Complaints against the governance methods of the ruling All Progressives Congress and the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration may be falling on deaf ears, as the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party and civil society agonize over the president's apparent nonchalance about the traumatic experiences of the common people, write Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha
For many who gave him a benefit of the doubt, the recent interview of President Muhammadu Buhari on ARISE News left a lot of painful effect on the audience. Only those who vigorously defend the president's seemingly hopeless position and outdated attitude applauded his disposition. The vast majority of Nigerians were faced with a sore reality-President Buhari is intentional about everything. He is not the doppelganger, known as Jubril. The latter description was propagated by the self-acclaimed leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu. The assumption that Mr. President is aged usually canvassed by Buhari's critics, is now the perfect excuse for Buharists backsliders.
What the ARISE News interview did was to erase once and for all every perception that Buhari is a captive of some unknown men brought together by same biases. What is very clear is that Mr. President has pledged to continue in the same fashion as when he first came to leadership in Nigeria; as Military Head of State, between 1983 and 1985. In fact, he regrets being in control now; at a time when he does not have the force of authoritarian procedures that he is used to. Speaking to the ARISE News team which included ARISE News/THISDAY Group Chairman, Nduka Obaigbena, he expressed regrets that, "(Fighting) corruption is very difficult under this system (and even under the military system). But in this system, doing things with immediate effect is not possible because those who have the money can hire first class lawyers and cases may take 10 years. I assure you, despite the problem with the system, if we have correct intelligence that someone is not accountable, we ease them out. Those in top positions in my government know this."
At the interview which also had ARISE News host Tundun Abiola, Reuben Abati, and Chairman, THISDAY Editorial Board, Olusegun Adeniyi, the Nigerian President was hard-pressed with his views on some of the prominent items of public discourse. While there is a possibility that many of Buhari's responses were not published as an official or attributable statement, the much that were made public may have effectively dissolved some of the wrong perceptions against Buhari.
Astonishingly, the President who fielded questions from the ARISE News team did not show any sign of waned reasoning caused by senescence. He was firm in his responses and even his body language showed aloofness although he faltered when asked about his opinion on the devolution of power. Yet, not a few were stunned by the way the president handled the interview against all odds. Expectedly, not all will agree with his stance on some of the issues raised.
The PDP criticised President Muhammadu Buhari for allegedly taking credit for the projects it initiated in the ARISE News interview. The main opposition party said it was disappointed Buhari failed to use the interview to address relevant issues confronting the country, "Mr. President bungled the opportunity by being evasive and dodgy while attempting to lay claims to projects done by PDP administrations." This was not the only area of concern for the PDP. He pointed to other major areas. "It is ludicrous to us in the PDP that Mr. President can disingenuously seek to subtract the deliverables achieved by past PDP administration from his so-called achievement on infrastructure. The PDP places it on record and we know that Nigerians are also aware that President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was elected on the platform of the PDP, introduced a 25 years national development plan upon assumption of office in 1999. This included the massive construction and expansion of road network, power plants, railways projects, inland and coastal waterways, airports, housing, agricultural and health projects as well as establishment of new universities and other legacy projects in various parts of our country. We want to inform President Buhari, since he is not always aware, that successive governments elected on the platform of the PDP built on these development plans leading to the expansion of major trunk roads across our country, railways and other legacy projects which, probably, his handlers are making him to believe are his.
"It is on record that President Goodluck Jonathan also took on a massive expansion of our international and domestic airports, across the country, built and commissioned railway stations. It is instructive to state that where projects were yet to be completed, it is only a natural occurrence for any Nigerian elected as President to proceed, in the national interest, to complete such projects. The PDP therefore considers it tacky for Mr. President to seek to claim any credit for projects he never conceptualized, commenced or built to near completion, just because he found himself in office at the point of completion."
The PDP announced that it was shameful for the Commander-in-Chief to be at ease in the Presidential Villa which was built by a PDP-led government.
"Should Mr. President be reminded that even the expansion of the Presidential Villa including the Banquet Hall, which his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) uses today as its National Secretariat was conceptualized and built by the PDP government, though leaders of the APC stood stoutly against the project while it was on-going?
"President Buhari also needs to accept the bitter fact that the current draw back in infrastructural development in our country started with his administration. Like a relay race, successive PDP administrations furthered infrastructural development only for him to run the opposite direction when the baton was passed to him.
"It is important to state that only the on-going refurbishing of Akwanga-Maiduguri Road that President Buhari can lay claim to as the singular and only project in which he has demonstrated capacity.
