Given the pattern of events in the past six years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s stewardship as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, it is easy to conclude that Mr President is a Fulani irredentist and apologist. That’s simply because the media is awash with complaints that most of those appointed into critical public offices by President Buhari have been skewed or heavily weighted in favour of the Hausa/Fulani to the exclusion of the two other major tribes (particularly the lgbo and to a lesser degree, Yoruba) as well as other minority tribes numbering over 250 that make up our country.
Those who hold that view aver that such mono ethnic dominance tendency is more pronounced in the security architecture of the nation with members of a particular tribe and faith being at the helm of practically all the critical security agencies. And that’s on top of the fact that they are also in charge of other critical organs of the government including the leadership of the legislature and judiciary at the centre.
But would it not be glib to just label President Buhari a Fulani irredentist without interrogating or conducting a basic psychological analysis to decipher the reasons that our President tends to be exhibiting a predisposition that portrays him as selfish, clannish, ethnic, nepotistic and even a religious bigot?
Is the fact that he defended the Fulani back in the days when following a deadly conflict between herdsmen and farmers in Oyo State, then retired army general, Buhari had to travel all the way from Kano to lbadan for a showdown with then governor of Oyo State, Lam Adesina (1999/03) enough to draw the harsh conclusion that President Buhari is a Fulani apologist?
Is it also fair or justifiable to adjudge him to be beholden only to the Fulani simply because he is the life patron of Miyetti-Allah, the umbrella association of herdsmen who are predominantly Fulani and currently in the centre of herders and farmers conflicts erupting all over the country?
It is pertinent to point out that although he took the above referenced actions, President Buhari also defends the military and the judiciary with similar fervour. Does that make him a military and judiciary apologist or irredentist too?
Even those he calls his friends and allies also get the kind of protection that he provides for the Fulani and by extension, herdsmen.
Does that make him a nepotist?
Clearly, it is the protective tendencies often exhibited by Mr President towards those that he shares affinity with such as the Fulani and other members of his constituents – the military, acolytes and fellow party members that have earned him the negative appellations such as irredentist and apologist. In reality, and to be fair, President Buhari should not just be referred to as Fulani irredentist because by his antecedents and if same logic is applied, he can also be termed a military apologist and a leader who turns blind eyes to the failings of his acolytes and devotees because he feels duty bound to do so. That’s partly evidenced by the fact that he demurred for a long time from firing the military service chiefs, even after the call by a cross section of the Nigerian public for their sack had reached the highest crescendo.
While all the earlier listed labels attached to Mr President such as selfish, clannish, religious bigot may not be easy to prove, one toga that sticks on him like a second skin is that President Buhari is a tribalist.
That’s because as a person, he appears to be wired to recognise and reward only those known and loyal to him. And owing to their loyalty, the people or groups that he helps, protects or supports are regarded as his tribesmen and women.
That attitude to leadership would not have been such a bad trait if the number of Nigerians outside his clan that are within his orbit were not so very limited.
But as things currently stand, reflective of his personal lifestyle, President Buhari’s circle of friends is very small.
As such, his actions and inactions as President in the nearly six years period that he has held sway in Aso Rock Presidential Villa attest to the belief that our President may be afflicted by what l would like to term – tunnel vision miasma. Which basically means that Mr President may only be applying the optics of loyalty in his assessment of issues, allocation of power or in dispensing favour. In other words, the main criteria of appraisal of issues by Mr President is likely to be mainly from the prism of loyalty.
And l arrived at the conclusion above based on the psychological analysis (though l
lay no claim to being a psychologist or psychiatrist) that l have conducted relying on trend analysis of President Buhari’s public actions and utterances.
So, the outcome of my assessment, is that all the myths about our President being an ethnic jingoist and religious bigot have been shattered. And a new vision of who he truly is, in my opinion has just crystalised.
