By DELE MOMODU (PENDULUM)
Fellow Nigerians, as much as I tried to resist the temptation of offering any advice whatsoever to President Muhammadu Buhari, let me apologise, that because of the recent global crisis that the world faces I will have to do a volte face. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I confess that I’m unable to keep the promise I made recently that I won’t bother about our dear President again.
Anyone who’s been following my column would have noticed the copious letters I wrote to our President in the last four years. This was based on the discussion we had when he invited me to his office in 2015. I had promised to keep him on his toes like I did to President Goodluck Jonathan before him and he seemed to have acquiesced and pleased by my selfless offer. At that time, he had told me that he was an avid reader of newspapers and that he ensured he followed what was happening in the country using the newspapers as the barometer for assessing his performance. I was assured and felt confident that this was a President who would regularly feel the pulse of the nation, and it was on this basis that I began to offer him my advice through letters written in my column. I was convinced that we had definitely made a wise and necessary choice in March 2015 and I was personally pleased that I had personally gone out on a limb, in my own small way, to ensure the election of Mr President. But how the times have changed.
President Buhari has twice been the beneficiary of being returned to what I refer to as the most powerful seat in the world. On the first occasion, in 2015 there was no doubt at all as he was much loved. In 2019, the jury seems to be out as to how he got back to this most powerful of seats. Clearly, it can be said that on any view, he acquired power for a second time, as allowed by the Nigerian Constitution. What is certain is that he no longer needs to engage in such finesse and diplomatese as was demonstrated in the early halcyon days of 2015 again. He is not also likely to contest again, unless the fifth columnists are right and he seeks an extension or a further time by whatever means, and so President Buhari can afford to behave or misbehave anyhow as he pleases him to do.
The malaise seems to have afflicted his cronies and acolytes. It is with a tinge of sadness that I observe the present trend that as for his handlers and supporters, Buhari can do no wrong. He should not be disturbed or challenged in any way and on any matter whatsoever in his gilded cage. To them, Buhari is our Alpha and Omega, a Messiah who has come to liberate us from our sins of commission and omission, give us salvation from the so-called pits of hell that the PDP had wittingly or unwittingly consigned us to in their frenzied looting spree, and we must therefore accept him as our Lord and saviour. But I vehemently disagree with this unfortunate, useless and reckless hagiography that is already turning our country upside down and tearing us all apart, especially in this time of great turmoil.
I wish to save President Buhari from his own skin. For a man whose age is nearer 80 than 70, I’m sure he is familiar with the English word sycophancy. That word is so contagious and worse than the CORONA virus contagion that we are witnessing its ravaging effects on political, social on economic life of all countries in the world. Sycophancy has destroyed many leaders and continues to wreak havoc on its unwary victims. I have no doubt that all the people genuflecting like lizards around the Aso Rock Presidential villa today will disappear immediately power moves to someone else in 2023, or whenever it pleases God to bestow power on another Nigerian mortal. President Buhari should therefore not allow himself to be scammed by the town criers who pretend to love him more than his own immediate family, or even himself, as some of these journeymen merchants of power are wont to assure him to achieve their own nefarious ends. Please, mark my word, the time will definitely come, whatever the machinations of these false apostles.
The reason for my sermon today is simple. I read reports in the past couple of days that the Presidency had attacked the Nigerian Senate for asking the President to surface, from whatever boudoir he may have been ensconced in, to address, convince and reassure the nation that he is in command and control of the CORONA virus brouhaha and the attendant panic it is now causing in Nigeria. Buhari’s personal staff are so touchy over any criticism of the President’s actions or inactions, his sluggishness or laggardness, his lethargy or malingering in addressing issues of national or international importance. They often forget that when they felt that it was necessary, they wheeled the President out, asked him to summon the strength and stamina to campaign, albeit tiredly and less vigorously than required, when he needed votes in February 2019. The President made certain promises both in 2015 and 2019, most of which he has failed to keep since attaining power on both occasions. Nigerians are resigned to their fate and are apparently just waiting for the game of musical chairs to resume and for the President to be startled and astonished, wake up from his slumber and realise that he no longer has a seat! One promise the President never made to Nigerians, and one which even we, his fawning public would never have tolerated in 2015, not to mention now, is that there would come a time when he would tell Nigerians that he would abdicate power and authority to some proxies or cronies, or that he will become so incommunicado once elections are over, that we would sometimes wonder about his state of health. That is the position we almost find ourselves today, and it is the position that his sidekicks and blind followers seek to justify. This is tragic. It is unfair to treat Nigerians like orphans. We hoped for much more, expected greater and deserve much better.
