The nightmare of any elected president in a democracy is a vibrant opposition. The job of the opposition is to ensure that the president and his ruling party are never seen in good light. Any positive word or action taken is X-rayed and punctured as not well thought-out or in the people’s interest.
The only no-go area is when the nation’s security is threatened. All the parties bury their differences and ambitions and come together to fight a common enemy. It is a sign of patriotism that the lives of the people should not be used for politics.
However, in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the opposition was virtually dead two years into his administration. Having ruled Nigeria for 16 unbroken years, the Peoples Democratic Party was destabilised and dazed after losing the 2015 election. It had never been in opposition. Therefore, it found itself in a strange terrain.
The party had acquired a not-too-pleasant image with the people in its 16 years in office. It went into a crisis of leadership having acquired a not-too-pleasant image with the people during these 16 years leading to the eventual loss of the Presidency in 2015. That crisis lasted for two years before it was finally settled by the Supreme Court which declared Senator Ahmed Makarfi as the authentic chairman of the PDP in July 2017. But before that final judgement was given by the apex court, there was no guarantee that the PDP would ever be a strong party again. Many people even believed that it would not come back to life again as the PDP. Many used that as an excuse to leave the party in droves and join the ruling All Progressives Congress. The PDP also had a moral burden, having ruled the nation for 16 years. It was accused of not performing well in office and therefore had no moral right to criticise the APC that just came to power.
In addition, some members of the party who held some positions were also being arrested, detained, probed or fingered in cases of corruption. Many saw it as selective justice against the PDP. This also made many PDP members to jump ship with the belief that once in the APC, they would no longer be persecuted. Some people actually had their cases dropped when they joined the APC.
Therefore, the administration of Buhari had no strong opposition in its first two years. However, it is said that nature’s abhors vacuum. In the absence of a vibrant opposition, President Buhari created his own opposition. He became his own opposition. Since May 2015 when he was inaugurated, the biggest fires Buhari has had to quench have been those lighted by him. In the absence of a vibrant opposition, anytime the President lights any of such fires, the ordinary Nigerians on the social media as well as the traditional media use such to criticise him.
There are presidents who are unfortunate to face unforeseen circumstances. For example, having a terrorist group like the Boko Haram spring up under one’s regime can be unsettling. Running into a financial meltdown is something no leader prays for.
Surely, Buhari came into office when oil prices were going down. That meant that the earnings of the nation were dropping. Things became worse when Nigeria slid into recession in August 2016. Such a period is not the best time to lead a nation.
The APC and its sympathisers argued that the actions of the PDP were responsible for the recession that befell Nigeria. In response, the PDP and its sympathisers argued that the negative utterances and actions of Buhari as well as his lack of economic know-how were responsible for the recession.
But there are other issues that have created unnecessary bad press for the administration of Buhari. Most of them are not external issues, but internal issues that could have been avoided. Sometimes, one wonders if Buhari and those holding political positions under him intentionally choose to work against his administration.
Parodying Anezi Okoro’s novel, One Week, One Trouble, some have described the frequent scandals rocking this government as one week, one trouble or one week, one drama.
One wonders what is difficult about a President promptly visiting a place that has been ravaged by a natural disaster, or what is difficult about telling and showing different parts of Nigeria who complain about one thing or the other that “you belong to all”.
The part that is difficult to understand is what drives Buhari’s leadership strategy. Is he not concerned about keeping those who voted for him and winning over those who did not vote for him? The easiest part is to keep those who voted for him. But interestingly, from the beginning of his administration, Buhari seems to be on a mission to deny the contributions of the key individuals who worked for his victory. Rather, he seemed to be distancing himself away from them, giving the impression that he did not need them anymore because he had no dream of running for a second term.
For example, what would Buhari have lost by having a former Lagos State governor and APC leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, close to him? What would he have lost by having former Vice President Atiku Abubakar close to him? What would he lose by massaging their ego and making them feel important? Nothing. The President of Nigeria is so powerful that nobody can undermine his powers, if he chooses to use them.
It was because of Buhari’s determination to sideline his 2015 allies and surround himself with people with no serious electoral value that made his wife, Mrs Aisha, to lament last year. But sadly, rather than seeing what she saw, he made matters worse by dismissing her with the response that she belonged to his “other room”.
The scandals that have rocked Buhari’s Presidency and the casual way he has responded to them has been surprising. For a man who was sold to the nation as a no-nonsense man who would never tolerate any dealing that looked corrupt, crooked or shady, it was difficult for many to comprehend how he could keep quiet or even defend his aides who were accused of corrupt practices. To maintain an unblemished aura, Buhari should have ensured that anybody who was involved in an untidy dealing in his administration was swiftly investigated, suspended or dismissed. Sometimes an aide does not need to be declared corrupt before being dismissed. Once an aide has an image of corruption around him, Buhari does not need to have him work for him again. No individual should be indispensible. An individual can be sacrificed to ensure that the Presidency is not tainted.
It is difficult to feel the pulse of the people by the loyalty or otherwise of political office holders. A leader can only gauge the pulse of his loyalists through the feelings of the common people who don’t hold any political positions. One thing that happened shortly after the 2007 election was that many who opposed the candidacy of Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua changed their views and began to support his presidency because of his utterances and actions. On the contrary, many who stood firmly by Buhari before the 2015 election have started apologising for campaigning for him because of his actions and utterances on issues of corruption, safety of lives and property,and fairness to all parts of the nation.
Is it difficult for Buhari to employ the tactics Yar’Adua used to win over his opponents or does Buhari love opposing his own presidency? Only Buhari can say. It is obvious that in spite of his health challenges, he is interested in a second tenure. He still has about one year to stop doing things that work against his own interest. As an incumbent president, he has a huge advantage over any other candidate, but that advantage depends on his actions and utterances in the next one year.
Azuka Onwuka is a veteran journalist and writer. He is also a social commentator and public affairs analyst. Connect with him on Facebook.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.