I have had an interesting week reading the different shades of social-media reactions to my piece classifying President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election supporters into nine groups. The most popular shade is that there are people supporting Buhari just because they still believe him; people in this self-created set argue that they belong to none of the nine groups. I see them quite easily, though; they’re the ninth group: the naivetés. They support the President because they honestly cannot see the red flags; if they could, they would ditch him.
One of them was on my Facebook timeline last week arguing about the unfairness of blaming Buhari for the DSS invasion that cost Lawal Daura his job or for the Police’s arrest of journalist Samuel Ogundipe on trumped-up charges of document theft. It needs no explaining that long-serving political appointees are a reflection of their principals. If IGP Ibrahim Idris neither lost his job nor received strong reprimand for flouting the presidential order to relocate to Benue, and Daura received a pat on the back after previous acts of high-handedness by the DSS, the President must accept liability for their actions. In any case, in the early Buhari days, we were told ‘body language’ was working magic. When, for example, we experienced rain-induced steady electricity supply in 2015, we were told it was because ‘a new Sheriff’ was in town. The Sheriff — just because he is no longer ‘new’ — cannot escape liability for the inadequacies of his government, three years on.
Still, to escape arrest and prosecution for hate speech, let’s create a tenth group, The Loyal Buhari Supporters, for the Buharists claiming not to have been represented in the nine groups. Buhari’s supporters asked for a similar list of the kinds of people averse to their man’s second-term ambition. Let’s shoot straightaway!
The Eminently Corrupt Elements (ECE): Let’s not have any argument about this: there are corrupt elements all over the country’s political space, and they’d give anything to terminate Buhari’s Aso Rock stay in 2019. Many — not all — of them belong to or are sympathetic to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It would have been so easy to round these people up and scapegoat them, but many of their greedy cousins are also in Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC), strutting the corridors of power without fear of apprehension. Worse still, since 2015, a few ECEs have been running to the APC for cover, and are surprisingly being welcomed with open arms.
The PDP Loyalists (TPL): These are the die-hard PDP apologists. Even if Buhari constructs an underground rail system in Lagos to at once ease the city’s notorious traffic congestion, they will never support his re-election quest.
The People Out of Government (POG): They have tasted power for years — some of them for decades — but were suddenly left licking their wounds in 2015 following Buhari’s victory at the polls. People in this class have no solid life out of government; they have been miserable since 2015 and can’t wait for another taste of power.
The Anyone But Jonathans (ABJ): In 2015, they didn’t exactly fancy Buhari — but the Goodluck Jonathan government was extremely inept and utterly corrupt; it failed to inspire hope. In truth, it was important to boot Jonathan out of office. But this group thought ‘Anyone But Jonathan’ could do it. On the first they were right, but on the second they weren’t. These days, they can’t even stand Buhari. Some of them have learnt from experience; they want Buhari out in 2019 but are circumspect about whom to vote for this time.
The Anyone But Buharis (ABB): These are the go-and-get-your-PVCs lot. They are about to repeat the mistake of the ABJs. They haven’t been impressed with Buhari’s first term and they want him out at all costs, regardless of whoever takes over from him.
The Lesser-Evil Apostles (LEA): In another world, these people wouldn’t have voted for Buhari in 2015. But they knew only Buhari and Jonathan were capable of winning the election; and although they ordinarily would have had neither, they knew they had to pick one of the two — whomever they considered the lesser evil. Can anyone blame them? Even when the revered London-headquartered magazine-format newspaper, The Economist, endorsed Buhari seven weeks before the 2015 election, it did “with a heavy heat”. After noting that “there are no good options”, it picked Buhari as the “least awful”. In its conclusion, it said: a “former dictator is a better choice than a failed president”. Now, the LEAs have discovered that even The Economist was wrong to say there were no good options; there was, in fact, no good option at all. There is just one worry, though: the LEAs are genuinely troubled that the 2015 election could repeat itself, that the go-and-get-your-PVC syndrome could lead to a repeat of the 2015 scenario in 2019.
The Anti-Buhari Converts (ABCs): These people are currently anti-Buhari but this had never been the case. Some had followed him for years, others for decades. From Buhari’s first election loss in 2003 to the last in 2011, the people in this class stood by him, mourned with him, shed tears with him and, like him, hoped that he would succeed where others had failed should he ever taste power. To their dismay, more than three years of Buhari’s presidency have been typified by economic downturn, job loss, insecurity, executive arrogance and insouciance, one-sided anti-corruption war and frequent presidential absenteeism.
The Flexile Realists (TFRs): These are the people who, regardless of party affiliation, gave Buhari an honest chance to win their 2019 vote. They are people who can see beyond the façade of the “historic transition and political nurturing” being created by Bola Tinubu’s admittedly impressive speech writer or the grand impression of national prosperity being propagated by the President’s social-media army. They understand that you cannot extra-judicially jail Sambo Dasuki yet harbour a Babachir Lawal in your cabinet for so many months while claiming to be fighting corruption; they know that you can’t profess to run a government of integrity yet retain a Minister who has thus far failed to defend allegations of forgery for which lawmakers have reportedly blackmailed her into releasing state funds. The people in this class want Buhari out but are also very worried by the lack of credible alternative to Buhari’s credibility-shy government.
The Nigeria Fanatical Association (NFA): They are the Nigeria fanatics. This group is a mix of people who both supported and never supported Buhari. Nigeria first, the latter disabused themselves of their anti-Buhari sentiments the moment the retired soldier became the President. But going forward, the choices are pretty easy: how, for example, can a man who is not even in control of his own government be asked to run Nigeria for a further four years? How can a man whose first term has been punctuated by lengthy medical vacations not understand that 2019 is the perfect time to take a deserved rest? They bore it all when the Buhari government raised pump price of petrol from N87 to N145/litre in 2016 with the promise of competition-fuelled lowered prices over time, which never came, but they were rewarded with extensive spells of fuel scarcity during which the President ignored the pains of his people. People in this group are neither APC nor PDP. In fact, they want Buhari out in 2019 but would have a rethink should APC present Osinbajo. They do not want to retry the tested-and-failed PDP and are wondering if 2019 hasn’t come too soon for any of the ‘lesser’ parties to gatecrash the PDP-APC hegemony.
So, dear Buharist, when next you run into someone who doesn’t share your re-election excitement, don’t get mad at them. Instead, direct your anger at the President, knowing now — in case you didn’t — that more than half the opposition to his ambition has nothing to do with corruption but with his shortcomings. Like the previous piece, this list is not exhaustive. Buhari’s opponents who see no place for themselves here can create a tenth or eleventh or twelfth group.
Soyombo, former Editor of the TheCable and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), tweets @fisayosoyombo