There is hardly any Nigerian who is not in a state of despair right now. Since Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as president last year, despondency has enveloped the nation. Disappointment makes the misery worse.
In the build-up to the 2015 elections, Buhari was cast in the mould of Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle (Charles de Gaulle), the legendary French military general and statesman who founded the Fifth Republic in 1958 and was elected the 18th president of France, a position he held until his resignation in 1969.
To some others, he was Nigeria’s Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Turkish army officer and revolutionary, who became the first president and founder of modern Turkey.
So beholden was Atatürk to his people that his surname, which means father of the Turks, granted to him in 1934, was forbidden to any other person by the Turkish Parliament.
Many of the promoters of the Buhari candidacy then assured us that by the time he was done with governance, he would be deified.
To be fair, there are still some Nigerians who believe that Buhari is Nigeria’s messiah but they are in a pathetic minority now.
And that is a big tragedy, not only for us but for the man himself, who failed to rise to the occasion when it mattered most. The president has demystified himself.
Yes, demystified himself because his injuries are self-inflicted.
A friend raised a poser last week which I consider very pertinent. What do you do when you have a president who did not come to power through the barrel of a gun but the ballot box and yet does not care a hoot about public opinion, about national mood?
What do you do when even the most sincere attempt to say, ‘hey, wait a minute Mr. President, you are going the wrong direction,’ is hoisted on the pole of deceit as evidence of corruption fighting back?
The answer to this poser, I must confess, is not as easy as it seems; which, perhaps, explains the melancholic atmosphere all around us.
But it seems Buhari is beginning to take the people for granted. His grandstanding is becoming offensive. His ‘do as I say and not as I do’ attitude is beginning to rankle.
So, when he reminds Nigerians of former military Head of State, Yakubu Gowon’s refrain in the 1960s that keeping Nigeria as one indivisible entity was a task that must be done, as he did last week, even in the face of his absolute contempt for Section 171 (5) of the Constitution, which states that “In exercising his powers of appointment … the President shall have regard to the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity,” Buhari does so believing that he has conquered Nigeria.
He told those who paid him Sallah homage that the slogan in the 1960s, “Go on With One Nigeria (GOWON)” was very apt now, as keeping Nigeria one was a task that must be done.
“On security, we have made a lot of improvement … We are now concentrating on the (Niger Delta) militants to know how many of them in terms of groupings and leadership, and plead with them to try and give Nigeria a chance.
“I assure them that on the saying by General Gowon that to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done. In those days, we never thought of oil, all we were only concerned with was one Nigeria.
So please pass this to the militants that one Nigeria is not negotiable and they had better accept this.”
But who said? Is it Buhari’s prerogative to decide for the rest of Nigerians the negotiability or otherwise of their country’s unity?
The president is his own worst enemy. The tendencies he has brought to bear on his presidency are antithetical to unity. They are the very ingredients that spice up the dish of disunity.
His politics of exclusion is so ill-advised that it beggars belief just as his inclination to nepotism and prejudice. The biggest threat to Nigeria’s unity today is Buhari himself. His governance philosophy is so blinkered that it rankles.
Only justice, equity and fair play can keep Nigeria one and guarantee its unity. The politics of inclusion rather than exclusion is the magic wand.
Keeping Nigeria one is a task that can be accomplished but not by force of arms because if the Soviet Union could disintegrate, then there is no force of arms that can keep an unwilling people together in an unjust and inequitable union. It is only a question of time.
Buhari’s biggest problem is that he is frozen in time. Psychologically, mentally and emotionally, he never went beyond the 1980s when N1 exchanged for $1. Someone needs to tell him the world, and indeed Nigeria, has changed and fundamentally too. The Nigeria of the 1960s is not the same with 21st Century.
Perhaps, he has not noticed that no ethnic group is afraid of the other any longer.
Time was when the rest of the country caught cold whenever the fabled “Kaduna Mafia” sneezed. Time was when the fear of the Caliphate as embodied and personified in the Sultan was the beginning of wisdom in Nigeria.
It is tragic to note that Buhari is unaware of how difficult it will be in today’s Nigeria to build the kind of coalition that included not only the North and West but even the minority groups in the then Eastern region, which isolated Ndigbo and made them easy pick.
Today, the Ogoni are seething with rage. The injustice the Igbo fought against, and for which they were visited with pogrom and genocide with their active connivance, is being meted out to them.
The Ijaw are wiser, so are the Christian minorities in the far North. The fear of rampaging Fulani herdsmen has made Middle Belters and people from Southern Kaduna, whose sons actually did the yeoman job during the civil war, wiser.
Buhari, the world has changed. When Gowon made that statement in the 1960s, there was Soviet Union. Today it is no more.
Blacks, who the obnoxious Jim Crow laws kept away from the ballot box despite the 15th Amendment in 1870, which gave black people the right to vote, until the Civil Rights Acts of the 1950s and 1964 ended them, today occupy the White House, the seat of power of the United States.
Buhari, the world has changed. Today, women, who were not even granted the right to vote until August 18, 1920 (19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) are poised to have one of their own occupy the White House.
When Gowon made that statement Sudan was one country. The idea of an independent Scotland was an anathema. But today, the Scots are working assiduously for a second referendum that would annul their union with England sealed 309 years ago with the treaty of January 16, 1707.
Buhari should be told that his blinkered policies, contempt for other Nigerians and politics of exclusion are the biggest threat to Nigeria’s unity.
He should also be told that the joke is on him and his co-travellers on the boulevard of insular government because it should have occurred to him that those who survived the scorched earth post-war economic policies of the federal government will survive him and his myopic policies in the 21st Century.
The journey will, no doubt, be arduous but Nigerians will survive this nightmare. At the very worst, this bad dream will last for eight years. One year is already out of the way.
There will be collateral damages along the line, no doubt, but Nigerians are survivors.
Is keeping Nigeria one a task that must be done? The answer is ensconced in the womb of time. But even if it is, Buhari does not have the final say.