I read with keen interest the press statement issued by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The statement offered the perspective of one of the key players — for better or worse — of Nigeria’s national life. Regardless of your perception of Obasanjo’s motivation, you have to acknowledge the importance of Nigeria’s statesmen intervening at critical moments. The latest statement offers a critical and arguably objective analysis of the missteps of the Buhari administration in a manner that is reminiscent of the open letter Obasanjo wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan.
Dr. Obasanjo raises the question of nepotism within the Buhari administration. He points out the “nepotic deployment bordering on clannishness and inability to bring discipline to bear on errant members of his nepotic court. This has grave consequences on performance of his government to the detriment of the nation. It would appear that national interest was being sacrificed on the altar of nepotic interest.” Nepotism and crass clannishness had been part of the well-earned reputation of Muhammadu Buhari prior to the 2015 election. We all knew that but felt that the stakes were too high to reelect the underwhelming Jonathan.
President Buhari has proven that the leopard does not remove its spots. He is undoubtedly the most clannish leader in Nigeria’s history. Interestingly, Buhari is one of the victims of his own nepotism and clannishness. This has been the curse of the Buhari administration. Appointments to major positions — from the board of the NNPC to the security establishment — have been quite stunning. Anyone who sees nothing wrong with Buhari’s appointments since 2015 either lacks the capacity for thoughtfulness or is merely playing politics with glaring facts. One common mistake is the presupposition that Buhari has been favouring the north. In reality, he has been largely favoring a small slice of the north — a collection of shockingly incompetent but well-connected Fulfulde-speaking persons and their allies.
A corollary to that is his failure to make use of well-qualified persons from other parts of the country. He has largely relied on people with limited qualifications, retirees of several decades who were brought back to office and individuals who have questionable certificates. It should no longer be considered harsh to ask how President Buhari rose to the rank of General in the Army judging by his performance so far in office. I am interested in learning more about how officers are promoted to the rank of General in the Nigerian Army. He is an embarrassing representative of a once proud institution. Given how the Army trains its officers all over the world thereby exposing them to different ideas, cultures, peoples and competencies (as individuals whopresumably can manage materiel and human resources), it should be considered a humiliation of our entire military set up that a retired General who was elected president could be so clannish and patently incompetent. Several of Buhari’s appointments made me ashamed as a Nigerian who wanted (and still want) him to do well in office.
Elections have consequences. The rise in suicides partly because of the bad economy introduces a new dimension in the collective suffering of Nigerians. As Obasanjo points out, suicide is antithetical to the African way of life and creed. Reports of medical doctors, directors and impoverished Nigerians taking their own lives wrench the conscience.
The continuing herdsmen terroristic invasions of communities and reprisal attacks by farming communities have been allowed to fester largely due to the criminal negligence of the Buhari administration. I am surprised that the Minister of Interior still holds his job despite his gargantuan failures.
Obasanjo also notes the absence of Nigeria on the international stage. He claims to have been aware that Buhari would struggle on foreign affairs but had hoped he would appoint competent persons to assist him. This lays bare a tendency in developing countries to elect supposedly “simple” (i.e. relatively unsophisticated) individuals into office. Where has that taken us? A leader in the 21 st Century must be a complex character who is as comfortable speaking with a group of peasant farmers as well as addressing the UN General Assembly. While the likes of Obasanjo as former military Head of State were taking part in international organizations as part of multiple global think-tanks, Buhari went into a silo and occasionally came out to run for president. It is unfortunate that it has taken nearly three years of failure for a statesman to openly indicate that Buhari lacks the capacity to govern Nigeria. I hope that other well-placed persons who care about the suffering all over Nigeria will speak out about the mess created or exacerbated by the Buhari administration.
Obasanjo calls for a new political movement, “Coalition for Nigeria”. Of course, the ball is now in the people’s court. Only everyday Nigerians can decide if they are ready for such a movement and what exactly they want from their government. What is absolutely clear at this stage is that the ruling party and the main opposition are certified failures.
Obasanjo’s statement is a reminder that President Buhari has reached his wits’ end. He has nothing more to offer. I believe it is not for lack of effort. He has done his incompetent best. Buhari has the right to run for a second term but that may be catastrophic for Nigeria. We wish President Buhari good health but he should not insult Nigerians by running for a second term in office. I hope that President Buhari follows the example of his former boss by finding time to return to school when he leaves office. As I indicated in an article in April 2016, “Dear President Buhari: The Imperative of the Mandela Option,” unless there is a radical improvement in the lives of the Nigerian masses, Buhari cannot win a second term in office under a free and fair atmosphere. History may yet be kind to Buhari if he decides not to run for a second term.
Obasanjo is not a saint and his latest press statement is no path to sainthood. However, we will all do well to take him seriously and form a social movement to take back Nigeria from the current coalition of incompetent persons.