President Muhammadu Buhari has now established a template for “grieving” with people who are mourning the loss of loved ones to senseless and preventable violence. It consists in disclaiming personal responsibility for the bloodletting; blaming unnamed and unnamable “politicians” for the violence; hierarchizing tragedies and giving the award for the bloodiest tragedy to his “favorites” whose misery he actually doesn’t care about because the votes of their survivors is guaranteed for him; asking for prayers; urging community leaders to get together and learn to tolerate each other; saying government is doing “something”; and bragging about his “achievements in security.” Until the next tragedy strikes. And he repeats the same things.
While on what was supposed to be a visit to calm and reassure distraught people in Plateau, Buhari said “there is some injustice” in holding him personally responsible for the carnage in the land. However, he likes to take credit for what he considers the “successes” of his administration. During the same “condolence” visit where he characterized any personal association of the bloodbath with him as “injustice,” he said, “It is noteworthy that many Nigerians still acknowledge that despite the security challenges, this administration has made notable successes in the security sector.”
Apart from the sickening insensitivity in bragging about “notable successes in the security sector” to grief-stricken people whose relatives have been murdered, how can a president who thinks it’s unjust to hold him personally responsible for the widespread slaughterous rage in the land pat himself in the back for “notable success in the security sector” when the country is drenched in oceans of blood, when he himself conceded that “human life is becoming cheap in Nigeria” on his watch? That is the most treacherous form of narcissism I’ve ever seen in any leader all my life.
We all know that toxic self-delusion, barefaced lies, and mindless propaganda are the oxygen of the Buhari administration, but basic human decency requires that people entrusted with leadership should know when to be sober, humble, compassionate, and truthful- and when to subordinate the urges for propagandistic falsehood and self-glorification. It’s the coldest form of comfort to, in one’s moment of grief, be compelled to endure the brazen lies, cold indifference, and tone-deaf self-congratulations of a person who is supposed to be your comforter and protector.
But it gets worse. The president also told people who were already overwrought with grief that he couldn’t protect them. “There is nothing I can do to help the situation except to pray to God to help us out of the security challenges,” Buhari said, according to the Sun of June 26, 2018. In other words, in spite of bragging about his “notable successes in the security sector” while taking offense at being held responsible for security breaches, Buhari has confessed to failing in his primary constitutional duty to protect the lives and properties of Nigerians. An honorable man who is incapable of discharging his duties, who outsources solvable human problems to metaphysical powers, would resign.
Nevertheless, when the president falls sick, he doesn’t leave his fate to “prayers.” He doesn’t even have faith in Nigeria’s best medical facilities, much less in his own prayers or the prayers of Nigerians, to regain his health; he goes to London. When his son had an accident and almost lost his life, he didn’t just “pray to God” to heal him; he took him to a German hospital. But when it comes to protecting the lives of poor, helpless, and vulnerable people from wanton, preventable bloodshed, the president can’t do anything except to “pray to God to help us out.” How convenient!
We know, of course, that this is just hypocritical posturing. Why did the president not let “prayers” resolve agitations for Biafra? Why did he use disproportionate force to subdue the agitations? Scores of Biafra agitators, who did not kill anybody in their agitations for self-determination, were murdered by security forces in cold blood, and their organization was quickly declared a “terrorist organization.”
Since all we need are “prayers” to live in peace, we certainly don’t need an incompetent president who lives off the fat of the land, who doubles as a petroleum minister, who spends billions to treat even a near infection in a foreign hospital and billions more for his official clinic in the Presidential Villa that he doesn’t use. We might as well officially live in a state of anarchy.
For his part, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo almost always visits sites of tragedy, meets with community and political leaders, mouths annoyingly predictable and sanctimonious platitudes, gives lame assurances, plays nauseatingly familiar blame games, and goes back to sit pretty in Aso Rock to bask in the glory and perks of power.
A foreigner reading Buhari and Osinbajo these past few days would think they’re opposition politicians railing against an inept incumbent government that has failed to protect the lives of its citizens. He wouldn’t guess that Buhari and Osinbajo are the inept incumbents who, in fact, want to perpetuate their incompetence for four more years.
To be fair, widespread bloodstained fury predated this administration, but as I told the BBC World Service when I was interviewed on June 25, 2018, the Buhari’s government’s incompetence in confronting the frighteningly widening insecurity in the country is in a world of its own. The government is never proactive, is perpetually in the future (it’s always, “we will,” not “we have”), and actively takes sides in communal conflicts even in official communications. When people lose faith in the capacity of governments to protect them and to be neutral arbiters of conflicts it’s the beginning of the end.