One of the greatest misfortunes of this country is that it has never had a visionary and competent leader. Successive Nigerian leaders have been either utterly inept or woefully visionless, or both. But few have combined incompetence with brazen arrogance. However, President Buhari stands out! He is both extremely incompetent and unbelievably arrogant.
Recently, Eurasia, the international consulting group, said in its 2019 Top Risk Report that Buhari “lacks the energy, creativity or political savvy to move the needle on Nigeria’s most intractable problems”.
Yet, Buhari is also known to be stubborn, with a didactic “my way or the highway” approach to governance. How can a leader be both inept and arrogant? It’s a double whammy, a double tragedy, for any nation!
Of course, President Buhari’s arrogance and ineptitude span the entire spectra of policy and governance, but I want to start with his recent seemingly symbolic gestures that show his conceit and insensitivity.
Have you noticed the APC’s new two four-fingered sign? President Buhari started it when he raised two four-fingered hands in the National Assembly while presenting the 2019 budget. The picture went viral. Buhari’s wife, Aisha, further popularised it when she and APC women used the sign during the launch of the women’s wing of Buhari’scampaign council. Then, at the launch of the main campaign council, the president, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, APC party leaders and everyone else present at the launch used the sign. You may wonder, why am I focusing on this sign? Well, two reasons.
First, the use of the sign in a self-entitled manner to suggest four more years – each four-fingered hand represents four years – is so in-your-face, presumptuous and arrogant. Buhari’s presidency has been internationally-adjudged to be a failure. But instead of showing humility in asking to be re-elected, he and his supporters are arrogantly raising two four-fingered hands at Nigerians. It is provocative and insensitive!
When Buhari marked his first year in office, the outcries across the country were: “this is not the change we voted for” and “shattered dreams”. One newspaper started its coverage this way: “Bitterness, complaints, unending sighing and gnashing of teeth have been the lot of Nigerians since the inauguration of the Muhammadu Buhari administration a year ago.” Less than six months to the end of his term, that sense of despondency remains palpable.
Do you remember the late Chief Bola Ige’s famous phrase, “Two fingers of a leprous hand”? Well, to put it bluntly, the APC’s four-fingered hands are “four fingers of two leprous hands”. The first leprous hand represents Buhari’s woeful first term; the second would, if he is re-elected, represent another dreadful second term. For, quote me, Buhari’s second term, if it happens, would be disastrous for Nigeria. The simple truth is that Buhari lacks the vision and intellectual wherewithal to generate economic prosperity and social progress.To make matters worse, he is stubbornly self-willed. These are recipes for disastrous policy and governance failures. Anyone expecting a miracle from a Buhari second term is living in cloud-cuckoo-land!
Still on the four-fingered sign: it is disturbing for an even more pernicious reason. Does Buhari know that the four-fingered Rabbi’ah sign is a symbol of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group accused of terrorist activities? The leader of the UK Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, was recently widely condemned when it was discovered he used the sign during a visit to a mosque in 2016. If President Buhari didn’t know what the sign represents, then that confirms his ignorance of international affairs. But if he knew and still used the sign, then he is unbelievably insensitive in a country with a history of inter-religious conflicts. And, tell me, how can President Buhari say he is fighting Boko Haram, a terrorist group, and at the same time use the Rabbi’ah sign associated with Islamist terrorists? Of course, he doesn’t care about such contradictions and insensitivities.
Which brings me to another of Buhari’s gesture of arrogance. Recently, he said he would hand over his campaign for re-election to Bola Tinubu “in order to concentrate on governance”. Really? Why does this president keep insulting the intelligence of Nigerians? First, has he governed over the past 3½ years? He spent much of his presidency overseas receiving medical treatment for an undisclosed illness. As the Financial Times put it, Buhari’s illness “has sapped his presidency of strength and direction”. Even when he is at home, he rarely goes to his office or attends meetings of the Federal Executive Council. How many FEC meetings has Buhari chaired in his nearly four years as president? And, of course, amid the lacuna in leadership and policy direction, his presidency has been hijacked by a self-interested powerful cabal, as even his wife repeatedly tells Nigerians. Now, he wants to concentrate on governance less than six months to the end of his term!
