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Buhari: A case for empathy and positive symbolism


President Muhammadu Buhari. PHOTO: NAN

Whichever way the re-ordering of the sequence of  elections goes, the 2019 polls, give and take, will not go beyond April next year; meaning that effectively, Nigerians have just one year to  return  to the polls to elect and re-elect their leaders.

For President Muhammadu Buhari, it is time to go back to the drawing board and rejig strategies – a time to weigh options, reassess strengths and overcome apparent weaknesses. And for the average Nigerian, interesting times are around the corner.  But that is hoping that governments, especially the Federal Government, which controls the apparatus of security nation-wide, would have sufficiently arrested the humongous insecurity problem in the country to give citizens sufficient guarantee of security of their lives and limbs as Nigeria moves to the year of inevitable reckoning.

By its own admission, the Buhari administration has had an outstanding success in curtailing the Boko Haram insurgency. Though we are still witnessing sporadic suicide bombs with loss of lives, the situation is vastly different today. There is a sea change from the time when the insurgents actually occupied territories in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, proclaiming their caliphate and causing havoc in Abuja, Kano, Sokoto and a number of adjoining villages. Whatever measure of success the government has achieved, the continued detention of the Chibok girls and others who are still in captivity remain an unfortunate blight on the score card of the Buhari administration.
The security outfit doing battle with the Boko Haram insurgency should also learn to tame its euphoria which, I guess, may be responsible for their inability to communicate properly and credibly with the public when giving the situation report of the activities of Lafia Dole.

It does not do their image and their credibility any good to keep reporting the death and the resurrection of the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau. He has been killed many times. But like a cat with nine lives, he has resurrected many times. We have been told, and we celebrated prematurely, that Sambisa forest, the fortress of the Boko Haram insurgents, had been levelled down. And yet the same Sambisa forest has miraculously grown not only with new shrubs and weeds of assorted type, it has also grown with new Shekau insurgents.

Still on insecurity, need I remind the government that it is not anywhere near uhuru. The more we worry about it the more the horror of armed bandits continues. Only last week about 41 people were killed in Zamfara State. And the state Governor, Abdulaziz Yari, said he had alerted the security of the impending attack 24 hours before it happened. It is a pity the herdsmen palaver has remained an unfortunate albatross on the Buhari administration.

Corruption fight, as has become evident, has been lurching forward and backwards, making only steady gains here and there while corruption itself seems to be waxing stronger. It seems to me that in the fight against corruption, government appears to be its own worst enemy. Efforts in this direction are not concerted. There are numerous loopholes, apparently created to sabotage the fight against corruption.  President Buhari himself, who has been given an added burden of engineering and supervising continental fight against corruption, must rejig the domestic war apparatus to make it more effective.

This piece is not an overall assessment of the Buhari presidency. That will be for another day. For now, I must add for the avoidance of doubt that I am not unmindful of the giant strides by government in the area of improved power supply and road construction and rehabilitation and the coordinated efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture and that of Water Resources to ensure increased food production and the reduction in food importation. Further improvement in this sector will have a favourable effect on the nation’s economy and the lowering of inflation rate.

What the Aso Villa and all those connected with image making for the president must worry about is the apparent deficit in presidential empathy, positive  symbolism and proper and efficient communication machinery to make the president look better in the  eye of the public. In January this year I saw some efforts to bring the president home via the television to his fellow citizens and show how humble and humorous and sympathetic he is.

Which is good, except that nearly all the people who testified to the goodness of Mr. President were the president’s men. And the cynical public would ask, as indeed they asked, what did we expect the president’s men to say about their principal? And it was all an interview – not the picture of a caring president on a visit to some accident victims, not a picture of a sympathetic and empathic president dashing to Benue State or to Zamfara State to sympathise with the unfortunate victims of a senseless carnage that has become the defining feature of the  country.

But unfortunately, on the aforementioned occasions, as if to show our president in bad light, seven governors chose the day the victims of the Benue massacre were being buried to visit the Villa and to persuade President Buhari to run next year. And last week, as the victims of the Zamfara carnage were being buried, Northern governors were with the President in his country home in Daura to felicitate with him and the photo ops showed them with broad smiles.

It is like the bug that bit his predecessors has not spared this otherwise very caring and humane Daura general. President Shehu Shagari was bitten by the bug when in January 1983, the 27-storey Necom House, built on Marina Lagos in  1979 to house the country’s external telecommunication facilities, caught fire. The building was sufficiently damaged with deaths reported – a former editor of New Nigerian, Aminu Abdullahi, died in the fire. President Shagari visited the site of the tragedy and left while the inferno was still going on and he jetted out to India.  His countrymen were not mollified.

President Olusegun Obasanjo was a victim of this same bug. In January 2002, there was an accidental explosion of high calibre bombs at the Military Cantonment in Ikeja, Lagos. It was the day the devil visited Lagos. Out of panic, and not knowing what really was happening, many people took to their heels to run for dear lives. Not less 1000 people died trying to escape death. Majority of them drowned in the canal linking Ajao Estate with Oke Afa while many others were crushed to death by fleeing vehicles. President Obasanjo, who visited the scene of the disaster the next day, met an unruly crowd who heckled him. The president lost his cool and blurted out what majority of Nigerians regarded as gross insensitivity. He shouted at the wailing crowd “I don’t need to be here at all!”

But President Goodluck Jonathan was a bit lucky – not with the bug but with the crowd which had thinned out when he visited Nyanya on the outskirt of Abuja a day after the April 13, 2014 bombing of the bus stop by the Boko Haram. By the last count, a total of 88 people were reported dead from the explosion. President Jonathan took off for Kano and was caught dancing with his party men.

President Buhari who swept into office in 2015 in a wave of change dole, must be seen, for all practical purposes, not only as an exponent of change, but a man who is different and who is abundantly endowed with fellow-feeling and sympathy and empathy for his fellow countrymen and women.

This is a price to pay for good and responsible leadership.

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