How Nigerian Presidents Fail (1) – Dr.Muiz Banire

As remarked in the last edition of this column, I salute the President on the recent decisions made. As at the date of the publication, the major decision was the suspension of the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, and the referral of the corruption allegation to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). In the said intervention, I had condemned the sustenance of the social intervention funds beleaguered with corruption, thereby serving as slush fund. I invited Mr. President to therefore abolish the social intervention schemes which fund had become slush fund in the hands of public officials. I am not sure whether it was the advice that was heeded or the President acted out of his own volition in immediately suspending all the social intervention programs.

The preponderance of the feedbacks from my readers tilted towards the former and therefore congratulating me on the outcome. In further acknowledgment of the decisions, Bola Bolawole, a columnist, opined in his intervention, titled: Bettagate: Can Tinubu bell the cat? that if there is any other accolade to be given to president Tinubu, it must be that of listening and reacting to the public opinions, unlike that of the previous administration on which there is unanimity of opinion of being deaf and dump to public opinion. Consequently, the suspension of all the social intervention programs the next day after my publication by the President might therefore be deliberate or fortuitous. Whichever way, it is the right step in the right direction. The public welcome more of such presidential intervention in other sectors of governance. The profile of the administration has enjoyed a quantum leap and must not be allowed to regress. Now to the focus of our discourse, why, or how did successive Nigerian presidents fail? I remember at the inauguration of this column, the first few editions interrogated what was/is wrong with the country called Nigeria.

Although so much was unveiled in the said conversations, not much of the issues interrogated unfortunately has been addressed, thus still challenging the state of affairs of the country in terms of growth. This time, I am drifting away from that premise, to interrogate the triggers of failure in the Nigerian presidency arising from the relationship and interaction of the leader with the followers. It is in this connection that I sought to interrogate the nexus between good governance and the location of the seat of power. I am not too sure there has been much literature, if any, on the subject as what largely preoccupies researchers is the nexus between the leadership and the programs/policies. To this end, the thesis is on how much the accessibility of the people to their leader and vice versa impact good governance? Let me state from the onset that once the relationship in terms of communication is impaired, the likelihood of an administration succeeding is gloomy.
As Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum (the Prime Minister of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates) once said “True leaders do not create barriers between themselves and their people. They do not isolate themselves away from the public; rather, they become an integral part of their everyday life”. I shall, in the course of this engagement, make generous references to the sayings of that great leader that I have self-appointed my mentor. In this respect, I am evaluating the location of the seat of government in Nigeria in relation to the output of the successive administrations. As known to some Nigerians, the residence and office of the President of Nigeria is located in an enclosure in a remote area of what is today known as the federal capital territory, Abuja, a place reputed to be the confluence of the country. I am not dabbling into the controversy around the truism or otherwise of that assertion.

As you probably will recall, the seat of government used to be sited around Dodan Barracks in Obalende area of Lagos State, surrounded by dwellings of other private citizens. Hardly could the heads of government while in office then step out without noting the challenges of the people. Remember that it was not until much later in the life of the country that the military administration opted to relocate the capital from Lagos State to the present place which is Abuja, under the following pretexts. Lagos State was becoming too congested and choked to continue accommodating the federal presence. There was the need for centralization of the capital in order to create easy accessibility to all Nigerians, and due to the coastal nature of Lagos State, there were security concerns. Lastly, it was contended, Lagos development was too haphazard to arrest, and hence the need for a new location to engender orderly development and planning.
A lot of us were and are still not persuaded by those arguments as we know that the truth behind the relocation of the capital was the constant threat of coup d’etat, rampant and afflicting the country then. Again, this is not my destination. My enquiry is essentially as to the propriety or otherwise of the location of the operational base of the Presidency in that remote part of the country’s capital, totally ‘inaccessible’ to the people who are then beyond the reach or sight of the president. In the circumstances of this nature, can it not be said that the president is insulated from the people he is governing, particularly in the context of the appreciation of the people’s needs and feelings? The Aso Rock villa, as the presidential lodge and office of the President of Nigeria is called, is not a place Nigerians can enter much less pass through. In fact, No Nigerian without clearance can be seen wandering around the vicinity, lest he be declared a terrorist or accused of treasonable felony. A lot of times we have heard various people say that the villa negatively impacts the occupiers, courtesy, particularly, of Reuben Abati, one time spokesperson of the Jonathan presidency. I suspect that this assertion is more likely to be situated within the confines of the outputs of the successive administrations that occupied the villa.
Although Femi Adesina, the spokesperson of the Buhari presidency denounced this insinuation using himself as a reference point, the output of the administration he served however will tend to debunk his viewpoint as the Buhari administration is reputed to be the most retrogressive, clueless, unproductive, callous, nepotic, visionless and brutal presidency in the history of the country. As events are buttressing now, it is the administration that has wrought so much havoc on the country to the extent of driving it over four decades backwards.

It was under the administration that nepotism and corruption peaked. The trauma of the present is mainly traceable, and certainly not unconnected with the tyrannical and incompetent leadership of the era. I had opined in one of my previous interventions that by the time Buhari exited the presidency and revelations start unfolding, the shock might accelerate his demise. The facts are gradually coming out despite all the struggles and strife of the current President to watch his back. Most of the atrocities are simply difficult to shield. Not to lose focus of our discourse, I recall a picture showing the then President Buhari picking his teeth after meals and watching the geographical channels of animals. The probable rationale for this posture is that since he was ostracised or denied the opportunity to interact with Nigerians and caged within the ‘zoo’ called the villa, he opted for virtual interaction with the animals. On this premise, it might be difficult to condemn him totally for his catastrophic failure. The only reference of Buhari while in office was in terms of fear and assumed respectability which are no exciting traits of a good leader. As Maktoum remarked, “A leader might be feared or respected, but to be truly loved by their people is something every leader aspires to achieve”.
Certainly Buhari was never loved by Nigerians. He inflicted so much pains on Nigerians, the legacy of which we are still suffering under this administration. The barometer for the measurement of the success or otherwise of a leader is simply the happiness of the people. Were Nigerians happy under his administration? Certainly not. This discourse is not intended to be the autopsy or post mortem of Buhari administration as I have done that earlier in this column, so I stop here except to state that the book launch held a few days ago might resurrect the bitterness of Nigerians against him. In Nigeria, we tend always to create imaginary and deceitful pictures of our leaders.

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