Cover Story: A diminishing President

President Muhammadu Buhari’s serial verbal gaffes and actions of officials of his government are raising questions over his fitness and competence to continue to hold office

President Muhammadu Buhari rode to power in 2015 on a high voltage of goodwill. He was expected to fix all the problems of the country, and take the nation to el-dorado. Not a few Nigerians believe that he would solve almost, if not all of Nigeria’s problem before his first anniversary in office, at least Tony Momoh, his associate and chairman of his now defunct Congress for Progressive Change, CPC had boasted that Nigerians could stone them if the All Progressives Congress, APC government under Buhari failed to transform the country in one year.

President Buhari and APC built so much hope in the people that they expected that the corruption war would not only be decisive and total, the Buhari administration would not spare anyone caught in the web of corruption, irrespective of status and pedigree. They also did not envisage that there would be whispers of corruption under a government of Muhammadu Buhari. Officials of the party continued the propaganda that helped them to office. They saw the magic of his “body language” in the regular supply of petroleum products at N97 per litre for premium motor spirit, PMS, until that magic started losing its potency within months of assumption of power.

Within a short time,the ‘oil moguls’ who have become great beneficiaries of the oil subsidy scamsbecame economic pundits, once again daring the government over oil prices.Leaders of the APC, even after the government upped the prices of petroleumproducts launched into self-denial. The propaganda became temporarily mutedwhen stories of corruption and cover ups began to issue out of the camp of thePresident’s  trusted allies and thepublic service, under his watch. For instance, sources saythere are people believed to be close to the seat of power who receive regularallocation of forex from the CBN at the official rate of N305 and resell at theparallel market at above N360/Dollar. This is a regular business though a CBNsource told the Magazine that “It’s not possible because CBN does not allocateforex to individuals.” It is surprising that such could even be contemplatedunder his administration.

Thus begun the sad tale of the shrinking giant, the celebrated man of integrity.

Yemi Osibanjo and Bola Tinubu
Yemi Osibanjo and Bola Tinubu

President Buhari’sstature started to take the bashing with the reading of nepotism into hisinitial appointments, the absence of speed in governance, lack of cohesionwithin the system, little respect for the rule of law and his failing health.The slow pace of his administration earned him the nickname of ‘Baba Go Slow’,but his response to that is that he would rather take his time to handle issuesthan be rushed into action.  

 However, new concerns overhis health emerged because of scary incidents surrounding his re-electioncampaign where he appears to be deliberately avoiding exposure to publicscrutiny. He was absent during the presidential debate organised by theBroadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON. He cited a busy schedule, but mostpeople did not believe him. People rather feel that he was evading interactiveencounters to hide his diminishing reflexes and possible slowing cognitivecapacity. In 2015, he did not appear for the presidential debate too, which wasattributed to his doubtful intellectual ability. After nearly four years inoffice, it was thought that he should have gained enough confidence to face hisyounger opponents and the critical public, but he failed to do so.

As a result of this, Atiku Abubakar, the presidentialcandidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who was already at the venue ofthe debate, refused to climb the rostrum and left. He further challenged Buharito pick his preferred place, date and time for a public debate where both mencan engage themselves before the public on their ambitions to rule Nigeria.Till date, Buhari and his managers have not risen to Abubakar’s challenge,fuelling social media frenzy on his fitness. Speculations went on overdrivewhether the President is really in control of the affairs of government or heis just a figure head while a faceless cabal run the country. Many said thiscould be the only reason for a serial breach of the norms of democracy, rule oflaw and nepotism by the Buhari administration, despite having Yemi Osinbajo, aprofessor of law and senior advocate of Nigeria as a Vice President.

Succeeding events further underlined the doubts overhis fitness and competence. The climax appears to be the presidential campaignin Delta State on January 17 where there was an obvious disconnect in Buhari’scognitive abilities that had the public gasping for breath. Buhari mixed up thedesignation of the gubernatorial candidate of APC, in Delta, Great Ogboru. “Iam handing over this flag of honour to our presidential candidate,” he said tothe embarrassment of a shocked audience.

