resident Muhammadu Buhari, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a position he has held since May 29, 2015, basically answered the most pressing questions that have been plaguing Nigerians in his no-holds-barred interview on ARISE Television, which aired on June 10, 2021. The worry stems from President Buhari’s aversion to giving media interviews, as illustrated by the fact that Nigerians have been unable to hear directly from their President for the previous six years or more.
That is the foundation or rationale for insinuations and presumptions that President Buhari has not been effectively in charge of operations in Aso Rock Villa, which may have fueled the conspiracy idea that our collective fate as a nation is in the hands of a cabal.
Mallam Abba Kyari, the then Chief of Staff to the President, was alleged to have been the driver of the sinister cabal, as was Mallam Isa Funtua, a close confidant of President Buhari who is also his In-law (his son is married to Buhari’s daughter) before their unfortunate and sad demise arising from complications from Coronavirus disease in 2020.
Mr. President had been communicating through a slew of spokespersons, including the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, Media Adviser, Femi Adeshina, Special Assistants on media, Garba Shehu and Laureta Onochie, and a slew of other Buhari supporters on social media. Apparently, that was not enough!
President Buhari’s shift in strategy, which included an ARISE TV interview with the fourth realm of the Estate, can be compared to a successful coup d’état. And it is a scoop from the cutting-edge THISDAY/ARISE Media Group, managed by Nduka Obaigbena, whose goal may have been to help the President’s misunderstood supporters understand him better through a candid chat.
Although the interview was more of a monologue than a dialogue because the public was not given the opportunity to ask the existential questions to which they had been waiting for answers, (as a typical media chat with the President should be), the one-way communication was still an improvement over President Buhari’s previous silence in managing his relations.
And ARISE TV’s quest to get President Buhari to engage with the seemingly ignored masses or electorate is justified or underscored by the fact that when he first campaigned for their votes in 2003, and particularly since 2015 when he was first elected president and then in 2019 when he was re-elected, then Presidential Candidate, and later, President Buhari, visited Nigerians and listened to their concerns.
But, after taking office, Mr. President appears to have been comfortable with being cocooned in Aso Rock Villa, while solely relying on third-party communication with the general public, who are plainly not enamored, but despise such off-handedness.
The apparent disconnect between President Buhari as a leader and the critical masses that he is supposed to shepherd has been largely attributed to the cold shoulder treatment that President Buhari has given Nigerians in terms of little or no direct communication with them over the past six years of presiding over their affairs.
That is what has created an environment fertile for the fertilisation of negatively imaginative minds who have taken advantage of the void to invent Mr. President’s death (following his long hospitalization in the United Kingdom in 2017) and the cloning narrative about a certain Jibril Al Sudani who is allegedly Buhari’s body double. The guy at the center of the pretty ludicrous and hilarious charge, President Buhari, remained silent, allowing such absurd claims to fester.
Given the overwhelming public reaction to President Buhari’s rare, candid interview on June 10, which has debunked, the conspiracy theory that he had ceded leadership of our country to a so-called cabal allegedly comprising elder statesmen: Mallam Maman Daura, Abba Kyari, and Isa Funtua (two of whom are now diseased), it has been a coup de gras for the culture of silence.
Nduka Obaigbena’s ARISE TV is now without a doubt Nigeria’s counterpart of CNN International in terms of broadcast news. Although Nigerians would have preferred to see the panel of interviewers ask President Buhari tough questions, which did not happen possibly due to ARISE TV’s prior agreement with the Presidency, it was still a commendable effort in cracking open the window into the mind of President Buhari, who had previously been an enigma, if not a hermit, in light of his attitude or policy of little consequence.
The fact that the ARISE TV interview, now regarded as a window into President Buhari’s mind, provided him with the opportunity to demonstrate some presence of mind as he demonstrated a reasonable grasp of the issues plaguing Nigeria and justified the solutions he had proposed, proving that, contrary to allegations of senility and dementia leveled against him, he is not senile or dementia-prone. Some of President Buhari’s previously stated opinions, which he frankly re-emphasised while justifying his government’s actions and inactions, are represented in the assertion above.
