Saturday, December 29, 2018

Triple Jeopardy of the Unending Zamfara Mass Murders

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.

The progressively widening and deepening bloodbath in Zamfara State is made even worse by at least three narrative conspiracies that mask the real extent of the heartrending humanitarian disaster the people there are contending with.

The first narrative conspiracy is a media one. The institutional news media in Nigeria lack ready-made, stereotypical mental representations with which to frame the conflict, so they either avoid reporting it altogether or minimize its horrors if they report it at all. The news media thrive on Manichean binaries, conflictual differences, and sensation. The Zamfara mass slaughters don’t lend themselves to that.

It would have made a "better copy” if the murderers in Zamfara were from a different ethnic and religious group from their victims. Imagine a headline like, “Igbo Christian militia kill 200 Zamfara villagers” or “Tiv yam farmers invade Zamfara village, kill hundreds, including district head.” Sure, the headlines would be guilty of sensationalizing and exploiting difference, but they are sadly the only kinds of headlines people are drawn to.

It’s easy to feel righteous indignation toward journalists for exploiting difference as a schema for framing news events, but the truth is that news stories are both texts to be read and commodities to be sold. They won’t sell if they are bland, predictable, and unexciting. Plus, we have been socialized to expect news to be displacement of routine.

In Zamfara, the villains and the victims share common primordial identities—or so the news media think. Nevertheless, it is the same set of people that the news media have (mis)characterized as “Fulani herdsmen” when they slaughter farmers in the Middle Belt and in the South that they simply call “bandits” when they murder men, women, and children in Zamfara.

A headline like “Fulani herdsmen kill farmers in Zamfara” won’t excite passions and might even be dismissed as counterintuitive in some parts of Nigeria since Zamfara farmers are a mix of Hausa, Fulani, and Hausa-Fulani people. A popular Yoruba quip says, “Gambari pa Fulani ko lejo ninu,” which roughly translates as “If a Hausa person kills a Fulani person, there is no case,” implying that the Hausa and the Fulani are indistinguishable and that their internal strife is no outsider’s business. This predisposition has partly informed the reporting on the continuing Zamfara bloodbath.

Nevertheless, a far more insidious strain of this attitude is the conspiracy of silence by the direct and indirect victims of the violence. Several people in Zamfara actively work to suppress news of the mass murders of innocent farmers because they reckon that publication of such tragedies will lengthen Buhari’s catalogue of failures, weaken his estimation in the country, and make him “look bad.” As incredulous as it sounds, people actually fast and pray in the North so that news of mass massacres don’t make it to the news media because of their “love” for Buhari!

In fact, everyday folks who share news and photos of mass slaughters of men, women and children in Zamfara on social media have been threatened by unpaid, unappointed defenders of Buhari in the state. Scores of people from Zamfara inbox me periodically on Facebook and entreat me to help publicize incidents of mass slaughters that have been kept away from the media. I have taken a personal decision not to allow people who are too cowardly to come out in the open to tell the truth about the tragedies that happen in their communities to ride on my coattails. In any case, defenders of the government will always question my locational bona fides to impeach the credibility of such stories.

It is precisely the same scenario that is playing out in Borno and Yobe states. The vocal minority in these states are so hypnotized by their “love” for Buhari that they cover up Boko Haram attacks, threaten people who publicize them, and lie to the world that everything has been hunky-dory since Buhari became president. There is no precedent for this depth of mass stupidity in Nigeria.

Even after the Shehu of Borno told Buhari on November 30 that, “the people of Borno State are still under Boko Haram siege,” that “Nobody can dare move out of Maiduguri by 10 kilometres without being confronted/attacked by Boko Haram,” and that “Quite a number of farmers are being killed and kidnapped on a daily basis,” several people from Borno still go on social media to lie that Boko Haram is now history in the state.

When people who are the direct victims of an unending sanguinary fury don’t want anyone to acknowledge their pain because of their misguided “love” for a president who swore to protect them but who is either unwilling or unable to do so, others can’t be blamed for honoring their wishes. An African proverb says the most difficult person to wake up is a fully awake person who is pretending to be asleep.

The last narrative conspiracy against the mass murders in Zamfara is government propaganda. The Buhari regime is deeply invested in its mendacious, self-absorbed narrative that it has recorded “tremendous success in the area of security” in spite of glaring evidence to the contrary. So government actively suppresses or minimizes any news that has the potential to give the lie to its claims of success in security.

