Prior to his 2015 electoral victory, President Muhammadu Buhari had contested for the presidency thrice (2003, 2007 and 2011) and lost on all three occasions. But, by 2015 when he made the fourth attempt that eventually enthroned him as the nation’s latest horse rider (apology to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo aka ‘Ebora Owu’), his popularity had soared to an all time high.
The chant across the country was simply: ‘Sai Baba’. Except, perhaps, for the late Chief MKO Abiola in the annulled 1993 presidential election, no presidential candidate in the country’s political history had garnered so much widespread approval.
A couple of factors were responsible for the change in Buhari’s political fortune. First, his predecessor had squandered all the goodwill that offered him the presidency. Second, Nigerians saw in Buhari a man of spotless integrity who could be entrusted with the nation’s treasury. Third, Nigerians believed he could decisively tackle the nation’s mounting security problem. Fourth, the coalition of political parties that formed the APC gave Buhari a better platform than he previously had. Fifth, Nigerians were simply fed up with then ruling political party and were willing to give Buhari a chance.
So, Buhari rode on the back of all these aforementioned dynamics to become, perhaps, the most widely elected President in the nation’s political annals. But then, in a funny twist of events, the once famous Buhari, who could do no wrong, has suddenly become a villain. Suddenly, the man Nigerians love to hail with the chant of ‘Sai Baba’ is literarily being slain on a daily basis, curiously by his erstwhile fanatical promoters.
Just recently, fiery Lagos Pastor and a top notch Buhari advocate, Tunde Bakare, held a State of the Nation parley at the headquarters of his church in Lagos. The verdict? Buhari has failed the country. In quick sequence came Buhari battering from across the country. Various organisations and individuals that were once avowed Buhari backers have suddenly become his strong critics. Indeed, a famous priest who once predicted Buhari’s ascendancy to the presidency recently warned him not to take Nigerians for granted.
At the home front, the President isn’t equally finding things easy as the First Lady was once alleged to have said that she wouldn’t campaign for the President’s re-election except he puts his political house in order. The latest in the catalogue of anti- Buhari sentiments currently pervading the country, came from no other source than the self-acclaimed ‘Conscience of the Nation’, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
Now, the question is: How did the President fritter away the goodwill he so much enjoyed at such a critical moment as this? Why is Nigerians’ patience suddenly running out with the president? Well, like every such intricate socio-political issue, the answer to the questions is multifaceted. For one, the president is perceived by many to be too slow in his handling of salient national matters. It took him about six months to put in place a cabinet while appointing members into the various boards of national parastatals took him much more. This is just to mention a few instances.
Also, the President has been broadly accused of engaging in unconcealed nepotism. It has been alleged that the sacred cows in his government are his kinsmen who are largely untouchable. The President has also been accused of favoring those from his part of the country in terms of appointments. In this case, appointments into top national security posts have particularly been alleged to be lopsided.
Additionally, the President’s handling of the tricky killer herdsmen’s question hasn’t been too convincing. While speaking on this particular subject, Pastor Tunde Bakare accused the President of gross bias. He cited the example of how the military were swiftly deployed to fish out Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB gang. He wondered why same speed was not employed in the case of the Benue genocide where hapless people were gruesomely murdered. All over the country, herdsmen are becoming a nuisance and great security threats, but there seems not to be an all out onslaught against them. The insinuation in many quarters, therefore, is that the President is not willing to tackle the knotty issue because ‘his’ people are involved.
Now, in spite of the recent decline in the President’s approval rating, if he wishes, he could still warm himself back into the hearts of his disgruntled compatriots, especially the masses who so much believed in him. For one, the President needs to become swifter in his handling of urgent national matters. His recent assertion that he needs to take his time in taking certain decisions doesn’t really suffice. A man whose house is on fire does not have the luxury of time. Swift decisions and actions must be taken on critical national matters to move the country forward. What we need at this critical time in the country is strong leadership. Shying away from taking the right decisions and actions at the appropriate time won’t do the country much good.
Also, the President must be wary of sycophants whose stock in trade are lies and deception. They are hypocrites with self-seeking agenda. They did the same with Abacha. For the right price, they can wine and dine with the devil himself. Therefore, the President needs to be discerning with the kind of stuff such people feed him with. He needs to pay more attention to what his critics are saying. In most cases, critics are better than sycophants.
Equally, the President needs to be more visible. Nigerians want to see and hear their President. It has often been said that president is a man of few words. No! This shouldn’t be the case. He is the leader of a nation of over 170 million people and they are eager to see and hear him. He needs to allay their fears. He needs to say things that would encourage and inspire them. He needs to sometimes move out of Aso Rock to relate with ordinary Nigerians. The Vice-President did this quite well while the President was away on medical treatment. He needs to engage the people on several burning national issues. There are several platforms through which this can be done.
Finally, the President must allay the fears of Nigerians on the allegation of bigotry leveled against him. He must see the entire country as his constituency. After all, his mandate is a pan Nigerian one. Thus, he must not be seen to favour one section of the country at the expense of the other. In the words of former Senate President, late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo: ‘If you are emotionally attached to your tribe, religion or political leaning to the point that the truth and justice become secondary considerations, your education is useless. Your exposure is useless. If you cannot reason beyond petty sentiments, you are a liability to mankind’.
For the President, the clock is ticking and time is running out. History would not be kind to him if he squanders the unique goodwill upon which he rode to the presidency. We have had enough tales of failure. He cannot afford to fail!
Ogunbiyi writes from Ikeja, Lagos