My new vision of Mr President has been defined or influenced by a myriad of factors, but the chief of which is the current soft landing that he has accorded the recently retired military service chiefs, by proposing them for ambassadorial appointments.
So, by and large, any keen follower of Buharism that adjudges President Buhari to be a tribalist, would not be far from the truth.
But the Nigerian leader is not a tribalist of the hue that is restricted to the narrow prism of his clan or state of origin. That is to say that the tribalism of our President goes beyond tongue and place of origin. It is much wider than that as it extends to the orbit of fellow human beings irrespective of the tongue, tribe and creed of those with whom he has developed a comfort zone. Based on the above precept, President Buhari’s tribe members are those that he demands absolute loyalty from, it does not matter whether they are Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba or lgbo. In like manner, he pledges his loyalty to them too – in terms of offering his protective backing through thick or thin. My finding is that once he develops a bond with anyone or group, they become his tribesmen and women.
It is a sort of informal and unwritten commitment of sorts that makes members of Mr President’s inner circle look like cult members, with him as a Don as the Italians like to refer to godfathers. A bond which in an uncanny way is writ large, in my considered opinion.
That’s why the average Buharist is likely to be blinded to all his shortcomings, just as he too sees them as blue eyed princes/princesses for whom he provides protective shields against adversaries.
The notion is a validation of the thinking by a good number of Nigerians that tend to have the belief that President Buhari practically turns a blind eye to the atrocities committed by his devotees.
To substantiate the hypothesis above, let’s assume that the military is a tribe.
Given his unflinching support to the service chiefs that just retired, after being on the job for about five years which is unprecedented, would President Buhari also be tagged a military tribalist for choosing members of his tribe (military) to serve as ambassadors after dithering from sacking them over a long period of agitation for their replacement by Nigerians? At least two of the five service chiefs are not from the Hausa/Fulani stock – Abayomi Olonisakin is Yoruba from
Ekiti State, while Ibok Ete-Ibas is Efik from Cross River State.
For standing stoically behind the service chiefs that were on the job for an unprecedented period of five years, would it not be easy to also identify President Buhari as a military irredentist, much the same way as he is being labelled Fulani irredentist?
How about the two former Supreme Court justices, George Oguntade-Yorubaman and late Sylvanus Nsofor-Igboman that he gave appointments as ambassadors to the UK and USA, respectively-the most prestigious and strategic ambassadorial postings? These men are said to be the members of the temple of justice that offered minority opinions in his favour on the two occasions that he challenged his losses in the presidential elections to Supreme Court levels prior to 2015 when he eventually won the presidency.
Was he also tribalistic with their appointments or can he be characterised as an apologist of the judiciary arm of government? From what l gleaned from
my brief research into President Buhari’s actions and inactions, both Supreme Court justices are the ones who gave the minority judgements that helped candidate Buhari to keep his presidential hope alive during the dark period of his quest for the presidency.
Being someone that treasures and cherishes loyalism, he must have felt duty bound to reward his loyalists, generously by offering them the prestigious appointments in the manner he is now putting up the retired military service chiefs for appointment as ambassadors.
The point I’m trying to put across is that President Buhari is more of an ardent and perhaps irredeemable believer in the concept of loyalism than a mere Fulani irredentist as he is being characterised.
So, his somewhat unwavering, if not zealous commitment to loyalty, in my view, explains, or is the reason his appointees are mainly from amongst his cohort and he hardly fires them.
That leadership style or approach hinged on absolute loyalty might have originated from his military training which is steeped in regimentation. Nevertheless, there are also chances that the character trait of insularity might have been innate in our President and his military orientation might have only contributed to the consolidation of his constricted outlook or worldview and unique approach to leadership. Whatever the case may be, Mr President is obviously set in his ways. However, he may be difficult, but not impossible to sway from a presumably settled mindset.
Take the case of naira devaluation, fuel pump price increase and petroleum subsidy removal for instance.
