“‘Surely, comrades, you do not want Jones back?’”
Once again this argument was unanswerable. Certainly the animals did not want Jones back; if the holding of debates on Sunday mornings was liable to bring him back, then the debates must stop.
― George Orwell, Animal Farm
Last week, a presidential aide posted photos of the welcome given President Muhammadu Buhari from his travels. It was a fancy event. It featured a line-up of what I imagine as the bagpipe-playing vestiges of a redundant colonial regiment. I do not know the protocol for welcoming Nigerian presidents, and so I would not suggest that this exaggerated greeting is an invention of the current administration. Yet, whether original or copycat, the event lends significance to the rather mystifying travels of the president. So, I am inclined to think of the parade—and its photo op—as a feeble attempt to validate the president’s pursuit of diplomatic relations despite his wildly unsettled domestic policy.
This conclusion is not cynical. Right now the microeconomic indicators—particularly day-to-day pricing of goods—are not looking happy. Fuel queues have resurfaced, power supply is intermittent, and the naira is hesitant. The 2016 Budget vacillates while killings continue in the North. The spotlighted fight against corruption has racked no convictions. Even without statistics, there is an instinctive understanding by traders and labourers that all is not quite well with the country. Yet, legislators are purchasing vehicles and attending to unclear issues while some governors turned pilgrims. It is hard to say what the ministers are doing.
This scenario—bad enough to have caused unrest some four years ago—is made more depressing by the passivity of educated Nigerians. Our generic attitude is that, somehow, President Buhari knows what he is doing. Therefore, we refuse to press issues lest we sound oppositional. At best, most criticisms tend to inch around the president, touching his party, spokespersons or ministers, but not quite questioning him.
This fear of being counted among the opposition is the consequence of our zero-sum politics. It is the politics where one candidate (or party) has to absolutely fail for the other candidate (or party) to win. In the last elections, educated Nigerians bought—and sold—this dangerous idea, implying that one candidate was the devil and the other was the messiah. We refused to consider their merits and demerits with objectivity. Let’s win first, we argued, objectivity would come later.
But now, it has become difficult for most of us to question the messiah without demystifying what Mr. Femi Adesina, lamentably, describes as “The Buhari aura.” It is, therefore, mentally easier for us to keep playing the zero-sum game. Like Mr. Dino Melaye who—with little examination and less meaning—declared that the 2016 Budget was “a holy budget”, it has become fashionable to simply reach for a pro-Buhari superlative and deny reality.
True, President Jonathan was not a fine alternative. I still can’t think of any quality of Mr. Jonathan as a leader except that he seemed to respect gender balance and he signed-out of office without a fuss. Still, our current redirection of Buhari’s shortcomings to Jonathan is a ridiculous continuation of the zero-sum game. But the presidency has been happy to exploit this referencing of the Jonathan administration. We can imagine Mr. Lai Mohammed mournfully echoing Squealer: “Surely, comrades, you do not want Jones back?”
In other words, like the poor beasts of Animal Farm, Nigerians should keep quiet on worrisome issues and be grateful for the singular fact that, at least, Jonathan is not in power. This, to me, is a style of governance that is unreasonable at best, cruel at worst.
No, Mr, Lai Mohammed, I don’t want Jonathan back. But, other than arresting him to face any criminal charges, I don’t believe his name should be invoked to justify, excuse, or compare the actions or inactions of the current administration. It is called the Federal Government of Nigeria and not the Federal Government of Jonathan for a reason. If Nigerians wanted to keep blaming Jonathan, they would have re-elected him.
Even so, we have “tried” for President Buhari just so Jonathan, the bogeyman, is kept away. We have “unlooked” the president’s gaffes on international current affairs; his reneging on APC’s “100 Days” campaign; the dodgy 30th September cabinet deadline; the glory-taking and buck-passing of the 2016 Budget; the arbitrary handling of monetary policy and the economy; his issuance of policy statements through foreign media; the imposition of stamp duty on some bank transfers; his nonchalance on the Zaria massacre; and even his expressed disdain for the rule of law in corruption prosecutions. We still overlook the continuing killings in the Northeast and the North-Central because “Jonathan bought substandard weapons.”
But, we have to stop this nonsense.
We have to stop pretending that Napoleon is always right. We have to stop acting as though the mere fact of Buhari’s rule is enough compensation for us. Will Buhari’s name serve as a standard of exchange in the markets? Will his personality power our homes and businesses? Will his austerity fuel transportation, or will his reputation guard IDP camps, farmlands and villages? There is simply—and frustratingly—nothing to celebrate yet. Instead, I urge the president to get rid of the bagpipes and do real work. In 2019, if Nigerians are suitably impressed, they will support him or his party.
For the rest of us, the 2015 elections are gone and anyone fixated on APC or PDP party lines is either a politician or a sycophant. Well, I am neither. I am not interested in political or sycophantic requests to unquestioningly support Buhari or attack his opposition—and vice-versa. Those are evil requests.
As citizens, we must question Buhari, not in regret, but for improvement. We have to make Buhari prove his capacity to govern. We ought to judge him against our own expectations, not against Jonathan, Yar’Adua, or Obasanjo. This zero-sum game has to stop: Jonathan’s demerits are not a proof of Buhari’s merits. If we want this country developed beyond the Farmer Jones dump, then we have to stop “petting” our presidents with milk and apples—and start putting our needs as Nigerians first.