 A Premium Times reporter by the name of Nicholas Ibekwe revealed on Twitter recently that a government minister invited journalists in Abuja, bribed them with N1 million each (he said he rejected the bribe) and pleaded with them to suppress news stories about Boko Haram butcheries in their papers.

Government certainly also encourages the suppression of news about the Zamfara massacres. Government is so invested in the narrative of its “success” in security that President Buhari regurgitates it like a preprogramed robot even when he is commiserating with people who are mourning the loss of loved ones. For instance, while on a forced sympathy visit to Taraba State in the aftermath of one of the bloodiest communal upheavals in the state in March 2018, he said, “Today, even our worst enemy can attest to the fact that the APC-led federal government has done well in the area of security.” It was one of the worst examples of a tragic presidential dissociation from reality.

The Blamer-in-Chief
Buhari is the ultimate blamer-in-chief. After his election at 73, he blamed his age for his slow start. At 74 and 75, he blamed Goodluck Jonathan and "16 years of PDP misrule" for his awful missteps in governance that precipitated a devastating recession. At 76, he has now shifted the blame to the "system." The man is an expert at shifting cultivation of blames.

The "system" forced him to wait six months to appoint ministers and to not replace ministers who resigned or died. It made him wait three years to constitute governing boards of government agencies and to appoint dead people into them. Several are still unfilled as I write this. The “system” made him to not prosecute Babachir David Lawal, “budget padders,” Maina, etc. The “system” made him to unduly delay forwarding Walter Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria until VP Osinbajo saved the day while he was away in London.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

National Bureau of Statistics’ Exemplary Institutional Independence

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

In his July 2009 speech to the Ghanaian Parliament, former US president Barack Obama famously said, “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” Inspired by my, in retrospect, misplaced optimism in the emergent Buhari administration, I challenged this notion in a May 16, 2015 column.

I pointed out that “strong institutions” are not self-generating entities; they require the foresight, intelligence, commitment, and willpower of “strongmen” to bring them forth. “[S]trong institutions don’t come out of thin air; they are built by strong men through the strength of their personal example. I hope Buhari is the strong man who will build strong institutions in Nigeria with the strength of his character,” I wrote.

When Buhari visited South Africa on June 16, 2015, exactly a month after my column appeared, he expressed sentiments about the nexus between strong leadership and strong institutions that mirrored what I wrote. “When US President, Barack Obama came to Africa… he said Africa, or developing countries, should have strong institutions instead of strong leaders,” he said. “If he had come to Nigeria, he would have known that it was strong Nigerians that destroyed the strong institutions. And paradoxically, maybe another strong Nigerian will come and revive the institutions and make them strong again.”

Someone from the Presidential Villa called my attention to what Buhari said in South Africa and added that it was inspired by my column. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” I said in response. But more than the satisfaction of knowing that the president read my column and was enthused by it enough to let it influence his speech in a foreign country, I was pumped up by the thought that Buhari was truly committed to building institutions and setting the stage for the depersonalization governance through the strength of personal examples.

Given his age (which should incline him to be consumed by anxieties about his legacies), the respect he inspired even from people who didn’t like him, the mystique his personality radiated, and perhaps a heightened self-awareness on his part of the disaster of his first incarnation as a military head of state, I thought he really meant what he said when he echoed my column in South Africa.

But in the nearly four years that he has been president, he hasn’t only failed to build institutions or institute the basis for rational-legal norms in governance, he is destroying existing ones with a viciousness that is unexampled in our political history. Nothing instantiates this better than the presidency’s recent vulgar attempt to force the National Bureau of Statistics to fudge figures to sanitize the Buhari regime’s fetid, troubling unemployment record.

First, the government starved the NBS of funds so that it won't be able to release what the government knew would be damning statistics of the grim job market in the country. When this fact got out in the international media (honchos of the regime only care if unfavorable stories make it to international news), they were shamed into releasing funds for the agency. (New York-based Bloomberg’s November 13 report titled “No Money, No Jobless Data, Nigeria's Chief Statistician Says” was perhaps the most widely shared international story on this issue on Nigerian online discursive arenas.)

