Political observers and social commentators say President Muhammadu Buhari’s persistent refusal to address Nigerians, but rather hosting some governors at breakfast and lunch meetings at the Abuja House in London, the United Kingdom, shows his contempt for the people who voted him into power, writes JESUSEGUN ALAGBE
I think leadership of any kind requires trust and transparency and voters should demand no less from their political leadership in government” were some of the most profound words uttered by a 2016 Republican presidential nominee in the United States, Carly Fiorina, 62.
Having said that, political analysts have pointed out that there is a difference between the electorate demanding trust and transparency from their leaders and the leadership responding to the citizens’ request for those virtues, particularly in countries like Nigeria, where the political class seems to treat the citizens with so much disdain.
Since President Muhammadu Buhari left the country on May 7, 2017 for his second longest medical treatment in London this year, he had repeatedly snubbed Nigerians’ request to address them via either an audio or video recording, to at least assure them that he is recuperating from his illness.
Even when a former British soldier and lawmaker, Mr. Eric Joyce, alleged on May 20, 2017 that he [Buhari] had died in a London hospital and had stated that the onus was on the President, not the people, to prove he was alive, Buhari didn’t budge an inch.
Joyce had written on his blog, “First, if you’re a president, then it’s up to you to show people you’re alive and well — it’s not up to your people to prove the opposite. Every politician in the world knows this. A statement from a PR [public relations] guy doesn’t cut it. Angry ripostes from supporters don’t cut it. Only your personal appearance cuts it.
“Second, if you’re a president and you’re not well, then a doctor needs to come out of the hospital and explain to your nation what’s up. This lets everyone, including your people and the markets, know if you’re alive at all, alive enough to recover or have just sprained an ankle.
“Unless these things apply, then there will be shenanigans. For example, a dead person will be kept hooked up to a machine and advisers, politicians, traders, all the people ‘in the know’ will be jockeying for position and none of the regular people of the country will know anything about it. Nigerians have done themselves proud on the democratic front in the last few years; this is no time to start accepting bullshit again.”
Although Buhari might want to prove he had only been trying to keep his head by not responding to the people’s entreaty, political analysts and social commentators said his laid-back attitude showed his “lack of regard” for the Nigerian people who voted him into power.
On July 13, 2017, the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, after returning from a visit to Buhari in London, had also refused to go into specific details of what he discussed with the ailing President.
He, however, said he had “good conversation on wide ranging issues” with the President for over an hour.
He had assured Nigerians that Buhari, who has spent over two months in the British capital, was in high spirit when they met and would soon return to the country.
But when asked specifically if the President would return to the country before 90 days, Osinbajo had said it would be wrong to apply deadline.
Then when last Sunday the President hosted governors Umaru Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa State; Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State; Yahaya Bello of Kogi State; Rochas Okorocha of Imo State; and the All Progressives Congress Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, in London for a one-hour breakfast meeting, a Lagos-based political scientist, Dr. Dapo Bamidele, said “it showed the high level of contempt” Buhari had for Nigerians.
Bamidele stated that that was the second time the President would treat the citizens with disdain; the first being on June 25, 2017, when he [Buhari] released a one minute three seconds audio clip in Hausa language to greet Muslims on the occasion of the Eid el-Fitr.
He said, “The President had spent about 50 days in London then and instead of him to have addressed the whole country by using the official language, he decided to speak in Hausa. That, to me, was contempt.
“And again, last Sunday, someone who couldn’t address the whole country for just five minutes, decided to host some APC governors for a one-hour breakfast meeting. To show he does not treat us with dignity, he simply sent his ‘best wishes’ to us, according to Okorocha.”
A statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, had quoted Okorocha, who was among the delegation, as saying that Buhari was very cheerful and had not lost any bit of his sense of humour.
“When asked to react to all the negative things being said about him, the President just laughed, describing such negative reports as lies. Governor Okorocha said President Buhari was completely unperturbed by the cocktail of lies,” Adesina had further quoted Okorocha, adding, “By our visit to London today, the merchants of lies have been put out of business and Nigerians will not buy the garbage they have been selling. All those who look up to fake news can find better use for their time.”
A Lagos-based lawyer and social commentator, Dr. (Mrs.) Rhoda Salami, said even though the APC governors’ visit to the President was to send a signal to the people that he [Buhari] was recuperating, the approach was “very” wrong.
She said, “Many Nigerians have been asking, where is the President? How is he doing? But rather than shoot just a five-minute video to address us, Buhari chose to host a delegation for one hour. What do we call that? Was that not a mockery of us?
“If not that our leaders are insensitive and always delight in taking us for a ride, why should we have been asking for our President to address us and he has been refusing? Is it not shameful that another set of governors were picked to visit the President again?
“Why should Okorocha be sending us our President’s wishes when Buhari himself could have addressed us in a five-minute video message uploaded to his social media pages? Why do our leaders think we don’t deserve answers when we ask them questions?”
The Presidency had on Tuesday said President Buhari, who had initially barred politicians and other individuals from visiting him in London, changed his mind due to “change in circumstances.”
His change of mind had prompted another set of governors — the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and Zamfara State Governor, Abdulazeez Yari; Dave Umahi (Ebonyi); Umar Ganduje (Kano); Kashim Shettima (Borno); Samuel Ortom (Benue); Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom) and Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo) — to leave the country on Tuesday night to meet him on Wednesday afternoon.
A US-based cleric and Convener, Nigeria Youths Pray, Mr. Aderemi Badru, said it was “so” annoying that Buhari didn’t choose the option of addressing the entire country, but rather chose the “pain” of hosting delegations just to let people know he was alive and recovering from his sickness.
He said, “It sounds so annoying that the President didn’t choose the option of addressing the people who elected him into office. I believe it is time for the President to honourably resign.
“We must lay aside all sentiments and put the progress and the future of Nigeria into consideration. It is not only President Buhari who can move this nation forward. It is my prayer that he gets well and live long. But for the sake of our nation, he should resign.”
Not to have chosen to address the people was “unfair and cruel,” an Abuja-based lawyer, Mr. Ishaq Zamani, said via LinkedIn.
Zamani asked President Buhari to follow in the footsteps of a former Cuban revolutionary, Fidel Castro, by yielding to the people’s request to address them by audio or video recording.
When Castro [1926 – 2016] became ill and underwent surgery during his long presidency [1976 – 2008], several calls were made by the country’s citizens and the opposition that he should address them to prove that he was not dead.
After several weeks, Castro yielded when he called into a radio talk show hosted by a former Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez.
The half-hour call to Chávez’s radio talk show, which was aired later on Cuban TV, raised expectations that Castro could soon re-emerge in public.
Until then, Castro had only been heard in videotaped comments released by the Cuban government, which fuelled speculation that he was seriously ill and was on the verge of dying.
Zamani said, “But after the recording, everyone was assured that Castro was recovering. I think Buhari’s case is similar to that of Castro at that time. Our leaders should stop embarrassing themselves and the whole country. It is not funny that Buhari left the shores of Nigeria to get treated in a foreign country and couldn’t even address Nigerians first immediately he could talk.
“Instead, he is getting visits. We should be tired of all these nonsense. We are being taken for a ride. This is a President who is being treated on taxpayers’ money. Why couldn’t he address those paying for his medical treatment first and appreciate them for their support and prayers? People who say Nigeria is sick are perhaps right!”