On Sunday night presidential media aide released a statement to relay a Christmas Day event at the presidential villa. The otherwise routine release stated that President Muhammadu Buhari hosted the Federal Capital Territory Minister, Mohammed Bello, and some residents of the nation’s capital. The statement contained the now tiring rant about how Buhari will not meddle in national affairs once his tenure ends. We have heard variations of this promise enough to wonder at the self-importance underwriting this repetitive claim. Who, really, is going to miss Buhari? Which one of even his lickspittle acolytes will tolerate his nuisance when he is no longer serving their purposes? For a president that lacks charisma, does not embody intellectualism, and hardly displays sustained interest in even his own job, there will be virtually no reason to summon Buhari after May 2023. The afterlife of his presidency will be long days spent vegetating in his hometown. His post-Aso Rock fate is oblivion.
In the typical fashion of the Buhari administration’s flaunt of his anti-corruption credentials, Shehu relayed their principal’s opinions on how Bello must be faring given the incessant requests they received from some influential Nigerians— including the president’s associates—for land allocation. According to Buhari’s narration, one of his associates asked him to speak to Bello on his behalf. When Buhari asked what he needed the land for, this person replied, “I will sell it and use the money to marry another wife.” The story must have been narrated for comical relief, but it was also too telling of the nature of the people surrounding the president and the scam that Buhari himself has proven to be.
Now, it is understandable that a president would have friends who would be close enough to make idle jokes or even say risqué things before him—he is human, after all. However, it is an entirely different affair when the loose talk is transcribed and archived into official records. In societies where governance is a serious affair, what the president says while on duty is taken seriously. Serious leaders are ever conscious that transcriptions of their words will be used to measure their government for a long time, so they strive to guard their utterances with all diligence. One startling exception was Donald Trump’s phone call to the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, in 2019. In his typical brash manner, Trump had suggested to Zelensky that their military aid would be predicated on his willingness to use his position as president to investigate Trump’s political opponent. A whistleblower leaked the transcription of the conversation; Trump was investigated and impeached. If Nigeria were a country that holds its leaders accountable for their words, more of them would think carefully before talking.
For Shehu to include a crass exchange between the president and his associate who suffers from the Nigerian “Big Man” disease of libidinal incontinence into official records, he—and even Buhari—did not think how much they demeaned the presidency. Even worse, they punctured through the whole lie they sold to us in 2015 that Buhari would be a reformer because he is personally disciplined. Look, for someone to approach the president of a whole country, ask for a parcel of land in a prime location, and boldly admit he would use the land to achieve licentious ends, it must mean they know Buhari to be similarly wanton and lacking discipline. If you do not know the president well enough as someone at ease with being surrounded by irresponsible and shameless freeloaders, you do not go up to him and ask for mere carnality to be gratified.
We are not talking about the cronyism of requesting land from your president to start a business that will employ Nigerians or to site a public library (or similar public service). No, the request is merely towards mere degenerate ends; non-regenerative activities that have paralysed economic development in this part of the world. Such nonsense always makes me wonder why—as a nation and as a race of people—we are so perversely blessed with the most unimaginative, self-seeking buffoons and entirely myopic set of leaders who cannot think beyond their orifices. If anyone is still wondering why a nation of an estimated 200 million humans cannot lead itself out of multidimensional poverty and perennial underdevelopment, just look at the priorities of the people in power.
If Buhari was the kind of person who thinks about things, that kind of request from his crony should have been a light-bulb moment. That could have triggered his mind to reflect on how the bureaucratic systems of land allocation in Nigeria allow people to gain access to premium real estate for no valuable purpose other than what affords them a few minutes of pleasure. A leader that thinks about things would have taken such a close-up illustration of the flaws and corruption of the system, and then consider introducing reforms. Unfortunately, Buhari is not the type of person who can rise above the company of wanton pleasure seekers that he keeps. From Shehu’s official release, Buhari’s reason for bringing up such a topic did not go beyond merely wondering how the FCT minister copes “with such people who are extremely serious about such things. And I think about 45 per cent of those who have been given land allocation in the FCT have sold it and didn’t develop it according to the laid down criteria (master plan).”
Yes, that is your president publicly admitting that those to whom they allocate land in the nation’s capital hold their administration’s established procedures in contempt. By deviating from the master plan, it is a matter of time before that place grows into another chaotic city. The fact that about half of the people who got land allocations strayed from the plan did not strike Buhari as a matter that demands accountability. He behaves like an independent observer in his presidency, but do you blame him? He is someone whom fate promoted, not just beyond his intellectual and administrative capacities, but also beyond his moral strength. That is why he will leave behind a legacy of a nation diminished by his lack of leadership acumen. We are worse off than where we were in 2015, and this man thinks anyone cares that he might meddle in national affairs after 2023? He might as well relieve us of the torture of his leadership by leaving for Daura tonight.
The Buhari that came to power roughly eight years ago was packaged as someone who had it in him to exercise the self-restraints necessary to administer a dysfunctional country like Nigeria. For a benighted nation, the thought of having a president with integrity and self-discipline was alluring. No thanks to Buhari and his legendary incompetence, we now know better. At the twilight of his leadership, he unironically announces that he is regularly solicited by those who want to exchange national resources for debauchery. Meanwhile, the same people who packaged his myth are back in the market. Now they are promising that 2023 will bring “renewed hope.” We have moved from the taglines of ‘integrity’ and ‘anti-corruption’ to “builder of city” and “builder of men.” That is how they will tell you that another messiah is on the way until somewhere down the line when the scam will unravel, first, through the failures of such leader; and second, through the person’s garrulous admission that none of what they told you was ever true.