On Friday, hundreds of schoolchildren were abducted in Kankara, a community in Katsina State. As of the time of writing this, more than 300 of those schoolchildren were still reportedly missing. This shameful development is a recrudescence of the 2014 Chibok girls’ abduction in the same Borno State. About 125 of those girls have yet to return home. Only time will tell what has become of them. Then, there was the Dapchi abduction that happened in 2018 in Yobe State. Though those schoolchildren were recovered, one of them, Leah Sharibu, was left behind. As we are wont to do with all these deeply traumatising episodes, we repress the memory and move on.
Boko Haram, which has now claimed responsibility for the latest abduction, seemed rather deliberate in their choice of timing and location. To prove just how impotent his regime had become, they staged another phenomenal kidnap while Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) was visiting the state.
Although Buhari’s location was only hours away from Kankara where the abduction happened, he could not deign to visit the town. In lieu of a compassionate visit from the President, what showed up was a video of Buhari visiting his animal farm in his village. Yes, in a country where many people have lost their lives and worldly goods to acts of violence sparked by cows’ invasion of people’s farmlands, there can be no better evidence of how much cow lives matter than what he did. I am aware that Buhari’s bullhorn, a man called Garba Shehu, claims the President had not yet heard the news of the abduction when he went to the farm, and therefore his action was not insensitive.
Still, does that justify Buhari’s rather cold reaction to the news? Even after he was officially informed, did anyone see Buhari make a direct official pronouncement on the abduction? All we got was another empty press release hastily composed by one of his many paid hacks. As usual, they were full of nothings; promises no one believes he has enough leadership credibility to keep. Did he visit the families who have been wailing about the loss of their children? When you see the photograph of Buhari, sitting barefoot in residence in Daura, and allegedly being briefed on the situation by the Katsina State governor, Aminu Bello Masari, you realise the man is mentally distanced from the country he purportedly rules.
From various corners of the country, one hears the frustrated sighs of countrymen who are convinced that the trouble with Nigeria is a lack of leadership. We have no one in charge of the affairs of the nation, they rightly say. Nigeria today faces the same anarchic situation that ancient Israel did in Judges 21:25; they had no king, and everyone did whatever they liked. Where there is no reigning moral authority, everyone becomes a law unto themselves. That single verse of the scripture has been Nigeria’s story, a condition that has been exacerbated by the shoddy leadership that has plagued us since 2015. Nigeria has no leader, and every bandit, hoodlum, terrorist, and politician, act as they wish.
Some Nigerians want to believe that the leadership lacuna is because Buhari suffers from dementia. They surmise Buhari is being restricted from the public space so that discerning public glares will not diagnose his issues. Just last week, Buhari was supposed to appear before the federal lawmakers to speak on the persistent problems of insecurity, but he backed out of that duty to be accountable. However, Buhari’s failure to appear before the public where he would be interrogated further fuelled insinuations that he was no longer in charge of his mental faculties.
This supposition about his mental condition is highly probable. Buhari is advanced in years and prone to debilitations. In some of his public appearances, he has definitely exhibited symptoms of dementia. It is quite possible that he grapples with senescence and his aides keep him away from public view to minimise the damage that information could do. That likely accounts for why he rarely appears in public and mostly speaks to Nigerians through proxies who issue endless press statements in his name.
While I am willing to accept that he could be impaired, I also think Buhari’s pathology is far simpler. He is merely indifferent. I do not mean that to excuse his cold-heartedness; it is the blunt truth. He seems genuinely incapable of empathy or any similar emotion. The only occasion the larger public saw him show a sign of emotional weakness was when he lost the 2011 election for the third time, and he broke down in tears. Nothing else has moved him. Like a typical narcissist, he cannot feel anyone else’s pain but his and his alone. He does not seem to have the psychological depth that enables regular people to plumb into the reservoir of their being and connect with other humans in their most vulnerable moments.
What people take for his tough “spartan” exterior, the steeliness they assumed was cultivated by his military training, is just an anti-social behaviour borne out of a lack of conscience. When ex-President Shehu Shagari died and Buhari visited the family, he could not summon a single sentence of compassion for the family even as an official duty. According to the deceased’s son, Aminu, in an interview, Buhari merely signed the condolence register and put the date. As the incumbent President to an ex-president, and given the history between them, he had no words in season to grace the moment. That is the kind of person he is!
That is why even though Nigeria has been through many instances of bloodshed even as people’s lives are being diminished by the failing economy, we do not see Buhari’s concern. When the issue of herdsmen killings in Benue was prevalent around 2018, and he met with governors in Aso Rock, he tastelessly joked around the issue. When Buhari heard the story of a man who was nearly killed because he named his dog “Buhari,” his aide said he laughed. When the mass killing of the Shiites happened in Kaduna in 2015, and he was questioned about it on live TV, he more or less justified their deaths. While the #EndSARS debacle was ongoing, Lagos governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu travelled to the Federal Capital Territory to give him a lowdown of developments contained in a booklet of photographs. Going by the disengaged body language of Buhari as Sanwo-Olu talked, the latter could have sat back in Lagos and given the same report to a carved statue, and it would not have made a difference. When Buhari would address the nation on the same issue, his speech was typically lacking in both passion and compassion.
That speech that he read brings me to another point about Buhari’s supposed dementia: even if he has diminished mental capacity, his many aides do not. If they could take the trouble to prevent him from speaking to the public, they could also channel part of the efforts towards ameliorating Nigerians’ pain in every way possible. At the barest minimum, they could have handed him a speech that was far more compassionate than what he read. They could have pushed him to go to Kankara and hand him another speech to read. At best, they would have committed to putting together programmes and policies that would have benefited Nigerians in his name.
They do not go that far while managing him and his supposed condition because they have imbibed his sociopathic character. Their actions are consistent with the person he was before dementia allegedly set in. Since he won his re-election, Buhari has been acting as if he no longer needs Nigerians. He has been remoted from their reality. He does not care about Nigerians, and the public would smell a rat right away if he is presented out of character.
Again, it is probable that Buhari is truly losing his marbles. However, the pattern of his public conduct suggests that his regime’s rudderlessness is simply indifferent to Nigerians’ plight. He does not care about anyone but himself, and not even the weight of the responsibility of managing a nation can make him push beyond himself.