Still on Buhari’s Al Jazeera Outing

by Ikechukwu Amaechi

I am sure that when his aides bring to his attention the monthly performance survey carried out by Governance Advancement Initiative for Nigeria (GAIN), which showed that his job approval rating slipped for the first time last month, President Muhammadu Buhari will most likely shrug it off.

He does not care about public opinion.

Muhammadu BuhariThat is scary. The most dangerous leader is that man or woman who does not care about public perception, who does not give a damn (apologies to former President Goodluck Jonathan) about what the people think.

This is a very dangerous curve for the country.

The monthly poll, which tracks the performance of governments at all levels in Nigeria, providing feedback from the public to their elected officials, indicated that for the first time since December 2015, more Nigerians score the president low on jobs, economy, power and rule of law. The most interesting outcome is that for the first time since he became president, many Nigerians now blame Buhari for the country’s woes rather than his predecessor, Jonathan. The February result showed that Buhari’s approval rating dropped from 63.4 per cent in January to 32.8 per cent and a significant 79 per cent of the respondents rated the government’s handling of the recurring clashes between herdsmen and farmers poor.

According to the poll, more Nigerians now hold him responsible for the terrible state of the economy just as many have been convinced that he may not have the capacity, after all, to do the job he sought for 12 years.

Of course, the Buhari apologists, just like their principal, will dismiss the poll result as the machination of agents of ousted Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) regime or the ranting of disgruntled elements – the wailing wailers. The more obtuse of the regime’s spin doctors will brandish it as one more evidence of corruption fighting back.

But to dismiss this poll result with a wave of the hand is to live in illusion because for many Nigerians the result is hardly surprising. In fact, if there is any surprise at all, it is that there is still an odd 32.8 per cent of Nigerians who still believe in the capacity of the president to deliver on his mandate.

For some of us who voted for Buhari in every single election he contested since 2003, disappointment is an understatement in describing the horror that is dramatically unfolding before us. It was not as if we were not warned. As the Igbo would say, a man does not learn how to be left-handed in old age. At 73, it was almost impossible for a man to be “born again,” we were told. Yet, we believed Buhari when he claimed that he was a changed person. We gave him the benefit of the doubt. Moreover, the candidacy of Goodluck Jonathan presented most Nigerians with little or no choice.

But watching Buhari’s interview on Al Jazeera, while on his official trip to Qatar, I had goose pimples all over my body. In the interview aired on Saturday, March 5, he confirmed the worst fears of most Nigerians. He has not changed. He remains the same Muhammadu Buhari – a man with no finesse, rigid, undiplomatic, uncaring, vindictive and egoistic.

I found his response to three critical issues particularly distasteful and pathetic. Asked by Martine Dennis why he should continue to fund the education of his children in foreign schools while restricting foreign exchange (forex) for most families that also have their children in schools abroad, Buhari acknowledges its “tough luck.”

“If the country cannot afford it, so be it,” was his very cold response to the question. When the interviewer quipped, “Your children will continue their studies no doubt,” I had expected the president to appreciate the bobby trap being set for him and side-step it, but how mistaken I was. “Those who can afford it can still afford it. Nigeria can’t afford to allocate forex for all those who have decided to train their children outside the country,” was his response.

When Dennis asked him whether Nigeria will join the Saudi Arabia led Islamic Coalition Force Against Terrorism, he answered in the affirmative. Of course, his answer contradicted what his aides told Nigerians on the same issue few days earlier. But that is not even the issue. What he said when he was told that his decision may have been insensitive to the desire of Christians that make up 50 percent of Nigeria’s population and may not be comfortable with such a move was rather instructive.

Referring to such Christians as religious bigots, our president retorted with undisguised venom and malice: “Why can’t those Christians who are complaining go and fight terrorism in Nigeria or fight the militants in the South? It’s Nigeria that matters not opinions of some religious bigots…” But that is the case of the axiomatic kettle calling the pot black. What could be more narrow-minded than Buhari’s response? Is the president saying that right now all Nigerian soldiers battling Islamic insurgency in the Northeast are Moslems? Are there no Christians among the thousands of Nigerian gallant service men and women who have paid the ultimate price in the Northeast?

On the killing of Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) peaceful protesters by Nigeria’s armed forces, acting ostensibly on orders from above, the president refused to watch the video when offered. The interviewer shouldn’t have bothered. The president knows what is in the video – the massacre of unarmed civilians. The order to commit those atrocities must have come from only one quarter.

Told that the security forces have been very heavy-handed in dealing with the peaceful protesters and asked how he was planning to deal with the issue of Biafra, Buhari could hardly hide his bitterness. His response was virulent. The protesters were “interfering with movement of troops and the economy,” he alleged without any shred of evidence even as he declared that IPOB members were “joking with Nigeria’s security and Nigeria will not tolerate it.”

Then the ultimate question. “Why don’t you invite them for talks?” His response couldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone who knows the president’s mindset particularly when dealing with the Igbo.  “Why should we invite them?”

Rather than inviting them for dialogue, Buhari will not blink an eye if the boys are massacred in cold blood. Here is a president who has said for the umpteenth time that he was ready to dialogue with a blood-thirsty group like Boko Haram if their authentic leaders could step forward asking why he should talk to an armless group only trying to draw the attention of the government to issues of marginalization and lack of fair-playing ground in their own country. That was the president at his narcissistic best. It was prejudice at its worst.

At the end of the interview, the interviewer chuckled, almost sneering. I could imagine her saying “tough luck to Nigerians,” because it was almost incomprehensible that the president of a country could harbor such contempt, hatred, and loathing for the people he governs.

That interview, to my mind, has done irreparable damage to the Buhari presidency. What it did was to remove any doubt harbored by those who were still prepared to give him the benefit. The interview exposed him as a religious bigot, a leader ruled by prejudice, a president who is not prepared to take responsibility for self-inflicted faux passes of his government.

Buhari may well be advised that prejudice is not a presidential virtue.

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