Thinking it was just a slip of tongue, a man by his left told him “gubernatorial”.  Buhari then corrected his mistake “to our senatorial candidate”. The man repeated “gubernatorial” and Buhari got his drift and said “governortorial candidate”. 

Aisha Buhari
Aisha Buhari

Buhari’s interview on the government owned Nigeriatelevision Authority, NTA, was seen a further exposure of his incompetence bymany critics though his supporters adjudge it a remarkable outing. YakubuDogara, speaker of the House of Representatives, said Buhari’s performance atthe NTA interview vindicated him. He said, “Two days ago, two people who dideverything to stop me from joining the PDP called after watching Buhari’sinterview on television to apologise to me and said they thank God for openingtheir eyes.”

His campaign at Lokoja, Kogi State, raised theadrenaline higher in his supporters when Buhari forgot the date he was swornin. He told his supporters, “I’m very impressed at this very short notice…youturned out for so many hours standing in the sun to see us and to listen to us.I assure you that I am very aware of your appreciation of the efforts for whatwe were able to deliver since we came in 19th of May 2015.” These gaps in thememory of the President worry his supporters and give the opposition moreimpetus to want to replace him. They argue that he is not in control of thecountry, leaving it to faceless people who do not care about public opinion orthe image of the country.

His wife Aisha, who has earned the reputation ofsaying her mind, again alerted the country on December 5, 2018, that aboutthree men are the ones ruining the country. She revealed that these men havebecome a clog in the wheel of the nation’s progress and regretted that insteadof APC stalwarts confronting this trio they are rather kowtowing for favours.She said that the slow pace of Buhari’s government was caused by these men.According to her, what the President has done in three years could have beendone in one year, if not for these human clogs. Efforts to steer her away fromthe sensitive disclosures failed. “I have realised that Senator Babafemi Ojodu,special adviser on political matters to the President, and Dr. Hajo Sani, myaide, Sajo, and wife of the Vice President, Mrs. Osinbajo, are not comfortablewith me saying this and want me to confine myself to my prepared speech, but wemust say the truth.”

She reasoned: “Our votes were 15.4 million in thelast elections and after that only for us to be dominated by two people… thisis totally unacceptable, if 15.4 million people can bring in a government andonly for the government to be dominated by two people or three people, whereare the men of Nigeria? Where are the Nigerian men? What are you doing? Insteadof them to come together and fight them, they keep visiting them one after theother licking their shoes (I’m sorry to use those words).” This was notthe first time she would speak truth to power and dared the cabal in thepresidency. In a BBC Hausa interview on October 14, 2016, she alerted thecountry that her husband was not in charge of the government and people who workedfor Buhari’s victory were side lined by a few people. “The president does notknow 45 out of 50 of the people he appointed, and I don’t know them either,despite being his wife of 27 years. Some people are sitting down in their homesfolding their arms only for them to be called to come and head an agency or aministerial position,” she lamented.

Though she stopped short of naming the cabal, she said they were visible: “You will know them if you watch television.” On whether the President was really in charge, she replied, “That is left for the people to decide.” Buhari was on state visit to Germany when Aisha granted the BBC interview and journalists asked him to comment on it in Germany during a joint press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel. He replied with one of his infamous quotes that his wife‘s duties end in two areas, … “in the kitchen and also in the other room.”

Muhammadu Buhari Photo
Muhammadu Buhari

Prior to this on May 27, 2017, Senate President,Bukola Saraki, had alerted the country that a cabal was running the presidency.He referred to them as “another government” inside Buhari’s governmentdetermined to seize executive powers. Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremdu hadbeen arraigned on what were seen as trumped charges of forging the Senate rulesby the government in a serial bid to get them out of the Senate leadership.Their trial was another example where the president’s men tried to useextra-judicial powers to enforce their political designs through the office ofthe attorney general,

