Neither time nor sickness can change President Muhammadu Buhari. He would ever remain parochial and divisive. This is not just an awful attempt to denigrate Buhari and his hallowed presidential office. No, this is how he wants Nigerians to see him in his audio message in Hausa on the occasion of the Eid El-fitr, a feast of Muslims marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.
If the message had only just enjoyed a surreptitious circulation on the social media with its accompanying non-complicit anonymity and without official imprimatur, it would not have provoked outrage. We would have easily dismissed it as one of the regular affronts to the president by the corrupt who do not wish him well and who in fact prefer an abrupt termination of his government so that they can be free to enjoy their loot. After all, there have been many reports on the social media of the president’s death following which even the British queen has to condole with Nigerians. But the message was released by the presidency and rapturously recommended to the growing horde of the naysayers as an indication that the president is not incapacitated. Clearly, the presidency has not disowned it. And we do not need to split hairs over whether the voice was genuinely that of the president. We accept it is his because the presidency has said so.
But what is clear is that it is either that the handlers of the president who confronted the public with this message as the unimpeachable evidence of the president’s good health deliberately set out to humiliate him before Nigerians or they never reckoned with the baleful consequences of their action. Either way, the audio message has once again confirmed the apprehension that we are a people saddled with a president who is not the right person to manage the complex and combustible affairs of the present-day Nigeria and pull it from the brink of splintering.
Buhari has been away from the country for almost two months for medical treatment in London. This is after just returning from a medical vacation in London. He is being treated with the citizens’ money and paid his salaries and allowances even though he is not doing the job for which he is in office. The citizens have even overlooked the insult of the presidency’s refusal to tell them how much this medical sojourn is costing them. Again, the citizens have been praying for him to get well, return home and resume his duties. They would have been elated no end when they heard the voice of Buhari as an indication that their prayers were being answered and that he was not dead. But Buhari ruptured all the expectations. He did not see the need to acknowledge the understanding, patience and good wishes of all Nigerians. He chose to rather address only a segment of the entire population. He failed to appreciate the fact that the Ramadan was important to both Muslims and non-Muslims as the two-day holiday that was declared did not disrupt only the economy of the Muslims; but that of all citizens – and the government.
If the president really wanted to send his good wishes to Muslims during the Ramadan, he failed to reckon with the fact that not all Muslims are based in his northern part of the country. There are Muslims in the south-west, south-east and south-south. These people who are not based in the north may not understand Hausa. The president should have probably spoken Arabic which presumably all Muslims who read the Koran in Arabic would understand.
The president’s faux pas has occurred at a time there are many national crises threatening the unity of the country. It is a time the nation has been riven by ethnic mistrust. He should have addressed these issues. But he demurred and rather limited himself to cautioning against reckless statements. He did not speak words of assurance that would douse the tension in the country. In this regard, we must be alert to a greater danger the nation would have been confronted with if Buhari were in Aso Rock now – he would just have mismanaged the crises until they snowballed into a graver conflagration and consumed the nation. He would not have demonstrated the tact involved in holding consultations with various leaders of the country.
We need to remind ourselves once again of Buhari’s eternal claim to being a catalyst in the development and unity of the nation. He tells whoever cares to listen that he would risk his life again as he did during the civil war to defend the unity of the country. But the Buhari’s Ramadan message has only exposed the president to be different from who he claims he is. It has portrayed him as the number one public servant who is bereft of the broadmindedness his office requires and is rather abysmally beholden to the interest of his own narrow section of the country.
Of course, not that there have been any illusions about Buhari’s parochialism. We only thought that with time, he would realise the futility of his provincial agenda. With the message he has released, it is clear that Buhari is by no means remorseful about the lopsided appointments he has made in favour of his kinsmen. And by this, Buhari has drawn our attention to the fact that when he returns, he would continue the prosecution of his agenda of favouritism that hurts people from other parts of the country.
While the audio message in Hausa has rightly provoked censure from the majority of Nigerians, the Arewa Consultative Forum and Northern Elders Council have praised it. This is the more reason the issue of restructuring should be taken more seriously. It would give Buhari the opportunity to be close to his Hausa-Fulani community that he can easily communicate with in Hausa during Muslim ceremonies. But as long as the country remains populated with people of over 350 linguistic backgrounds, Buhari and his ilk are those who are bent on causing confusion by using Hausa to communicate to the exclusion of other Nigerians.
What this shows is that those who want peace in the face of the quit notices and counter-quit notices have not really considered the issues that would engender enduring peace. Despite the efforts of Acting President Yemi Osinbajo and others to stop hate speeches, there is no likelihood that they would succeed. For if Buhari can be obsessed with divisive speeches as he has just demonstrated, then the purging should start with him. But since it is clear that Buhari and his co-travellers would not allow themselves to be purged of their parochialism and obsession with divisive speeches, the best thing is for the country to go for restructuring. Thankfully, the call for restructuring is gaining traction in the north. It is no longer only former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who is making the call. Former military dictator Ibrahim Babangida on Monday joined the call.
Since it is now clear that Buhari’s intervention in national affairs can only compound the mistrust and apprehension in the polity, he should consign his interest now to the recovery of his health. That he created the problems by his divisive governance style is enough burden to Nigerians he has left at home. He should not aggravate the crises of the country while he is on medical vacation abroad. If he thinks he is strong enough to lead, he should return home. Nigerians are by no means impressed by his straining to prove that he is alive and well.