What is truly going through the mind of President Buhari at the present moment has become a task for fortune tellers and tea leaves readers. In these early days of his presidency, he reminds me very much of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the second term of his presidency. The former president, who had a very clear idea about what to do with Nigeria, made a clear point of refusing to interact with Nigerians through the mass media and allowed the opposition to use the media as a playground to throw mud at him in an uncontrolled manner. Much of that mud still sticks to the former President till date in his public perception.
On the contrary, former President Goodluck Jonathan had no idea whatsoever on what to do with the presidency and the country at large. To him, being a president was divine blessing enough, than the overwhelming task of moving Nigeria forward. The latter was a burden that he simply did not bargain for. Yet, he used the media. He communicated regularly with the people, no matter how much trash and childish messages he communicated. His aides hired foot soldiers to write irksome comments on articles and even sponsored media outlets with public funds while the president stayed far away from stepping on toes. Today, remnants of these foot soldiers have gone haywire and purely insane, propagating anti-Buhari messages simply for the sake of malignity.But Buhari is not helping matters either. Having missed the golden opportunity of his inaugural speech to brace Nigerians for things to come in the clearest language possible, President Muhammadu Buhari is yet missing out on another opportunity to woo the hearts and mind of ordinary Nigerians. He seems stubbornly and deliberately refusing to address the nation almost one full month into his presidency, while his inactions are leaving far more questions than answers.
Like Obasanjo, there is no doubt that Buhari has a very clear idea what to do with Nigeria. His numerous international consultation travels are primarily to woo allies for the overall security of the country, and show his serious commitment to solving the overriding security problem of the country as quickly as possible. And that is precisely where it ends. Every other issue has become a guessing game.
While this approach of talking less and letting results speak for themselves is a very legitimate approach often adopted by action men and honourable people of authority, it is yet a dangerous public relations strategy that may make any achievement whatsoever amount to naught in the face of unnecessary public anger. Former President Obasanjo can tell a thing or two about this. This leads to the next pertinent question, whether Buhari is resistant to advice from his aides or whether his aides are sheer incompetent.
A professional drafting of an inaugural speech will only end up in futility if the speech fails to come down to earth and address every citizen in the language they understand. Coded and well-packaged messages that are meant to be decoded by a select target audience on a day of inauguration is the first own goal and a hallmark of professional inefficiency. Then the gaffe of “Western Germany”, “President Mitchell” and all that stuff!
So far, these have all been mitigated by very positive rumours that are in sync with public expectations. Nigerian refineries are reportedly working towards the commencement of full-scale refining operations in the early days of July 2015 – a move that will surely relieve the pressure on public funds wasted on subsidising the importation of refined fuel by larcenous importers with the credentials of a former presidential alliance.
While insane old-time foot soldiers of former President Jonathan relish the wishful thinking of crediting this feat to their defeated presidential principal, I have always craved the provision of proof that the former President commenced the turn-around maintenance of the refineries. Indeed, I have no memory of any such public information that the former administration was ever interested in the domestic refining of fuel, to say the least of awarding any contract to this end. The priority of that administration was either the unconditional lifting of subsidy (as was already proposed in what would have been its next fiscal planning) or the continued importation of refined fuel by surrogate thieves. Not even in the heat of the presidential campaign did the losing party make any mention of (the non-existent) efforts to revitalise refineries. The conclusion can therefore, be just one: The fear of something has simply become the beginning of wisdom in such a way that turn-around maintenance was done in such a very short time contrary to fears that the work and costs were way too enormous. Whatever the truth may be though, we keep our fingers crossed. If refineries commence work in July and subsidy disappears, the credit will go to Muhammadu Buhari since goals are always credited to scorers and no to midfield assists.
There are rumours that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) will be merged with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) – a laudable move in the fight against corruption that has suddenly seen the EFCC now brazenly arresting big names after sleeping through Jonathan’s five-year reign. Then we hear that power supply has now improved dramatically. There is a vow to recover stolen funds and in fact rumours are making the rounds that quiet deals are being struck to bring back stolen money by different individuals. The days of a rampaging “First Lady” is now over with Aisha Buhari openly telling the nation that she is just not “First this or First That” simply because her husband is President.
On the other hand, the wave of uncontrolled corruption and the massive flow of donations in foreign currency as were seen during electioneering a few months ago are enough to leave anyone with the premonition of a “virtually empty” treasury. The President said this without mincing words. Of course, Jonathan’s boys will not be true to their name if they did not try to capitalise on this to launder the inherently soiled image of their clueless principal. They have either not understood the meaning of the “virtual” or missed out on the word altogether in the President’s comments. Today, remnants of Jonathan’s foot soldiers have launched a sort of brainless Tea Party campaign hurling stones at Buhari simply for the sake of it.