“In our view, the charges filed by the AttorneyGeneral represent a violation of the principle of the separation of powersbetween the executive branch and the legislative branch as enshrined in ourConstitution. Furthermore, it is farcical to allege that a criminal actoccurred during Senate procedural actions and the mere suggestion demonstratesa desperate overreach by the office of the Attorney General. These trumped upcharges is only another phase in the relentless persecution of the leadershipof the Senate”

Saraki alluded to the lack of control by Buhari,“… what has become clear is that there is now a government within thegovernment of President Buhari who have seized the apparatus of executivepowers to pursue their nefarious agenda.” He said the implication of thecontroversial trial was “that perhaps some forces in the Federal Republic havenot fully embraced the fact that the Senate’s rules and procedures govern howthe legislative body adjudicates and resolves its own disputes.” Sarakistubbornly held fast to his mandate and refused “to surrender to the subversionof our democracy and the desecration of the Senate.”

On December 28, 2018, Daily Trust published what itsaid were snippets of an interview by Buhari which would be aired in detail onthe Hausa Service of the Voice of America. He was quoted as insisting there hewas indeed in charge of the presidency. “I am a true democrat by allowingeverybody to have an opinion. I challenge those alleging to show singleevidence. What they are saying is different from what is happening. They shouldcome out and say those things they feel were stage managed by the cabal. Whatthe cabal forces me to do. They should mention just one thing,” Inresponse, PDP said the onus was on the presidency to prove that Aisha’srevelation was not true. Kola Ologbondiyan, national publicity secretary,argued: “It is not the opposition; it is his wife Aisha Buhari that said acabal has hijacked his government and that he is not in charge.  He cannot question the opposition. He shouldask his wife to speak out further on how the cabal has taken over hisgovernment. It is not about the PDP, he should ask his wife to name thosepeople that have taken over his government.”

Faruq Adamu Aliyu, an ally of the president, theninsisted that nobody can control the president.   “We are the people around him and weknow, I can tell you that nobody in this country can say he controls PresidentBuhari. He is responsible for everything that is happening in this country…Some people are being mischievous because he takes time to make decisions andthat is his nature and that is in line with his training that he doesn’t wantto make unnecessary mistakes. It is not true that he has been hijacked; he is aman of himself and he has said it. He said his wife is entitled to her opinionand honestly that goes to show that he is a democrat and that is why anybody inthis country can say anything, including his wife. She can disagree with himbecause she is a human being and she is entitled to one vote. So, if she doesnot accept what he is doing, she can vote for anybody of her choice. How more ademocrat can be?”

That was not the only instance where Buhari’s age andperceived weakness allowed his aides to appropriate executive powers behind thescene. Ibrahim Idris, immediate past Inspector general of Police, disobeyedBuhari’s order on January 9, 2018, to relocate to Benue State after the January1, massacre by Fulani herdsmen in the state. Instead of relocating to the stateas ordered, Idris rather visited the state and concluded that what happened was“a communal clash” and returned to Abuja. Jimoh Moshood, then Force PublicRelations Officer, had in a statement confirmed that the IGP was indeedrelocating to Benue in compliance with the directive. ” In compliance with thePresidential directives, the IGP is moving into Benue state with additionalFive (5) Units of Police Mobile Force (PMF) making a total of Ten (10) Units ofPMF deployed in the State which is in addition to other Police formations onthe ground in the State before the crisis.”

This ended up only a “show of force” as Idrisabandoned his command and returned to comfort in Abuja. It took the Presidentabout two months to know that his order was disobeyed. And that was becauseGovernor Samuel Ortom of Benue State reported to the President during his visitto Benue that the IG only spent 24 hours in the state. Consequently, he issuedIdris a query on March 14, 2018. He made no decision on the deliberatedisobedience. Idris got away with it and was nearly rewarded with an illegalextension of service as IG, after hitting the retirement age of 60, but for anuproar of informed protests.

