By Douglas Anele
When President Muhammadu Buhari’s apologists argue this way, they create the impression the President can do as he pleases and everyone should accept his actions without complaining. But that can never happen. Criticising top political office holders anytime they do something wrong is the linchpin of democracy.
Buharimaniacs fail to understand that Buhari’s incipient northernisation cum Islamisation strategy has alienated southerners, especially Ndigbo, making a lot of them see themselves as second class citizens in relation to the Fulani. Indeed, nepotism is actually affecting his administration negatively. For the masses, including those that voted for Buhari in 2015 and 2019, this government has performed far below expectations.
More tellingly, the Northern Elders Forum that staunchly supported him all along some time ago characterised his government as the worst in Nigerian history. Therefore, those who think that President Buhari can perform well by concentrating key appointments mostly in the hands of fellow northern muslims are living in a cloud cuckoo land.
There are competent non-muslims in the south that can outperform the northern muslims Buhari appointed. A fair-minded effective President from the north ought to identify and appoint such people into key positions to enhance performance and balance the ethnic and religious complexion of the government. President Buhari is not such a leader: given his age and Fulani caliphate colonialist orientation, it is unrealistic to believe he would turn over a new leaf in the remaining years of his tenure.
The manner the federal and state governments are handling the Covid-19 pandemic leaves much to be desired. More than anything else, the pandemic has exposed the glaring inadequacies in the country’s health system, including the irrational neglect of traditional medicine that holds promise in dealing with the disease, not to talk of the real possibility that some people in the corridors of power see it as an avenue to make good money quickly.
But beyond all that, something happened recently which provides further evidence the APC administration is incapable of providing effective leadership for the country. On April 3, the government announced that a team of 18 Chinese doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals would visit the country in five days’ time alongside a plane load of additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to assist in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.
The announcement provoked heated discussion, with some of our medical personnel insisting that we have enough human resources to deal with the infection. Still, on 8 April a fifteen-member team of the purported Chinese medical personnel landed at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, and was received by the minister of health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, and other government officials.
In a press statement shortly afterwards, the minister claimed that the Chinese were around to share their experiences in the fight against Covid-19 with their Nigerian counterparts and provide useful advice and medical equipment. However, in a new twist on May 15, 2020, the minister startled Nigerians with statements that contradicted his earlier claims which gave the impression that the Chinese were guests of the federal government.
While responding to questions at the daily media briefing by the presidential task force on Covid-19, he told reporters not to bother his ministry concerning the whereabouts of the Chinese. He stated that the visitors were not the guests of the federal government but that they came under the auspices of the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC). Dr. Ehanire further said cavalierly that he heard that some of them are technicians working for CCECC, which means that his ministry did not know where the Chinese stayed since they arrived in April.
A representative of the Chinese embassy explained that the medical personnel were invited by the Nigerian government, whereas another story claimed that they are here as part of the corporate social responsibility of the Chinese construction company that asked them to come. According to the minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbeshola, the technicians who came with the doctors and nurses were in the country to fix the equipment needed at the Dome isolation centre.
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From the foregoing, it is either the federal government is hiding something or the officials involved are horribly incompetent. Given the notoriety of Chinese businessmen and companies in Nigeria, and in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, the mediocre handling of this matter by Ehanire and others is worrisome. Coronavirus originated from China.
Serious countries have banned all travels to and from there because they want to minimise transmission of the deadly virus. Remember also that China had supplied malfunctioning equipment and face masks to the United States and United Kingdom: doing so here will be relatively easy considering the epidemic of corruption in our country.
Accordingly, given the questionable record of China in this regard, and since the relevant federal agencies seem unaware of what the Chinese had been doing while in the country, how can anyone be sure that they were not engaged in some nefarious activities? Now, if there is confusion about something as simple and straightforward as the composition and mission of the Chinese received by Dr. Ehanire on April 8, what is the guarantee that the visitors were subjected to the recommended protocols to ensure that they were not carrying the virus?
Now, in more advanced countries with responsible leaders the minister of health would have resigned and apologised to the people for shoddy handling of the situation. But in Nigeria, leadership is not about responsibility; it is about self-aggrandisement and power, which is why Dr. Ehanire has the audacity to tell journalists unabashedly not to bother his ministry with inquiries about the whereabouts of the Chinese. The inference is pretty straightforward: Buhari’s government is dominated by a very confused collection of political carpetbaggers with a shallow grasp of the fine noble art of statecraft.
Nowadays, it is becoming increasingly dangerous to criticise President Buhari and his political appointees, the latest show of shame being the arrest of a journalist, Rotimi Jolayemi, on the orders of Alhaji Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, for a critical poem he read on radio.
In a genuine democracy, dissent, criticism, the right to dislike any political office holder from top to bottom and say so publicly without harassment and intimidation is not negotiable because freedom of expression is the oxygen of liberal democracy. When some of us opposed the candidacy of Buhari, we did so based on his antecedents as a military dictator under whose regime the draconian Decrees 2 and 4, which severely limited the freedom of expression by Nigerians, were promulgated.
So, it is not really surprising that repression has increased since 2015, thereby confirming the Igbo aphorism that agwo aghaghi imu ihe toro ogologo (a snake cannot but give birth to something long). But anyone, no matter his position in government, who thinks that intimidation and persecution will put an end to criticism is just wasting time.
Freedom within certain constraints is an inherent attribute of homo sapiens. Even in brutal dictatorships courageous individuals appalled by bad governance still speak out against the oppressors. This leads me to a bizarre statement by Pastor Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity.
Unless the man has changed since he started working for Buhari, from personal experience I aver that Adesina is an urbane unassuming gentleman, which is why I seldom criticise him publicly. But his recent statement about the President strikes me as going too far, as an unwarranted insult on the intelligence of suffering Nigerians.
One can easily cite many concrete examples to show that Buhari’s presidency is a nightmare for millions of people nationwide. Nevertheless, one or two examples can make the case. Despite borrowing far more money than any administration in Nigeria’s chequered history, President Buhari has led the country into becoming the capital or Mecca of poverty in the world. In addition, Transparency International (TI) says perception about corruption in Nigeria has worsened since 2015, not to mention his jarring nepotism with the centrifugal momentum it has generated.
In a nutshell, for the masses Buhari is bad luck. One can understand why Pastor Adesina is ingratiating himself before Buhari: he wants to maintain his lucrative job in these hard times by trying very hard to halt the drooping reputation of his benefactor. But he should not overdo it to the extent of sounding slavishly ridiculous.
To say it as it is: Muhammadu Buhari, given his advancing age, declining health, mediocre formal education, and shallow grasp of the techniques of effective governance in a multiply plural immature democratic environment – not to mention the fact that he defeated better-qualified opponents who contested with him – is very lucky indeed to be President, which entails that most Nigerians are unlucky that he is their President. Of course, merit or track record of excellence has never been the decisive criterion for electing Presidents in Nigeria.