President Buhari was initially resistant to such fundamental economic reforms. But he eventually yielded to superior argument and reality by allowing the market forces to influence the dynamics of those economic factors.
Today, the naira exchanges with the dollar at N475-$1 up from about N200-$1 five years ago.
Likewise, petrol pump price has moved from N87 per litre five years ago to N162 today, just as the fuel debilitating subsidy that was gulping about a billion naira annually, has also been abolished.
As readers would notice, the naira got devalued by over 100% and fuel pump price also doubled. And those were the fears or unsavoury outcomes that made President Buhari to initially withhold his assent to those policies.
Nevertheless, the bright side to the reform in the oil sector is that it is the unshackling of the petroleum sector that is apparently the reason the dreadful experience of fuel scarcity is now only viewed from the rearview mirror in our beloved country since it is currently a thing of the past.
Tellingly, during his reign as military head of state (1983/85) his insularity manifested when Nigeria was ostracised globally during the period that our country was acting in a contrarian manner. It is not an exaggeration to state that at that point in time, our country was on the precipice of descending into a state of Autarky like North Korea via its trade by barter, counter trade and other extreme trading mechanisms.
And the negative fallouts of the aforementioned peculiar tendencies is that President Buhari’s circle of friends had remained within his clan and military cohort until recently when his friendship circle got developed and expanded to include the political class, which he cultivated or acquired in the past six or so years of winning the presidency and holding sway in Aso Rock Villa seat of power.
Perhaps referencing a few instances of when he has stoutly defended his new political friends or members of his political tribe in the manner he protects his Fulani kith and kins would help in throwing more light on the point that I’m trying to make about the mindset of President Buhari whose loyalty to family and friends is perhaps being pigeonholed as Fulani or ethnic tribalism.
Take for instance the case of the former Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) Babachir Lawal, who was accused of fraud and there was pressure on President Buhari to sack him. It may be recalled that when the SGF ran into the stormy waters about the infamous ‘Grass Cutting’ contract, President Buhari initially resisted probing him, how much more suspending, before finally replacing the SGF. That’s basically because they were together in the trenches throughout the period that President Buhari was engaged in the hard fought contest for the presidency from 2003-2015.
This implies that Babachir Lawal was not just protected because he is Hausa/Fulani, which he is not. But he was initially shielded simply because he is a Buhari loyalist.
It is noteworthy that President Buhari did not do the bidding of Nigerians until the unrelenting pressure became unbearable for him to ignore.
Also consider the case of former finance minister, Kemi Adeosun, who was found to have procured a forged NYSC certificate – a mandatory civic duty that all Nigerian university graduates must undergo for eligibility to serve in public office. Whereas she failed to engage in the process, she presented a fake certificate fraudulently procured and this ran afoul of the law.
It’s on record that in 2018, President Buhari equally remained adamant to the public call for her resignation or sack, and he only caved in following the monumental pressure from Nigerians.
Mr President only protected his then finance minister with vigour in reciprocity for her loyalty, not because she is Fulani, as she is actually a Yoruba lady.
Likewise, when his loyalist Kayode Fayemi lost his re-election bid as governor of Ekiti State in 2014 to Ayodele Fayose. Characteristic of his knack for accommodating his acolytes, President Buhari gave Fayemi a place to berth in his government as a cabinet minister and empowered him to retool in order to go back to Ekiti to reclaim his mandate in a keenly contested election that most people believe Fayemi won due to the federal government might that was mobilised to ensure President Buhari’s loyalist emerged victorious. Fayemi is obviously an Ekiti man and not Fulani.
How can we forget the case of Ibrahim Magu, the immediate past chairman of the EFCC who served for over five years in acting capacity because the Senate on several occasions declined the request to approve his appointment, owing to a damning report on him by a sister intelligence agency – the Department of State Security (DS. Remarkably, President Buhari stood by his loyalist Magu for about five years until he was caught in another vortex powered by another strong Buhari loyalist, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Abubakar Malami. The allegations of impropriety against Magu culminated in a probe, suspension, and yet to be publicly declared final outcome.
