Years back, a friend who had worked on the 2011 Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) presidential campaign told me about the overly enthusiastic responses they had received in the North. In one instance, he said Buhari’s horde of supporters had not only swarmed the airport where their campaign aircraft was to land, they also practically lifted the aircraft in their joy of the arrival of their “messiah”. That recollection makes it all remarkable that the same Buhari would go to Maiduguri, Borno State, for a condolence visit and be booed by the residents. The dog that once wagged its tail as it saw Buhari approaching now barks with irritation at the sight of him. If the “streets” are a far more credible measure of a leader’s popularity than what the elite say or feel, we can deduce from that encounter that the once popular Buhari has fallen into disrepute.
To alleviate the shame of that encounter, the President’s media aide, Garba Shehu, claimed that the crowd was paid by some politicians to “embarrass Buhari.” The excuse worsens the matter. At some point during the 2015 elections, President Goodluck Jonathan could hardly go to campaign in northern Nigeria (a region considered to be Buhari’s forte), because of the threat of violence against his campaign team. Jonathan’s motorcade was pelted with stones in several places. In Jalingo, they had to deploy soldiers to guard Jonathan’s billboards and posters. In Gombe, some miscreants started protests ahead of Jonathan’s impending campaign. If it is now possible for any politician to pay people to boo Buhari as Shehu claimed, and those so-called hired hands could do so in a place like Borno and without fear of repercussion, it means that like the rest of us, Buhari’s impassioned supporters are disenchanted.
Some might want to argue that it is too early to write the obituary of his regime, but one is not merely being pessimistic when observing there is not much left for Buhari other than to mark time till May 29, 2023. He might refurbish a few roads here and there, build some infrastructure in a few places and quickly inaugurate them before leaving office, but there will not be much more than that forthcoming. None of those few things he allegedly has in the offing, when matched against the things we lost under him — hope, small gains in economy and politics, and a democratic ethos — will be enough compensation. Buhari will not leave us with a stronger democracy, neither will his name be associated with radical economic and political reforms that lead to social flourishing. It is too late for all that now. Buhari’s legacy is already written, and the summary is that the man did too little with what he was given. Anything else is an overwrite.
If anyone still thinks that there is a better and much improved Buhari still coming, they only need to consider his response to the people of Borno who had been ravaged by the violence of Boko Haram maniacs. It was no different from the answer he gave the people of Benue State when they went through a similar assault in the hands of murderous herdsmen. What his lack of empathy, the utter incapability to generate fellow-feelings, suggests is that he is not evolving. Ideally, a growing level of humaneness in leaders propels them to the agenda of social transformation, but unfortunately, that part of him is missing. Despite the severe criticism of his response to Benue people, he still did not act better when he went to Borno. If he could approach the traumatised people in Borno with the same psychopathic detachment as he did in Benue years ago, it means not much has changed about him. It means that Nigerian lives still do not matter to him, and it is now a waste of time to prod him to higher ideals.
Buhari became president, it bears recounting, to stave off the shame of how he was kicked out in 1985 as a military dictator. He has no further aspiration, and that is why he cannot even summon enough energy to tackle the issues facing Nigeria. From the mouth of his wife, Aisha, and lately, from the correspondence of his National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, we know that he is not even in charge of the regime. He probably sits somewhere, picking his teeth and waiting for time to pass. The core agenda that drove his campaign — economic boost, improved security, and anti-corruption — are still in the doldrums.
In terms of security, Nigeria is not much better off than it was in 2015. Recently, Buhari himself admitted that Boko Haram’s continued existence surprised him. The implication of his astonishment at what Boko Haram has turned out to be — rather than what he assumed they were — is an admission that he never fully understood the complexity of the problem, nor did he prepare to tackle terrorism with the strategic insight it required. Instead, they have gone for propaganda. So eager have they been to sell us a narrative of victories that they pushed out hastily re-oriented Boko Haram fighters back into society.
On the economy, Nigeria is more impoverished than it has been in a long while. We are not only currently plagued by a multidimensional poverty, but we are also going to hell in a poorly woven handbasket. It is pointless rehashing the economic indices that say Nigeria is faring poorly, they are already common knowledge. Nigeria, once lit aglow with the optimism that we could transform our material conditions, now sinks into despondency under Buhari’s uninspiring watch. A country that purports to wipe out poverty by sharing a measly N10,000 to poor and hapless people is one that hardly takes itself seriously. How many people’s lives have been improved because of that stipend?
As for his alleged fight against corruption, let us agree that Buhari’s poor understanding of what corruption is and the socio-political conditions that impel it, are as much the problem as the issue that it pretends to solve. If Buhari understood corruption, he would have approached his supposed agenda of anti-corruption quite differently.
Despite the gloom and doom of his presidency, there is at least one good that has come out of his regime and it is a history lesson. If we care enough to instruct ourselves by it, the poverty of spirit and body that his regime has inflicted on us would not have been in vain. Here is that one good thing: no messiah can save Nigeria from her troubles. There never was one, and there will never be one. I know that sounds simple, but it is also a lesson that has come to Nigeria at a great cost. The truth is, if we are going to improve our lives and our nation, it will not be because we have a leader who sweeps into office because of their fandazzling promises. It will instead happen because we gingered ourselves to a higher level of political engagement and civic vigilance.
In 2015, Buhari gained a lot of ground because some people chose to believe that one man possessed a magic wand that could wipe away the country’s problems. Buhari should have been subjected to far more rigorous scrutiny on his vision for Nigeria, but no, rank idiocies and complete ignorance were given a pass. Perhaps, Buhari would probably have been a different president if people did not treat his presidency like the coming of Jesus Christ himself. The ecstatic expectation built around a candidate that had nothing better to offer than his body language was so high that disappointment became almost inevitable.
Now that we are here in this indecorous spot, we should also learn a lesson for the future. Mushy sentiments will get us nowhere, and we will be better off if we approach political candidates with scepticism when they offer “change” slogans and simplistic answers to complex economic problems. We have seen all Buhari can do and will be, and it is not much. Even the poor Nigerians who invested their hopes and expectations for a better life in Buhari have weighed him and having found him wanting, booed him.