Buhari’s version of nationalism after 4 years is still shocking
In the build-up to the 2015 general elections, there were waves of concerns on General Muhammadu Buhari, then All Progressives Congress (APC) commitment to nationalism. Like a floodgate, his time as a military head of state between 1983-1985 reminded Nigerians of his undemocratic and nepotistic tendencies, raising questions on whether voting him won’t bring back the awful past.
Even when artist Femi Kuti raised doubts on the democratic credentials of Buhari by reporting in an interview that “Do I believe he’s a changed man? I don’t think so,” the APC was swift in putting on a garb of a ‘reformed democrat’ on him and that he would respect the multi-ethnic configuration of the country. Probably, the assurance cleared concerns and garnered the supports that gave Buhari the historic victory against incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 presidential poll.
Putting every other doubt to rest was the declaration of Buhari that “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody” in his inaugural speech shortly after taking oath of office, reinforcing the assurance of his party that he would use his return to office to serve and no paying off old scores as “the past is prologue.” The frenzy that statement generated only lasted two months as Buhari shocked most observers in his response to a question posed by Dr. Paul Baker during his address at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on July 22, 2015 that “I hope you have a copy of the election results. The constituents, for example, gave me 97% [of the vote] cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%. I think these are political reality.”
Dr. Paker, the President Emeritus of the Fund for Peace, had sought to know how Buhari would approach certain issues, particularly, how he would ensure inclusive development among the various regions of the country, but the president response rattled many Nigerians who had envisaged a unifying response. The president ignored the intricacies of the Nigeria structure, and expectedly, his remarks divided Nigerians along 97 percent vs 5 percent.
Noticeably however, Buhari’s appointments so far followed a pattern that reinforced his submission at USIP. Except for the Chief of Defence Staff and the Chief of Naval Staff, the entire security infrastructures of the country are manned by Northerners, especially from the region where the president hails from. Some other critical positions shared similar patterns.
Each time people draw attentions to these shabby distributions of appointments, the excuse easily advanced by Buhari’s men are that the positions are too strategic and key to be manned by persons the president did not trust. But what they have failed to admit is the dangerous precedent such skewed decision bode, which may possibly alter the nationalistic outlook of the country.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was alarmed by Buhari’s posture to the broad ethnic set-up of the country in his recent interview to the Yoruba service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), noting that
“The person ruling us says he cannot give important appointments to anyone from other ethnic groups because he cannot trust them. If he cannot trust my ethnic group, and cannot trust your ethnic group with important appointments, what privilege has he to ask my ethnic group and your ethnic group to come and vote for him again? Haa! He can ask us to vote for him but he cannot trust us with key posts in his government. ‘
Give me, I give you’ is the cry of the toad by the river bank. If you do not trust me, why should you expect me to trust you? If you trust me and I misbehave, sack me and pick another person. But for you to insist that only your relations from your mother side and from your father side are the only persons you will appoint into positions because they are the only ones you can trust. Nigeria has more than 300 ethnic groups; you now say you cannot trust others…”
Obasanjo’s reservation captured the deluge of disappointments on the lopsided appointments that characterised Buhari’s government. More than any time ever, hues of marginalisation dominated national discussions but as with other issues under Buhari, they are treated as no issue. This has unfortunately spurred protesters to coin the word ‘Northernisation’ to express their reservation to the list of appointments made by the president.
But the president appeared not to be comfortable with this perception and had in Anambra during his re-election campaign explained what usually informed his consideration for appointments. Unlike the argument usually advanced by people within his government, Buhari outlined merit and competence as key criterion that influenced his decision on appointments. He said “I am pleased that you have the courage to present issues about your constituency but I expect you to be more patriotic in your presentation.
In the south east, there are five states, in the north, there are 19 states. In the south east, out of the five states, I think five members of the Federal Executive Council are from this region, Trade and Investment, Foreign Affairs, Labour, Science and Technology, and seven of the northern states have only ministers of state. I think I tried to be fair… I don’t have to tell you what noise the other states are making – especially when compared to the votes I got in 2015.”
Interestingly, Buhari tried to coach the Igbo leaders to be patriotic, however, his decisions so far as president fell short of what he demanded from others. Or, how would a president whose actions and inactions are visibly lopsided be the right person to measure patriotism? Nigeria is an amalgamation of over 300 ethnic groups and a president who means well would respect the complexity of the structure. Every region, tribe, ethnic and religious should be treated as equal and no sacred cow so as to foster unity.
Oftentimes, Buhari sent tongues wagging on his perceived lacklustre postures to alleged excesses of those from his ethnic stock but easily wield the big stick when it applies to any other ethnic group. The deployment of military force on unarmed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) while he continued to excuse the crude killings by gun wielding herdsmen as farmer-herders clash, casted a serious doubt on if indeed Buhari belong to nobody but everybody. It was clearly obvious who he belonged to.
Without doubt, the alacrity of Buhari to conclude that Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen is guilty as charged and summarily replaced him with a Northerner, Mohammed Tanko, fuelled more concerns on the president’s democratic credential and commitment to unification. As it is now, the three arms of government– executive, legislature and judiciary are firmly held by Northerners.
Funny enough, anyone from the South relieved of their position for alleged wrongdoings get replaced by a Northerner. Former Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA) chief, Ayo Oke, was replaced from Buhari’s home state, Katsina, after he was booted out of office over the controversial $43m found in an Osborne flat, Ikoyi, Lagos state. The same thing happened when former Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, was swept out of office by her NYSC certificate scandal but got replaced by another Northerner. But when former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Lawal Babachir, was sacked for alleged corruption, he was replaced by Boss Mustapha, who incidentally was from Borno state as the former occupier.
The appointment of Tanko to replace Onnoghen, a Southerner CJN, added to Buhari’s crass for nepotism. While I’m not holding brief for Onnoghen on any perceived lapse in his Asset declaration but no one is certain that Tanko is not guilty of the same crime. And on the argument that Tanko was used to replace Onnoghen on the basis of seniority, the question that readily comes to mind is when did Buhari start observing seniority in making appointments? Buhari retired 21 officers ahead Ibrahim Idris to make him the Inspector General of Police (IGP) in 2016. The same pattern was observed to make Yusuf Buratai the Chief of Army Staff as several senior army officers were sent home to achieve that.
In Buhari’s version of nationalism, competence and trust is defined by region and those who voiced concerns are dismissed as inconsequential. Some of his touted anti-corruption fight is fraught with inconsistencies, that distort national interest. But these lapses should not dissuade us from the real value of nationalism, which implies rallying thought and resources to aid fellow citizens whom they may never have set eyes upon.
Oke Umurhohwo is a Political Analyst and Strategist as well as a member of the PDP. He tweets from @stalyf