I was really afraid when President Muhammadu Buhari was ill and away for that long. I worried that if anything terminal happened to him, Nigeria would be in for it, for already conspiracy theories were rife that he was poisoned and there were rumours of certain youths swearing to avenge his death with tens of ‘enemy’ lives. I used the word enemy, because it does seem that somehow we are always at war, between North and South, Christian and Muslim, tribe versus tribe; once again God averted the death of innocent people, just as he did when Buhari won the elections. I still remember that night of victory in Abuja, as I drove around and cheered the celebrating youths, knowing full well that these would have been the same youths that would have mowed anyone down had Baba not been congratulated by a conceding Goodluck Jonathan. I was therefore quite happy that God heard our prayers for Mr. President and brought him safe and sound.
Those who would have wished him dead are quite amazed and embarrassed at his renewed vigour and stamina. Indeed the Buhari I see is stronger than when he was contesting the 2015 elections and health grounds may not be used successfully to dissuade him from contesting the elections in 2019, although there is the whole issue of lack of full disclosure on his state of health to the Nigerian public, perhaps with the fear that political opponents could use the information to their advantage. Left to me, Buhari’s health may not stand a strong barrier against a possible 2019 wish.
When I prayed about 2019 and Buhari the image I had was that of Jesus and the fig tree in the gospels. It is recorded that the Lord Jesus was hungry and there was a fig tree with luxuriant leaves nearby. It wasn’t even the season of fruiting but the Lord Jesus walked up to it expecting figs. Alas he was disappointed so he cursed the tree, saying it would never bear fruit again. The next day, on passing the same route, the disciples noticed that the luxuriant fig tree had withered! And when they pointed this out to Jesus he told them that with faith they could say to a mountain to move and it would.
Nigerians had too many expectations of Buhari because of the sophisticated campaign his party ran. Nigerians believed everything was wrong with the Jonathan government and everything would be right with the Buhari government. I still believe Buhari is not financially corrupt. But the enormous goodwill that began with the ascription of supernatural body language to Mr. President which was eventually squandered due to intra-party politics and slow action, will be a factor that would wither the luxurious fig tree of Buhari’s presidential ambition. Although I wrote a scathing article against him and Jonathan and urged Nigerians not to vote for either, I was impressed when he won the elections and had so much hope in a new Nigeria. I have gradually become one of those disappointed Nigerians. I am educated enough to know the economics of failed expectations, but one thing I have not come to understand is how Fulani herdsmen have become so brazen in sacking communities and how Catholic priests and nuns have become targets in the hands of these herdsmen and others. Just as Jonathan was helpless because of Boko Haram, although it is now clear that there was a lot of sabotage, the Buhari government is totally helpless before the herdsmen and rightly or wrongly is seen as purposefully inactive in this regard.
The feeling of betrayal runs quite deep, even among the Talakawas that were Buhari’s main support base. They feel the pinch of the economic downturn and though we know oil prices and low earnings are partly to blame, sound and visionary leadership has not been a strong accompaniment to help address the socio-economic challenges faced by these critical mass of poor people.
Buhari tried three times to win the presidency. It was only when he teamed up with Tinubu that the South West was delivered to him. It is an open secret his relationship with this godfather of sorts. Perhaps Buhari can perform the magic he did in Ondo, where APC got a candidate against Tinubu’s wish and went ahead to oust PDP. But with the whole issues surrounding restructuring and President Buhari’s attitude towards the Confab report, many of his would- be supporters in the South West I can guess, have shifted grounds; for now it is probably held that the Hausa-Fulani have used and dumped the West.
Buhari has done well for the South South in terms of political appointments and traditionally the South South teams better with the North but how that will translate to election victory with such virile opposition as encapsulated in Governor Wike of Rivers State, is left to be seen; in States like Cross River, despite the array of federal appointments, the national ruling party has no direction and cannot seize the vacuum created by Governor Ayade who is neither here nor there politically.
And with the perceived marginalization of the South East, it would amount to a miracle if Buhari won elections in that region, knowing full well that the whereabouts of Nnamdi Kanu remain a mystery.
When I put all these factors together, my candid advice to Mr. President is that he should concentrate on redeeming his fallen image within these long months rather than a pursuit of a fruitless second term endeavor. He should be thankful to God that he survived his ailment. Mr. President should not allow those who are riding high at his expense to continue to do so. We had warned President Jonathan but he wouldn’t hear. Mr. President should start thinking of a successor, because if there is anything I am quite sure of, it is that he will not win the 2019 elections, even if there are attempts to rig.
Evaristus Bassey, Abuja-based Catholic Priest, is the International Director of Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria (CCFN) and Executive Secretary, Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), two agencies of the Catholic Church.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.