Some commentators may now regard Mr. President’s arguments for his policy decisions as skewed, outdated, and limited in scope. However, no one can deny that the government’s policies during the last six years are the result of President Buhari’s critical (though unsophisticated) thinking, and hence bear his seal of approval. So, fortuitously, the ARISE TV interview has served as both a discovery and a resource for non-professional psychologists such as me who are assessing President Buhari’s mental health. It is a two-edged sword, to say the least. On the one hand, detractors will no longer accuse him of being a passive leader while blaming his advisers for his lack of leadership. The erroneous allegation that his faculties have been severely harmed as a result of his age (78) and bad health, and that he is suffering from dementia, has been shown to be exaggerated to some extent. President Buhari, on the other hand, would no longer be exempt from blame for the government’s leadership crisis. Therefore, President Buhari’s days of innocence may be numbered. Members of his inner circle, including the late Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, who were previously accused of manipulating the President (before to his election), have now been cleared. But that shroud or badge of infamy has now been applied to Abubakar Malami, the current Attorney General, who has been dubbed the new cabal executioner. Fortunately for him, the extremely informative ARISE TV interview has debunked that claim as well.
Because Mr. President remained incommunicado by refusing to engage in one-on-one interactions with Nigerians through media interviews, the falsehoods about him were unknowingly allowed to fill the void, as nature abhors vacuums.
Having other people act as cannon fodder for him was one of his most well-kept secrets during his initial tenure as military leader. And it appears that this is President Buhari’s administrative strategy, which Nigerians have been trying to figure out for quite some time. It is most likely a tactical skill he picked up while serving in the military. The graphs below show that this is correct.
His second-in-command, late Tunde Idiagbon, was a target for flak from unhappy Nigerians during his term as military Head of State (1983-85). As Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), Buhari literally dodged bullets. As the Head of Afriprojects, Ahmad Salihijo, the consulting firm he appointed to manage the infrastructure development agency set up by former military Head of State, Sanni Abacha, was also the cannon fodder blamed for all the development behemoth’s inequities. PTF was under the cautious supervision of General Buhari at the time.
To be clear, in management and leadership, delegation of power is not anathema. President Buhari’s actions and inactions while in office will define him in the future. When asked about what would be his legacy, Mr. President admitted as much, saying, “I will accept whatever verdict Nigerians pass on me. I hope they will be fair…”
The ARISE TV interview, in my opinion, provided an opportunity for discerning members of society to identify Muhammadu Buhari’s pride and prejudices on three fronts: (I) as a person, (ii) as a military commander, and (iii) as the President of our wonderful country in the previous six years.
My unbiased analysis of President Buhari’s responses to the ARISE TV panel’s questions is aimed at assisting readers in determining whether he is indeed a re-born democrat, as he told an eminent gathering of democrats in Chatham House, UK, six years ago, and the vast majority of Nigerian voters who gave him their mandate via the ballot box to be their President in 2015. Candidate Buhari made a convincing case for himself as the best man for the job in that Chatham House presentation.
To put things in context, here is a quote from Buhari’s February 2015 speech at Chatham House:
“…It is much more important that the promise of democracy goes beyond just allowing people to freely choose their leaders. It is much more important that democracy should deliver on the promise of choice, of freedoms, of security of lives and property, of transparency and accountability, of rule of law, of good governance and of shared prosperity. It is very important that the promise embedded in the concept of democracy, the promise of a better life for the generality of the people, is not delivered in the breach.”
Those words will melt the hearts of any democratic supporter, follower, or devotee who attended the ceremony, including those who believe candidate Buhari is unfit for the post because of his authoritarian and totalitarian past.
To draw his speech to an end, he nailed it with these final statement: “I cannot change the past. But I can change the present and the future. So, before you is a former military ruler and a converted democrat who is ready to operate under democratic norms and is subjecting himself to the rigours of democratic elections for the fourth time.”
If there were any remaining skeptics in the audience, the final stanza of then-candidate Buhari’s farewell song of democracy dispelled any remaining misgivings, as it was a flawless finisher on every level.
After that, in the perspective of both domestic and international players, his election to be President was a foregone conclusion.
But, six years later, has President Buhari lived up to the promises he made as a candidate at Chatham House in February 2015, in front of a distinguished audience of proponents and exponents of democracy and its culture, and under the chairmanship of Sir Richard Grozny?