"The expectation of Nigerians is that in an interview like this, Mr. President should give honour to those who conceptualized and built these projects to near completion and, in most cases, only for him to perform the commissioning ceremony.
"Mr. President must also be reminded that all institutions of good governance under the contemporary dispensation including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, the Asset Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON, and Debt Management Office, DMO, among others were PDP's creation.
"Even the Sovereign Wealth Fund, which has become the referral point for his administration, was created by the PDP with stiff opposition from leaders of the APC, like former Governors Rotimi Amaechi and Adams Oshiomhole.
"On issue of devolution of power, state police and restructuring, it is disappointing and heartrending that Mr. President was evasive, dodgy and had no direct response to these burning issues even in the face of a national consensus for the amendment of the1999 Constitution to address these pertinent issues.
"It is also alarming that Mr. President, in his own words, dismissed two governors who ran to him for solution to issues of national security, with escalated killings, kidnapping and violence in their states.
"That action as revealed by Mr. President is very disturbing because, as the Commander-in-Chief, on whose shoulder rests the responsibility of securing our nation, and who also promised to lead from the front, his reaction ought not to have been dismissive of the said governors.
"This action as narrated by Mr. President clearly showed how he abdicated his responsibility and yet was audacious to come to the public arena and made open his personal flaws and failures that have affected the foundation of our national security and emboldened terrorists, kidnappers and bandits to attack and kill our compatriots.
"On the issue of fuel subsidy, it is a known fact that cross boarder crimes like smuggling have their negative effect on prices of petroleum products. While this constitutes a challenge to our economy, the fundamental issue which Mr. President dodged in the interview is the sleazy nature of subsidy policy under his administration.
"Mr. President failed to tell Nigerians how the volume of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, used in our country progressed exponentially from 35 million litres per day to the current fictitious 100 million litres per day, upon which his administration's subsidy payout is calculated.
"In an interview in which for the first time in the history of his government, President Buhari flamboyantly faced the camera, the opaque nature of the subsidy regime under his administration ought to have been topical. The expectation of Nigerians was for Mr. President to address the demand for openness in his administration's subsidy regime as well as why Nigerians are paying humongous sums on subsidy.
The spokesman of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, noted that instead of "addressing issues and providing direction for our nation, President Buhari exposed his cluelessness, paucity of ideas for development while making very provocative comments that could embolden terrorists as well as serve as recipe for further division and violence in the country."
Most of Buhari's interviews are usually riddled with vilifications about his eloquence and mentation. It is not uncommon to see memes about his interviews flying in and out of social media. While amusing, these memes often give credibility to the argument that his age cannot rescue the country from its myriad of problems. In fact, a few days before his interview, a video of his constant usage of the phrase 'I assure you' went viral.
And indeed, during his over 30-minute interview, that phrase was no less ubiquitous.
In recent times, there have been calls for younger people to participate as well as occupy top leadership positions in politics. The general belief is that the country has been ruled by older people who have not really helped in advancing the country. These older people were once younger and had the opportunity to be at the helms of the nation's affairs. As such, it is believed that they should let go of the reins and allow a younger person to rule. But sometimes, in politics, experience plays a vital role. It is one of the excuses most African leaders have deployed to claim their right to the political throne.
However, with all the experiences often gathered, most African nations are still regressing, despite the 'progressive' term in their political parties.
Therefore, neither age nor experience can be used as an absolute yardstick to determine the performance of a leader.
In Buhari's case, age and his ineloquent speech are clearly not in his favour.
Apart from his shortcomings in English fluency, there are opinions that the president cannot hold a conversation for a longer period because of his ailing health. His image launderers, however, do not help in eroding this thought by always having a recorded interview which sometimes triggers the questions: Why can't the president grant a live interview? Will we ever know why?
For one, the President is not seeking reelection. Many have said that the APC stands no chance of survival after Buhari. And the President often acts as if he doesn't care what happens to the party after his tenure.
For the zealous members of the APC, Buhari could damage the party irretrievably by the time he finally leaves office.
What the ARISE News interview did was to erase once and for all every perception that Buhari is a captive of some unknown men brought together by same biases. What is very clear is that Mr. President has pledged to continue in the same fashion as when he first came to leadership in Nigeria; as Military Head of State, between 1983 and 1985. In fact, he regrets being in control now; at a time when he does not have the force of authoritarian procedures that he is used to