If President Buhari refuses to hold a Presidential Chat and Debate, I would have no choice than to agree with President Trump that our President is “lifeless”.
I am zooming in on this topic because of the important lessons it has for us in terms of developing a sound political culture. For those who do not know the genesis of this matter, I am glad to bring up the matter afresh. The Financial Times of London few days ago put out a story that the protocol breaker president of the United States of America, Donald Trump, in a private conversation with an aide described our dear President Muhammadu Buhari as ‘lifeless’ and suddenly what ought not to be an issue became one. As in our character we began to argue back about this and as usual without placing our hands on any handle.
In normal times such news item tucked away somewhere inside a newspaper should not be a great issue because of widening knowledge about world politics and in particular, war of nations. The people increasingly are becoming aware that wars happen between nations daily and many of such conflicts are not wars of bullets, bombs and armoured personnel carriers. They are mainly fights executed by other means like sports, economic policies, the arts and of course sarcastic comments like the one in question. When leaders of nations talk down on each other, often the objective is to put down one and establish superiority. So, when a British newspaper claims the president of America has fired one of such salvos against a developing nation, it is likely to provoke a huge resentment in the victim nation.
In our case it did provoke; the other reason why it was so could be that the publication was made at a time the Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, was scheduled to meet the US President in Washington, DC. Financial Times, we must admit, is not just an ordinary newspaper. The paper and The Economist have established themselves as the heartbeat of the Western developed nations. What you read there represents to a very high extent the thinking and view of the establishment in the Western world. If such a news organ could put out such news item, for those who know, it ought to be a real source of concern because of what it portends.
Such news items tell stories that powerful nations find difficult to express in words. If past lessons are anything to go by, it could be an indication that they are tired of a relationship and they want to back out. In this instance it could mean soured relationship with the country’s president. If you remove diplomatic niceties and put in plain language, they could be saying we helped you in 2015 elections and after four years we no longer find reasons to continue to support you especially now that 2019 general elections are around the corner. For critical observers the above assumptions are reinforced by a similar statement issued by the British Prime Minister, Madam Theresa May, who few days before her touch down in Abuja for her recent state visit labeled our country as the poverty capital of the world. These and more are some of the variables that conspire to give a boost to speculations that the president we see is not the one we voted for in 2015.
If Trump’s outburst received such an attention to the point it is gradually becoming an albatross on the country, we have a responsibility to ask ourselves how this came to be. Before we go further, I want to admit that the indisposition was normal even though unfortunate. No reasonable human would wish the other to fall sick let alone the President of a country, yet such do happen and when it does, good citizens empathize and pray for quick recovery. Having made that point, this truth must be said that development was not and is still not being professionally handled. The level of transparency exhibited is very abysmal, highly below what we should offer as the giant that we claim to be.
No matter how we try to obfusticate, the issue of a sick president is a public matter and of huge interest. It is an issue that has consequences on all fronts, whether political, economic, social and security. These are all serious issues and as we know each with its own consequences. Like social scientists have rightly observed, you don’t solve a knotty challenge by avoiding it; you solve it by confronting it and ending up setting a good and sustainable precedence. Transparency in the handling of the ill-health or indisposition of any leader has more positive benefits than negative. It enhances stability and strengthens constitutionalism in the event of the unexpected. When we adopt the attitude of hide and seek we encourage rumours that grow to become monsters and instigate the evil minded to commence deadly maneuvers which end up fouling the entire atmosphere.
We must tell the president the truth and one of such is that the people still doubt who he is. This is not the president’s fault, neither is it that of the people. The blame is squarely with those who handle the president. It is inconceivable that since he returned from what became a controversial medical tourism, the president of a country of over 180m people is yet to hold a media chat. The president himself has not shown inclination to do so and instead of the handlers to leave it at that, they add salt to injury by telling citizens who are eager to hear from their leader that they can’t hear from him on account he has a peculiar style that keeps him away from people. What a scenario and what an answer in a democracy. What is democracy without communication? Many Nigerians can’t understand and many more wonder what the presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, himself a prolific writer would have done if he were to still be at his desk in The Sun newspaper.
Now the same forces are saying President Buhari won’t participate in the Presidential Debate and what is their reason, the same points advanced for the Presidential Chat they give for the debate and which is, it is not entrenched in any of our legal statutes and by the way, they were invented by the President Obasanjo administration who together with President Jonathan both of who did not see the need to participate. Their question is why must it be Buhari? We insist on Buhari because he ran on a mantra of ‘Change’, to change an order that we all agreed was not good. The refusal of past leaders to participate does not in anyway confer legality on those acts and in no way sets them out as precedence. If President Buhari refuses to hold a Presidential Chat and Debate, I would have no choice than to agree with President Trump that our President is “lifeless.”