Then the president’s spokesperson lied on national television that the NBS boss had agreed to tweak the agency’s formula for calculating unemployment stats, and that the new formula would include some fictional 12 million rice farmers, which would paint an upbeat picture of the job market. “The NBS chief had addressed the federal cabinet and he made the admission that they had concentrated analysis over time on white collar jobs that they had not taken cognisance of job creation in areas of agriculture,” presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said. “The rice farmers association of Nigeria made the open claim and nobody has challenged them up to the time that we speak that they had created 12 million new jobs.”

The NBS boss immediately countered the falsehood. “I make it very clear that neither the statistician-general nor NBS ever made any such admission at any time to anybody," NBS boss, Yemi Kale, said on Twitter. The lying honchos of the presidency had egg on their begrimed faces.

Now the stats are out, and they are as disconsolate as we've always expected: 20.9 million people are now jobless, up from 17.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2017, representing a 23.1 percent increase. Youth unemployment has also increased exponentially. Since Buhari took over power in 2015, according to the NBS, unemployment has never declined even for a bit.

At this rate, a Buhari second term would ensure that nearly 90 percent of Nigerians would be unemployed by the end of his term. In other words, right from 2015, the Buhari regime has represented nothing but a relentless descent into the abyss of hopelessness and despair for everyday Nigerians. It would only get worse if his incompetence is rewarded with a second term.

Hats off to the National Bureau of Statistics for guarding its independence and freezing off attempts by the Buhari regime to bludgeon it into making up false statistics to make the president look good. The NBS is an example of what institutional independence looks like, the kind that Buhari said he would institute when he spoke in South Africa.

 Institutions that are independent of, resistant to and immune from the wiles and manipulations of the temporary occupants of power not only command respect and credibility but also deepen and sustain faith in governance. When next the bureau releases stats that are favorable to the government (that’s assuming the NBS boss isn’t fired or threatened to give up his independence or his life) they will be believed by a majority of Nigerians, and that’s healthy for the country.

Now imagine that the EFCC weren’t the pitiful poodle of the presidency that it is and that the police weren’t the unashamed tormentors of the president’s opponents and protectors of his supporters that they are. Or that the Nigerian military weren’t the unofficial armed wing of any political party in power.

Well, that is what obtains in well-governed societies. America is able to weather the storms and strains of its rambunctious stormy petrel of a president precisely because of the strength of its institutions. Donald Trump is a Mobutu-like “strongman” who is only held in check by America’s strong institutions. He is being investigated by a special counsel appointed by the Justice Department, which might bring him down. Can you imagine AGF Abubakar Malami investigating any loyal associate of Buhari let alone Buhari himself?

To be fair, this problem preceded Buhari, although his initial enthusiasm about using his “strongmanness” to build strong institutions instigated false hopes in some of us. Nonetheless, Nigerians need to study what it is about the NBS that has made it so admirably independent, that has made it to jealously guard its integrity since at least 2010 when I began to pay attention to it. This oasis of institutional independence in our desolate desert of impunity and personalized power, for me, is cause for hope.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Presidency Pressured Daily Trust to Discontinue my Saturday Column

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I had chosen to let this issue slide because it’s frankly of no consequence, in my opinion, but I’ve been deluged with a relentless stream of inquiries from readers asking why my “Notes from Atlanta” column has been discontinued in the Daily Trust on Saturday. Since it’s practically impossible to respond to all the email and social media inquires, I’ve decided to put up this update.

Every rational, perceptive observer knows that the Buhari presidency is in a desperate, panic mode now. They are arresting and jailing critics, freezing bank accounts of opponents, bribing journalists silly to buy favorable coverage, threatening media houses, and working to pull down the entire nation because they know their game is up. That’s the general context for the discontinuation of my column in the Daily Trust. As people who have followed my Saturday column know, I am an inconvenient thorn in the flesh of the Buhari regime. I expose their lies, hypocrisy, clannishness, and incompetence with a regularity that unnerves them.

Predictably, the Buhari presidency had worked to take down my column since at least 2016. Media Trust’s chairman, Malam Kabiru Yusuf, told me, as early as mid-2016, that he had been under tremendous pressure because of my column and wondered what kind of pressure I had been under myself. But he said I shouldn’t be intimidated. He called me the “conscience of the nation,” which I found rather flattering. When he visited the US in, I think, 2017, he called me and we spoke at length. Again, he told me he had my back and appreciated the diversity I brought to the opinion menu in the Daily Trust.

