‘Tope Oriola

President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent announcement designating June 12 Democracy Day and award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) to MKO Abiola has sent Nigeria’s political world into overdrive. The political class, traditional media, Twitterati and other social media aficionados as well as the public continue to digest the rationale, motivation and implications of the unexpected announcement. The move by President Buhari is a functional masterstroke: On one hand, it gives a middle finger to General Ibrahim Babangida and President Olusegun Obasanjo and presents a beautiful but suspicious rose to the Southwest geopolitical zone on the other hand. 

Many analysts claim that it is totally “political” and geared towards the 2019 elections. Of course, it is political and you bet it is for 2019. It is the nature of politics. Politics is strange business. Such overtures are routine in political life; they are the lifeblood of power contestations even in advanced democracies. Stating that the move is political is not necessarily a stinging criticism; it is like saying that December 25 is Christmas Day. Is it the right thing to do? Yes. Is the timing suspicious? Absolutely, yes. Is it sufficient grounds to win support for Buhari’s reelection? The answer to that depends on whether or not we want to be fooled again. I cannot answer for everyone.

What I find interesting is that the same individual who rode on the crest of widespread support, brainwork of strategists from all over Nigeria and the goodwill of millions of Nigerians but got to power and suddenly returned to his old ways has now rediscovered the need for openness and concern for issues that are important to other Nigerians. The newfound “love” for political bride, Bola Tinubu, the appointment of Festus Keyamo as spokesperson for Buhari’s reelection campaign and other couture strategic moves indicate that the president is back in the political arena to tap the brains of serious political strategists. He is borrowing the brainpower of those he discarded immediately after assuming office in 2015. He is also bringing together relatively fresh faces. 

Good luck to those lending their brains to Buhari. He will use them and dump them. To be clear, not everyone who works for a successful political candidate can get a portfolio and it is unfair to expect that a president will compensate everyone who works for his or her success. I believe most political supporters should be content with being rewarded through good governance. However, Buhari will disappoint his emerging 2019 brain trust in two ways. He will give appointments to less qualified candidates with whom he shares certain affinities and (given his limited capacity) will not govern well. His supporters will therefore lose in those two ways.

For instance, Buhari appointed Abubakar Malami, a person with a largely unremarkable career in law as Attorney General and Minister of Justice over and above many extremely qualified Nigerians, including a highly respected Nigerian lawyer, for whom some of the president’s most prominent supporters lobbied. It was one of the earliest indications of Buhari’s mindset after being sworn into office. I doubt that any objective measures would assess Malami as successful in office although to be fair, he is in a crowded company of mostly mediocre ministers. The appointment of Ibrahim Idris Kpotum as Inspector General of Police is another example. Many careers of senior officers were ruined to produce Mr “transmission” as IGP. Buhari simply wants power. I have no doubts that there is method to how he uses power but the country will suffer for it.

Every citizen has the right to support a candidate of their choosing. However, what further evidence do Nigerians need to establish that Buhari is out of his depths? He would be ex-president by now in some other societies. Buhari has the right to recontest. But it is the height of insensitivity and egotism that a man battling what appear to be major health issues under whose government the conditions of most Nigerians have worsened wishes to return to office as he counts down to 80 years. 

Stripped of the mystique of anti-corruption crusader, unable to gain decisive victory against Boko Haram despite his military background and lacking in the nous of 21st century leadership, Buhari has become just another power hustler. He has doubled his hustle by weaponizing and instrumentalizing June 12. It reveals his thirst for power, vulnerability and readiness to forgo his famed arrogance for the sake of four more years of rudderless leadership. This is the moment for various groups to make demands on a desperate politician. Expect him to be more guarded in his speeches. I hope he finds the will to act on the senseless killings in Benue and other states.

Supporters of Buhari intrigue me. What exactly qualifies Buhari for a second term? The economy? Security? Power supply? Roads and other infrastructure? Is there another Nigeria that is not evident to some of us? I am willing to be convinced. Is a presidency meant to be merely totemic? Does Buhari’s sheer presence in Aso Rock satisfy your aspirations for Nigeria? Does performance in office matter? Are there no alternatives to the kleptocratic PDP and the APC? 

What is going on is essentially an attempt to repackage an expired product. We bought it in 2015, tasted it and found that it was a waste of time and lacking in substance. As they say, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me”. 

Follow Oriola on Twitter: @topeoriola 

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