I first saw that irresponsible phrase on Facebook after those bokoharamic bombs began to fall on churches in the North. Our people were aghast at the seeming inability of the ‘government’ to do something about the very well organised arrangement by very well placed persons to give the dog a bad name and hang it.
Now with that kind of expression on facebook, and realising that facebook is a place for busy-bodying and gossip, I was tempted to ignore that phrase because I knew it was the handiwork of very ignorant people playing the blame game on behalf of those who had sworn to make this country ungovernable if ever a minority ever became president. But why let a couple of ignoramuses dictate to the rest of us how to assess the hard realities on ground…why? So, I took the pains to explain to the fellow responsible for that phrase what I thought was responsible for ‘government’ inability to contain the spectre of bombings in the North.
I started from the point of view of the Guerrilla warfare unleashed on Great Britain by the Irish Republican Army, IRA, sometime ago. I said that that kind of warfare was usually fought between an army supposedly better organised, trained and equipped, as against one not so coherent. What a guerrilla soldier does is he hits and runs. He doesn’t stand and fight. A very good example would be the Mau-Mau of Kenya, or like what has taken place between the UNITA and the MPLA in Angola: the group which was considered as rebels, the UNITA took refuge in the bush, hit and ran until its leader, Jonas Savimbi died in 2002. So I likened what is happening here with the Boko Haram to a guerrilla warfare unleashed by a disgruntled political class against the reversal of the status quo that a certain political class once enjoyed. In that kind of guerrilla situation, it would be nearly impossible to clearly articulate a vision and prosecute a battle plan. I also said on that Facebook page that this was what I thought was responsible for the seeming perception that ‘government’ is unable to tackle the bokoharamic problem.
After that simple explanation on Facebook, I never came across that phrase, ‘clueless president’ again. Truly, I cannot deign to say that it was because of this explanation that made me not see that phrase again. Rather, I thought that it was the sack of the former police chief, the dismissal of the former NSA and the defence minister, which most Nigerians hailed as proactive, that was responsible for the disappearance of that phrase, ‘clueless president’ on Facebook. I also thought that if we all now understood that Boko Haram is ubiquitously entrenched in the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government, it should let us look at issues a lot less dispassionately.
But what has prompted this writing is that very unexpectedly, the phrase shot up again in a certain unexpected a manner and from a very unexpected a source. If I could have ignored that insinuation from a busy-bodying a platform like Facebook, I should have ignored this as well. But I couldn’t sleep last night after I heard it again from a supposed auspicious source, and that was because I suddenly realised that if the armchair critics had any shred of evidence or any concrete definition of what they meant by ‘clueless’, then perhaps we wouldn’t be having this tiresome conversation. What I realised in fact, was that the phrase is essentially a reflection of the unthinking Nigerian, who sees his neighbour’s pure water business flourish, and oh yes, it must be pure water business for him. So he dives in the pool without having considered the sharks swimming there.
But again, at the heart of this clueless perception of a ‘clueless president’ is how we see the instruments of governance and of how we often engage in that fatal flaw in the reasoning process known as ad hominiem – the attack on the person rather that a robust engagement with the issues. And then, what really are the issues? Why is everyone blaming Mr. President and saying that he is clueless even when we can decipher from his actions that he in certain respects mean well? Why is he on the line of fire even when the constitution arrogates power to the executive, the legislature and the judicial arms of government?
Well, let me hazard a guess. Our Constitution is both a parody and a paradox. While it nearly gives Mr. President absolute power, it hardly makes him accountable to the average Nigerian. We all still see Mr. President like an Olusegun Obasanjo, a militician who bestrode the landscape like a generalissimo. And not bestriding the landscape like an Obasanjo or a Buhari or flogging us into line and while sometimes foolishly listening to the rabble, makes Mr. President clueless? Pray, what does it mean to have or not have a clue about something?
This Constitution was crafted by a Sanni Abacha who was in the last stages of transmuting from dictator to a ‘democrat’. But under the present circumstances, it hardly allows the buck to stop at Mr. President’s table. Yes, it doesn’t, and I say this with due respect to all the centrifugal and centripetal forces at play in Nigeria. Let me use the United States as an example. While a Barack Obama, a democrat seemingly means well for the United States, he unfortunately has to deal with a Congress dominated by the Republicans to the extent that nearly every bill he wants to push through, he has had to muscle through the gridlock of opposition from the Republicans. So, any time I hear anyone in the judiciary or the legislature or the executive or the ordinary Nigerian as well gripe that the ‘government’ is either clueless or that the government is not doing this or that, it leaves a numbing effect but it also makes me recall how we all led the ‘clueless president’ down that road with our ceaseless tantrums: recall that once upon a time when the ‘clueless president’ was in acting capacity, we were at an international soccer competition. Our team hardly performed, and when this ‘clueless president’ wanted to suspend our participation in these unproductive events, perhaps to define our future involvement and restructure the game, we all began to complain and make a lot of noise. The man backed down after having listened to the rabble. That was his…our undoing, and what has brought us to where he is and where we are today.