Malam Kabiru hired me as a reporter in the then Weekly Trust in 1998 on the recommendation of his childhood friend, Professor Attahiru Jega. He is someone I’ve come to reserve the greatest respect for. He is an uncommonly urbane, suave, cosmopolitan, and tolerant person. He fits the classic definition of a liberal—broadminded, progressive, intellectually sophisticated, charitable, and open-minded. So I wasn’t surprised when he encouraged me to continue with my critical commentaries on the Buhari regime in spite of the pressures the commentaries were bringing on him and on Media Trust, Daily Trust’s parent company.

But Kabiru isn’t the sole owner of Media Trust; he is only the majority shareholder and chairman of the company. Most importantly, though, the company has to survive, and government advertising is the lifeblood of the news media in Nigeria. Government can shut down a news media organization by asking all its agencies to withhold advertising patronage from it. I sensed that the Buhari regime had threatened Daily Trust with advertising patronage withdrawal when the Editor-in-Chief and MD of the paper, since 2017, uncharacteristically started to send out periodic memos to columnists to importune them to tone down their language. I’ve written my column for more than 13 years and have always had a vigorous style. At no other time had the E-I-C ever written a memo to columnists to tell them how to write. The E-I-C/MD was frank enough to admit to me that I was the target of the memos. But I was infinitely harsher on Jonathan and Obasanjo than I’ve been on Buhari, but neither I nor any columnist was ever told how to write and what not to write during the Jonathan and Obasanjo administrations.

Then at least once, the editor of the Saturday paper pleaded with me—nicely, I should add—to take out a sentence or two in a column in order to avoid “libel.” He obviously knows nothing about libel, which I not only formally studied at undergraduate and graduate levels in Nigeria and the US, but also teach and research for a living. (It’s not his fault since he didn’t study journalism). Finally, he once refused to publish one of my columns where I questioned the genuineness of Buhari’s WASC. In media law, a statement of opinion can’t be libelous; only statements of facts can be. In any case, I had had occasions in the past to question the genuineness of Goodluck Jonathan’s PhD, and the editor didn’t have any issue with that. (I wrote another column after I discovered that Jonathan’s PhD was genuine based on my private investigation.)

So when Daily Trust’s E-I-C and MD called me on December 13 to say that the “board” had met and decided that my Saturday column should be discontinued because of my critical articles on Buhari (yes, he was that frank), I wasn’t surprised. I saw it coming. He was courteous, respectful, and honest about it, which is admirable. I had been expecting it, given how increasingly desperate and intolerant the Buhari regime has become lately. The regime is using their power of advertising patronage to whip independent media houses into line. Daily Trust can't afford to lose its bottom line because of one column. I understand and support that. On my part, I can't afford to self-censor because of a company's bottom line. So the "divorce" serves both of us well.

I asked the E-I-C/MD two questions before we hung up. I asked if I had ever written anything on Buhari that was factually inaccurate. He said “no.” Then I asked if I had ever written anything on Buhari that was libelous and he said “no.” That was good enough for me. In any case, the column now appears on the back page of the Nigerian Tribune on Saturday. It’s also published on my blog. So it’s pointless censorship.

People have asked if my grammar column will continue in the Sunday edition of Daily Trust. No, it won’t. The energy I put into the grammar column has been taking a toll on my research and my family. This is a good opportunity to stop it and get some relief. I might resume it with another paper in the future.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Death of the Electoral Bill and the Coming Electoral Theft

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

In my October 6, 2018 column titled “Three Reasons You Should be Worried about 2019 Elections,” I pointed out that “You don’t need special prognostic powers to know that the 2019 elections will be fraught with frightening fraud.” President Buhari’s refusal to sign the Electoral Bill is conclusive proof that the 2019 election would possibly be one of the worst electoral heists in the history of Nigeria.

It is precisely this unsettling prospect that makes the signing of the peace accord by presidential candidates comical. The surest guarantor of peace isn’t an empty, symbolic peace accord; it’s a legally binding, institutional guarantee of a free, fair, and transparent electoral process, which the electoral bill that Buhari has rejected embodies.

