Buhari’s change, By Sam Omatseye

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Our tall, angular president with an aloof carriage and an air of a pious recluse afforded us in his eighth decade a rare glimpse into his human interior. Not that we have not seen some human sides before.

But they have been vignettes and inevitably superficial. We have seen him shake hands, illumine his ambience with a few jokes, wallow in family photo ops. But they tend to stiffen rather than ease his martial profile. Too lofty to hug, nature compels him to look down often at others. In ceremonial postures, his handshakes or smiles with other personages look more ritual than mutual.

Especially the smiles. We first encountered that smile in his days of Decree 2. Under his nifty beret, they gave him a puppy’s mien, a school-boy innocence like one who still kicked hays in the heydays of military academy. Until he started kicking everyone, soldiers, politicians, journalists, into jail. If he was winsome, he did not win so many hearts.

The same cheer has now turned into a feral symbol for some. They link those smiles with an absence of light in the land, like a paternal mocker of his own people. Like when he said, live peacefully with your neighbours. The comment, over the sullen corpses of Benue, seemed to sully a funeral hour.

But then, the man had to tell us that he lost two sons to sickle cell anaemia, lost a wife who gave him the sons he lost, that Aisha could not score A to qualify as his spouse if providence did not give her an AA blood type, that he was not going to miss Aso Rock because of the jibing of his fellow citizens in spite of his drudgery as our chief steward, and he draped his children and grandchildren with funny names and he did not favour any child who did not return his change. Then he lamented the fiction of a doppelganger, that a certain other Buhari in the name of Jubril, lurked in Aso Rock and wifed by the same Aisha. Buhari himself, now ghosted, ceded the job to a new host of democracy. He said it was not funny. Baffling is his capacity for silence in the face of public tyranny.

But it gives us a chance to look at the man and his politics, and see that Muhammadu Buhari’s performance has not attracted an exclamation of rapture. Rather some citizens have confessed wounds of torture. Few effusive birthday serenades. One may ask, does he have a reason to worry?

I have had a few dialogues and noted that history will be kind to Buhari. He should, therefore, go gentle into the goodnight of his reign. For some may not agree that he even reigned. He is a dictator, period. So believes some persons. A newspaper calls him general.

But history has a bigger eye than people of the time. The media despised Lincoln in his day. Truman was only seen as a near-great president over four decades after his reign. Ditto Lyndon Johnson. Britons rejected Churchill after his world war heroics. In a reverse of the fate of Jesus, Buhari may have shouts of ‘crucify him‘ before his hosanna. So, when we judge Buhari, we often look at our pocket books, the bloodstained nights and dreary pathways in bushes, and brushes with hoodlums on the highways of finality. We look at how he appoints some who sound and look like him and hoist the same holy book.

This essayist has wept and hollered over these foibles and they are what we can call stains. Yet the story, as robust biographies go, is not often cast on one-sided slates. We are often more complex than we seem.

Even when we say he was appointing men of his roots, he gave the marque jobs with buxom budgets to the Trojan of works Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) and Rotimi Amaechi. None of them come from his Fulani ranch. One devours his holy book, the other does not. As we take our leisure walks this yuletide season, our eastern folks are ploughing the Second Niger Bridge. We can say, there has been no such major showpiece since the Third Mainland Bridge. Even in the Southeast where critics grind him daily, he has imprinted more roads than any administration since independence. I made this claim over a year ago, and no one has been able to controvert it except the hullabaloo of contrarian rants. West Africa’s busiest corridor, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, foot-dragged over corrupt financing before Buhari and corrupting politics under Eleyinmi Saraki. The financing is now right and the road is getting ripe like its eastern cousin. We still have great infrastructure deficit, but there are many done and underway.

We have seen the Lagos-Abeokuta-Ibadan train, a major feat, in spite of hiccups. Some persons so hate Buhari they are giving the credit to Amaechi as though he did not have a boss and approving authority. The Abuja-Kaduna nightmare on the train may not detract us from the immense accomplishment whose beginning traces to Jonathan. Unlike other administrations, Buhari did not shun it.
He came in principally to end fear and trembling in the northeast. Today, few give him credit. Zulum announces almost on a monthly basis new homes and resettlement in Borno. Few even hear of their incursion into Yobe. Because many of the bad boys have fallen, no flags furl for the goons. When Kashim Shettima was governor, he screamed that Boko Haram was better armed than the Nigerian army. The zealots were even within miles of the state house. Not so now.

Banditry followed, and it crippled much of the north and later most of the country. It turned out that the government needed a grade of aircraft and other weaponry through American consent to raze them down. Today, the big-name bandits are on the run. The news of their sweeps of schools and communities has reduced significantly. But it is a battle in progress. We still hear of attacks. I like to believe that we are seeing its rump, not its soul, at work. Now one may ask, if Buhari was in cahoots with the hoodlums as some like to believe, are they saying he is routing them against his own will? The question is not Buhari’s. It is his critic’s to figure out.
The economy was a big part of his coming. He inherited an empty barrel of a purse. I recall even then no one could take a Nigerian credit card abroad and spend above two hundred dollars a day. That is how decimated our purse was. The economy was further crippled by Covid-19, and today the whole world is reeling from its aftermath. The only major country enjoying real growth is the United States. Yet, what jobs are giving, inflation is taking away. Hence the Democrats did not do so well in the off-year elections.

We must not forget that many who flay Buhari fail to hold their state governors to account. Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike said state governments have received a lot from Buhari. Many were able to pay salaries because of him. So, while he gave governors money to revive their states, Buhari has been taking the knocks in silence. In this regard, he has been his worst enemy for not putting their feet to the fire and challenging Nigerians to holler against their holier-than thou state executives who would not account for the money. On the economy, there are errors. Why the dual exchange rate? A policy that has fuelled inflation, a naira cascade and industrial atrophy.

We can see two sides to the man. The one that seems locked in a hegemonic fever, and the one that counters it. It is his lack of open empathy, his inability to convey the nuance and cavern of his soul, that holds the key to how history will judge him. In the words of Poet Walt Whitman, he is Large and contains multitudes. He is not the cartoon, the one-dimensional figure, that many have drawn him to be. After all, Winston Churchill roared to save the world from a tyrant but would not free Africa from his English colonial loins. He also allowed three million Bengalese starve to death. De Gaulle began by resisting a free Algeria before he became their chief advocate.

Buhari came to office promising change. As a man who wants his change returned, he owes us a change: To unveil his humanity hidden behind his handsome façade.

Lagos sets a record

While we wait for the blue train to whir into service, we must not forget that it also promises to enhance a new statistic and record under the BOS of Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu. I saw the fashion statement as the governor donned a blue jacket on a blue train to tackle the blues of traffic in the city. It will become the eternal colour and sound of its part of Lagos. Just like the red train. But I am applauding a new high under him. For the first time in history, an African city soared to the top 100 of start-ups in the world in 2022. In a nation of poor stats where not all start-ups are recorded, it is no mean feat. It is my cheery news of the year. This is Lagos under BOS where imagination meets facility. The governor is not only upgrading its internally generated revenue but internally generated geniuses. That is what an economy does with good infrastructure, peace and economic policy. Lagos will continue to show the way, and that is why it is Nigeria’s New York. It starts with a good leader.

Source: First published in The Nation Newspaper

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