I suppose it was bound to happen. Since Minister Lai Mohammed went to some length recently to assure us that our President Muhammadu Buhari is not dead, and the man parading himself as our leader is not a man from Sudan called Jibrin, I knew it was only a matter of time before the President himself (Buhari or Jibrin) steps forward to put the liars to shame. There is the issue, though, that we still have only the President’s word for it. If our President has to travel to Poland to tell Nigerians that we are not being led by a foreigner, he must know that Nigerians will ask for proof. I mean, we should not expect Jibrin to confirm that he is an imposter, should we?
But seriously, I would ordinarily be very angry that I am being made to contribute to a farcical argument over a real or substituted President if I had not been struck by a more serious side to this laughable mischief. It is perfectly conceivable that this popular absurdity was started by people who wondered if the real character, posture, record and disposition of our elected President Buhari fits the mien of the figure that now occasionally goes through the motion of governing our nation? I imagine a genuine argument over the transition from the fearsome character who won an election in 2015 with the assured confidence that he will defeat and finish-off Boko Haram, fight corruption into permanent retreat, fix the economy and create jobs for our young, and altogether breathe new life into a nation of decent, disciplined people, to the leader we now see daily searching for excuses for failing to live up to expectations, and fighting desperately for his political life.
If this was the basis of an enquiry that was hijacked by people less inclined to seriousness over the state of the nation, the comedy over the real identity of our leader will have a solid, respectable foundation. It would, for instance ask where the fire went, in a man who laboured three times to become President, telling a nation in dire need of good, honest leadership that he was head of a government intervention agency that did good work, was a minister of petroleum, state governor and head of state, and that he did all these without stealing a kobo from the public? What happened to the Buhari we knew who kept mega thieves awake at night with worry, the man who was trusted by the poor to punish wealth and power that thought it had unlimited license to impunity. Where is the man who terrorized the terrorists who were taking permanent residence in our towns and villages, Mosques and Churches and schools?
How could the Buhari the nation and the global community trusted to hit the ground running, changing this and changing that, lock himself up for months thinking who to find to work with in a nation of 180 million people? Is this the experienced Buhari we voted into power who rolled out a sorry list of Ministers and key aides with which he hoped to enthrone good governance, efficiency and integrity in public service institutions? If we saw strong political will and a resolute determination to fight terrorism that we expected from the early Buhari, certainly the localization of a living terror in pockets and holes is not evidence of sustainable commitment to pursue security goals to the end. In these days when Boko Haram appears to have rediscovered its mission to fight and terrorize us, Nigerians have a legitimate right to ask what is wrong. Has our leadership under Buhari lost the zeal to fight? Is the problem with the military leadership that a no-change President will not overhaul? Will the Buhari we thought we knew draw lines on the fight against Boko Haram? Does the President Buhari who defeated President Jonathan substantially due to the failure of the latter to effectively fight Boko Haram recognize the striking similarities between the state of national security today and its state under Jonathan exactly four years ago?
Villagers who lined up in millions to vote out Jonathan and vote in Buhari now live in constant fear of bandits and bands of armed killers, a phenomenon that was rare even under Jonathan. Not a few will believe that something has happened to the tough, poor-loving Buhari they thought will not brook these types of threats for a week. They may not believe that he has been replaced by a Sudanese look-alike, but they will be puzzled at the seeming failure of a leader to flush away bandits from forests, and eliminate kidnapping as the number one national criminal scourge.
Those who believed they will see a decisive onslaught on corruption will be disappointed at the manner the battle has been fought, rich in threats and rhetoric and thin on action and results. This battle has been badly damaged by its selection of the enemy, weak institutional capacity to sustain a comprehensive reduction on the scale and damage of the problem and the lame excuse that corruption cannot be defeated because it is fighting back! Buhari’s biggest appeal for the poor was his promise to eliminate corruption and insecurity. Those who peddle the fiction that he is not the person running the country may be wrong in substance, but many Nigerians will ask if anyone has been running the country at all. Young Nigerians who thought they will find jobs under an honest and fair government could blame ill health and age for the limitations of Buhari’s administration, but millions of them will be puzzled by the claim that they are happy with handouts that are difficult to see.
Who would have thought that the PDP which was comprehensively defeated by Buhari’s APC will today pose a credible threat to a second term for Buhari? Even its most ardent supporters had been shocked at the state in which Jonathan’s PDP left the country: comprehensively pillaged, dangerously threatened and badly damaged to its foundations. If it was suggested three years ago that PDP should walk away in shame and not come near power in Nigeria for many years, or even ever, many would have said it was not a severe sentence. But here we are today, with just a few weeks before a verdict on his performance, Nigerians are telling jokes over a cloned president because it is difficult to understand how the Buhari who became President in 2015 could be this President who failed to govern well, or govern at all.
Jamila Abubakar wrote this piece from Abuja