Among other provisions, the electoral bill makes the use of card readers with biometric data mandatory for voting. This would have eliminated age-old electoral malpractices like multiple voting, “ghost” voting, and underage voting. The bill also makes real-time, on-the-spot transmission of election results obligatory. Again, this would have provided a safeguard against ballot stuffing, vote swapping, and other stratagems of post-voting manipulation. These are obviously scary provisions for a potential rigger.

Buhari’s rejection of the bill is particularly intriguing because an analysis of the 2015 presidential election result that Buhari won by fewer than three million votes shows that he benefited from the absence of these electoral safeguards. According to TheCable of December 8, 2018, "At least 13.5 million Nigerians voted manually — without biometric accreditation — in the 2015 presidential election, according to data from the Independent and National Electoral Commission (INEC).

“The data, obtained by DeepDive Intelligence, shows that President Muhammadu Buhari, then candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), won in nine of the 10 most-affected states…. Of the 31,746,490 accredited voters in the election, 13,536,311 — representing 42.6 percent of voters — voted without biometric accreditation. Out of this number, 10,184,720 votes are from states won by Buhari..."

This seems to be the most probable reason the president is scared of a truly fair and transparent electoral process. Insistence on biometric data for every voter will expose his phantom voters and frustrate his rigging plans. The five million voters Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano promised him will not materialize if there is an insistence on a biometric corroboration of the identity of every voter. I thought the president and his supporters often brag that he is "popular" and unbeatable. If he truly is, why is he afraid of real, verifiable votes?

Well, I know why. The game is over for Buhari. He and his minders know it. The tide of popular opinion in the places that matter is shifting inexorably in the direction of Atiku, not because of who Atiku is but in spite of who he is. He is a beneficiary—an undeserved one, I would add—of Buhari’s unacceptable and intolerable ineptitude.

 As it stands now, it is entirely plausible that Atiku will win at least 45 percent of the Muslim north, which used to be Buhari’s exclusive political territory. Atiku’s Fulani and Muslim identity is a huge factor in diluting Buhari’s monopoly of this voting bloc. Recall that the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua had the same effect on Buhari’s near monopoly of the Muslim north. Buhari wins the vast majority of this bloc only when his opponent is a southern Christian.

Most critically, though, Buhari has lost the support of critical opinion molders in the region, will lose the entirety of the Shia Muslim vote (which is way more significant than many people can be persuaded to believe), and has lost the confidence of millions of traumatized and disillusioned people in the region. I saw a viral video of a crowd of people— in what people say is Kano— wildly dancing and singing to a song with the lyrics, “Buhari ne barawo!” [Buhari is the thief!]. Watch it below:

Now, it is entirely in the realm of possibility that this was not a spontaneous ventilation of anger by the vulgar herd; it was probably engineered by a northern political opponent of Buhari’s. But this would have been impossible, even suicidal, in 2015. Recall that PDP couldn’t even get any driver to agree to drive Jonathan’s campaign buses up north in 2015. The fact that people can now call Buhari a “thief” in the heart of a Muslim northern Nigerian city without any consequence is definitive proof of the dramatic diminution of his political capital in the region.

 Buhari has also lost a lot more ground in the southwest than he has gained since 2015. This is important because he defeated Jonathan in the region by only 611,779 votes in 2015 even with the support of Bola Tinubu and the political establishment of the region. Given the mass cynicism that his lackluster, inept, and undisguisedly nepotistic administration has inspired throughout the nation—and the massive loss of political capital that has attended this—Atiku will more likely than not win more than 45 percent of the southwest vote.

The Christian north is another critical voting bloc that Buhari did well in in 2015 (for the first time since he started running for president in 2003) but that he will lose in 2019 in a free and fair election. For instance, after his deceitful deodorization by American PR experts, he won the predominantly Christian Benue State and lost Plateau State to PDP by only 120,475 votes, his best ever. Contemporary mainstream public opinion in the Christian north is that Buhari has lived up to the worst fears they had had of him, which effective PR had caused them to suspend.

Atiku will, of course, win more than 70 percent of the southeast and the southern ethnic minority bloc. So it's obvious that 2019 would be a blowout for Atiku. That's why there's frenzied, transparent panic in Buhari land. The only option left for Buhari now is to rig himself back to power. That's precisely why he has refused to sign the electoral bill. His reason for not signing it is that, "any real or apparent changes to the rules this close to the elections may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process." That's such a blizzard of senseless verbiage that communicates nothing. It's a linguistic, communicative, and rhetorical fraud.

