(Published on Monday, 19 December, 2022)
Muhammadu Buhari started his presidency with “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” Will he end as a nobody’s man? Sometimes, and for some, it is gracious to maintain one’s lane, listen to your own vision, single, unattached. French statesman, Charles de Gaulle, who holds the copyright of “I am a man who belongs to nobody and who belongs to everybody” deeply said on another occasion that “If Joan of Arc had married, she would no longer have been Joan of Arc.” Whatever that means – Joan was 15th century France’s iron lady of war and vision. Immolated at age 19, she had no time for men and marriage and family but she is remembered forever as a saviour of France and its patron saint. Buhari, from what we’ve seen of his years, is no Charles de Gaulle and definitely not Joan of Arc to Nigeria. And after benefiting from a political marriage, can Buhari be neutral, truly non-aligned in the 2023 presidential contest? Will he? If he won’t, where is he?
I will be shocked if I am the only person who wonders where Buhari belongs between PDP’s Atiku Abubakar and APC’s Bola Tinubu, two bosom friends fighting over the president’s seat. You know Atiku’s party and Bola Tinubu’s party and the zero-sum ground they hold. The two were part of a national coalition that made Buhari’s presidency possible in 2015. There are persons who vow that for that reason, undergirded by reasons of region and religion, Atiku may in 2023 get Buhari’s vote or, at worst, get him not to lift a finger for the APC and its Èmi l’ókàn candidate. Very interestingly, Buhari clocked 80 on Saturday and Atiku, candidate of the main opposition party, not only issued a statement to celebrate the APC president, he instructively placed newspaper advertisements for him. So, what is happening?
Two months to a presidential election, Buhari is not canvassing votes for his party; he is asking Nigerians to vote for any candidate they fancy. That is strange. We saw President Barack Obama with candidate Hillary Clinton throughout the Democratic Party’s campaigns of 2016. One newspaper (New Telegraph) reported two days ago that “Tinubu’s men fret over Buhari government’s aloofness.” Reporters hear stories. That was not the first time I had heard of grumbling and rumbling in the ruling party over presidential social distancing in the APC campaigns. I know the Lagos content of the APC and their supporters are wondering why Buhari has refused to be part of their candidate’s globe-trotting campaigns. I know you would say that the president was at the flag-off of the campaigns at the Rwang Pam Township Stadium in Jos on November 15, 2022. Was his presence real – body and spirit? Someone said ‘they’ begged the president not to disgrace ‘them’ by not being physically there. If that is true, his presence, therefore, may be what the Yoruba call gbà jé n sinmi (take, let me rest).
The newspaper report is worth quoting copiously and I am doing so because it appears to tally with what I have heard in low tones in several APC crevices. I quote the report: “I must tell you that the situation that we (Tinubu’s supporters) have found ourselves is that of an abandoned orphan. It’s unfortunate that we have been left in the cold by government that was elected on the platform of our great party, the APC…We are campaigning like an opposition party just jostling for power and not like a party in power, which is very unfortunate. Though we recognise that the president has a busy schedule that would have prevented him from being at many of the rallies of the party, I don’t think he has demonstrated sufficient interest to know the situation of things with the campaign efforts.” The New Telegraph said that its source, “an influential member of the South-West Agenda for Bola Tinubu (SWAGA)” was sad that ministers and other key government officials had been distancing themselves from the campaigns: “The question is, save for the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo, who is one of the spokesmen, how many of the ministers and government officials have openly shown support and solidarity with the campaign since we commenced?” The report, however, quoted Keyamo as declaring that Buhari “is the heart and soul behind the campaign…He wants free and fair elections but he is with Asiwaju more than 100 percent.” He didn’t say anything about Buhari’s men who are not busy like the president but are perpetually absent in the party’s campaign life. Significant here is Keyamo’s friend, Rotimi Amaechi, and similar tendencies in the party. Where are they?
