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 scams became economic pundits, once again daring the government over oil prices. Leaders of the APC, even after the government upped the prices of petroleum products launched into self-denial. The propaganda became temporarily muted when stories of corruption and cover ups began to issue out of the camp of the President’s  trusted allies and the public service, under his watch. For instance, sources say there are people believed to be close to the seat of power who receive regular allocation of forex from the CBN at the official rate of N305 and resell at the parallel market at above N360/Dollar. This is a regular business though a CBN source told the Magazine that “It’s not possible because CBN does not allocate forex to individuals.” It is surprising that such could even be contemplated under 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’s stature started to take the bashing with the reading of nepotism into his initial appointments, the absence of speed in governance, lack of cohesion within 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 issues than be rushed into action.  

 However, new concerns over his health emerged because of scary incidents surrounding his re-election campaign where he appears to be deliberately avoiding exposure to public scrutiny. He was absent during the presidential debate organised by the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON. He cited a busy schedule, but most people did not believe him. People rather feel that he was evading interactive encounters to hide his diminishing reflexes and possible slowing cognitive capacity. In 2015, he did not appear for the presidential debate too, which was attributed to his doubtful intellectual ability. After nearly four years in office, it was thought that he should have gained enough confidence to face his younger opponents and the critical public, but he failed to do so.

As a result of this, Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who was already at the venue of the debate, refused to climb the rostrum and left. He further challenged Buhari to pick his preferred place, date and time for a public debate where both men can 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 overdrive whether the President is really in control of the affairs of government or he is just a figure head while a faceless cabal run the country. Many said this could be the only reason for a serial breach of the norms of democracy, rule of law and nepotism by the Buhari administration, despite having Yemi Osinbajo, a professor of law and senior advocate of Nigeria as a Vice President.

Succeeding events further underlined the doubts over his fitness and competence. The climax appears to be the presidential campaign in Delta State on January 17 where there was an obvious disconnect in Buhari’s cognitive abilities that had the public gasping for breath. Buhari mixed up the designation of the gubernatorial candidate of APC, in Delta, Great Ogboru. “I am handing over this flag of honour to our presidential candidate,” he said to the 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 Nigeria television Authority, NTA, was seen a further exposure of his incompetence by many critics though his supporters adjudge it a remarkable outing. Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the House of Representatives, said Buhari’s performance at the NTA interview vindicated him. He said, “Two days ago, two people who did everything to stop me from joining the PDP called after watching Buhari’s interview on television to apologise to me and said they thank God for opening their eyes.”

His campaign at Lokoja, Kogi State, raised the adrenaline higher in his supporters when Buhari forgot the date he was sworn in. He told his supporters, “I’m very impressed at this very short notice…you turned 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 what we were able to deliver since we came in 19th of May 2015.” These gaps in the memory of the President worry his supporters and give the opposition more impetus to want to replace him. They argue that he is not in control of the country, leaving it to faceless people who do not care about public opinion or the image of the country.

His wife Aisha, who has earned the reputation of saying her mind, again alerted the country on December 5, 2018, that about three men are the ones ruining the country. She revealed that these men have become a clog in the wheel of the nation’s progress and regretted that instead of 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 been done in one year, if not for these human clogs. Efforts to steer her away from the sensitive disclosures failed. “I have realised that Senator Babafemi Ojodu, special adviser on political matters to the President, and Dr. Hajo Sani, my aide, Sajo, and wife of the Vice President, Mrs. Osinbajo, are not comfortable with me saying this and want me to confine myself to my prepared speech, but we must say the truth.”

