My first reading of the op-ed Garba Shehu, spokesman of President Muhammadu Buhari, wrote in response to the groundswell of public concern about the ceaseless overseas junketing of his principal in the face of worsening national emergencies, imparted such disbelief, dismay and disappointment to me, that I was forced to go through it multiple times to double-check that I had not imagined Shehu’s drift into legible existence.
The first shock Shehu’s piece delivered was its incredible tabloid-like title: WE DON’T WANT A DOMESTIC PRESIDENT. That protesting assertion instantly spins off a discomfiting paraphrase: Nigerians want an offshore president. A nomadic president who visits home to warm his seat a bit before he flies away again!
This is a daft proposition. And if it reflects the mindset of President Buhari, then we might as well begin to steel ourselves against his disastrous tenure. If his reading of Nigeria’s ‘’want’’ suggests to him that he must be a permanently airborne junketer, the locusts have already consumed the three and half years remainder of his tenure. And that’s an early hint to look beyond the span of this presidency for any real change of fortune for Nigeria.
Candidate Buhari lent himself to a sleek branding operation that packaged him as the man who is in a hurry to start fixing Nigeria. Campaign stopover after campaign stopover, he harped on the clichéd lines that he was going to focus on insecurity, official corruption and the collapsing economy. He promised to ‘’hit the ground, running.’’
If he had divulged that his real plan was to hit the tarmac flying abroad, Nigerians would have paid him as much attention as is due an average clown. An epitaph would have descended on his fourth Aso Rock bid!
Shehu said, ‘WE DON’T WANT A DOMESTIC PRESIDENT’. But he did not define the components of plurality he was referring to. He might have used ‘’we’’ as palace protocol requires, to indicate that King Buhari has decided to be an itinerant ruler!
Shehu’s ‘’we’’ might have represented the men in the corridors of power as a collective. They are the ones who would be disposed to discuss in the privileged language of ‘’want’’. They are the ones who need a ‘domestic’ President the least.
They live in fortresses in high brow neighborhoods: they fear no terror. Their livelihood is immune to the crash of the naira. They are more equal than other Nigerians. They have little or nothing to lose if Buhari dedicates himself to non-stop global expedition.
Shehu seems to have written his piece to their elitist dictation. Because he started out with the most snobbish opener a presidential communication could possibly bear. ‘’ I have been amused reading a number of jokes concerning the frequency of the President, Muhamadu Buhari’s foreign trip.’’
What’s the joke? Nigerian citizens expressed their heartfelt alarm about their new leader’s penchant for junketing when he is needed to stay more at home and score quick wins!
Shehu laughs at Nigerians who cannot afford the commodity of ‘’want’’. Nigerians who live in the desperate zone. Nigerians who contend with weekly terrorist attacks, metastasizing secessionist protests, looming economic depression, spiraling unemployment and fuel scarcity. Nigerians waiting for redemption.
Shehu has a perverted sense of humor. What cracks his ribs is not Basketmouth’s order of comedy. What makes him laugh is scanning through the written anxiety of Nigerians, their worry that the man they empowered to transform the country is letting the opportunity slip through his fingers.
If Shehu was, indeed, upfront about laughing when he encountered that surging stream of public concern, then he has revealed his poverty of humanness, his lack of sensitivity and empathy. More so, he has declared that he is a sufferer of that coarsening disease that often makes the average Nigerian presidential aide deride Nigerians when they wince in pain.
Reuben Abati, the man who held Shehu’s position in Jonathan’s regime, read the social media, the bellwether of trends, and arrogantly dismissed the youths venting their frustration with the direction of the Jonathan administration as volatile ‘’children of anger.’’
Those youths sacked Jonathan and elected Buhari. They are Buhari’s employers. Six months into the job, they call out Buhari but Shehu would not transmit the tenor of their anxiety to Buhari. Shehu would not take them seriously. Shehu calls them jokers. They are kids. They are kidding!
