Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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The presidency of Nigeria is a high and lonely office. The ‘Oga at the top’ sits there alone, trying to find solutions to the complex problems of about two hundred million boisterous countrymen – the most populous black nation in the world.
It requires the wisdom of Solomon to find the solutions. Even with such wisdom, Oga No 1 still needs competent subordinates for things to work out. Unfortunately, President Buhari is not gifted with the wisdom of Solomon; his subordinates are also not Grade A.
In the run up to the 2015 elections, some of us believed he has. Voluntarily, we committed ourselves, even if on the periphery of his presidential campaigns. I remember accepting an assignment to address a political rally in Wukari in Taraba state to make a case for him.
At the time of this rally, herdsmen believed to be Fulani had invaded the rural areas around Wukari, inflicting injury, death and destruction of property on the rural Tiv and Jukun folks. Wukari itself was burning with Christians and Moslems incinerating each other. I disappointed many Christians at the rally by making a case for Buhari. They felt as a Christian I should have stood by Goodluck Jonathan.
But like many others, I believed President Jonathan had failed and we needed a Messiah to take us to the land of milk and honey. Buhari was the man. It was not a question of religious belief but that of competence.
Ironically, the first person to cast doubts on my mind on the leadership trajectory of Nigeria was no other than Buhari himself. After his inauguration on 29th May 2015, we waited endlessly for him to appoint his personal aides which did not need screening by the Senate as required by the Constitution. At last he appointed some whom Dr Junaidu Mohammed – who should know – described as members of his family that are ill equipped to advise him on a diverse country like Nigeria. And then it took him almost half a year to come up with a Ministerial list that required Senate approval. It was as if the President had gone to Heaven in search of some Holy Angels to populate his cabinet. As it turned out, the list was nothing but an anticlimax.
The victory of 2015 certainly caught Buhari unawares. He had tried to win the presidency unsuccessfully on three different occasions and was more used to losing.
The victory was however historic for the simple reason that for the first time in the history of post independent Nigeria, the defeated incumbent President did not only concede defeat, he did so even when the vote count was still in progress.
To me the most profound thing about the victory was that for the first time, Northern Nigeria voted almost uniformly in support of a leader irrespective of religion and tribe. In the first republic following the emergence of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto as the undisputed leader of the North, the region was often described – erroneously – by the southern media as monolithic.
There was nothing monolithic about Sardauna’s North. You had the radicals of NEPU under the irrepressible Mallam Aminu Kano in opposition; the Joseph Tarka group under UMBC banner demanding a dismantling of the giant north and the Borno Youth Movement rebellion led by Ibrahim Imam doing their own thing in stiff opposition to what Sardauna’s NPC stood for.
In 1979, Shehu Shagari emerged as the man of the north. But he only succeeded in bringing Joseph Tarka into the northern fold. Aminu Kano transformed NEPU into PRP and held tightly to his Kano support base, almost wrecking Shagari’s victory in 1979. The dissidents in Borno also found a new leader in Waziri Ibrahim. His GNPP took over Borno and Gongola states. So Shagari still had to contend with some rebellious elements in the north.
In 2015, the north stood solidly behind Buhari. This was an honor not done to the Sardauna; not done to Shehu Shagari.
I will not be the first person to accuse President Buhari of squandering the massive good will of 2015. His close political ally Malam Nasir el-rufai, Governor of Kaduna State in his confidential memo leaked to the media last year said so boldly.
In Benue state for instance, the elections of that year pitched the Senate President David Mark against the Senate Minority Leader George Akume. David Mark delivered one Senatorial zone to the PDP while George Akume delivered two senatorial zones to the APC. In constituting his cabinet, President Buhari decided to reward the zone that voted for the PDP against the APC and ignored the two zones that stood by him. The leaders of APC in Benue still took his judgment in good faith. Amazingly when he came to appoint Ambassadors, Buhari insisted on rewarding a PDP card carrying member in David Marks PDP dominated zone, again snubbing the two APC zones. It remains a credit to el-rufai that this political blunder and squandering of goodwill in Benue was brought to his knowledge and also that of the public via the leaked memo.
In his handling of the invasion of the Benue valley by marauding herdsmen, the President remains poorly served even by the courageous el-rufai. The legion of ethnic groups that inhabit the valley have always felt marginalized by the so called the ‘core north’. It is this feeling that led to agitations for the creation of a Middle Belt State in the first republic.
The invasion of the valley by the cattle grazers with sophisticated arms, maiming, killing and destroying property abundantly reached a frightening height during the Presidency of Goodluck Jonathan. At my Wukari lecture in 2015 where I called on voters to support Buhari, I counted on his experience as a war tested General who had defeated Biafra and Maitatsine to support my case. It is over two years since he took over and there is no let up on the part of the herdsmen aggressors. On the other hand, they appear to be more aggressive and emboldened.
Attempts by the Benue state government to limit areas of conflict between the wandering herdsmen and sedentary farmers through the promulgation of a law that enforces ranching have been resisted openly by the herdsmen. They openly threatened in the media to unleash mayhem on Benue and on New Year’s day carried out their threats with bestial brutality.
On New Year’s day I phoned my Bachama friend in Numan and he expressed great disappointment with the President’s New Year speech. Nowhere in that speech did he talk about the havoc visited on the Bachama people of Numan by the Fulani herdsmen. The President appears not to be bothered by the activities of the herdsmen which have destroyed communal harmony in the north and all over Nigeria. The Benue state Chairman of the APC Comrade Abba Yaro has rightly warned that this could lead to another civil war in Nigeria.
The President will do well to hear such warnings. Sadly, as a prisoner to a coterie of family compact minders – who dictate to him – he is more likely to ignore everything.