Bukola Saraki and people around him now seem to be taking undue advantage of this temporary impasse in stamping presidential authority to advance their own agenda beyond reasonable limits.
They are just not being silenced in shame yet partly because the President does not seem to have fully understood his responsibility and is stubbornly and – with all due respect – “foolishly” refusing to address the nation to outline the state of affairs.
As if this was yet insufficient, renegade Senate President Bukola Saraki continues relishing the image of a determined spoiler relentlessly fanning the embers of disunity and party insubordination. Precisely this issue is the crucial stroke that has sealed the confines of President Buhari’s cage and trap. It has defined the scope of his virtual incarceration and personal confusion.
While Buhari was quick to switch gears from electoral campaign to the practicality of the presidency, he has taken to heart the looming danger of an overbearing Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the running of the presidency. Having tried and failed in efforts to impose himself as Vice Presidential candidate against the wise counsel of many well-wishing stakeholders, the former Governor of Lagos State does not seem to have any intention whatsoever to take a prominent backseat at the present moment. On the contrary, he seems to clad himself in overbearing cloaks relishing insatiable hunger for power and wealth. With the huge ballast of negative image that he brings along with him into government by his party, any prudent and strategy-inclined activist would have toed a line that is less burdensome to government and his party. After all, the fight against corruption and nepotism, which Tinubu prominently stands accused of, is one major pillar of his party’s credentials.
Does he then wonder that alliances are subsequently forged against him with the President gleefully taking a backseat in the “indirectly complicit” hope that the result may bring Bola Tinubu to his badly needed senses? Moreover, President Buhari seems to be resisting vested interests – be they governors or divisive regional leaders – in the selection of his lieutenants. Unlike former President Obasanjo, he is just not YET being openly defiant in the “To-hell-with-you-all” pose. The need to pacify and keep the friendship of electoral facilitators – no matter the degree – seems to be yet taking the better of the President. In the process, the President seems to be taking his time to understand the true position of things, even though this sounds outright irritating, given that he was once a leader of the country and has a long history of failed application for the coveted office.
Bukola Saraki and people around him now seem to be taking undue advantage of this temporary impasse in stamping presidential authority to advance their own agenda beyond reasonable limits. After all, for a cross-carpet frontliner, it should not take a sage to impress it upon Bukola Saraki that he is being overtly bellicose and crossing the crucial red line. Having landed that huge coup of emerging president of the Senate with the help of members of his former party, Bukola Saraki should understand the limits of stretching the demarcating line. With perhaps, the “unspoken” support of the President in trimming Tinubu’s wings, there is no gainsaying that no elected officer would get anywhere without the party and its programmes. As with many things Nigerian, Saraki is losing it and doesn’t seem to have a clue, when and where to slam the brakes before they consume him. Openly acting to and encouraging others to defy and ignore his party will not only expose him to the suspicion of crossing carpet to advance a clandestine agenda for his former party but also to the anger of the electorates, who elected a specific party of their choice. Proceeding to fill principal positions with members of his former party in total disregard for party directives can only be counter-productive to his political ambitions and interest.
In fact, Buhari may now be getting far more than he bargained for in Saraki’s rebellion to establish a balanced equation with Bola Ahmed Tinubu. After all, the same party sponsored primaries to produce the presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. No losing candidate rebelled to fight the other openly. Then candidate Buhari relentlessly emphasised the relevance of the party in defining his campaign and programmatic agenda. Coming out openly to defy the majority choice of his party caucus in preliminary mock election of the Senate President was negative news enough for the overall image of the ruling party and team. Going further however, to encourage party indiscipline and open defiance in the selection of a majority leader, chief whip etc., is a declaration of an all-out-war on his own party.
Muhammadu Buhari now seems to be faced with the constraint of seeking a total realignment of forces to push his personal agenda forward as President. He will, no doubt, seek to pacify Bola Ahmed Tinubu while at the same time keeping his reach to presidential policies as moderate as possible. Will he be however forced to take up a fight in trimming the wings of an overtly over-ambitious Bukola Saraki? So far, the President seems to be shying away from being drawn into any distraction. On the whole, however, while I regard Buhari’s slowness in announcing his team of aides to the country as unhelpful to his general perception, I do not see extreme damage being done to his presidency on the short to medium term since he still has ample time to correct all flaws and unfold mitigating achievements that may send town-criers singing another tune. With all the information at my disposal however, I have no doubt, he will strike the right nerve.