By ABBA MAHMOOD /April 5, 2018—
In the build-up to the 2011 general elections, I was humbled and honoured as a columnist when I got a letter personally signed by General Muhammadu Buhari soliciting my support. I did not care to reply since I knew what to do. Personally, I have enormous respect for General Buhari for so many reasons, foremost among which is his personal integrity and great patriotism. I was still in secondary school when he became military head of state and I still remember with nostalgia the excitement of all of us when we saw him on TV or his then no-nonsense deputy, General Idiagbon. In fact, but for my mother’s opposition, I would have joined the military on completion of my secondary school.
No Nigerian leader, dead or alive, has ever come to office with the enormous goodwill that Buhari enjoyed in 2015. Not only here in Nigeria but across Africa and around the world everyone was excited with Buhari and happy for Nigeria. Invitations were coming from all the established and emerging global powers for Buhari to visit them or for them to visit him here in Nigeria. On President Buhari’s first visit to the US as elected president in July 2015, Rex Tillerson as CEO of Exxon Mobil sat next to him during the dinner hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington; less than two years later, Tillerson became US secretary of state and his last official function as secretary was visiting Buhari in Abuja last month.
From across Nigeria and around the world, almost everyone was identifying with Buhari and giving him pieces of advice on how to move the country forward. It appeared he was paralyzed by too many recommendations, for it took Buhari almost 100 days to appoint his key aides, which has never happened before. It took Buhari six months to appoint his cabinet, thus losing precious time in the process. The Seventh Senate under David Mark approved 15 advisers for him. He is yet to appoint even five of these, three years on.
After wasting so much precious time, apparently studying the situation, as if for over a decade of contesting for the presidency he had never known what to do or who to help him do it, Buhari came up with one of the worst cabinets in the history of Nigeria. It was mostly square pegs in round holes. The few who could perform were overwhelmed. In the parastatals and agencies for almost three years there were no boards appointed to give policy direction. In fact, at a key agency like the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) no substantive head has been appointed yet for almost three years now. Soon after taking over, there was economic recession, but the president in his wisdom is yet to appoint his chief economic adviser and there is no single economist in his cabinet! Consequently, the economy as every one of us knows is in a shambles.
It is a political era but Buhari has not appointed any political adviser in his office. No wonder he was not able to take control of key institutions that are vital to the success of his presidency. The ruling party is not under his control and is embroiled with crisis. The National Assembly is not on the same page with him, such that despite his party having the majority the deputy Senate president ridiculously comes from the opposition. To mock the president, the chairman of the Senate Committee on EFCC is from the opposition, the utterly discredited Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Buhari did not see the irony!
From the leadership down to the membership, almost half of the National Assembly members, especially the Senate, have corruption cases. The most corrupt elements seized control of that important institution and are holding the country to ransom. They said they have passed a “resolution” for Buhari to sack Ibrahim Magu as EFCC acting chairman or they will never screen any nominee from the president. No one came out to tell them that a resolution has no force of law since it is not law. They unilaterally fix humongous salaries and bogus allowances for themselves but the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) which is constitutionally empowered to fix the salaries of political officeholders said it is illegal. They have no immunity but no one is holding them accountable for all their excesses all these years.
There are killings everywhere such that the law enforcement and security agencies appear to be overwhelmed. The level of kidnappings across the country is unprecedented. In fact, the UN deputy humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, Yassine Gaba, said that recent weeks have seen a steady continuation of attacks on civilians in the north-east. At least 120 civilians have been killed and over 210 seriously injured in more than 22 attacks this year alone by insurgents, according to the UN official. If you see such escalation it means there is diminishing return in terms of performances of security and service chiefs. The recent kidnap of Dapchi schoolgirls was a most auspicious time to change the seemingly indispensable service chiefs who keep getting extensions of tenure, but taking a decision is becoming difficult for this government.
President Buhari promised to expand his cabinet since last October. But, despite abundant talent in every local government area across Nigeria he is yet to do so. There were many reported cases of incompetence, under-performance and even occasional cases of corruption against his appointees. He is finding it difficult to hold anyone responsible or to bring necessary changes by sacking those found wanting and injecting fresh blood with fresh ideas into the government. If these are the ones to continue — and there is no reason to doubt that they are — then there is no need for any continuity for this government beyond 2019. There is no doubt it is his constitutional right to seek a second term. He may even win, given the characters parading themselves as potential aspirants now. But the country will be battered and Buhari’s image of selfless patriot will be bruised. Is it worth it?
For a substantial part of last year, Buhari was busy attending to his health challenges. We all wish him good health. No one needs any doctor to tell that Buhari requires good rest to fully recover. His voice is still faint and he is barely forcing himself to attend to critical state functions. At 75, age is not on his side anymore and there is no medicine for old age. With France, a major power, having a president that is just 40 this year; with Ethiopia the second most populous and one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa just recently electing its new Prime Minister Abiy, who is 41 years, it is time for Buhari and his generation to give way to the younger ones and give guidance to the next generation of leadership while they are still around. Nigeria is simply tired of any 70-year-old again.
President Buhari has done his best; he has paid his dues. If he loves Nigeria as we think he does; if he loves the north that is now devastated, as it appears he does; and if he loves himself as any human being does; it is time for him to take a bow and raise the hands of his successor. He will then be our Mandela, especially as he has an intellectual Mbeki in his loyal VP; he has many loyalists in the Senate or among the governors and across Nigeria who are competent from which to choose and support. That is the path of honour and Buhari is honourable.
This is an honest advice from a long-time admirer. It is also the consensus of all those millions who love this country and love Buhari too.
History is on the side of the oppressed.