No matter the lenses people use to look at the probe of his stewardship, Mr President is also not allowing Mr Magu to suffer a hard exit from his role as his anti-fraud tsar for five years.
Take note that Magu is a Kanuri man, not Fulani.
Furthermore, readers are also invited to avert their minds to how President Buhari has stood behind Vice President Yemi Osinbajo when some powerful forces within the presidency moved against him as they sort to remove him via impeachment apparently for the ‘sins’ he committed when he acted as president while Buhari was receiving medical treatment in the UK?
As his loyal deputy, President Buhari came to the rescue of Osinbajo by not taking the bait of probing the slew of corruption allegations levied against the Vice President.
That’s why the plot to remove Osinbajo that had thickened before the 2019 re-election season evaporated like a storm blown away by the east wind.
How about the case of Rotimi Amaechi and Babatunde Fashola – former governors of Rivers and Lagos states, respectively – who were indicted for fraud by the probe panels set up in their respective states? Yet, President Buhari admitted them into his government as cabinet ministers, which is antithetical to the avowed anticorruption posture of government under his watch.
The duo who were governors of the richest states in Nigeria are believed (according to media reports) to have oiled the funding machinery of the campaign that facilitated the 2015 victory of President Buhari.
Also, when the season of political storm of treachery that threatened to sweep off Adams Oshiomhole as the Chairman of APC seized the political space, it was President Buhari that offered the former Edo State governor a soft landing by not allowing him to be ignominiously booted out. He did so by facilitating an honourable path to Oshiomhole’s exit via the dissolution and replacement of the party’s executive committee with an interim committee. Oshiomhole is from Edo State, not Fulani.
How about Bola Tinubu, the ex governor of Lagos State and the current political leader of the Yoruba race after the late sage Obafemi Awolowo? He is another loyalist that Buhari has shown unflinching loyalty. Tinubu is reputed to have been the wind beneath the sail of President Buhari and the ruling party by mobilising and marshaling the political fortunes in southwest Nigeria behind Buhari culminating in his victory as President in 2015. After three failed attempts at clinching the presidency since the return of multi party democracy in 1999, President Buhari realised that his much vaunted 12 million votes from the north was not enough to make him the president of Nigeria. That’s simply because the mandatory requirement of winning at least 2/3rd majority of votes of all Nigerians embedded in the 1999 Constitution cannot be fulfilled by only the votes of northerners even if he could garner 50 million votes.
So, he had to cut a deal with the political leader of the Yoruba nation, Bola Tinubu.
For the critical and pivotal role that Tinubu played in his victory, President Buhari in his characteristic manner has remained loyal to his ally. Hence, he has been like the Rock of Gibraltar to Tinubu by helping him stave off both internal and external challenge to his coveted position of being the political numero uno of the Yoruba nation by those who have been framing him up as a threat to Buhari whose wings need to be clipped.
Returning to the issue of President Buhari’s recommendation of the immediate past military service chiefs as ambassadors, the resort to cat fights between the main opposition party spokesmen and the media handlers of President Buhari have not helped matters I would argue that it is lazy and lame to drill down the nomination of the top military brass to a plot to help them escape from litigation or sanctions by the international human rights agencies, because although they enjoy diplomatic immunity, they can be declared persona non grata. And that’s in addition to the fact that global human rights agencies that often have unlimited access to all countries in the world can also pressurise designated countries not to accept or issue the potential envoys accreditation if any human rights abuse or other crimes against humanity can be established against the officers.
Until or unless any crime is pinned on the ex military apparatchiks, they remain officers and gentlemen.
So, the contention that it is an escape route for the military generals is not only incredible but also defies logic. As far as I’m concerned, the conspiracy theory that is more plausible is that the motivation for their nomination is that by posting the ex service chiefs out of Nigeria, they would pose less threat to government in terms of not being able to mobilise members of their constituents for a coup d’etat or other seditious intentions.