She reasoned: “Our votes were 15.4 million in the last elections and after that only for us to be dominated by two people… this is totally unacceptable, if 15.4 million people can bring in a government and only for the government to be dominated by two people or three people, where are the men of Nigeria? Where are the Nigerian men? What are you doing? Instead of them to come together and fight them, they keep visiting them one after the other licking their shoes (I’m sorry to use those words).” This was not the first time she would speak truth to power and dared the cabal in the presidency. In a BBC Hausa interview on October 14, 2016, she alerted the country that her husband was not in charge of the government and people who worked for Buhari’s victory were side lined by a few people. “The president does not know 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 homes folding their arms only for them to be called to come and head an agency or a ministerial 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 government determined to seize executive powers. Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremdu had been arraigned on what were seen as trumped charges of forging the Senate rules by 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 use extra-judicial powers to enforce their political designs through the office of the attorney general,

“In our view, the charges filed by the Attorney General represent a violation of the principle of the separation of powers between the executive branch and the legislative branch as enshrined in our Constitution. Furthermore, it is farcical to allege that a criminal act occurred during Senate procedural actions and the mere suggestion demonstrates a desperate overreach by the office of the Attorney General. These trumped up charges is only another phase in the relentless persecution of the leadership of the Senate”

Saraki alluded to the lack of control by Buhari, “… what has become clear is that there is now a government within the government of President Buhari who have seized the apparatus of executive powers to pursue their nefarious agenda.” He said the implication of the controversial trial was “that perhaps some forces in the Federal Republic have not fully embraced the fact that the Senate’s rules and procedures govern how the legislative body adjudicates and resolves its own disputes.” Saraki stubbornly held fast to his mandate and refused “to surrender to the subversion of our democracy and the desecration of the Senate.”

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

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

That was not the only instance where Buhari’s age and perceived weakness allowed his aides to appropriate executive powers behind the scene. Ibrahim Idris, immediate past Inspector general of Police, disobeyed Buhari’s order on January 9, 2018, to relocate to Benue State after the January 1, massacre by Fulani herdsmen in the state. Instead of relocating to the state as ordered, Idris rather visited the state and concluded that what happened was “a communal clash” and returned to Abuja. Jimoh Moshood, then Force Public Relations Officer, had in a statement confirmed that the IGP was indeed relocating to Benue in compliance with the directive. ” In compliance with the Presidential directives, the IGP is moving into Benue state with additional Five (5) Units of Police Mobile Force (PMF) making a total of Ten (10) Units of PMF deployed in the State which is in addition to other Police formations on the ground in the State before the crisis.”

This ended up only a “show of force” as Idris abandoned his command and returned to comfort in Abuja. It took the President about two months to know that his order was disobeyed. And that was because Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State reported to the President during his visit to Benue that the IG only spent 24 hours in the state. Consequently, he issued Idris a query on March 14, 2018. He made no decision on the deliberate disobedience. Idris got away with it and was nearly rewarded with an illegal extension of service as IG, after hitting the retirement age of 60, but for an uproar of informed protests.

Lawal Daura, immediate past director general of the Department of State Service, DSS, was also fond of acting without the knowledge of the President. He deployed DSS operatives to storm Akwa Ibom State government House in Uyo on September 4, 2015, in search of alleged ‘stockpile of arms.” At the operation seen as a major threat to democracy, no arms were found. The Presidency said Buhari did not authorize the sting operation. And Daura, 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 symbolise dictatorship, which democracy abhors. Alhaji Lawal Daura should know that he is holding the office of DG SSS that he presently occupies in trust for all Nigerians and such office is not one that can be turned into instrument of political witch-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 and minister of justice arranged to dock Walter Onnoghen, Chief Justice of the Federation, CJN, at the code of conduct tribunal for alleged incomplete declaration of assets, without the knowledge of Mr President. The CJN is seen as the fifth in the protocol list of power, after the President, VP, Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives and subordinates plotted to remove him without the knowledge of Mr President and the professor of law in the cabinet.

Osinbajo pleaded 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 to his ministers and aides, relinquishing his responsibilities as commander-in-chief, at whose table the buck stops.

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

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

Buhari’s presumed lethargy may have affected the perception of Nigeria in the international community. After his meeting with Donald Trump at the White House last April, Financial Times reported that the US President described his Nigeria counterpart as lifeless. “The first meeting with Nigeria’s ailing 75-year-old Muhammadu Buhari in April ended with the US president 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 other world leaders have seen the President, but reserved comments for the sake of diplomacy. When Buhari met Angela Merkel in Germany, he referred to a unified Germany 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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