On second thought, it is not true that President Muhammadu Buhari is an incompetent underachiever. He has a big accomplishment, and I concede it to him.
Let us go back to 2015. By the time the presidential election was held, the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, was a dead duck. He was called names, and had you just woken up from a very long sleep, you might have thought that “clueless” was his middle name. When it was all over, The Economist dismissed him as an “ineffectual buffoon.”
Those characterizations were not particularly wrong: Mr. Jonathan’s government had done some awful things and undertaken some reprehensible policies. In addition to ignoring his electoral promises and his many vows to get things done, he uttered some abominable things.
And he was weighed down in the water by his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which was neither of the people nor democratic, and was a party only in the sense of merriment and conspicuous consumption. And he surrounded himself with four women so powerful that a prominent Nigerian joked that the country had five presidents, among which he was the least powerful!
In other words, GEJ, as he was widely-known, was by the 2015 election not simply the proverbial deer in the headlights, he was standing on the rail tracks as the train barreled in.
That train was Muhammadu Buhari, who was carrying a head wind that included the support of former PDP boss and former President, Olusegun Obasanjo.
In a presidential contest, a party would normally be expected to have the support of his own party, and Buhari enjoyed that of his All Progressives Congress (APC), which is now the ruling party. But Timi Frank, a former spokesman of the party, has now confessed that the party employed tactics of deliberately lying against Jonathan to make him unelectable.
Jonathan’s defeat was not that simplistic, but Frank’s admission is a significant fact. It is further testimony to the true character of the party and leadership now in power, and places in context its extensive rigging of this year’s elections at the federal and state levels.
And yet, somewhere, Mr. Jonathan must be in stitches in laughter, his adult beverages tasting considerably better by the day. Already, he has asserted that Nigeria is now far more corrupt that it was when he was in charge.
And when you think about it, given the promises Buhari made about cleansing the country, it is a remarkable miracle that few senior Jonathan-era officials have even been cited for wrongdoing. Yes, there are rumblings about one major female Minister, but that lady is in London enjoying herself, four years later, including making one cynical cameo Nollywood appearance as a “cancer patient”.
Four years later, thousands of others own the land and the skies within miles of the presidential palace in Abuja. Some are all over the developed world educating their children and entertaining their wives, courtesy of the world’s most laughable “anti-corruption” offensive.
In other words, Buhari has accomplished one goal that would have been thought to be impossible on May 29, 2015: he has made Jonathan a shining star.
And so, Jonathan is enjoying life, his shoulders and chest considerably more prominent in public: a profile chiseled and polished into pride and prominence by a man who swore to make transparency a prominent tool of governance but has proved to be far less transparent than Jonathan ever was.
Buhari said he would engage Nigeria’s best to help move Nigeria forward, but has emerged instead as the poster boy for narrow-mindedness, nepotism and incompetence. Day after day, his government wallows in scandals of maladministration, collusion, confusion, manipulation, racketeering and forgery.
So effective has Buhari been at futility that Jonathan is emerging as an improbable “hero”. For instance, the election he conducted in 2015 which produced Buhari has been praised not only internationally, but consistently by Buhari. On the contrary, the presidential election conducted by Buhari in 2019 has been exposed for rigging and denounced internationally and is being challenged in court.
We didn’t think much about it at the time, but Jonathan was not averse to exposing his own work to interrogation, or to reporting on it. That is: he was not afraid to speak in the past tense, as people do when they address what they have attempted or what has been accomplished. In 2013, for instance, Jonathan published his midterm Transformation Agenda report.
In contrast, Buhari does not report on anything. He prefers the color and sound of future tenses where words are free, but accountability is not. 2014? “I will,” Buhari said. 2016? “I will,” Buhari said. 2019? “I will…”
Sadly, this is the only language he appears to command. That is why no projects are completed; sometimes they are barely even continued.
It is therefore the saddest of ironies that there are Nigerians who, in 2019, are choosing between Jonathan and Buhari. We are now measuring not achievement or excellence, but levels of mediocrity.
Five years ago, Jonathan lacked credibility, but Buhari had boatloads of it. Today, Jonathan’s place in Nigerian history has not really changed, but Buhari lacks credibility in every category of measurement, making people forget why they rejected Jonathan.
One of the related lessons is that you cannot transform society or change it unless you can inspire. And you cannot inspire unless you have credibility. You cannot have credibility unless you have character.
As weak as Jonathan was, he did not fear men and women of intellect or ideas or character. Buhari does, and this weakness is why his era has seen not one novel idea since he took office. Not one. On the contrary, he tramples on good ones unless he can manipulate them. Jonathan disbursed National Honours to corrupt Nigerians, for instance, but for Buhari, no Nigerian of character exists save for himself.
That is why, despite 30 years of his bragging and his bravado to reclaim the country’s leadership, Nigeria under his control is essentially and systematically what it always was: if you have it or can capture it, it is yours.
Only last Friday, the indolence and incompetence of his government cost Nigeria over $9 billion damages in a British court for its failure to honour its contract with Process & Industrial Development Limited (P&ID). Until the government chose to stink up the matter, that sum was $6.6 just two years ago.
This is another illustration of the abysmal governance that is taking Nigeria to unprecedented depths of poverty, dissonance and conflict. Except that at home, such issues are masked with blackmail, propaganda and manipulation.
It is exactly what happens when standards are so low that we use mediocrity as levels of measurement.