If there is anything that many observers agree upon, it is the fact that Muhammadu Buhari could have had a better start into his civilian presidency. Most disheartening and uninspiring was his inaugural speech, which left many people wondering what message he intended to send and why he made the choice to send such a message. The calculation seems obvious. The President simply sacrificed the all-important notion of toughness and popular reassurance at the altar of pacifying the team of the outgoing President, who has been locked in the fear of high-handed persecution.
Before the gaze of foreign dignitaries and backdoor facilitators of the smooth transition from the feeble and militant-backed former government, President Buhari seemed to have staked his cards also in reassuring the different interest groups observing the transition that he was out to calm the political temperature and not heighten tension any further. This was however, not the expectation of the teeming masses of Nigerian voters who yearned for change and had enough of the passive patronage of overbearing insiders by a weak government that was erroneously labeled as “Pacifist”. President Buhari’s inaugural speech simply failed in balancing the need to reassure those who fear persecution and the need to reassure his constituency that he was out to address their needs.
In the end, the meaningless message of belonging to all and belonging to none was the only substance that was left to be extracted from a long-drawn speech that many expected to be fiery and momentum-laden. Yet, it was easily skipped and quickly forgotten with the brave face of disappointment underscoring the need to keep heads high and simply move on. Many have been quietly nursing the uneasy trepidation deep within them ever since, hoping that Buhari may not end up a complete flop and a major disappointment.
After all, the President had all the opportunities in the world to reiterate his commitment to fighting corruption by revamping the anti-corruption agencies. He had all the chances in the world to reassure Nigerians on how he intends to work to strengthen regional military cooperation with neighboring countries to eradicate insurgency until the Nigerian Army is put back on its feet again to stand alone. He had all the chances in the world to reassure Nigerians, how he intends to clean the oil sector, enforce fiscal discipline in government institutions and carry party soldiers along in enforcing a new era of discipline in the national psyche, etc.. The President simply allowed this noble and golden opportunity of popular appeal to escape and slip through his fingers. It is an opportunity that was lost for good. It was his first own goal and an unforced error that barely stopped short of being an outright gaffe. It is a major blunder that he shares collectively with his handlers and perhaps, speechwriter(s).
Yet, as is typical of the honeymoon period, the need to stay calm and allow the President some time to understand the situation has so far dominated the reasoning of many critical observers, who are still waiting and watching out for just one decisive step from the President to reassure them that he is very much on course with his own agenda. So far, it has been to no avail! It does not matter though that the President was supposed to have understood the situation perfectly well even as a candidate with a blueprint to hit the ground running. On the contrary, signals keep filtering out, painting the picture of a President’s camp in utter disarray. From all indications, the President now seems trapped in the fangs of party interests, regional interests and the interests of scattered loyalists, who fought tooth and nail and against all odds, to ensure his electoral victory even if also in protection of inordinate selfish interests.
Now, there are reports of regional powers wanting key ministries to be headed only by persons from a particular geographical region. There are loyalists, who now seem to have been suddenly understood as too ambitious and power-hungry to be given government appointments in spite of their excessive commitment and personal contributions to electoral success. There are now stories of the Vice President being locked out of Security meetings with service chiefs. There are stories of the President’s wife wearing a $50,000 wristwatch to the Presidential inauguration. There is the outright gaffe of the President referring to his wife as ‘Her Excellency’ after promising to abolish the office of ‘First Lady’.
In the midst of all these, the President is nowhere to be seen before his own folks. Barely two weeks into his administration, the signs perceived by the public are that he has no clue just yet, who should make up his cabinet. It is yet the picture of a very weak and unprepared Muhammadu Buhari that is presently meeting the eyes.
Reaction to this image has not waited for too long. Even though Senator Bukola Saraki belongs to the class of featherweight activists, who fought to install Buhari as President and does not need to be sidelined in disgrace, he is now one character, who has clearly shown to Muhammadu Buhari, how people will ride on him if he does not make amends very quickly and take charge of the country in a very decisive manner without fear of stepping on toes. Rather than ostentatiously declaring non-interference in the selection of National Assembly leaders, it would have taken the President one decisive word or two into Bukola Saraki’s private ears before heading for the G7 summit in Germany to help Saraki beat a very quick retreat from his overblown ambitious rebellion. But when a President tries to be everybody’s darling seeking to appease minds and win friends, he soon learns, how others will strive to stretch the limit before his very eyes.
If reports are anything to go by, Bukola Saraki has simply called the bluff and disgraced the President with impunity before ranking APC members of the legislative houses, who gathered with the President for a crucial meeting while Saraki was busy ordaining himself as a renegade priest in the midst of gleeful death-wishers. While opponents are now relishing the spoils in schadenfreude, a word should now be enough for the President if he wishes to toe the path of wisdom. Bukola Saraki and his friends know too well that the last word has not been spoken on the hijacked Senate Presidency. If anything, Olusegun Obasanjo can help Buhari out very quickly in teaching him methods of stamping his authority in constitutional arrangements of this nature. This is where Buhari still seems to be struggling to come to terms.
By declaring Saraki’s hijacked election as “constitutional” while sticking to his new-won image of a loyal team player subjected to the dictates of his political party, President Buhari now seems to have managed to throw his doubters in a slight state of disarray. He has managed to stand out still as a mysterious winner. The aura of fear that Buhari emitted by declaring the hijacked senate election as “constitutional”, is cladded in indiscernibility much like his declaration of being for all and being for none. For now, no one seems to have a clue, what to make of the President’s comments.
Buhari’s pattern of whipping people in line, if he chooses to travel down that path, will no doubt be strongly rested on the principle of constitutionality as time progresses. After all, what Saraki can do, one would guess, Buhari should be able to do better. It is however, yet a mystery, which path Buhari wishes to toe in this nascent Presidency. The cards have been thrown on the table and Nigerians are waiting to see his sense of cohesion and execution.
He had appealed to Nigerians, particularly on the social media, to exercise a sense of responsibility in practicing citizens’ journalism. Precisely for this reason, many responsible and professional operatives in the conventional world of mass media and social media have been waiting patiently to catch a glimpse of the President’s choices and policy direction particularly in the corruption-ridden petroleum sector. With the understanding that the role of importers will be abolished in favor of hiring the services of foreign companies to refine our crude oil until our refineries are fixed, there is hardly any Nigerian that is not impatient to see the removal of fuel subsidy. This alone, will be a giant stride in freeing up resources for other developmental projects in the near and medium-term.
First however, President Buhari will have to sit up tight and very quickly too if he is to upset the yet suppressed general suspicion that his elevated image of a no-nonsense General may be a serious misunderstanding after all since the late Tunde Idiagbon was the major architect with the disciplinarian credentials.