IN describing the Muhammadu Buhari administration as dumb I do not wish now to be understood as referring to what many commentators increasingly call the administration’s or, in fact, the president’s cluelessness (Is it not amazing that this administration has so quickly frittered away its goodwill in less than two years, to the extent that it’s now being described in the same unflattering register as the Goodluck Jonathan administration?)
Rather than commenting on the frustrating missteps and ineffectuality of this government, my focus here is on the widening wall of silence that the administration has chosen to erect between itself and the Nigerian people. It is a needless and useless wall that will ruin whatever very modest gains can yet be recorded for the administration- if it knows true sovereignty lies with the people.
The Buhari administration has rigidly stuck to its gun in its irresponsible failure to communicate with the people of this country and keep them in the know of important activities in government circle. Whatever are the immediate inconveniences this stance could mean to sections of the Nigerian people, whatever may be the pains being presently endured by some Nigerians (such as the beleaguered people of Southern Kaduna) as a consequence of such willful hostility from leaders of this country, the government in the long run stands to lose far more than any section of the Nigerian population. It’s not given to many to have the boon of a second chance. But Nigerian leaders randomly take such chances for granted without any hint of an awareness of it. We’ve seen this tragic cycle repeat itself in the lives of our leaders and occupants of public offices from the lowest position in the land to the highest offices imaginable. Given a second or even third chance in some public office, they go on to repeat the very errors and scandalous performance that marred earlier opportunities, making them forgettable footnotes on the pages of history.
Provided he has the sense of history to measure his own conduct and appraise his government’s performance, President Buhari would one day look back and regret his failure to connect with the people by building on the goodwill that ushered him into power. For this he has nobody but himself to blame. This is a self-inflicted but entirely avoidable wound that is right now festering and worsening the relationship between the government and the people. It’s in this sense that I have described the present administration as dumb, that is mute and lacking the ability to speak.
The detail that needs to be restated, however, is that this government’s muteness is not a congenital defect. It is rather a clear case of hubris, a demonstration of an authoritarian disposition within a democratic context. It is no more unavoidable than it is natural. It would seem then that President Buhari feels affronted by differing opinions and would rather not have his authority questioned in the manner permissible in a democracy. His dismissive silence, which looks sullen in every particular, is the only way he could get back at those who ‘disturb’ him with their ‘noise’, unsolicited and annoying demand of explanations to actions he would rather take without being held to account. At a different time, and in a less tolerant dispensation (say in a military dictatorship), he would have had those irritants demanding explanations and answers to questions thrown into jail, it seems. Buhari’s lack of communication is therefore either a show of arrogant disdain and/or a cover for his own inadequacies. It seems more the former than the latter. Either or both ways, it’s a big thumbs down for him. The correlate of his behaviour, however unlikely it may seem given the apparent difference of disposition in the subjects, is to be found in Donald Trump’s blustering swagger which finds expression in verbiage on twitter and elsewhere.
The alarming thing now is that in addition to being dumb, the Buhari government simultaneously appears deaf. It dances only to its own drumbeats and listens to no other views or opinions no matter how well-intentioned. This takes us back to 1984 when as a military head of state the man and his deputy, Tunde Idiagbon, did what they thought right without reference to what others had to say. Then Wole Soyinka described them as deaf men on whom he would not waste his time. Ibrahim Babangida whose government would supplant the Buhari regime called the man and his deputy rigid and unbending. Their departure was not mourned in spite of the euphoria with which they were welcomed only twenty months before.
Right now, not many Nigerians seem eager to cut the Buhari regime any slack any more. The time they were prepared to make allowance for the obvious shortcomings of the government seems over and the government must either sink or swim on its own terms, especially now that its silence communicates its all-knowing stature. Time was when people complained that the government was not communicating to them, preferring to make overtures of peace to it and seek its attention. Now people are taking their fate in their hand by doing what seems right in their sight. Thus, if Buhari would not say anything about the southern Kaduna killings by so-called islamists and herdsmen, Christian religious and ethnic leaders are urging their followers to defend themselves with arms. Reverend fathers advertise their readiness for battle by posting social media photos of themselves holding arms.
Since the president chooses to be blind to acts of corruption within his immediate circle, breaking his silence to defend his acolytes and even sending letters on their behalf when it suits his purpose, Nigerians are responding by questioning his integrity and writing off his anti-corruption claims. In over one week since Buhari and his minders chose to say next to nothing about the health condition of the president, Nigerians have been very resourceful with ‘wicked’ rumours of his death and incapacitation in a manner that the government has found both unsettling and disconcerting. It’s now left to the government to choose what option works best for it- either to dance to its own tune by ignoring the people or carry them along. One hopes this government learns one important lesson from all this: Power is a two-way traffic- it impacts on both the rulers and the ruled. Somehow, the reactions from the people have got the government responding even if in panic, resorting to arm-twisting and state-terror tactics. At this point it must realise it’s in very dangerous and slippery territory. It’s the path to dictatorship which history teaches us bodes no good for a democratically elected leader. This government must either retrace its steps now or the fate of a failure ultimately awaits it.