Last weekend marked one month since President Muhammadu Buhari wrote the Senate that he was proceeding to the United Kingdom for “medical vacation.” By the expiration of the leave on February 6, he wrote to the Senate again, stating that he would be absent indefinitely.
In his absence, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, has been the Acting President. Osinbajo has not shared any money to the masses; he has not declared any bonus for Nigerians; he has not saved Nigerians from any foreign aggression; the naira has not strengthened under his watch; neither has the inflation rate dropped. However, something has happened in the one month Buhari has been away. The air of antagonism in the nation has abated between the winning party and the opposition.
Unlike Buhari who rarely visits the states he governs, Osinbajo has been going round the country and feeling the pulse of the people. In addition, unlike Buhari who seems to feel at ease with only those he believes love him, Osinbajo seems to have specifically chosen the states governed by the opposition: Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Abia, Anambra, Ondo, etc. As the leader, Osinbajo believes in reaching out to the opposition and building bridges, while Buhari believes that his opponents should reach out to him if they want to.
As a leader, Buhari believes that “disgruntled elements” need to be taught a lesson by being crushed, while Osinbajo believes in allowing the opposition to have their say as demanded by democracy.
For example, last week and two weeks ago, the Shiites demonstrated over the continued incarceration of their leader and his wife in spite of court pronouncements. None of them was shot. Buhari was not in charge of the country when they demonstrated.
Early this month, some Nigerians staged the #IStandWithNigeria protests in some cities. Weeks before the protest, there were threats from the police and government spokespeople. But some days to the D-Day (with Osinbajo in charge as Acting President), a message came from the Presidency that it was the right of citizens to protest peacefully. The police subsequently denied issuing threats against the protest, noting that the people had the right to protest.
The protest held as scheduled. Not one person was shot dead or even injured by the security forces. Unlike in the past when the protesters would be completely ignored by the President, the Acting President said to the protesters: “We hear you loud and clear.” Buhari was not in charge then.
Sadly, when some people advise Buhari to drop his military approach to governance and show concern and empathy to the people he governs, some of his diehard fans, blinded by ethnicity and strange party loyalty, would accuse such people of “hate,” as if Buhari is the first and only Northerner or Muslim to govern Nigeria. One wonders if Buhari is more Fulani and Islamic than former Presidents Umaru Yar’Adua and Shehu Shagari.
Buhari is perhaps Nigeria’s luckiest president. He was the first Nigerian president that won an election in which the opponent did not protest or go to court. In the First Republic, the opponents complained. The 1966 coup was mainly due to the complaints of the opposition. In the Second Republic, the opposition did not only complain about the results of the presidential election, they openly called for military takeover. In the stillborn Third Republic, the military did not even wait for the full results of the 1993 presidential election to be announced before annuling the election and throwing Nigeria into crisis.
Since the takeoff of the Fourth Republic in 1999, there has not been any military intervention. However, elections have been fraught with irregularities and crises. In 1999, Chief Olu Falae was angry with the result of the election that saw Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party declared winner. He subsequently went to court to seek redress.
In 2003, Buhari rejected the result of the election that returned Obasanjo as president. He went to court to seek redress. He was so angry with the result of the election that declared Yar’Adua winner that he stopped attending the National Council of State meetings from 2003 to 2015 when he became the President. Similarly, he did not accept the 2011 election that declared Dr Goodluck Jonathan winner. The election even resulted in protests in some parts of Northern Nigeria that claimed the lives of many people, including some members of the National Youth Service Scheme who were used as ad hoc electoral staff.
So, when in 2015 the then incumbent President, Jonathan, conceded defeat, it was novel. He refused to challenge the election in court and reprimanded Elder Godsday Orubebe for protesting against the result during the collation. Whoever wanted to protest against the result was disarmed by Jonathan’s stance not to complain publicly about the result or go to court to challenge it. It was obvious that anyone who tried to do so would cut the image of the outsider who cried more than the bereaved. Those who were unhappy with the result bottled up their emotions and waited to see what Buhari had in stock for the nation.
Therefore, Buhari inherited a calm country that no other elected head of state had witnessed. The Niger Delta was calm. The South-East was calm. The South-West was calm. The North-Central was calm. The North-West was calm. It was only in some parts of the North-East that Boko Haram was potent. But Boko Haram is not a political uprising but a religious one. However, rather than heal the nation, Buhari used his own hands to polarise the nation through his words, actions and appointments. The most striking and most unnecessary was the comment about those who gave him 97 per cent votes and those who gave him five per cent votes. Then, he went a step further by appointing his kinsmen into virtually all the key positions in the country despite national complaints.
Those who had been calm since the election of March 2015 came out forcefully to oppose his style of governance. Different types of agitation erupted. The Niger Delta Avengers emerged, blowing up pipelines and other oil facilities. The separatist Indigenous People of Biafra and Radio Biafra, which had been ignored since their formation in 2012, became popular. In his typical fashion, rather than listen to complaints, Buhari believed that ordering soldiers and police to shoot at them would “crush” the agitations.
Then, he worsened the situation by not having a good grasp on modern economic management and not having the humility to allow those with the expertise to do so, leading to the killing of businesses and impoverishment of the masses.
Interestingly, some people who show more love for Buhari than for Nigeria continue to applaud every action or inaction of the President. To such people, even if one million Nigerians are killed by soldiers or even if Nigeria evaporates from the face of the earth, it is not important. What is important is that Buhari should be praised and defended no matter what he does or what happens to Nigeria.
Acting President Osinbajo has not done anything tangible to move the nation out of its economic and political crises. He is part and parcel of the ruling All Progressives Congress which will take the praise or blame at the end of the tenure of this administration, depending on how the nation fares. But he has shown that a leader can heal the wounds of his nation or aggravate such wounds by virtue of his words and actions. A leader can bring peace to his nation or cause a war to erupt within his nation through his approach to governance and attitude towards the different interest groups within the nation.