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MAGNUS ONYIBE

Magnus Onyibe is an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Massachusetts, USA and a former cabinet member of Delta state government. Since the return to multi-party democracy in Nigeria over 21 years ago, Onyibe has written and published over 200 opinion pieces on the Nigerian economy, business, politics, leadership, governance and foreign relations issues.

In his no-holds-barred interview on ARISE Television, broadcast on June 10, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari, who is also the Commander in-Chief-of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a position that he ascended since May 29, 2015, basically responded to the most critical questions that have been boggling the mind of most Nigerians. The anxiety is owed to the fact that President Buhari’s disinterest in holding media interviews as evidenced by the fact that the past six years or so of his leadership represents an unusually extended period of time that Nigerians have been unable to hear directly from their president.

And that is the origin or justification for the insinuations and presumptions that President Buhari has not effectively been at the helm of affairs in Aso Rock Villa and which perhaps gave fillip to the conspiracy theory that our collective destiny as a nation is in the hands of a cabal.

Before their unfortunate and sad demise arising from complications from Coronavirus disease in 2020, then Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari was alleged to have been the driver of the sinister cabal just as Mallam Isa Funtua, a close confidant of President Buhari who is also his In-law (his son is married to Buhari’s daughter) was also claimed to be a member.

Evidently, it was not enough that Mr President had been speaking through his coterie of spokespersons, ranging from the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, media adviser, Femi Adeshina, special assistants on media, Garba Shehu and Laureta Onochie as well as a battery of other defenders of the Buhari doctrine in the social media.

The change of tact which has seen President Buhari engaging in a tete-a-tete with the fourth realm of the estate via the ARISE TV interview, can be likened to a successful coup detat by ARISE TV. And it is actually a scoop by the trend setting THISDAY/ARISE Media Group led by Nduka Obaigbena whose intention was perhaps aimed at helping the misunderstood president get better understood by those that he is leading via a candid conversation.

Although, the interview was more of a monologue rather than a dialogue since the masses did not get to ask the existential questions for which they have been dying to receive answers, (as a typical media chat with the president should be) the one way communication was nevertheless an improvement on the silent treatment which President Buhari had hitherto applied in the management of his relationship with the masses before ARISE TV broke the jinx.

And ARISE TV’s quest for getting President Buhari to engage with the apparently neglected masses or the electorate is justified or underscored by the fact that when he first campaigned for their votes in 2003, and particularly since 2015 when he first got elected president and subsequently in 2019 when he got re-elected, then presidential candidate and later President Buhari visited Nigerians and interacted with them in their locations or natural habitats nationwide.

But since his assumption of office, definitely not by omission, but by commission, (bearing in mind that his spokesmen have been celebrating his taciturnity) Mr President seems to have become content with being cocooned in Aso Rock Villa, while only resorting to third party communication with the hoi polloi who obviously are not enamored, but are abhorrent of such attitude of off handedness.

The cold shoulder treatment that president Buhari has dished out to Nigerians in terms of little or no direct communication with them in the past six years of presiding over their affairs has largely contributed to the apparent disconnection between President Buhari as a leader and the critical masses that he is supposed to be shepherding.

That is what has created an atmosphere that became rife for the fertilisation of negatively imaginative minds that took undue advantage of the void to invent the death of Mr President (following his long hospitalization in the UK in 2017) and the cloning narrative about a certain Jibrin Al Sudani that is allegedly Buhari’s body double. Such absurd claim festered due to the silence from the man at the centre of the rather absurd and burlesque allegation-President Buhari.

Given the robust response by the masses to the 10th June rare, but candid interview that has now debunked the conspiracy theory that President Buhari had ceded the leadership of our country to the so-called cabal allegedly featuring elder statesman, Mallam Maman Daura, and Abba Kyari as well Isa Funtua (two of whom are now diseased), it has been a sort of coup de gras for the culture of silence between President Buhari and the long suffering Nigerian citizens who in their difficult moments have been craving words of encouragement directly from their president.

As for Nduka Obaigbena’s ARISE TV, it is now undisputedly the new leader in broadcast news and Nigeria’s equivalent of CNN International. Although Nigerians would have loved to see the panel of interviewers ask President Buhari hard questions, which did not happen perhaps based on ARISE TV’s prior agreement with the presidency, it was nonetheless a commendable effort in cracking open the window into the mind of President Buhari who had hitherto been an enigma of sorts, if not a hermit in the light of his attitude or policy of little or no two ways interactions with Nigerian masses media chat.