In any case, what about democratic accountability and respect for the electorate? Can you imagine any American president seeking re-election saying he would hand over his campaign to a party leader “in order to concentrate on governance”? No, he would be facing the people; he would be participating in presidential debates and appearing in live TV interviews. He would be working tirelessly to sell his record and future plans to the electorate. But Buhari is doing none of these, yet he arrogantly expects to be re-elected.
The truth, of course, is that Buhari is only masking his weaknesses. He lacks energy, articulacy and people’s skills; he’s comfortable only among a coterie of acolytes. As a recent Chatham House report puts it, Buhari is “an aloof and disengaged leader, ‘walled off’ from his own government and party, and from Nigerians themselves”. So, he is using Tinubu as a front. But Nigerians did not elect Tinubu in 2015 and will not elect him next month!
Of course, this plays into Tinubu’s strategic agenda. As he traverses the length and breadth of Nigeria for Buhari’s re-election, he will also be building national support for his 2023 presidential ambitions. If he helps Buhari to win re-election, well, Tinubu will call in the favours in 2023. But this is dishonest and selfish politics. Tinubu should wait until 2023 to face Nigerians; Buhari should face them now. The president of Nigeria should not emerge through surrogacy!
So far, I have focused on Buhari’s “symbolic” gestures of arrogance and incompetence. But there are also substantive actions relating to policy and governance. Indeed, over the past 3½ years, Buhari has governed Nigeria with mind-boggling arrogance, stubbornness and ineptitude.
As everyone knows, he adamantly refused to appoint a cabinet for the first six months of his presidency. Recently, Pastor Tunde Bakare said Buhari didn’t appoint ministers because “there was no money to pay them”.Really? But that was not what Buhari told the nation. First, he dismissed ministers as “noisemakers”. Then, he said he would not appoint ministers until he had put in place “new rules of conduct and good governance”. Yet, nearly four years in power, the so-called “new governance rules” haven’t stopped allegations of corruption swirling around his government. Indeed, his first budget was marred by “budget padding”. And, according to the International Budget Partnership’s Open Budget Index, Nigeria’s budgetary process was less transparent in 2017 than before Buhari took over.
Of course, as we also know, Buhari has run the economy with arrogance and ineptitude. He took over a struggling economy due to falling oil prices but made the situation worse. Unbelievably, for a president facing an economic crisis, Buhari had no finance minister for several months, and when he eventually appointed one, she was so lightweight, lacking any international stature needed to restore investor confidence. Then, for nearly 2½ years, President Buharistubbornly pursued misguided monetary, exchange rate and trade policies. He described economists as “so-called experts”. Inevitably, the economic contracted in 2016, with -1.5% growth rate, the first time in 20 years, and growth remains sluggish at 1.8%.
We are told that Buhari is building infrastructure, even though debt-fuelled. But, as Bill Gates rightly said, it is completely misguided to focus on physical infrastructure at the expense of human capital development. In civilised climes, physical infrastructures are built through private investments while government spends state resources on human development – health, education and social services. But Buhari wants to build roads, not develop human and social capital. I mean, youth unemployment rose from 3m in 2015 to 13m in 2018 (a 263% increase over 3½ years). Poverty, inequality and insecurity are deepening. Unity and social cohesion, ever fragile, are fracturing even more. All of these under Buhari’s presidency!
Yet, he would not countenance political restructuring, describing those advocating it as “talking loosely”. Governor Seriake Dickson said recently that Buhari “lost a golden opportunity to be great statesman” by refusing to support restructuring. But does Buhari care about a legacy, about a stamp on history?
President Buhari has run this country with utter arrogance and ineptitude. He won’t be re-elected in any civilised nation. Of course, he may win next month. As I wrote last week, he faces an opponent who has the vision and the competence but is widely perceived to lack the right values. But Nigerians should be aware that, without a Damascene conversion, a Buhari second term would be worse than the first.
Olu Fasan is a columnist with BusinessDay where this article was first published.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.