Let me make a confession from the outset. I have always been a fan of President Muhammadu Buhari and I didn’t hide my admiration for him.
On the four occasions he contested for the Presidency, I voted for him except in 2007. And that was because I left the country late 2006 for my Chevening Scholarship programme at Cardiff University, United Kingdom and returned after the 2007 polls. Had I been around, I would have voted for him.
Not only did I vote for him, I wrote articles extolling what I thought were his unassailable qualities.
Yes, no man is a saint and I never deluded myself that Buhari was one. In any case, angels and saints don’t populate this space with us. They populate the outer space called heaven where, we are told, they are in perpetual camaraderie with God.
But if there was any former Nigerian leader I thought was inherently a good man, it was Buhari. I saw him as a man of integrity, incorruptible – and a man who believes in Nigeria and the greatness it can aspire to and, in fact, achieve if all its potentials are harnessed and aggregated.
I believed Buhari when he said he was a changed man, a democracy convert who has no place in his heart for vendetta. I looked forward to a man who would be president of all Nigerians and not president of only those areas where he got his fabled 95 per cent of the votes by hook or crook.
I looked forward to a man who would transcend the limitations of partisan politics, who would stop being the presidential candidate of a political party with all the shenanigans, to being a statesman, president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and father of all.
His age, 72, qualifies him to be exactly that – father of the nation.
I expected so much from Buhari, not the least a man who would govern Nigeria and deal with fellow citizens on the basis of equity, justice and fair play. But I must confess again that Buhari has greatly disappointed me.
Today, I am convinced that the man does not have the capacity to be broad minded. He has absolutely no capacity to see Nigeria beyond his Northern enclave.
He is too provincial, cliquish, narrow and insular in his worldview. That is a very dangerous prescription for a country in dire need of statesmen.
In this column on August 9, I admonished Buhari to see the entire country as his constituency and not perceive himself as the president of only the “constituencies that gave him 97 per cent” vote.
I advised him that feeling obligated to make only those who voted for him feel the government will be a betrayal of the Pan-Nigerian mandate that brought him to power.
I concluded in that article, titled, “Buhari, Nigeria is your constituency,” by saying that “it will be too sad if Buhari, by his actions and inactions, proves right those who believe that a chameleon can never change its spots.”
Did I really expect Buhari to hearken to my advice? Not really! To so believe will be presumptuous, to say the least.
But nothing prepared me for the shock I felt over the brazenness and absolute lack of tact and sensitivity that characterised the appointment of members of his “kitchen cabinet” on Thursday, August 27.
Buhari approved the appointments of Babachir Lawal as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Abba Kyari (Chief of Staff), Hameed Ibrahim Ali (Comptroller-General, Nigerian Customs Service), and Kure Martin Abeshi (Comptroller-General, Nigerian Immigration Service).
All these four vital appointments were made from the North. Lawal is from Adamawa, Kyari (Borno), Ali (Kaduna) and Abeshi (Nasarawa).
Senator Ita Enang (Akwa Ibom) was also appointed Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on National Assembly Matters (Senate) with Suleiman Kawu (Kano) completing the pack as SSA on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives).
There was an instant uproar in the country. Even those who had given Buhari the benefit of the doubt before now became convinced that he does not give a damn about public opinion (apologies to former President Goodluck Jonathan).
He is self-conceited and thinks he knows it all. I am convinced that Buhari is impervious to advice.
Ironically, these appointments were made the same day (August 27) 30 years ago when General Ibrahim Babangida and his co-travellers overthrew the military junta led by Buhari. Even more significant is the reason given by Babangida for overthrowing Buhari.
“Regrettably, it turned out that Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was too rigid and uncompromising in his attitudes to issues of national significance.
“Efforts to make him understand that a diverse polity like Nigeria required recognition and appreciation of differences in both cultural and individual perceptions only served to aggravate these attitudes (emphasis mine),” noted the coup plotters.
The way Buhari is carrying on in governing the country is very scary. Foisting an agenda of exclusion on the polity is a disaster waiting to happen. You don’t need to be clairvoyant to know that the road he is treading leads to nowhere.
Even societies that are culturally, religiously and linguistically homogenous consciously run inclusive governments; not to talk of Nigeria.
It will be the tragedy of our time if at his age and experience in public service, and if despite all Nigeria has done for him, Buhari still perceives the intricate art of governance and the inevitable battle for the soul of the nation from the prism of ‘we and them’.
Some people had argued that it is too early in the day to worry over Buhari’s style. Some others have also said he should be allowed to choose men of integrity who will help him deliver on his electoral promise even if they all come from his neck of the wood. My answer is no. It is not too early.
The president needs to be called to order before we have a full-blown dictatorship on our hands in the name of democracy. Some of the appointments he has made so far and the processes adopted in making them violate the spirit and letter of the laws of the land.
He cannot surround himself with only men and women from his ethnic stock to run the government with resources from areas he despises and holds in contempt.
Again, even if Buhari is looking for men of integrity, character and competence who will help him deliver good governance, my question is, when did Northerners become exemplars in good governance?
By insisting that he is taking his time in making these appointments in order to ensure that only men without blemish come on board, and by appointing mostly Northerners and nobody from the South East, the president is wittingly or unwittingly profiling the rest of the country as peopled who are dubious, incompetent and inept men and women. Can this be true?
Some Buhari apologists have also argued that he can only rule with those he knows.
A man who only knows people from his own part of the country and has not been able to build bridges of friendship across the nooks and crannies of the country at the age of 72, and despite being a military officer and former head of state, has no business being the president.
Some urge Buhari to continue treading this boulevard of insensitivity by reminding him of how popular he is in the North and how he can govern Nigeria with the exclusion of the South East and South South.
But my response is, what stopped him from being president in his first three attempts when he swept the polls in the North and failed in equal measure in the South?
My advice to him is simple. I don’t know what informs his actions but politics of exclusion is a recipe for national disaster and it is not too late for him to retrace his steps.