Deconstructing Buhari’s second coming
THOSE who are not convinced that President Muhammadu Buhari, is a changed man, may have conveniently overlooked two recent key indicators. The first is that Buhari has elected to finally, fully retire from the Army.
Prior to assuming office last month, he had instructed his aides to announce that he was dropping the title of General in preference for the more ennobling and appropriate prefix of President.
This at once signifies that Buhari has come to the realization that he was operating in a new era where dispute, disagreement and dissensus are the norm, and where such conducts are not punished as acts of rebellion and insubordination.
The second indicator is that the President at 72, is a much older man now than he was in January 1984 when he was named head of the Federal Military Government that toppled the democratic administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
Age has a way of not just sobering people, but also making them wiser. They lose interest in the things they once craved for, they become emancipated by experience, and they are shocked into recognizing the hollowness of the avowed rightness of their cause, as men sent from above to change the world, and who must teach ordinary people the virtue of obedience and submission to official diktat.
In his first coming, Buhari and his military colleagues convinced themselves that the only language Nigerians, like brute beasts understood, was highhanded treatment; they must literally be whipped into line to behave well.
Ironically, this same sentiment is still echoed today by people who yearn for a more predictable life in what is now a chaotic and constantly changing world. People may ascribe many things to President Buhari, but one of them is not living in dreamland. So, he did not just jettison the title of General because he got a better appellation.
He could actually have kept both and he would not be doing anything new in either Nigeria or Africa. There are State Governors who still insist on addressing themselves as Senators first, before adding the title of Governor.
And the President of Uganda insists on being addressed as His Excellency, General President Yoweri Museveni. So, Buhari was unto something more fundamental when he dropped the title of General.
His continuing evolvement has recently culminated in a very remarkable sentence in his inauguration speech. It was not the usual tough talk of a stone-faced Army General, but a reality check from a wizened up old man. He said: “I belong to nobody, I belong to everyone.”
In what appears to be a departure from his strong man image, he seems to be saying to those who have not seen it yet, that his government (whenever it is formed) will not be a junta of a few brass hats, but a benign movement of the people, north and south of the Niger, for whom he has become a cult figure.
Those who have been softened and made gullible by years of raised hopes and crashed aspirations, wanted to believe that Buhari was saying he would not be controlled by godfathers or even his party, or by people of his tribe and religion or professional calling.
They were vainly hoping, once again, for a man sent from above to somehow transplant Nigeria into a haven of the best things that the earth has to offer. But they were not listening to the President.
Once the electioneering was over, the victory was won and a new era was set to take off, Buhari, and lately his supporters, repeatedly warned Nigerians that he was not a magician and therefore, did not possess a wand to somehow turn the night of Nigeria to shining light, the day after May 29, 2015. That same reality will govern the operations of the Buhari administration.
Ordinarily, Buhari is a man given to off-handedness in conducting official matters, even in his first outing. In this latest metamorphosis, he is eagerly searching for collaborators, helpers, co-workers.
And surprisingly, this can come from the camps of either his political friends or foes. For instance, he got himself busy with seeking to forge an international alliance on the urgent task of tackling the Boko Haram insurgency, than be distracted by the shenanigans that unfolded in the National Assembly.
In this, he distanced himself from the hands-on approach of one of his closest predecessors, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Rather wisely, he said he would not be involved in how the National Assembly chose its principal officers.
It means that no one should expect him, in these early days or in the future, to start handing out bags of money to the lawmakers to induce them into breaking our existing laws.
And once the lawmakers were done with their family affair of selecting the presiding officers, the President spoke in a most enlightening manner, saying that while he would have preferred that the National Assembly officers were chosen at the instance of his party, yet he recognized and congratulated them as heads of the Legislative arm of the government. And with that, he set a different tone in relating to the Legislature, and seems to have said that the matter was closed.
No lawmaker will, in the future, show up at the doors of the Presidential Villa, cap in hand; he will get nothing. In case the lawmakers and politicians have forgotten, one of the things President Buhari has promised to do is tackle corruption. And you can trust him to at least make a try at the task. But this effort will be different from the attempt to combat the scourge in his first coming as head of state.
It means that crooks in official circles in particular, will not expect to be herded into prison, enabling them to forge a new bond, the type that almost successfully kept Buhari from winning democratic elections, until the political genius in Bola Ahmed Tinubu came up with the master stroke of a special purpose vehicle called All Progressives Congress.
A wiser President Buhari will seek to track where the crooks have stashed away their loots, whether at home or abroad. With the money safely in his hands or at least in his sight, he will begin the next phase of calling those he can reach, to account for their bad and evil behaviour.
This is why Nigerians must not be deceived by the recent frenetic activities emanating from those agencies charged with the task of fighting corruption. In acting the way they are doing now, they are not prosecuting the agenda of the President, but are engaged in a futile attempt at reading his mind. President Buhari’s party, the APC, promised change if he were elected into office.
Many people took that to mean that Buhari will stride into office with so much triumphalism, riding as it were a white horse, and ushering in an army of the able and willing, fighting men and women, full of idealism, and trampling all enemies on their path.
The way this myth goes, the new force will sweep away all evil men and women (real and imagined) from public space, scrap all those policies and practices that have hitherto not worked to solve Nigeria’s problems, set up a functional and flourishing administration, and somehow completely transform this country in four years. Such a narrative, while comforting, is altogether naive and unrealistic.
The next worst thing to having a failed government is to construct expectations that cannot be met. Nigerians have a right to expect great things from the Buhari Administration, to hold it to its words, but the people’s expectation must be clearly moderated, something the APC has failed to do.
The starting point for this is to begin to appreciate that President Buhari who rightly promises change (for that is needed for any nation to make progress), is himself a changed man, the extent of which he, not to say Nigerians, may not yet realize. This APC administration must concede that it can, in the end, do only so much. • This column will appear occasionally on these pages.