As I pointed out in my Facebook and Twitter status updates in the aftermath of Muhammadu Buhari’s June 10 interview with Arise TV, Buhari’s thought-processes, whenever they’re publicly expressed, are often so devoid of basic rhyme and reason that to even try to make sense of them is a painfully senseless waste of one’s senses.
Let’s ignore his responses that had not the remotest affinity with the questions he was asked and blame it on his dementia. Let’s focus instead on the substance of the interview—if that’s possible. For instance, how do you make sense of Buhari’s understanding that the #EndSARS protest (thank God he even knew and remembered that there was a protest) was a plot to remove him from power? As someone pointed out on Twitter, if protests against police brutality threaten his hold on power, is he implying that police brutality is the essential condition to keep him in power?
How about telling Nigerian youth to “behave” if they want jobs? “Nobody is going to invest in an insecure environment. So, I told them, I said they should tell the youth that if they want jobs, they will behave themselves,” Buhari said. “Make sure that the area is secure. So that people can come in and invest.” So, security is now the responsibility of unemployed youth and not the government?
Or take his justification for building a railway in Niger Republic while most parts of Nigeria are devoid of basic transportational infrastructure. “I have first cousins in Niger,” he said. “There are Kanuris, there are Hausas, there are Fulanis in Niger Republic just as there are Yorubas in Benin Republic and so on. You can’t absolutely cut them off.”
In which world does this make sense? So, he isn’t building infrastructure in Benin Republic, Cameroon, and Chad because he has no cousins there? And, perhaps, he hasn’t built infrastructure in other parts of Nigeria because he has no cousins there?
Buhari is supposed to be “president” of Nigeria. It is to Nigeria and its constituents that he owes allegiance, not his cousins and kinfolk in another country. It is borderline treasonable to deprive a country you lead of its resources and wealth in order to develop another in which you’re not even a legal citizen just because a part of your ancestry is traceable to that country.
Yes, colonialists arbitrarily imposed unnatural borders on the African continent and created nation-states without regard to pre-existing polities. I also come from a border community. Borgu, where I am from, used to be a confederacy that stretched from parts of what is now Kwara State, Niger State, Kebbi State to what is now northern and central Benin Republic. More than 80 percent of the people who speak my native Baatonu language live in northern and central Benin Republic.
Most people from the border states of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Kwara, Niger, and Kebbi have relatives in Benin Republic. Just like people from the border states of Cross River, Taraba, and Adamawa have relatives in Cameroon. People from Borno, Yobe, Jigawa, Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara, and Kebbi have relatives in Niger Republic, and Borno also shares borders with the Republic of Chad.
But our nation-states have existed for more than five decades and have acquired independent identities in spite of their unnaturalness. Niger Republic is a Westphalian sovereign state like Nigeria is. Buhari’s emotions can’t override that fact. If everyone from Nigeria’s border states becomes president and decides to divert resources from Nigeria to develop their kinfolk in a neighboring country, what will become of Nigeria?
This is particularly concerning because Buhari has shown time and again that he has more emotional investment in Niger Republic (because his father migrated from there to Dumurkul in the Daura Emirate of Katsina State) than he has in Nigeria which he leads. (He might as well go the whole hog and build infrastructure in Senegal since it’s the ancestral home of the Fulani, his paternal relatives).
He talks about Igbo people, his Westphalian compatriots, with unconcealed animosity and genocidal fury but builds infrastructure for his kinfolk in a foreign country using resources derived from a part of the country his openly disdains supposedly because they gave him only “5 percent” of their vote. That’s not the way to run a modern state.
He described the Southeast, using IPOB as a rhetorical crutch, as a mere “a dot in a circle,” adding “Even if they want to exit, they’ll have no access to anywhere.” You know he equated IPOB with Igbo people because he also talked about “the way they are spread all over the country having businesses and property.”
Interestingly, he enabled and popularized IPOB and its vulgar, mentally ill thug of a leader by the name of Nnamdi Kanu. At a time when most people hadn’t heard of Radio Biafra in July 2015, Buhari’s government bragged that it had jammed the radio station’s signals, which it actually didn’t, but which nonetheless helped popularize the station.
As I pointed out in my July 18, 2015 column titled “Why Buhari Should Leave Radio Biafra Alone,” “What is probably worse than jamming—or claiming to have jammed—the signals of the radio station is the presidency’s issuance of a press statement on July 15, 2015 disclaiming an alleged anti-Igbo statement credited to President Buhari by the station. That’s a huge, unearned presidential validation of the station.”
It went downhill from there. After popularizing and lionizing Radio Biafra and later Nnamdi Kanu, the government arrested Kanu when he visited Nigeria, and then allowed him to get away, which made him even more popular. His secessionist message is now resonating in the Southeast even among otherwise committed Nigerian patriots of Igbo extraction because of Buhari’s intentional, even if senseless, Igbophobia.
During his Arise TV interview, Buhari also hit Bola Tinubu who expects to be Nigeria’s next president as a reward for helping Buhari to power. Buhari took a wild, unmistakable dig at Tinubu when he said, “You cannot sit there in Lagos…and decide on the fate of APC zoning.”
This not-so-subtle public humiliation of Tinubu has obviously caused some uneasiness in the Tinubu camp (as if some of us hadn’t warned several times that Buhari won’t hand over to Tinubu), so Buhari’s spokesman pretended to walk back his boss’ impolitic rhetorical barb at Tinubu through a news release on Friday.
“The President, the Asiwaju and the rapidly growing members of the party, want a dynastic succession of elected leaders,” the release said. For people who don’t know, “dynastic succession” simply means family members taking over leadership from other family members.
The Oxford Reference defines dynastic succession as “The transfer of power and authority from father to son throughout the generations.” When I first brought this to the attention of my social media followers, some people pointed out that Buhari’s spokesperson probably had a different meaning of “dynastic succession” from what it means in conventional English.
Someone even said the spokesperson probably wrote in Nigerian English! Well, I am a scholar of Nigerian English and have even written a book on it. Dynastic succession in Nigerian English means exactly what it means in every other variety of English: transfer of power and authority from one family member to the other, typically from a father to son. That’s why Nigerian historians write about dynastic succession battles among obongs, emirs, obas, obis, and other monarchies.
In politics people talk of dynastic succession only to refer to the circulation of power within the same family, such as in Togo where there’s a hereditary monocracy around the Gnassingbé family. Or in Gabon where Ali Bongo Ondimba succeeded his father, Omar Bongo, in 2009. Or nearer home in Chad where Mahamat Déby succeeded his father Idris Deby.
That means Yusuf Buhari—or any of Buhari’s children or relatives, since Yusuf will be only 31 in 2023— will succeed Buhari in 2023. In other words, the presidency didn’t really walk back Buhari’s verbal dart at Tinubu; it doubled it down. It’s telling the nation that there won’t be a transfer of power at the presidential level to anyone outside the Buhari family.
It’s probably also reminding Tinubu of his own longstanding dynastic entanglements in Lagos. His wife is already a senator and his children control the commanding heights of the Lagos economy. He alone determines who becomes governor of Lagos.
So, yeah, Tinubu “cannot sit there in Lagos” and change Buhari’s “dynastic succession” plan that he already practices. But, then again, it’s senseless trying to make sense of Buhari’s nonsense, more of which his spokesman said he will spill on Friday when this column was written.