Making such speculation or conjecture is not rocket science, as it is more commonsensical.
So, rather than get mired in the mundane argument of whether the nomination of the officers for ambassadorial posting is a ploy for them to be shielded from being prosecuted in international human rights courts, President Buhari’s reputation managers should have engaged more intelligently with the spokesmen of the main opposition party by justifying the nomination and possible appointments through reminders to Nigerians that this is not the first time that retired army generals are being appointed as ambassadors.
Was it not in this country that Major General Haladu Hananiya was appointed Nigerian ambassador to the UK, 1983-84? The same army general was also a delegate to the United Nations in 1985. And there are other instances of members of the military retiring into diplomacy, not only in Nigeria but globally, including the USA.
So, why don’t President Buhari’s men make a good case for his current decision to appoint his ex military service chiefs as envoys to foreign countries by reminding Nigerians that tapping ex military generals for diplomatic positions is a practice that is at least 36 years old in our country.
Now, my trend analysis of President Buhari’s character trait, leadership instincts and public policy initiatives that point to the fact that he is a man that usually manifests absolute loyalty to the constituent that he represents – be it ethnic, filial or group – does not absolve him from being labelled a tribalist, which most of his critics have concluded that he is.
Even Mr President himself in a veiled manner had acknowledged his past narrow ethnic outlook to life and promised to change it in his inaugural speech on May 29, 2015 when he was first elected and sworn into office as President of our country.
The phrase “I belong to no one, I belong to everyone” that featured prominently in his speech portrayed him as a man that has changed his world view from the pursuit of the narrow Hausa/Fulani interests – as evidenced by his past actions both as military head of state,1983/85 and chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) under General Sani Abacha’s watch (1994/98) to a much larger scope in his new role as the elected president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In 2016, barely one year after Mr President took over the reins of power, l wrote an article titled “Federal Republic Of Inequality?” The piece which was published by TheCableOnline on June 24 and in Vanguard newspaper on July 1, amongst other platforms catalogued President Buhari’s appointments into strategic public offices and noted that they were highly skewed in favour of people from his constituents. The development which had not fully evolved or come into full bloom as it currently is, actually is a breach of the federal character policy embedded in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Relying on trend analysis, l spotted the pattern, studied it closely and projected into the future to foretell what would eventually manifest in the coming years as leadership by exclusion or tribalism, and my projection was correct.
Disappointingly, about six years into his eight years two-term tenure, and with practically two years left in his second term that ends in 2023, President Buhari cannot be said (by any measure or yardstick) to have kept his promise of belonging to no one, and belonging to everyone.
At least that’s the verdict that a vast majority of Nigerians are expressing daily in online and on traditional media platforms.
So Mai Gaskiya, as President Buhari is popularly referred to by people in his political base and which when translated from Hausa to English, means the bearer of truth, reveals the high level of trust reposed in President Buhari by the critical mass of people in the north.
And the phrase Mai Gaskiya also validates the unwritten principle of President Buhari being bonded by his words.
But, most of the trust and fidelity reposed in him by the masses (talakawa) seems to be eroding fast owing to the unprecedented incidents of insecurity of lives and properties and the concomitant hunger and misery that pervades and is ravaging the nation, especially the northeast and northwest zones under his watch. The recent street protests against the alarming rate of insecurity of lives and properties even in his home state of Katsina affirm the assertion above.
Be that as it may, President Buhari still has enough time to literally put his house in order so that he could reverse the negative narrative and do more good that would overshadow or blot out the past ugly experiences of Nigerians, to enable posterity to judge him better.
However, by not making any bones about the fact that he belongs to the Hausa/Fulani stock and by brazenly waving his Fulani identity, Mr President has left his flanks open for exploitation by those taking his silence as acquiescence to their nefarious activities that are inimical to the common good of all Nigerians.
