The past few days will probably be a turning point in the relationship between President Buhari and some of the most ardent supporters of his candidacy in the 2015 elections in the country. At least four key supporters from this group – Eniola Bello of ThisDay, syndicated columnist Sonala Olumhense, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and Sahara Reporters publisher Sowore Omoyele – indicated that their romance with the retired General was over.
In a very critical article published in ThisDay of February 5 2017, Eniola Bello threw well targeted and bareknuckle punches at the man he had promoted vigorously with every capillary in his vein. He wrote:
“At the inception of the Buhari administration, expectations were indeed really high just as there were celebrations when Buhari sacked the Shehu Shagari administration on December 31, 1983. Twenty months on, however, have there been any significant changes in the national economy? Of course, but for the worse!…. With the unendurable exchange rate regime, it would be little surprise if Nigerians were soon forced to deal with scarcity of commodities, or queue for essential ones, as happened during Buhari’s first coming in 1984.
“On the strength of his performance in office in the last 20 months, there is no question that Buhari is very weak on the economy, and does not have the capacity to fix Nigeria. His failure is our collective failure to critically evaluate the abilities of candidates for elective offices based on their background, achievements, knowledge, and emotional intelligence. We all, politicians and electorate alike, were blinded by the failings of the Jonathan administration to have accepted just anybody to occupy that office.
“That was the only reason why a Buhari could have been elected president, despite his provincialism; his failure to broaden his social and political network; his refusal, since he was sacked as military leader, to acquire fresh knowledge and develop himself intellectually; and his politics of intolerance and exclusion for the 12-year period he contested and failed to win the presidential election.”
Sonala Olumhense who made no bones about his support for Buhari during the 2015 elections and after, packed even heavier punches and delivered lethal uppercuts on the same day as Eniola drew out knives for the Daura General. In a piece entitled ‘The Fall Of Buhari, And The APC’, and published (coincidentally?) on the same February 5 2017, Olumhense wrote:
“As it has turned out, every one of us who stepped out of our comfort zone to support his leadership is not merely disappointed, but betrayed. Buhari’s words have proved to be emptier than a basket of water. Every hope that he would bring enough with him for Nigeria to build on has drowned in a sea of poor policies, no-policies, and cynical manipulation.
“To think about Buhari since May 2015 is to observe how power affects individual holders. Sometimes, a man takes office and becomes a prime instrument for building that nation or that community or that era. And then sometimes, a king assumes the throne clothed in layers of gold and the finest linen but only to expose his nakedness. Buhari appears to be the latter…..
“ Yes, Buhari is ailing now, but in nearly two years in office, it is not an absence of health that has held him back but an absence of will, temperament and capacity. The president is not leading with strength; he is being led by his weakness.”
Meanwhile, popular musician Tuface (Innocent Dibia) had on January 24 2017 announced plans to organize a protest to register Nigerians’ dissatisfaction with the performance of the Buhari government and the increasing impoverishment of people under his government. He planned the protest for February 6, which was to coincide with the date the President was initially expected to arrive the country from his medical/holiday trip in the UK. Though Tuface eventually cancelled the planned protest, it did hold despite the cancellation. And among those who participated in the Lagos protest was Sowore Omoyele, whose online newspaper Sahara Reporters feverishly promoted the Buhari candidacy and until recently vigorously defended his policies. Again Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, who was courted by the Buhari government and had supported both his candidacy and defended his policies until recently suddenly regained his voice as a professional social critic. Soyinka used harsh words in condemning attempts by the law enforcement agents to stop the Tuface’s planned protest against the government.
There are important observations and lessons for the government from the events of the last few days:
One, taking together, the events of the last few days raised the question of whether all these were spontaneous outpouring of citizens’ dissatisfaction with the Buhari government or whether there was some orchestration behind it.
But whether orchestrated or not, the point is that when the President returns – yes he shall return home hale and hearty in Jesus’ name – he will simply learn that the music has changed and so he must also change his dance step. While some of the current challenges are structural, systemic or bequeathed by the Jonathan’s government, the fact is that the Buhari government created additional problems of its own and exacerbated several of the extant problems through its actions and inactions.
Unlike the erstwhile promoters of the Buhari candidacy who are now turning against him, I believe the regime is not irredeemable. I believe the emerging re-alignment of political forces will be critical in answering the question of whether the regime is capable of fixing the country or not: who will be the dominant actors in the new re-alignment? How cosmopolitan are they? What world views do they espouse? I believe that by now the hardliners who hijacked the Buhari government and believe that a show of force or some form of revenge will bring desired outcomes will have known that they are wrong.
Two, apart from high expectations that ushered in the government, the current disappointment with the performance of the Buhari government, is often a common problem faced by charismatic leaders who are voted into office. Charismatic leaders have a special grace and magnetism that attract followers to them. The truth however is that much of the myth woven around such leaders cannot stand empirical scrutiny. Very few charismatic leaders are good administrators or distinguished leaders. Take the late Nelson Mandela for example. His genius was in uniting a fractious South Africa, not because of his administrative skills or the effectiveness of his economic policies. The same is also true of the late Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. There are of course a few exceptions but such leaders became truly charismatic or mythologized only after their death,
Three, when the President returns, and given the events of the last few days, he must do something dramatic to regain the confidence of some of his erstwhile supporters, who, with the passion of new converts are likely to become venomous in their criticisms of his regime. And because they promoted his candidacy and are not among the ‘usual suspects’, their criticisms will be quite credible and more impactful than those from the ‘usual suspects’. I will suggest that the idea of political prisoners in a democracy is an oxymoron. The government must move quickly to obey court orders and release the likes of Dasuki, El Zakzaky and Nnamdi Kanu. What does the government gain by detaining them except to galvanize public sympathy for them or turn them into heroes? The President should also immediately move to broaden his network, get more competent people into his government and show a sense of urgency in governance. The impression that the government thinks on its feet, with several policy somersaults, should be discouraged.
Four, the management of the President’s medical trip leaves much to be desired. There is nothing to be ashamed of that a President needs medical attention. But the way the information has been managed leaves much to be desired with several gaps that fuelled the rumour mills. Though the job of being the spokes- person of any president is by definition a tough one since one has to defend unpopular government policies, policies the person knows nothing about or even disagrees with, some spokesmen are able to navigate this better than others. I believe that when this is all over, people are going to ask questions about the likes of Femi Adeshina who either talks down on Nigerians or sees every issue from the simplistic binary of those who lost in the 2015 election and are still ruing their loss and those who won.
Five, unless the government is able to come up with a more inspiring set of government functionaries and programmes, criticisms against the government could become sharper and more generalized, which could also make the regime more repressive. This is a scenario neither the government nor its critics will want. And it is the more reason why the government must see the events of the last few days as defining ones.