Buhari knows he can no longer win a free and fair election, so he wants to go down with the nation by planning a massive nationwide rigging of the sort that he did in Osun and Ekiti. His openly partisan Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, who, along with other service chiefs, attended his reelection campaign rally, told the nation on November 28 that the Nigerian Army intends to “replicate the successes achieved” in the Osun and Ekiti elections, which is a polite way to signal that he will rig the election for Buhari in 2019.

 But Buhari is daring people who are more vicious than he is in electoral villainy. PDP and other parties are being put on notice to prepare for a rigging, not an electoral, contest in 2019. Buhari can't win that contest. The power brokers that matter in the nation are against him because they know his second term will literally kill the nation. The "international community" doesn't want him again because it can't afford the tragedy of a war-torn Nigeria, which a Buhari second term will surely precipitate. The next election may yet present the toughest test of our nationhood.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Buhari: Not a Clone but a Clown

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Last Tuesday was an awkward day for me here in the United States. It wasn’t just that President Buhari’s ill-advised response to the insanely absurd IPOB whispering campaign that he is a body double from Sudan was the butt of hurtful jokes in the American news media, all that my students wanted to talk to me about was this issue.

“While your president certainly isn’t a clone, he sure is a clown,” one student said. Although this jibe jabbed at my national self-esteem, it’s painfully accurate nonetheless. Why would someone who isn’t a clone (IPOB actually called him a body double, not a clone) deign to dignify such implausible absurdity with a response— and in a foreign country, to boot?

Several readers of this column had importuned me to share my thoughts on the allegation that it’s a Sudanese body double who is pretending to be our president, but I always responded that the suggestion is so ludicrous, so off-the-wall, and so patently illogical that even acknowledging it would be an exercise in the legitimization of stupidity. But the president, who is at the receiving end of this fatuous folly, chose to mainstream and legitimize it.

Many people said the president’s protestation that he wasn’t a clone was intended as good-natured banter. I believe them. It’s obvious that Buhari fancies himself as possessing an uncommonly rich faculty of humor precisely because his inanely fawning aides habitually make exaggerated pretenses to finding his often unfunny jokes hilarious.  

But it’s part of the performances of power that sycophantic subordinates who want to ingratiate themselves with people in power have to learn to laugh at their bosses’ jokes, even if the jokes are flat, unwitty, inappropriate, and humorless. This fact creates a false self-construal in the bosses of their matchless capacity for humor, and predisposes them to thoughtless, inapt jokes.  When my American student said Buhari was a “clown,” he was acknowledging that the president was joking when he said he wasn’t a “clone,” but he was also communicating the fact that the subject-matter of the joke was beneath the self-worth of a president.

Many times, Buhari comes across as someone with an insatiable gluttony for self-ridicule in his awkward attempts at humor. In the same Poland where he protested that he was not a clone, to give another example, he joked that he would no longer whine about the problems he inherited from PDP, which aggrandized his ineptitude before the world.

He also jokes about having an irresistible urge to run away from Nigeria when the obligations of governance get to him. In November 2016, for instance, he joked that he “felt like absconding because 27 out of 36 states in Nigeria cannot pay salaries.” Again, in September 2017, he joked thathad farmers witnessed a poor harvest, “I must confide in you that I was considering which country to run to.”

These are humorless jokes, especially because Buhari has the unflattering distinction of being Nigeria’s president who has spent the most time abroad.  In a September 16, 2017 column, I characterized this tendency as “Buhari’s obsessive compulsive runawayism.” Serious business of governance shouldn’t be trivialized with unamusing jokes, especially by someone whose ineptitude is dramatized by these jokes, whose incompetence is on steroids.

Nevertheless, although it’s utterly brainsick to even imagine that a Sudanese body double could successfully take the place of Buhari, this whole notion of a Buhari imposter in the Presidential Villa resonates because it captures the vast disconnect between the Buhari Nigerians thought they elected in 2015 and the bungling, wimpy, aloof, unjust, and inept Buhari that we have as president now.

Buhari had an unearned reputation as a firm, fearless, just, disciplined leader who was animated by a restless thirst to transform Nigeria, to build enduring institutions, to wipe out or at least minimize corruption, and to bequeath a legacy of justice, fair play, and national cohesion.

