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Thespian Buhari at the UN


Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, addresses the United Nations General Assembly September 19, 2017 at the United Nations in New York. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY

It is not that we have ever doubted the thespian talents of President Muhammadu Buhari that render him eligible to assume the role of an actor before any audience. We have always known that he is like any other wily politician, especially in these climes, who can fit into any dramatic role before a given audience. Remember, in 2015 when Buhari had before him citizens who were desirous of a leader with democratic credentials, he offered himself as perfectly fitting that role. He regaled them about his mutation into a democrat since he was forced by Ibrahim Babangida and his co-travellers to pull off his military uniform and jackboots.

Again, before a south-east audience, he identified with them by dressing like an Igbo man. Still, before the general population as his audience, Buhari played the role of a charmer, the man with a magic wand to solve the nation’s problems and root out corruption in a short time. He made the audience swoon over him. And he was rewarded with the prime prize – the presidency – as the encore continued until it was disrupted by the subsequent months of the reality of hardship.

Now, Buhari has taken these dramatic skills onto the global stage. At the 72 session of the United Nations General Assembly, Buhari took on a role that was totally alien to his personality. The meeting was about the wellbeing of people. It had the fitting theme of “Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet.” Thus, Buhari played the role of an actor who wants to improve the wellbeing of the people and make them to live in peace and live a decent life.


In this role, Buhari stressed the need for expanding the frontiers of democracy and the rule of law. Buhari indeed must be acting; that was why he could talk about this. If Buhari stopped acting, he would not hesitate to tell you that democracy and the rule of law are misguided notions that trammel his own idea of governance. Or is this not the same Buhari that forgot a major bulwark of democracy, the separation of powers? In his contempt for democracy and rule of law, Buhari raided the homes of judges who constitute the third arm of government and attempted to terrorise them into accepting his vision of fighting corruption. In fact, to Buhari, the judiciary is not necessary in his concept of democracy. He would like to appoint his own judges who would dispense his own kind of justice. Because the existing judges do not dispense the kind of justice he wants, and because he cannot decree the judiciary out of existence, he can only tolerate them.

But clearly, not for him the sanctity of their judgements. He selects the judgements to obey. If the judgements favour him, as the case of law courts ordering the forfeiture of the assets of suspected corrupt persons, he can obey them. But if the courts rule that suspects should be granted bail, then the judges have failed to deliver his kind of justice and he is not obliged to obey them. That is why Buhari has failed to obey the court rulings granting bail to former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki and the leader of the Nigeria’s Islamic Movement, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. And that was why for a long time, he also refused to obey the court rulings that the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, should be released from detention.

This brings us to the issue of inequalities that the president spoke about. Buhari spoke like a man who was pained by the inequalities in societies. But in speaking this way, Buhari was acting on the UN stage. For, if Buhari were not acting, he would have acknowledged that back at home his administration has become a breeding ground for inequalities. This is why Buhari would easily prosecute others, especially the members of the opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who are accused of corruption, while shielding his associates and members of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) on whom are hanging egregious charges of corruption. Buhari encourages inequalities by supporting a system that makes the oil resources of the south-south to be appropriated by the ruling class and its accomplices while the people of the region are impoverished.


Inequalities in Buhari’s society are stoked by ethnicity and religion. Thus, when Buhari warned against the perils of ethnicity and religion, he was only playing the role of an actor. Buhari has become a source of strength for rabid ethnicity and religion by not tackling the Fulani herdsmen menace.

These herdsmen can go ahead to destroy farms, rape, maim and kill. Buhari would not see the need to check them. He would not support the proposal that the herdsmen should embrace ranching as it is done in other parts of the world. When the herdsmen attack innocent farmers, Buhari would consider them as clashes between two lawless parties. Worse, if the farmers are outraged at their crops being destroyed by the herdsmen, then Buhari would legitimise this destruction. It is in this regard that Buhari has supported the grazing bill that would take land from others and give it to herdsmen to graze their cattle. Buhari’s ethnocentrism is further seen by his appointments which only go to people of the same tribe and religion with him. All security agencies are headed by his fellow northerners and Muslims. Again, Muslims without provocation can kill Christians as in the cases of Mrs. Eunice Elisha in Abuja and Mrs. Bridget Agbahime in Kano and they would not be punished.

If by now you still do not accept that the president is an actor, this point would convince you. Did you not hear Buhari make a case for dialogue with North Korea over its nuclear deal? Yes, this is the same president who does not believe in dialogue. Citizens from every part of the country have been pleading with him to allow dialogue over the destiny of the country. But he has refused. He does not want any dialogue through which Nigerians would arrive at a constitution that would guide their existence. They want a constitution that would carry the imprimatur of the citizens, “we the people,” like that of the United States. But he would not allow this. He wants inequalities in the society to be perpetuated by the military-imposed constitution that is blithely bereft of the input of the citizens. It is because we have a president who has anathemised dialogue that he thought and still thinks that the best response to the Biafra question is the liquidation of the Igbo.


But for the close observer, Buhari did not succeed in disguising the fact of his being only an actor and not as a person who spoke from his heart. Throughout Buhari’s speech, he used the word “people” only twice. The only other occasion was when it appeared as part of the theme of the gathering. On the two occasions when Buhari deliberately used the word, he never had his people in mind. He had Palestinian and Rohingya people in mind. Compare this with the speech of the United States President Donald Trump that referred to the “people” 45 times.

Forget the notion that Trump is a warmonger and that his speech is longer than Buhari’s. What matters is that he articulated the interests of his people. He was unequivocal while declaring that he would subordinate the interests of other peoples to those of the American people. This makes the difference between the two countries: In America, “the people govern, the people rule, and the people are sovereign.” But in Nigeria, Buhari governs, Buhari rules and Buhari is sovereign.

For Buhari to be among those leaders who would ensure a better world that is marked by peace and decent living for their citizens, he must allow restructuring. He must allow the citizens to negotiate how they want to live. Or did Buhari not listen to Trump when he declared that ‘‘Strong sovereign nations let their people take ownership of the future and control their own destiny’’ ?

In this article:
Muhammadu Buhari‎
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