The assertion above is underscored by the fact that the ARISE TV interview now considered a peep into President Buhari’s mind, afforded him the platform to exhibit some presence of mind as he demonstrated a reasonable grasp of the issues bedeviling Nigeria and justified the solutions that he had proffered thus proving that contrary to allegations of high level of senility and dementia leveled against him, apart from the usual memory lapse associated with old age , he is to a large extent in control of the affairs of the country. The assertion above is reflected by some of President Buhari’s views previously conveyed by his media husbandmen and which he candidly re-emphasised while justifying the actions and inactions of his government.

Now, Mr. President’s justifications for his policy actions may be adjudged by some pundits to be jaundiced, archaic and narrow in scope. But no one would be in doubt about whether the policies of government in the past six years are products of president Buhari’s critical (although somehow primitive) thinking and therefore bear his imprimatur. So fortuitously, the ARISE TV interview has been both a revelation and or resource for the psychological assessment of President Buhari by non professional psychologists like my good self. It is definitely a two edged sword. On one hand, no more would critics accuse him of being a passive leader while heaping the blame of poor leadership on his advisers. The false claim that a combination of age (78) and poor health have significantly imperiled his faculty, as such he is suffering from dementia has been proven to some degree to be exaggerated. On the other hand, no more would President Buhari be absolved of the blame for the leadership miasma associated with this government. So, the days of innocence for President Buhari may be gone. Going forward, members of his inner circle such as the late Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari that used to be blamed for manipulating the president (before his passage) are now absolved. But that cloak or badge of dishonor has recently been attached to the current Attorney General, Abubakar Malami who has been branded the new cabal executioner. Fortunately for him, that allegation has also been vitiated by the very revealing ARISE TV interview.

Because Mr President had been incommunicado by failing to have one-on-one conversations with Nigerians via media interviews, the fallacies about him were unwittingly allowed to fill up the space because nature abhors vacuum.

One leadership style that had been the best kept secret during his first tenure as military head of state is having other people serve as a cannon fodder for him. And that appears to be President Buhari’s administrative modus operandi which has taken Nigerians so long to decode. It is probably a tactical trait that he developed while in the military. The trend analysis below validate the point.

During his time as military head of state (1983-85) his second-in-command, late Tunde Idiagbon was a target for the flaks from aggrieved Nigerians for the maladministration of then General Buhari’s government. As Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) Chairman, Buhari literarily dodged the bullets as the head of Afriprojects, Ahmad Salihijo, the consulting firm that he appointed to manage the infrastructure development agency set up by former military head of state, Sanni Abacha, was also the cannon fodder that was blamed for all the inequities of the development behemoth, PTF which was under the chairmanship of then General Buhari.

Let’s be clear, delegation of power is not an anathema in management or leadership. But going forward, President Buhari will be defined by his actions and inactions while in office. Even Mr President himself admitted that much when he was pressed to comment on what would be his legacy and he responded thus: “I will accept whatever verdict Nigerians pass on me. I hope they will be fair…”

In my personal assessment, the ARISE TV interview has been an opportunity for discerning members of society to identity the pride and prejudices of Muhammadu Buhari on three fronts: (a) as a person, (b) a military officer and (c) as the president of our great country in the past six years that he mounted the saddle of leadership.

My analysis of his responses to the questions posed by the ARISE TV panel which is without prejudice is aimed at helping readers determine whether President Buhari has indeed been a re-born democrat as he informed an eminent gathering of democrats in Chatham House, UK some six years ago and the vast number of Nigerian voters that gave him their mandate via the ballot box to be their president in 2015. Candidate Buhari in that Chatham House presentation made a compelling case for himself as the best man for the job.

To put things in a proper perspective, an excerpt from presidential candidate Buhari’s speech at Chatham House in February of 2015 is worthy of reproduction:

“…It is much more important that the promise of democracy goes beyond just allowing people to freely choose their leaders. It is much more important that democracy should deliver on the promise of choice, of freedoms, of security of lives and property, of transparency and accountability, of rule of law, of good governance and of shared prosperity. It is very important that the promise embedded in the concept of democracy, the promise of a better life for the generality of the people, is not delivered in the breach.”

Those lines would melt the heart of any democracy advocate, adherent or devotee that attended the event and even those with the contrarian mindset of candidate Buhari not being suitable for the job due to his authoritarian and totalitarian antecedents.

He then threw in the clincher: “I cannot change the past. But I can change the present and the future. So before you is a former military ruler and a converted democrat who is ready to operate under democratic norms and is subjecting himself to the rigours of democratic elections for the fourth time.”

If there were any cynics left in the hall, this closing stanza of then candidate Buhari’s swan song of democracy demolished any further doubts because by every measure, it was a perfect clincher.

And after that event, his ascension to the presidency was a sort of fait accompli in the eyes of both local and international stakeholders.

But six years on: has President Buhari manifested what candidate Buhari professed in Chatham House in February of 2015 under the chairmanship of sir Richard Grozny and in the front of an audience comprising of very distinguished proponents and exponents of democracy and its ethos?

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