Invariably, he has by omission or commission been too accommodating to those stoking the firestorm now threatening to cause a conflagration of our country due to the herders/farmers conflicts that have ravaged the entire northern states and now snowballing and constituting an existential threat and a potential trigger for ethnic conflicts in the southwest and maybe beyond. The Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, is even warning of imminent war if the current tension laden atmosphere is allowed to further escalate and degenerate.
In conclusion, I’m perplexed that even amongst the lgbo, there are deep divisions. Hence, some members of Ohanaeze Ndigbo – the umbrella sociocultural organisation of Igbo nation has been complaining loudly that President Buhari left out the Igbo nation in his appointment of the new military service chiefs.
In my view, it means that Ohanaeze leaders and other complainants are distinguishing between the Igbo within the five southeast states and the Igbo in south-south states like Delta. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be levelling the allegations of exclusion against President Buhari.
For the sake of emphasis, the new Chief of Defense Staff, Major General Leo Eluonye Onyenuchea Irabor is an Igbo man from Agbor in Delta State. I’m of the view, (and I believe most fair minded people are, too) that the fact he is not from the core Igbo states of Abia, Ebonyi, Imo, Enugu or Anambra does not vitiate or dilute his Igbo lineage or heritage.
It may be recalled that during the civil war, the Anioma dialect speaking inhabitants of then Midwest State (now Delta State) were deemed to be Igbo hence hundreds of them (Asaba people in particular) were massacred by the federal troops simply because of their Igbo pedigree.
Similar killings by federal troops, although in smaller proportions, were also experienced in Agbor and surrounding towns and villages in the Anioma speaking parts of present day Delta State.
After experiencing such calamity, sharing in the Igbo burden and suffering, isn’t it impolitic that Ohanaeze is disowning the Anioma by alleging that the Igbo have been excluded from having one of its own in the leadership position of the nation’s security architecture?
Perhaps, to assuage the anger of the complaining members of the Igbo nation, the Chief of Defense Staff, CDS should emphasise his Igbo identity by highlighting his middle names Leo ELUONYE ONYENUCHEA Irabor.
It is also worth pointing out that the representative of the Yoruba nation, Air Vice Marshal, Ishiaka Amao is from Osogbo in Osun state, and not from Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo or Ekiti states that may be considered to be more central Yoruba states than Amao’s state of origin.
And there is no hue and cry from Afenifere or any other Yoruba ethnic/cultural group about marginalization or exclusion in the manner that the Ohanaeze and other lgbo groups have been kicking up dust.
Be that as it may, as President Buhari enters the twilight zone of his reign, he could score a home run (a feat in American baseball game that’s equivalent to hole-in-one for golfers) if he picks an lgbo man as his next choice as Inspector General of Police (lGP).
In fact, Mr President’s recent extension of the tenure of the incumbent, lGP Mohamed Adamu by another three months may be a fortuitous act, as it could afford him the opportunity to identify a thoroughbred Igbo or southern-born professional that would take over from the incumbent and thus give all members of the Nigerian union a sense of belonging.
If per adventure President Buhari goes out of his way to compensate or patronise the Igbo, especially since the APC would need significant lgbo votes to win the presidency in 2023, it would be a positive milestone in President Buhari’s reign and a bright spot for his legacy that’s currently not looking alluring as it should, but for obvious reasons gloomy and in tatters.
That’s a condition acknowledged by President Buhari himself, when in the course of his recent official visit to his home state, Katsina, he voiced the concern that Nigerian elites are judging him harshly.
Assuming his legacy or life after the presidency matters to him, as it should, it behooves of President Buhari to make haste while the sun shines by promoting policies and engaging in governance activities that are for the greater good of a majority of Nigerians not in the narrow interest of his tribesmen and women, so that our beloved country can be off the current tenterhooks on which it is hanging.
-Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in Delta state government, sent this piece from lagos.
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