This pejorative labeling fits the pattern of how aides sabotage their principal by tuning out the feedback that would have helped him gain perspective. This is how fawning advisers commit drawn-out, bloodless regicide.
The aides kill the leader when they alienate him from the people. They bury him, when they put out their antenna, gauge the mood of the nation, and report to the leader that the chatter of the ordinary people does not matter.
The leader is finished because he carries on in the blissful misapprehension that the people are following him when he is really leading no one else but his own vanishing shadow. He maintains his lonely walk…until he reaches dead-end!
It’s ironical that the hierarchy of democratic leadership makes the person at the apex the farthest stranger to the grassroots. This seals the fate of the leader who does not operate channels for interfacing with his constituency. He or she is sooner out of touch and winds up a voter’s heartbreak.
For Buhari, his success depends on the quantity and quality of vox pop that aides like Shehu filters to him.
Now, the thread that runs through Shehu’s paragraphs basically says that the destiny of Nigeria is in the hands of other world leaders and that Nigerians have in Buhari a responsible leader who is going out of his way to shake those hands and cajole Nigeria’s greatness out of them!
Needless to say, that sounds like rubbish. And it sounds so because it is… rubbish!
In my last article, I acknowledged that globalization has altered the conduct of twenty first century diplomacy. The interests of nations overlap and segregate and clash. Every country must devise a way to continually evaluate its priorities and bring that knowledge to the arena where nations contests for pride, power and prosperity. It’s a fluid challenge that demands suavity, skill and sense.
But it’s dumb to advocate that the president of a nation that does not aspire to diminish itself to a banana republic apply himself to endless chasing and courting of leaders of other countries.
There is no scrap of wisdom in making foreign trips your primary strategy for developing your country. No leader has ever quantum-leaped their country through globetrotting. Every leader who has lifted millions of people from poverty and significantly increased life expectancy, at some point, realized that salvation would not come from abroad and that it was in the leaders’ power to turn the fate of their individual nations around.
Shehu mentions that Buhari would not be a ‘’sit-at-home’’ president like General Sani Abacha. That’s an incongruent comparison. Abacha is the worst ballast to build such notion on.
Abacha, for all his bloody dictatorial tendencies and kleptomania, was a dutiful head of state. He inherited a drooping economy and a suffering population. He tamed inflation. He increased fuel price, established Petroleum Trust Fund and appointed Buhari to preside over the allocation of the gains in oil revenue to the building of roads and equipping of government hospitals across Nigeria.
Abacha’s taciturn temperament and authoritarian profile shackled his legs to his office table. He was a fairly competent administrator of the homeland, nonetheless. He was not a ‘’sit-at-home’’ idler. He was a work-at-home ruler!
Shehu mentions that we ought to celebrate Buhari’s foreign junket because this helmsman travels with a leaner team than the immediate past president, a notorious lover of huge entourage.
Did Shehu mean that this president’s ultimate goal is to do a little better than Jonathan? Just to be an improvement on Jonathan, a refurbished model of the man!
That’s not what Nigerians yearn for. Nigerians didn’t elect Buhari to make some token incremental adjustment in Jonathan style. They voted for a paradigm shift. A new orientation in the presidency. A trained, relentless focus on the nation’s business.
Shehu concluded very dramatically. He said ‘’to answer those who ask all the time, what is he bringing back home? We are not a country of beggars…the most important task for the President at this time is to reset the image of Nigeria abroad…’’
That’s an explicit admission that Buhari comes back empty-handed. The junkets are about cosmetics and optics.
I have news for Garba Shehu. He misjudged ‘’the most important task for the President at this time’’. It is not launching charm offensive overseas, as Shehu claims. Buhari’s most important task is sitting down in Abuja and being a dutiful domestic president.
Shehu was right on one point, though: ‘’we are not a country of beggars.’’
Buhari likes to say we are a beggarly nation. He likes to reiterate that Nigeria is broke. This Nigeria that has been casually underwriting his endless junkets!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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