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Buhari remains ‘the unbending iron’, not our father!

Buhari remains ‘the unbending iron’, not our father!
November 18
14:45 2020

BY EDWARD T. DIBIANA

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When Femi Adesina, presidential spokesman, described President Muhammadu Buhari as “the unbending iron” in his recent piece, I chuckled, especially as the imageries unwittingly conjured by that phrase are not lost on anyone that has followed the president’s public life — both in the past and his current office as a democratically elected president.

Such unsavoury ‘profiling’ obviously contrasts with the man’s physical good looking nature. Tall, slim and with a charming smile, when he desires, makes it unlikely that the retired general wouldn’t have been the dream of many spinsters in his youth. Even at his current advanced age, not many young women would probably say no to him, should he decide to take a new wife in line with his Muslim religion that doesn’t frown against a second woman sharing the ‘other room’.

Indeed, as those that know him closely would readily aver, he is very jovial and always at home with the ordinary people, especially before he became president of the Republic. But he is also known, as suggested above, to be very stubborn and remarkably unyielding. The dual traits that are very disturbing in a democracy, that ought to be rooted in the plurality of views and supremacy of the power of the people.

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That is why I partly agree, but at the same time, also, sharply disagree with some of the submissions made by the presidential spokesman, Adesina, in his recent article titled “We have many fathers”.

Adesina had in his usual manner, generously extolled the President as a humane, patient and understanding father of all. He made this assertion, apparently in his estimation, of the way President Buhari handled the #EndSARS protests and the ugly aftermath that witnessed mindless destructions and lawlessness that took place across the nation.

Adesina had written: “Is President Buhari as hard as he was in 1984? Yes and no. In personal traits and attributes, he remains the unbending iron. But in terms of administration and response to people and situations, he is tempered by democracy, and by time. What he could do by military fiat then, he must pass through democratic due process now. He wore khaki then, now he wears Agbada. No wonder he now talks longingly about the time “when I was young and ruthless…

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“Well, he is no longer young, and he must be more avuncular, even fatherly, for that is what he is. And ruthlessness has not much place in democracy if any at all”, Adesina surmised.

Whereas he stated that “ruthlessness has not much place in democracy”, I say an emphatic no!

Ruthlessness shouldn’t have any place at all in a democracy. I also disagree with him that the president is our father, or has been fatherly, as he wants us to believe. Though I am not unaware of the African culture that ascribes fatherhood to male elders in the African society and culture, I am nonetheless not persuaded to accept, that Buhari in his current status as  president and Commander-in-Chief, is “our father.” Rather, he remains our president. My president.  My leader. And he should be accountable to me as a citizen and also to the well over 200 million other Nigerians! That is democracy.

Such accountability includes a free flow of communication from the leader to the led.  And in this information age, our leaders should not be seen as being reluctant to speak to the people, else such could be misconstrued as taking the people for granted. And that could quite easily water the seed of mistrust between leaders and the people.

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Twice in recent times (during the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Nigeria and recently during the #EndSARS protests), President Buhari had exhibited such disturbing reluctance to speak with the people. And that is not good enough in a democracy.

As individuals, we have expectations which encompass the quality of leadership we desire.

For instance, what I want in my president is a leader that has the balls to make the right calls and the democratic fibre to ensure that his leadership decisions are in agreement with the reassuring principles and norms of democracy, such as justice, equity and fairness. Without these three important democracy pillars, democracy is but a mere alias.

Fundamentally, we don’t expect President Buhari’s “fatherly favour or fondness”. No, we didn’t vote for those. What we voted for was true democratic leadership that is anchored on justice, fairness and Servant-leadership. This type of leadership enables democratic accountability to the people. And at all times, listens to the yearnings, aspirations and grouses of the people. So, when people express their feelings about policies, actions or inactions of government, they do so simply to draw the attention of the leadership to issues that affect their wellbeing, not necessarily as a result of hate, religious or ethnic biases, as some people close to the government have always alleged.

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I make these assertions, strongly persuaded that democracy is essentially about the people. It draws life from engendering the protection of the welfare and wellbeing of the people. In fact, the people are the fuel that power the engine of democracy. The elected representatives, being mere occupiers of the seat of power, in trust for the people and the overall interest of the nation.

Thus, democracy loses it flavour and character when the people feel neglected and alienated; when their voices are regarded as irritation by the leaders or the band of sycophants that worship at the altar of political leadership.

That is why it is worrisome to read somebody who is in a position to know the president better than most of us, such as Adesina, write about our president thus: “In personal traits and attributes, he remains the unbending iron.” This “unbending” attribute is not only a stranger to democracy that thrives on flexibility, concessions, consensus and multiplicity of ideas; it also poses a challenge to new visions and change. And we are all witnesses to the unfolding lacklustre development in some critical areas of governance.

So, no matter the preachment of the current administration, not many would agree that President Buhari has been “tempered by time and democracy”, as was canvassed by his aide. What people would most likely see in the President is that he “remains the unbending iron”, as he was profiled by his image-maker. Or the “ruthlessness” of his past, alluded to by him. Whichever description people chose to take, remains an unsavoury perception, probably supported by the president’s recent actions, inactions or happenings around him.

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This seeming “unbending iron” trait appears to have played out in a number of recent events where the president failed to yield to public outcry. For instance, the issue of insecurity in the northeastern part of the country has been in the front burner, just as terrorism, banditry and kidnapping hold sway in the region. This has resulted in the ceaseless call by the leaders in the zone for the rejiging of the security architecture of the nation. The National Assembly, religious leaders and other stakeholders have also called on the president to sack the service chiefs, in order to inject more energy, fresh strategy and motivation into the fight against terrorism and other violent crimes, especially as not much success has been achieved by the current military leadership, in that regard.

But in the midst of all these, the president, curiously,  remains unyielding.

Again, one of the key promises made by Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), before he was elected as president, the first time in 2015,  was that Nigeria’s refineries would be refurbished to ensure that they begin to function at optimal capacities. It’s now over five years of that promise, and Nigeria is still importing petrol from other countries, including Niger Republic, in spite of the fact that Buhari is also the Minister of Petroleum. And it is bewildering that every now and then, hundreds of millions of dollars are sunk into the facilities in the name of questionable turn around maintenance. Curiously, every call for this campaign promise to be kept, or suggestions that those dilapidated refineries be sold and new ones built, in the overall interest of the people and the Nigerian economy, continue to meet Buhari’s “unbending iron” persona. Today, Nigerians are paying the price of this seeming inability to manage our refining infrastructure, through unending soaring pump price of petroleum products.

Also, just recently, the federal government under the leadership of the unyielding President Buhari, through the instrumentality of its agencies, decided to hound some individuals identified as promoters of the recent #EndSARS protests, against public uproar. This approach, at the time people from far and near are calling for dialogue, many have argued tallies with the ‘ruthlessness attribute’ alluded to by the presidential aide,  Adesina.

And this to me, is everything but an indication of a fatherly love, understanding or humaneness.

Dibiana is a journalist and could be reached via [email protected]

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