 But he has turned out to be an infirm leader who looks the other way when injustice is committed by his close associates, who disdains the poor, who defends and praises corruption when it’s committed by people who are loyal to him, who lies interminably, who has not a clue how to glue the nation and transform lives, and who is consumed by a monomaniacal obsession to perpetuate himself in power.

For people who invested hopes in an idealized Buhari that never existed, the Buhari they see now is figuratively a clone. Even his wife, Aisha Buhari, casts him as a helpless, ineffective, and isolated leader who is held prisoner by an evil, sneaky, corrupt, vulturous, and conniving two-man cabal.

In a speech she delivered at a conference on Tuesday, the Wife of the President said her husband’s administration “achieved a lot but could have achieved more or even achieved all it had in one year but for two people in government who will never allow things to move fast,” adding that she was “disappointed in men who rather than fight these two men will go to them in the night begging for favour.”

This isn’t new information for many of us who are familiar with the disabling dysfunction and cronyism in the Presidential Villa, but coming from the president’s wife, even Buhari’s hardcore admirers are discomfited by the image of an ineffectual Buhari who is inexorably hamstrung by no-good, unelected puppeteers that he appointed. Even to these hardcore supporters, the Buhari they see now is figuratively a clone of the Buhari they elected.

Buhari is also the first and only Nigerian president on record who has openly confessed to being disaffiliated from many of the signature policies of his own administration. For instance, he publicly disagreed with the devaluation of the naira. “How much benefit can we derive from this ruthless devaluation of the naira?” he told business leaders who paid him a visit at the Presidential Villa on June 27, 2016. “I'm not an economist neither a businessman - I fail to appreciate what is the economic explanation."

So, get this: we have a president whose wife says is controlled and crippled by two unelected people that he appointed. This same president is also disconnected from, and obviously makes no input to, the major policies of his administration. How is he different from a clone or a body double? The hard, painful truth is that Nigeria has no president now. Buhari is merely a figurehead who is battling with the ravages of aging and who is unaware of what is going on in the country and around him.

If there is anything that this unhinged “cloning” or “double-body” narrative has dramatized, it is that we have a president who isn’t in charge, who holds the horns of the cow while others milk it, who should be resting, not ruling. This is dangerous for the country. Four more years of this will sink Nigeria irretrievably.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Politics of “Playing Politics” with Boko Haram’s Massacres

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

President Muhammadu Buhari entreated Nigerians on November 25 to “resist the temptation to play politics with the tragedy of the deaths of our soldiers” in the wake of withering criticisms of his reluctance to acknowledge, much less grieve, the heartrending mass slaughter of more than a hundred Nigerian military officers by Boko Haram terrorists on November 19.

It’s a trite, predictable script for governments of the day to complain about the “politicization” of tragedies after news of the mass murders of soldiers and civilians by Boko Haram. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration deployed it ad nauseam, and Buhari, as an opposition politician, was serially accused of it, such as after he told Niger State supporters who visited him in Kaduna that “the biggest Boko Haram is the Federal Government.”

 In the run-up to the 2015 election, Buhari played even more "politics with the tragedy of the deaths of our soldiers" and rode to power on the crest of the wave of that politics. For instance, in the aftermath of Boko Haram’s mass slaughter of innocents and the Jonathan government’s unwillingness to officially admit that the tragedy had happened, Buhari tweeted the following on January 13, 2015: “These Nigerians who have died because our government cannot protect them, they are not politicians. They deserve better. We deserve better.”

He—or his social media minders—fired off another tweet the same day. “It is unacceptable to ignore or minimise the deaths of Nigerian citizens because of elections. It is heart-breaking. This must change,” the tweet read.

Interestingly, Buhari did precisely what he railed against in 2015: he minimized the death of our soldiers by asking us, like Jonathan did, not to "play politics" with it and by his nakedly transparent disinclination to acknowledge the tragedy until five days after the fact—as a consequence of sustained social media taunts.  Of course, Buhari and his handlers were slow to react to the mass slaughter of our soldiers because they thought doing so would explode their self-serving propaganda that Boko Haram had been “technically defeated” or “degraded” and imperil one of the core anchors of their reelection campaign.

