Two Presidents we have come to know quite well are as different from each other on the surface as they can be. One, President Donald Trump of the United States, is White, Christian, and talks too much. The other, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, is Black, Muslim, and hardly talks at all. There is more. Trump was a wealthy businessman turned politician. Buhari came into politics as an army General without a trail of riches. Trump has a track record of bankruptcies and a trail of womanising. Buhari has a history of enviable self-discipline and an ascetic existence.
Yet, there is a striking similarity in their official conduct in one particular respect: Both are perceived as favouring their ethnic constituencies, almost to a fault. Trump is viewed as favouring White Americans just as Buhari is viewed as favouring Northerners in general and the Fulani in particular. Trump’s ethnic leaning is evident in his utterances, while Buhari’s is evident in his silence, delayed action, or inaction.
Partly for this reason, both have been in the eye of the storm within the last two weeks. Trump’s preference for Whites like him is demonstrated time and again by the mouthing of disdainful obscenities and outright racist remarks about Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, and other non-White groups.
Recently, Trump’s references to Nigerians as refusing to go back to their “huts”, once they come to the United States, and to Haitians as AIDS-infested have already made global rounds. Just as the people from these countries were trying to overcome Trump’s injurious words, he threw yet another verbal bomb.
Just last week, he said to a select group of legislators in the Oval Office, who had come to discuss the developing immigration policy with him, that America does not need Haitians, adding a seeming order addressed to no one in particular, “Take them out”. He went on to refer to African countries as “shithole countries”, which should be replaced by all-White countries, such as Norway.
Nobody believes Trump’s denial of these remarks as two top-ranking senators, including one from his own party, have confirmed his use of this vile and racist language in reference to Africans. No wonder his language choice has attracted universal condemnation by world bodies, including the United Nations and the African Union, various governments, and respectable individuals.
Beyond the blatant racism of Trump’s remarks, there are deep historical reasons they should never have been made at all. First, the remarks demonstrated Trump’s insensitivity to two immediate events happening within hours of those remarks. One is the celebration of the birthday and national holiday in honour of the Black civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, whose activism led to the Civil Rights Act. The other event is the eighth anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, which killed over 300,000 people and destroyed thousands of homes. Both events called for sober reflections, which Trump’s verbal bomb blatantly assaulted.
Second, Trump is either totally oblivious to, or gloats over, the history of slavery, which brought millions of Africans into the United States as involuntary minorities. Their labour and sweat helped to build the US into a super power. In his unguarded moments, Trump overlooked the history of his own parents’ immigration into the US, the father from Germany and the mother from Scotland. Perhaps, it didn’t matter to him because they were both White.
What is really significant about Trump’s racist remarks is that they give voice to his policies. This is particularly evident in his immigration policy, which, among other things, imposed visa restrictions on people from certain Muslim countries; ended the special protection given to people from Haiti and El-Salvador for humanitarian reasons; includes plans to end visa lottery; and puts building a protectionist wall along the Mexican border over an existing policy to grant a path to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants, who were born in the United States. Today, Trump’s immigration policy, coupled with his embrace of White Supremacists, is viewed as an attempt to “make America White again”.
Here at home, a similar arrow of favouritism is being pointed at Buhari for looking away for far too long when marauding Fulani herdsmen plundered other people’s farms and killed their owners, their spouses, and their children. It is bad enough for the herdsmen to confess openly to trading people’s lives for lost or stolen cows. It is worse when the President fails to respond to calls for protection from the herdsmen’s victims.
This year alone, nearly 200 people have been killed in Benue, Taraba, and Kaduna. True, Buhari occasionally spoke on the killings, but never in his own voice. He has chosen to speak through aides, spewing one lame policy over another as a palliative. Today, it is “grazing reserve”. Tomorrow, it is “cow colony”. Either way, Buhari’s response has focused more on assisting the herdsmen in their private businesses than in assisting the marauded communities and their traumatised inhabitants.
Observers cannot be blamed for comparing Buhari’s lack of action on the repeated plundering binge of Fulani herdsmen with the incarceration of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, and his silencing by the military, when he proved stubborn while on bail. Yet, no herdsman has been reprimanded so far, despite killing thousands of people and destroying whole villages in the last two years.
Like Trump, Buhari’s preference for a particular group was demonstrated quite early in his tenure, when his initial appointments consisted almost entirely of people from his preferred group or section of the country. The pattern persists till date, despite repeated objections from other parts of the country.
A similar pattern of preferential treatment is perceived in Buhari’s handling of the demand for restructuring the country for better efficiency in financial control, governance practices, and self-actualisation. His insistence that nothing is wrong with the present structure, imposed by the Hausa-Fulani military and embraced by the Northern oligarchy, flies in the face of the lopsidedness in the present arrangement in favour of the centre and the perceived injustices in the allocation of federal resources.
What is worrisome about both Trump and Buhari is the emerging fusion between their stance and policies and those of their political parties. Just as Republicans are closing rank around Trump, so are the members of the All Progressives Congress closing rank around Buhari.
A group of Northern governors did so publicly the other day and even went further to endorse Buhari for a second term. Furthermore, the work of the APC’s Committee on True Federalism and the associated town hall meetings seems to have died with Buhari’s rejection of the call for restructuring in his New Year message on January 1, 2018.
It is important to make clear that Buhari is no Trump. I do not believe that he is as intolerant of other people, other beliefs, or other opinion as Trump is. I know that Buhari means well for this country and its people, regardless of region, ethnicity, or religion. I also know that Buhari is pained by the distressed economy and security level he inherited.
However, if truth be told, the people are becoming intolerant of his aloofness and unwarranted reticence or inaction in certain situations. His failure to visit troubled spots and empathise publicly with victims of unwarranted violence is disconcerting. Equally discomfiting is his outright rejection of public demand for restructuring. They all add up to a feeling of insensitivity and lack of concern.
It is often such negative perception that becomes the talking point during election campaigns. Buhari may connect all Nigerian towns with railroads. If the people’s negative perception persists, they may refuse to see the rail network in 2019.
In sum, my tale of the two Presidents is that while one talks too much, the other hardly talks at all!