Since Buhari returned to power in 2019, his demeanour has changed even more. And it is as if there is now all the time to waste. Aso Rock Presidential Villa has become a palace where the subjects come to pay homage and obeisance and pledge obedience to HE who is on the throne, who must be worshipped and obeyed. Nigeria does not merit or require an Emperor or absolute monarch at this time that we are confronted by all manner of challenges, afflictions and difficulties. What our country desperately needs is a sober, disciplined and competent leadership and not a ceremonial or titular head. We deserve full time attention to affairs of state, but more time is being wasted on receiving an endless retinue of political jobbers and party warriors. Professional visitors of all hues and shades are busy being invited to or gate-crashing our sacred sanctuary of power and our Emperor is busy fiddling and entertaining them while the country literarily is consumed by an inferno. While the urgent needs of State are studiously ignored and the country bleeds to death, the President is busy intervening in petty squabbles and being the headmaster whipping recalcitrant students into line for failing to tuck in their shirts or supporting his helmsman.
Nothing has further embarrassed us in recent times than the outbreak of CORONA virus and our vapid, tepid and uncoordinated response to it. While world leaders daily go into mental gymnastics and sweat profusely on and off television to fashion out short, medium and long term solutions to a scourge that is causing pandemonium in the world, whilst at the same time reassuring their people that the best is being done for them, we are being told our leader does not have to talk to us. The insolence and insult are simply outrageous, and I say a big No to this. There is no one better or necessary to speak to us than the head of the house in the days of trials and tribulations. I am even prepared to concede that on health grounds, the President may be excused from this tedious chore. I’m also happy to admit that he may not have a good enough grasp of the issues at stake and might be embarrassed to be shown up for his lack of knowledge and clarity for the finer niceties in combatting a pandemic virulent disease, that has got the whole world practically gasping for breath. But it is unpardonable that the President will totally ignore a man as modern, cerebral, diligent and conscientious as his own Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo SAN and instead ask the Secretary to the Federal Government, Mr Boss Mustapha, to handle what is a global crisis. With all due respect to Mr Mustapha, I believe that Professor Yemi Osinbajo commands the status, standing, capacity, intelligence, capability and craftsmanship not only to understand and undertake such a powerful assignment but also to coordinate and proffer solutions specifically adaptable to the Nigerian terrain. What we cannot have at this time is the cut and paste approach presently being adopted by the Presidential task force. There is a knee jerk reaction to all that is happening around us akin to a macabre kpalongo dance where the protagonists do not know where they are coming from or where they are headed.
There are only two reasons why Professor Osinbajo is seemingly being side-lined. The first is the politics of 2023 and the second is the unforgiveable feeling that he will upstage the President by once again delivering a stellar performance in governance. Nobody knows what will happen in 2023, and I really don’t care for now, but we are all concerned about what is presently happening around us. As for upstaging the President, had this not been so tragic it would have been just plain laughable. Unless, and until, the President’s men get it, that the Presidency is a two man team, with both members of the team having their own strengths which are meant to complement each other, no progress will be made in Nigeria, and certainly none will be made in the fight against COVID-19. No one is interested in the petty squabbles ongoing in Aso Rock, they only pull us down, but we expect everyone to rise above the pettiness of political rivalries and embrace a new camaraderie for a common purpose which is the battle against the spread of COVID-19 in our country.
On a more serious note, only the President can sign executive orders like most countries are doing at this tragic moment. There is no visible harmonised action like we have seen elsewhere. All the relevant Ministers and State Governors should have been assembled under the central command of our Vice President. It is not remarkable to us that the only ray of hope shone when the National Economic Council headed by the VP met yesterday and immediately charted a course that the Presidential Task Force had found practically impossible. I believe that this is a situation where all hands must be on deck. Even members of the opposition should be invited to offer their own advice, logistics and support, like we saw in South Africa. Nigeria is not owned by APC and there is no reason to claim a monopoly of wisdom.
Our social fabric, economy and health are already dangling precariously and dangerously on the cliff edge. We are on the precipice of a grave evil. We need an authoritative voice to reassure us, break things down in a convincing language and direct us on the right path. There are huge sacrifices required to be made by all. I feel we must ensure that our financial institutions play their part by reducing interest rates, giving moratoriums on mortgages and lending to small businesses who will need the support as customers dry up. The government itself needs to demonstrate that it is not about money making for the country’s coffers but providing palliatives that would assist the common man. The recent reduction of the price of PMS is a joke. It is simply too little. Nothing has been done to other petroleum products like diesel and kerosene when the international price of crude has tumbled by almost 200%. We must be able to convince the wealthy that it is time to sacrifice and prop up the common man, and that even the common man must feel some pain including the strict enforcement of social distancing through the closure of most if not all places where people congregate in significant numbers of more than 10 and the banning of inter-state travel. The position of Nigeria and our population would suggest that we cannot afford to lock out our own citizens by closing all airports and imprisoning citizens of other countries by not allowing them to leave as is being suggested by some naive government functionaries.
The time to act and pass the mantle on to an astute visionary leader and commanding presence is now. Let the Vice President take the helm as Deputy Chairman, with the President as the notional Chairman of the reconstituted task force on this damaging and debilitating COVID-19. The Government must not fail, because that will mean all of us have failed.
We shall continue to pray for our dear beloved country…