Lawal Daura, immediate past director general of theDepartment of State Service, DSS, was also fond of acting without the knowledgeof the President. He deployed DSS operatives to storm Akwa Ibom Stategovernment House in Uyo on September 4, 2015, in search of alleged ‘stockpileof arms.” At the operation seen as a major threat to democracy, no arms werefound. The Presidency said Buhari did not authorize the sting operation. AndDaura, Buhari’s town’s man got no reprimand for the action. Ayodele Fayose,then governor of Ekiti State said: “His actions as the DG SSS are regrettable,unfortunate, condemnable and unacceptable because he has come to symbolisedictatorship, which democracy abhors. Alhaji Lawal Daura should know that he isholding the office of DG SSS that he presently occupies in trust for allNigerians and such office is not one that can be turned into instrument of politicalwitch-hunt.”

Daura finally lost his job when he authorized the lock down of the National Assembly complex, while Buhari was away on medical vacation. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a professor of law and senior advocate of Nigeria, who was then acting president, did not hesitate to fire him.

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Then to cap it all, Buhari’s attorney general andminister of justice arranged to dock Walter Onnoghen, Chief Justice of theFederation, CJN, at the code of conduct tribunal for alleged incompletedeclaration of assets, without the knowledge of Mr President. The CJN is seenas the fifth in the protocol list of power, after the President, VP, SenatePresident and Speaker of the House of Representatives and subordinates plottedto remove him without the knowledge of Mr President and the professor of law inthe cabinet.

Osinbajopleaded his innocence and that of his principal. He said that Buhari’s approach is that‘institutions should do their work.’ In other words, he gives blanket powers tohis ministers and aides, relinquishing his responsibilities ascommander-in-chief, at whose table the buck stops.

Osinbajotold the Online Publishers Association of Nigeria, OPAN, in Abuja that Buharidid not know about the planned arraignment of the CJN by his attorney general. “Ican tell you for a fact that he did not even know that there will be any kindof arraignment until Saturday evening. He has said categorically, do notinterfere with whatever institutions are doing; sometimes, it has consequencessuch as we have today; such that people say how can such an important person besubjected to a trial without the federal government? But I can tell you withoutany equivocation whatsoever that he was not even in the know because it is aspecific instruction that he gave. So, even where somebody else calls a publicofficer such as Ibrahim Magu of EFCC and says something or the other, he willsay ‘No, no, no, Mr President has said I can do my work. My take is that Iwould rather not have a situation where senior members of my profession arebeing tried for an offence; certainly, I will rather not have that kind ofsituation. So, I do not feel particularly good about it; as a matter of fact, Ifeel very sad; that it is going on at all, that is my position.’’

 Not relenting, the AGF asked the CCT to askthe CJN to step aside.  Without waitingfor the court to decide the AGF authorized the Economic and Financial CrimesCommission, EFCC, to freeze Onnoghen’s bank accounts unilaterally. Now what theAGF could not get from the court the presidency did with a fiat. The suspensionof Onnoghen was announced last Friday, while Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed wasappointed the acting CJN. The thinking is that the assault on the suspended CJNis a political strategy of the hawks in Buhari’s cabinet who are afraid that hemay not favour the ruling party in the coming election petitions. The APC intraparty impasse in Rivers State is at the Supreme Court for a final decisionafter the preferred faction has lost the case at both the high court and appealcourt. Again, the President may not be aware immediately that the CJN has beensuspended and another judge appointed in his place.

Buhari’s presumed lethargy may have affected theperception of Nigeria in the international community. After his meeting withDonald Trump at the White House last April, Financial Times reported that theUS President described his Nigeria counterpart as lifeless. “The first meetingwith Nigeria’s ailing 75-year-old Muhammadu Buhari in April ended with the USpresident telling aides he never wanted to meet someone so lifeless again,according to three people familiar with the matter,” Financial Times claimed.Uncharitable and blunt as Trump sounded, that perhaps may be the way some otherworld leaders have seen the President, but reserved comments for the sake ofdiplomacy. When Buhari met Angela Merkel in Germany, he referred to a unifiedGermany as West Germany, exposing his disconnect from international politics.

A governor said some Presidency officials are deeply worried by what they see as the receding fitness of the president. They say some people in the presidency are taking advantage of his weakness to enrich themselves. Such concerned staff are said to be encouraging their friends in the PDP to rise to the challenge of winning the next election.


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