Let us use a kitchen as the metaphor for the office of the President of a country. The kitchen is, like publicity, a double-edged sword. It has its sweet aroma and its repulsive aroma. The kitchen is where the kings of gastronomy practise their craft and bring out the most mouth-watering concoctions for the stomachs of the high and mighty, and of the hoi-polloi. On the other hand, the kitchen has the capacity for producing heat, fumes and the foul smell of onions. If you like the food you must also like the kitchen because that is where the food comes from. The presidency has in its package consumable cuisine, the gourmet’s favourite as well as the smoke and the fire of public scrutiny. They go together, the good and the bad, the cheers and the jeers, the praise and the pillory, not one without the other.
The Buhari presidency is no different, but it does appear that President Muhammadu Buhari feels that his presidency is receiving more bullets than bread from the Nigerian elite. He said so at the revalidation of his membership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Daura, Katsina State. The elite, he alleges, have been harassing him and his administration for the past five years “despite our performance.”
He said further: “I will like, especially the elite, to, please, be reflective. When we came, where we were, the resources available from them and the condition of the infrastructure. When we took over the administration, oil production went down to about half a million barrels per day, the price collapsed. We had to do what is called a bailout wherever we got the money from. Upon all the money from 1999 to 2014, we gave out money from the centre to pay salaries. No, Nigerian elite are not interested in rating the competence but they are interested in harassing us with all the efforts we are making.”
Buhari is correct that the amount of crude oil sold by the country since his administration came into office is lower than what was sold in the immediate period before his ascension into office. He is also correct that the price of crude oil per barrel has dropped drastically due to a number of factors. However, I am in no position to ascertain whether or not he has done more in infrastructure development than the administrations before it. An across-the-board comparison is neither feasible nor desirable. For me a country is built block by block. Every administration has to utilise its ingenuity to improve the lot of the people under its charge. It is not necessarily a competition between different administrations because each administration has its priorities, programmes, visions and election promises based on its party’s constitution and manifesto.
Secondly, the emphasis on how much crude oil the country sold before now and is selling now is neither here nor there. It only shows the Buhari administration’s lack of desire to be innovative or creative in advancing the fortunes of the country through solid minerals, tourism, knowledge economy and agriculture. These areas remain largely untapped. They have remained so for a long time. The regular weeping by Nigerian leaders when the demand or the price, or both, of oil falls is undesirable because oil is an asset whose fortune fluctuates with unpredictable occurrences in the international arena. All wise oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Kuwait make room for the rainy day. All three countries have their refineries working at full blast. All of Nigeria’s four refineries are dead. What has Buhari, the oil Minister, done about them in the last five years?
The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) has been in the works for more than a decade. One would have expected the Buhari government to make a big push for its early passage by the National Assembly so as to regulate the industry, encourage investment and stem the tide of disruption of oil activities by oil communities. The bill’s life is even uncertain today. In the area of agriculture, the government has done quite a lot to stimulate rice, yam, cassava and tomato production, which has led to a drastic reduction in food imports. That is an area where the government deserves to be congratulated. But there is no visible advancement in the exploitation of solid minerals, which are found in all the 774 local government areas. Such minerals include gold, iron ore, limestone, titanium, zinc, coal, ceramics marble, granite, uranium, gypsum, kaolin, manganese, clay, bauxite, bitumen, etc. In fact, Ondo State has the largest deposit of bitumen in Africa. What has this government done to galvanise all the states and local governments to determine how these assets can be exploited for the common good of all? It is needless commenting on the other aspects of our economy, tourism and knowledge economy because we have shown less than minimal interest in their development. So, the verdict from this corner is that, if the Buhari government is complaining of lack of money to run its affairs, it only has itself to blame because the money has been deposited under our feet waiting to be exhumed for years.
The other aspect of Buhari’s three-pronged priorities is corruption. It is obvious that Buhari meant to be taken seriously on the issue of corruption at the beginning of his administration. However, somewhere along the line, the spirit flagged because he was confronted with an existential reality about the nature of our politics: there are no angels. If he wanted to “succeed,” he needed the support of some of the dirty politicians he could find. So, apparently, he has chosen to live with it. When the Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, brought out a list of allegedly corrupt PDP politicians, a PDP man also flashed for our consumption a list of the allegedly corrupt APC politicians. Since then everywhere has been quiet. In fact, the then chairman of the ruling party (APC), Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, actually asked that any corrupt PDP politician could come over to APC and he would have instant immunity from prosecution. Some of them have done so and their cases have died.
However, the Buhari presidency has suffered from severe criticism more on the issue of insecurity than anything else. Those who marketed him in 2015 dressed him up in different garments belonging to various cultural groups and tribes and also as an all-conquering war general. Yes, he fought in the Nigerian civil war. Yes, he took charge of the Maitatsine riots, but has he been able to efficiently and effectively take charge of Nigeria’s multi-faceted security problems today? The answer is a resounding No. That is why the issue of whether Nigeria is a failed state or not has arisen. That is why a former President, Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo, spoke up. That is why a former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General T.Y. Danjuma, issued a warning. That is why even APC governors have expressed their concern. The army and the police have played unwholesome and negative roles in the herders/farmers’ crises in the country without being restrained by the Federal Government. Worse of it is that the perpetrators are neither arrested nor prosecuted, a situation that gives the Buhari presidency a partisan tinge, deservedly or undeservedly.
Until a few days ago, all the pleas by various leaders and communities in the country for a change in the leadership of the armed forces fell on deaf ears despite their failure to check the menace of Boko Haram insurgents, bandits and kidnappers in various parts of the country. The failure of the security forces has led to the establishment of various ad hoc security outfits in several parts of the country.
Apart from these three significant issues, the Buhari presidency has been reluctant or unwilling to resolve some matters that the public considers germane to the unity and progress of Nigeria. Such issues include restructuring, state police, discriminatory appointments, human rights issues such as detention of persons for long periods despite court rulings, the El-Rufai Committee’s Report. Besides, the Buhari presidency does not seem to be people-centric. It seems aloof, distant, disconnected, disinterested in the people it governs. It seems drained of human feeling or empathy. Buhari hardly talks to the press. The modern presidency is driven and dominated by the President, not his hired hands. Those who manage Buhari behave as if the press – and the people – do not matter.
Buhari is now complaining about how the elite perceive him and his government but they hardly see him or hear from him. Symbolism is important in governance. That is why people criticise him when he refuses to shake hands with women or to wear a face mask or to go to see the school in Katsina State where 334 pupils were kidnapped even though he was in the state. The failure to do these, to visit scenes of national calamities, gives the impression of lukewarmness and detachment instead of engagement and activism in the management of the country’s affairs.
Also to be noted is the fact that today’s presidency, inevitably, comes under closer scrutiny than hitherto because of the social media, which puts communication tools in many hands, well-informed and not so well informed. Some of Buhari’s spin doctors also contribute to the poor perception of his presidency. Perception is determined by what you do, what you say and how the media report it. Today, politicians are packaged as commodities to be sold to the consumers, that is, the public. That is what is called mediatisation.
But some of Buhari’s spin doctors give the impression that he wants Nigeria to be an autocratic country like China. They have not allowed the public to know the real Buhari. Most Nigerians don’t know him. Does he hug his daughters? Does he wear jeans or shorts at home? Does he wash his underwears by himself? Does he speak pidgin?
The Nigerian media is made to see Buhari as a heartless, unconscionable and inefficient military dictator in civilian attire. The difficulties he is facing and the efforts he is making in solving Nigeria’s problems have not been fully exposed to the public either by him or his spin doctors. This contributes its own quota to his poor perception by the public.