Buhari enjoys being aloof and staying far from the madding crowd. Ironically, it was the madness of that crowd that rescued him in 2015. Today, he is a nobody’s man. What does it mean to be a nobody’s man in this world of ‘help me, I help you?’ Danish singer and songwriter, Tina Dickow, dropped a hint in her love lines with the title ‘Nobody’s Man’: “Take what you want from me/Take what you can/And then hide it somewhere I can’t see/Out of my hands…/Do what it takes to make you feel better/Never forget that you, you’re nobody’s man…” What kind of friend or lover takes what he wants from his partner then hides it where the benefactor “can’t see it” and out of her hands? A friend who saw me struggling with this on Sunday wondered why I was weeping more than the bereaved. He told me: “Did Tinubu not say famously that he was the one who singularly made Buhari president after three disastrous defeats? Let Tinubu now do for himself what he boasted he did for the perpetually unelectable Buhari. He does not need Buhari.” I was tempted to agree with my friend. This is the time for Tinubu’s physician to heal himself and shame the charm of overrated incumbency. Is Tinubu happy not seeing Buhari beside him at his Kaduna and Minna rallies? You are not likely to hear complaints directly from the principal victim because he is a Yoruba man. Wise elders use proxy hands to hunt snakes. Besides, the Yoruba say it is not befitting for an elder to cry for help (Gbà mí gbà mí kò ye àgbàlagbà). More importantly, a chief hunter that comes home with an elephant unaided is the celebrated one. You know the worth of the king of warlords when he captures worthy enemies, muskets and amulets – the ones sewn tight in tiger’s skin and the ugly ones in alligator’s hide.
A rainbow coalition birthed the APC which sired Buhari’s magical presidency. The Jewish Talmud says, “do not throw a stone into the well whose waters you have drunk.” There is a similar saying in Yoruba about water fetchers who do not mind if the stream is polluted after they are done. In day-to-day village dealings, this is wrong; in politics, poisoning the well and the stream may be an act of political goodness. Buhari needs no preacher to tell him that his peace and relevance after a riotous eight years in power depend on who replaces him. The future he envisions for himself and for Nigeria may not align with what he sees around him. If someone dreams of transiting from being a partisan to a real statesman and has read Machiavelli, he will likely say and do what Buhari is up to – refuse to keep friends; refuse to pay back political IOUs; refuse to be mounted to power like a beast of burden; pitch this lion against that lion and set the forest ablaze. Machiavelli in Chapter XV of his ‘The Prince’ says “it is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity.” He argues that “if everything is considered carefully, it will be found that something which looks like virtue, if followed, would be his ruin; whilst something else, which looks like vice, yet followed brings him security and prosperity.” A Machiavellian leadership values being practical higher than being morally good. For “if moral goodness is a hindrance to maintaining political power, then a prince must learn how not to be morally good.” And, to the lucky rich who think Buhari owes them for favours of the past and are offended by his rhetoric of enforced fairness in the coming polls, I say sorry.
Is Buhari indebted to any politician in the APC? I recommend a study of the Fulani worldview on luck and fortune and who is destined to use what the lucky acquires. Fortunes spent on making Buhari president for two terms are divinely ordained. He owes the spenders no payback. The Fulani say you are a lucky person (an arsikaadho) when, without hard work, you get whatever you desire, including wealth. For better elucidation, I quote a scholar here: “Luck in this case is a para-natural essence of life, which makes the arsikaadho lucky but not necessarily blessed, in which case the arsikaadho seldom enjoys lasting happiness. What then happens to the fortune obtained by luck? It generally benefits blessed acquaintances. This is what the Fulani mean by ‘ko arsikkadho dhabbhanta barkindho,’ which translates, ‘the lucky accumulates fortunes for the blessed to enjoy.’ ” (See Mohamed Camara. 2008:53: Benediction and Malediction in Fulani Culture. Indigenous Nations Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1). The bullion van people are the ‘lucky’ ones, the arsikaadho; our president is a Fulani, blessed with a destiny to enjoy what the lucky accumulates; he owes no one.
Buhari speaks today as a nobody’s man. Last month after meeting King Charles III in London, the president, in an interview, asked Nigerians to “vote for whoever they like from whichever political party.” A president who said this is not likely to hop from jet to jet campaigning for someone. He has repeatedly promised that he would not be anybody’s fool or tool of interference in the coming polls’ processes. He has said so everywhere he has been in the last couple of months to the sorrow of those banking on presidential sleight of hand to win. I am not surprised that the South-West APC is not at ease at all. They daily read Abuja’s lips and steps and exchange furtive glances. They sigh. Even Buhari’s recent currency change is being seen as a vital component of his war against politics – and against those who won’t succeed him. In the London interview cited above, Buhari vowed that he wouldn’t allow any candidate to intimidate voters or buy them with dirty money. He explained why he approved the introduction of new naira notes: “My aim is to make sure that Nigerians believe that we respect them as an administration…Nobody will be allowed to mobilise resources and thugs to intimidate people in any constituency. That is what I want to go down in Nigerian history for as a leader.” Wahala! Candidates who have mobilized armadas of bullion vans of raw cash for the polls have real reasons to be worried. The old currency notes expire on January 31, 2023 – twenty five days to the presidential election.