Before President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent television interview, many Nigerians had expressed concern over his lack of effective communication with the citizens. In six years he has been in the saddle as President, Buhari has remained largely taciturn. Most times, he prefers to speak to Nigerians through his media aides. But recently, he was able to grant interview to a private television station, Arise TV. In that interview, he made his views known about poverty, restructuring, open grazing, the spate of insecurity in the country, among other things.
On open grazing, the President countered southern governors who recently banned it in the region. According to him, there is an existing gazette which made provisions for cattle routes and open grazing areas. He promised to reinstate the cattle routes and grazing areas across the country. Many informed Nigerians have since debunked this claim. Apart from the fact that the constitution bestows control of land on state governors, open grazing is anachronistic and problematic. It cannot be condoned in a modern society.
The President also tried to justify constructing roads and railways extending into Niger Republic. According to him, he has first cousins in Niger and that there are Kanuri, Hausa, Fulani in that country just as there are Yoruba in Benin Republic. This is untenable because if we are to follow this logic, it means we should also construct roads and railways into Benin.
Besides, the President’s claim that his appointments were based on merit and in accordance with the constitution does not also hold water. He cited the recent appointment of the Chief of Army Staff, Major General Farouk Yahaya, saying Yahaya had experience in fighting Boko Haram.
We wonder if this merit is found only in a section of the country which clearly dominates in critical appointments, especially in security circles.
In the interview under review, Buhari came across as one who is unable to connect with the people he governs. In a particular distasteful comment, he described the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), nay Igbo people, as a dot in a circle that has no access to anywhere. He reminded the Igbo that they are “spread all over the country, having businesses and properties.”
It is not common to see presidents talk down on their people this way. Buhari’s description of the Igbo is very unkind and pejorative. It is the type of thing that caused the Rwandan crisis in 1994. Hutu extremists described the minority Tutsi as cockroaches and even went ahead to instigate people through their radio stations and newspapers to weed out the cockroaches, which meant to kill the Tutsi. The crisis that followed led to the killing of about 800,000 people (mainly the minority Tutsi.) This is why Rwandans don’t identify themselves by their ethnic origin today.
Currently, Nigeria is in a crisis mode. And what makes the difference in a period like this is leadership. A leader connects with his people, both those who voted for him and those who did not. He chooses his words carefully at crisis periods and whatever he says carries weight and inspires people.
Unfortunately, our own leaders have lost the confidence of the people they govern. President Buhari, for instance, bungled the interview in question by not speaking like a statesman. Clearly, he went overboard by asking the youth to behave themselves and make sure Nigeria is secured if they want jobs. It is akin to a statement he made in London in 2018 that a lot of Nigerian youths were lazy.
Besides, the President’s comments rather than assure people, went further to highlight our fault lines. He went as far as saying that both the elders and youths of the South South had distanced themselves from alignment with the South Easterners and had also assured him that they wouldn’t let the Igbo have access to the sea. Clearly, this statement was made in bad taste. Not only have notable South South leaders debunked it, they described it as a divide-and-rule tactic and a ploy to cause disaffection between the South South and the South East people.
A notable Niger Delta leader, Annkio Briggs, was quoted to have said: “It doesn’t matter if the Igbo, Ijaw or the Itsekiri are only 10 people or 100,000 people. You don’t refer to them as a dot in the circle. That already shows very clearly the mindset of the person of President Buhari.”
The President has remained unapologetic and has not quite changed from his military mindset. His views approximate to the recent comments of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, where he tried to compare herdsmen with spare parts dealers.
Going forward, leadership is a trust that must not be squandered. Leaders are there by chance of history and at the behest of the people. Thus, President Buhari should weigh his comments because once they are made, they cannot be retrieved. He should speak like a statesman and father of the nation. Ultimately, it is imperative that Nigeria should be negotiated. This will ensure that the constituents units that make up the country live in peace and harmony.