It wasn’t only Buhari who played politics with the tragedy of Boko Haram’s mass slaughters of civilians and soldiers. Kaduna State governor Nasir El-Rufai, whom Buhari said singlehandedly prevailed on him to run for president in 2015 after he gave up hope of every winning an election, played more than “politics with the tragedy of the deaths” caused by Boko Haram during the Jonathan administration; he was downright  cruel and uncommonly acerbic in his mockery of the Nigerian military.

In a widely shared tweet, he derided the Nigerian military as “JONATHANIAN ARMY” and added, “And now some IDIOTS [emphasis his] will be saying we should #SupportOurArmy. Na the army wey we go SUPPORT [emphasis original] be dis?”

Thankfully, in spite of exaggerated claims by the Buhari government about the “politicization” of the tragedy of Boko Haram’s murder of our soldiers, no one, to my knowledge, has scornfully tagged our military as a "Buharist army," and no one has said we shouldn't support our military because they don't like the president of the country. Nor has anyone called supporters of our military "idiots." If anything, there has been a bipartisan outpouring of patriotic support for the military.

Again, when Jonathan visited Chadian president Idris Deby to strategize on how to contain Boko Haram’s unceasing homicidal fury, El-Rufai implied that the meeting was a sinister conclave to hatch plans to kill more Nigerians. In a November 25, 2015 tweet, he shared a news headline that read, “Boko Haram: Jonathan Visits Chadian President, Idris Deby for Second Time in Two Months.” Below the headline, he commented thus: “…to plan more attacks?” I am yet to find an equivalent for that sort of recklessness since news of President Buhari’s planned visit to Chad got out.

In addition, Boko Haram was campaign fodder for APC. A wildly popular APC campaign video that made the social media rounds in 2015 ended with following words: "Make no mistake: the enemies [i.e., Boko Haram] are relentless. Vote for the man, Buhari, who can protect you and your children. Vote for change!"

So when the Buhari administration accuses people of “playing politics” with Boko Haram, they are being willfully amnesiac and hypocritical. No one has played more politics with Boko Haram than Buhari and his enablers in APC in the build-up to the 2015 election. Even now, no one is playing more politics with Boko Haram than the government.

Most importantly, though, this is isn’t the first time Boko Haram has killed soldiers on the frontlines in large numbers. For instance, according to Premium Times reporter Nicholas Ibekwe, on July 14 this year, Boko Haram murdered more than 200 military personnel at a military facility in Jili. “Due to poor reporting that incident didn't go viral,” he said on Twitter. “Poor reporting” is obviously a cute euphemism for deliberate government suppression of negative news about Boko Haram.

Recall that on August 2, after Boko Haram murdered, yet again, scores of soldiers, Buhari pretended it didn’t happen and instead chose to meet with senators from his party who had threatened to defect to the PDP. He was more concerned with salvaging his failing reelection bid than he was with the tragic death of soldiers who sacrificed their lives in defense of the country. Isn’t this similar to, or even worse than, Jonathan’s attitude of blithe unconcern toward the Boko Haram tragedy in 2014?

As many international news organizations have noted, more soldiers have been killed by Boko Haram under Buhari’s watch than at any time since the insurgency started in 2009. At least 500 soldiers have died this year alone. Yet, all that the government and its minions do is lie blatantly, shamelessly, and interminably about defeating Boko Haram.

These dead soldiers are the sons, husbands, brothers, and cousins of humans like Buhari and us. A president who quickly ferried his son to Germany for world-class medical attention after he had an accident with a multi-million naira power bike couldn’t even as much as acknowledge the death of soldiers who died in defense of the land he leads until he was pressured and shamed into doing so. Yet he had the presence of mind to invite his incompetent service chiefs, whom he should have fired since last year if he was a sincere and competent leader, to grace his reelection campaign at the presidential villa.

Amid this tragedy, a disturbing video is trending on social media of Nigerian soldiers on the frontlines complaining about their unpreparedness to fight Boko Haram. They show the viewer the military equipment they use, which they said were bought in 1983! Yet the government released one billion dollars for the purchase of ammunition. Asking soldiers to fight a well-armed, motivated, and nihilistic terrorist group like Boko Haram with equipment bought in 1983 is akin to sending them on a mass suicide mission. This is cruel and unconscionable! And it is precisely for this reason that Dasuki is still in jail. In Nigeria, sadly, the more things change, the more they remain the same.