody’ has turned out to be the most nepotistic and hypocritical declaration of the decade as long as Nigerian socio-political space is concerned. In the last four years, the Fulani has dominated the Nigerian narrative. The special treatment accorded them—even when some factions of them have turned terrorists, killer herdsmen and bandits, and to large extent are at large—does not speak well of the president. If these were not enough, some of these marauding people and organisations, who have seemingly turned feet soldiers of some ambitious and fanatic elements in the government, are now dominating the 2023 presidency discuss. And, this administration is more or less siding or defending them.

Furthermore, even when some notable Nigerian statesmen and concerned leaders have warned about the insidious influences of some people and organisations, Buhari’s government is still mulling the idea of allocating tens of billions of public funds to set up ranches and a special radio station for them, as if they are the only tribe in the country. Buhari should know that he is not the president of Fulanis, but the president of Nigeria. He should know that the special attention he is according his tribesmen is equally deserved by other tribes. He should know that he is dividing and frustrating Nigeria than he met it.

Comparing Buhari’s 2015 inauguration speech with his May 29, 2019—wait, there was no 2019 inauguration speech. The federal government hid under the guise of a low-key inauguration and a ‘high-key’ June 12 Democracy Day as a reason for this. There was no better day than May 29 for Buhari to reassure Nigerians of hope amid the turmoil the country has become under his government. Perhaps, Buhari has nothing new and innovative to offer. Any leader who has something new to offer his people, whether it was Inauguration Day or Democracy Day, would happily do so. Buhari has, once again, failed Nigerians with that singular snobbish act.

There is no excuse or propaganda that could explain Buhari’s no-speech inauguration. This is not only a global disgrace, it also generated a lot of heat in the Nigerian polity and media. A People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) chieftain, Olabode George, said, “It won’t be ideal for Buhari to start making another round of promises to Nigerians now when he still has many unfulfilled promises he made in his 2015 inauguration speech.” Professor Lia Oso of the University of Lagos, said, “Perhaps, he feels he said enough during his interview with NTA.” A human-rights activist, Mark Adebayo, lamented, “The president did not say anything at a time the citizens are under extreme economic and security pressure and in desperate need of reassurance. He has failed us totally.” And the lamentations from Nigerians continue…

The four-year depressing performance of Buhari as the captain of Nigeria’s ship is an indication that he is either sleeping on the wheel or some other people are steering the affairs of the country. If that is the case, it simply means the citizenry have a leader who is seemingly politically weak. To be a good general with self-acclaimed integrity, is not the same as being a proactive and pragmatic leader. The last four years have revealed that Nigerians do not need a leader who sings integrity and anticorruption songs, but a leader who fully understands the real problems of the country and how to fix them without sentiments.

This led Tunji Olaopa, in a recent Sunday Tribune article titled ‘Can A Weak Leader Build Strong Institutions?’, to write, “Lee Kwan is now known as the founding father of modern Singapore. Someone else could be called the founding father of modern Nigeria if there is the political will to put Nigerians first… and give them the good life.” The Guardian, in its recent editorial titled ‘Mr President, Lead the Charge!’, put it this way, “The foundation of Nigeria today is weak and needs not to be so. It can and should be re-built so that the country can stop living a lie.” If after four years—or the presidential electoral tribunal sacks President Buhari before then, perish the thought—what legacy would he leave behind?

The low turnout at President Buhari’s 2019 inauguration and the fact that when he raised his fist in salutation at Nigerians who witnessed the event, many did not wave back, is an indication that he has performed below expectation. Where is the hope, the trust from a man who many Nigerians believed was their messiah? It would take a miracle to convince anybody that Buhari’s second term would offer anything novel. Optimists could think otherwise. In the meantime, judging from President Muhammadu Buhari’s performance in the last four years and the fact that Nigeria’s ship is gradually sinking under his watch, congratulations are not yet in order on his 2019 inauguration.

Kingsley Alumona is with the Nigerian Tribune