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Wailing For Buhari's Waning Popularity By Suraj Oyewale

April 11, 2016

Abdulhakeem is the name of my two-year-old son, but we fondly call him Baba from birth due to his resemblance of his grandparents.  At the height of President Muhammadu Buhari’s popularity before and shortly after the March 2015 presidential elections, my neighbors added ‘Sai’ to this alias, to form ‘Sai Baba’, the phrase used to hail President Buhari, which means ‘only Baba’.


A few days ago, while having a walk on my street with the boy, I came across two of such neighbors, and while one, as usual, was hailing my boy as ‘Sai Baba’, the other interjected, with fury: “Please don’t call the boy Sai Baba again, Sai Baba is in Abuja doing nonsense.” That was how my neighbors stripped my boy of the alias they gave him.

I walked away thinking: So this is how life is? The same Buhari that these gentlemen were proud of just last year to voluntarily want to share name with, is now the man they despise so much that they don’t want their neighbor’s beloved son to take after again? The reason is simple: they had just come back home after hours of queuing and fighting at the fuel station to buy petrol to fill their generator, which is what they had to resort to due to the power outage they had been experiencing for weeks. They had thought that, with Sai Baba in power, the era of spending hours at the filling station was over, or that there would not even be the need to resort to their generator every day.

The above experience is one of the many I come across everyday in the last three months. From the market woman in Obalende to the tricycle operator in Ajah, the story has been the same: things are hard, this is not the change we voted for, we expected a better deal from Sai Baba.  

Expressing my worry to a Buharist friend, he tried to downplay this pulse of the street, I dared him to go the nearest newspaper stand or board a BRT from any point in Lagos and try to say Buhari is doing well, and see whether he would not be literally skinned alive! That’s how angry people are.

As someone that believed in the Buhari project and expended a great deal of intellectual resources to actualize a Buhari presidency, I owe it a duty to express my worry through the same open medium I used to sell him.

The common men on the street are the easiest to lose support of, because they’re usually unidirectional, and they care probably only for things that affect them directly. The trader in Isale Eko or the barber’s shop operator in Apapa does not care whether one looting general is going to prison, he only cares about fuel availability, transport fare, power supply and water – at least, before anything else. Herein lays the problem with the current trend of things.

When Buhari came to power in May 2015, people were ready to key into the impending atmosphere of change. I narrated in an article I wrote last year that I saw, for the first time, Nigerians obeying zebra crossing while crossing the roads saying they were now in the change era. I also narrated the story of a cab driver that reminded me that “Sai Baba is now there; he will punish all of you” when there was dispute on the taxi fare. I saw several other cases of people showing so much confidence in the new government and ready to do their own part. This was in the first few weeks of Buhari presidency. I expected the President to seize the opportunity to take off immediately. Unfortunately, the momentum later waned and people started dropping guards again.

The market reaction to the emergence of Buhari presidency was highly impressive such that financial and economic analysts and journalists dubbed it names like BUHARI EFFECT, BUHARI BOUNCE, BULL-HARI RUN etc. Investor confidence significantly rose. Unfortunately, if the reports published by respected international publications like Bloomberg and The Economist in recent times are anything to go by, the investors appear to have been disillusioned by the turn of things.

I don’t see the benefits of waiting for five months before the ministers were announced given the people that were eventually appointed. That was the first avoidable distraction that began the plunge into unpopularity of the current government.  I’m also not very convinced that the over 20 foreign travels of the President in less than one year was optimal. The management of the current fuel crisis may have dealt the biggest blows to the popularity, at least among the populace.

I have the feeling that even key politicians in the fold of the All Progressives Congress (APC) are worried. I have reasons to believe that the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is unhappy at the erosion of his party’s goodwill on the streets too. His statement berating the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, confirms this.  Tinubu is a politician that thinks far ahead of his peers. If I were him I would be worried too, as my job of convincing the electorate in the next elections is just being made difficult.

I’m aware there that there has been serious damage from successive bad governments that the country had been inflicted with, but I’m hesitant to join the excuse team – the team that blames former President Goodluck Jonathan for everything. I think APC knew this before promising us heaven on earth. I think we need to talk less on who caused the mess, and dwell more on the solution.

Thankfully, it appears the President is aware and not feigning ignorance of the feeling on the streets. His statement at a recent conference of APC supports this.  The statement renewed my hope in this government, but more actions need to back rhetoric. This government needs to act very fast. The last year has been far from what I expected as a strong Buharist. My senior friend and Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, sometime last year described people that criticize Buhari as “Wailing Wailers”. The epithet stuck in the Nigerian social media space. If all Nigerians are lined up and divided into two camps – those who wail and who don’t – I will likely be grouped into the latter group. But on this depletion of goodwill of a man I had (and still have) so much hope in, I beg to join the wailing team for once.

Mr. Oyewale is a chartered accountant and the author of The Road to Victoria Island: A Practical Guide to Climbing Career Ladder in Corporate Nigeria