Until last week, it might have been dismissed as delusional to think that President Muhammadu Buhari considers the citizens as people he has conquered. But if the body language of the president has failed to magically make available the dividends of democracy to the citizens, it has at least in recent times reinforced the notion of his seeing himself as a conqueror, and thus a blight on our democratic experience.
Here are a people who have been brutalised by decades of misrule and who invested so much hope in the Buhari’s change mantra. Over a year after waiting for the realisation of the promised change, Buhari has unabashedly disavowed it. Passing the buck, Buhari has rather asked the citizens to make the change a reality.
Yet, Buhari and his party members are the only people who know the breadth and length of the change he envisaged. The citizens did not sit down at a table to arrive at a template of his promised change. At best, the president only revealed snippets of the change: a robust economy that would guarantee full employment and a parity of the naira and the dollar, and as a palliative measure for those who are still jobless, the payment of a stipend of N5,000.
Buhari’s new mantra of change beginning with the citizens is an expression of his sense of triumphalism. The new mantra brims with the hauteur of a president who has not only impenitently abdicated his responsibility, but who is yet to come to terms with his own failure to grapple with the problems he was elected to solve. The citizens could tolerate the president’s incompetence while hoping that with his seeking the advice of those who should know better, he could still fulfill the people’s expectations. But with a mindset that the citizens have been conquered, the president does not need to attach any importance to such advice. Or why would the president tell the people that change begins with them when he is expected to make good his promise? As far as the president is concerned, he has used the change mantra to gain power and those who are interested in its actualisation are free to torment themselves with that triviality.
But the president may not be wrong after all. From his Olympian height, he can only see the citizens he has conquered. The conquest began with his ministers and other aides who are supposed to advise him on the right decisions to take. We must be reminded that the president did not hide his disdain for his would-be ministers. They were only imposed on him by the constitution. And this was why he considered them as noise makers whose contribution to national development could only be consigned to a marginal space compared to that of civil servants in whom he reposes more confidence.
Consequently, the president may be dismissive of any advice emanating from his aides. And the aides knowing that they are seen as only zombinised messengers do not bother to offer any suggestion that may appear to be interrogating the omniscience of the president. This was probably why when it was clear that the president had made up his mind on telling the citizens that change begins with them, no one dared bring a better insight into the matter.
Buhari knows that he has conquered the people. They would not be able to reject any policy he throws at them, no matter how much it negates their interest. This was why when he increased the price of fuel, there was no protest from the people. At best, there was only a whimper that was easily submerged by the din of the avowed altruism of the president. Yet, this was a policy that provoked the citizens’ animus when the past government considered it. Before the conquered citizens, Buhari prosecutes his anti-corruption campaign without respect for the people’s constitutional rights. While he ignores the fact that members of his party are equally guilty of corruption, he continues to hound those who were associated with the past government. The citizens believe that but for Buhari’s intervention, corruption would have worsened and the economy would have sunk deeper. They endure their current economic predicament exacerbated by Buhari’s inept management of the economy amid the illusion that whether the president is sleeping or awake, he is preoccupied with thoughts of how to improve their lives.
The president is secure in the notion that he has conquered the vocal section of the citizenry. Those citizens who were vociferous in criticising misguided governments have been silenced with appointments. It is these people who now mock the notion of hunger in the land. They wonder how a Nigerian citizen could be so far from reality as to think that there is suffering in the country when they have not seen anybody who has died of hunger. They have more evidence: They are not hungry, they still have enough money to send their children to schools abroad. And for these people, the final evidence is that airlines are still in business as aircraft on international routes are not empty. To them, the fact that some airlines such as Aero, FirstNation and Arik have shut down is not enough indication of a country writhing in economic turmoil. Those who have been regarded as the conscience of the nation renege on their promise to speak on the Buhari government. They would neither thunder and brand Buhari as a Nebuchadnezzar nor consider him clueless. The tiny segment of the vocal population who refused to be quiet has been silenced. They have been given the final warning not to march on Abuja over the Chibok girls who are still being held captive by Boko Haram insurgents.
Buoyed by his conquest, Buhari is riding roughshod over the Niger Delta. He offered dialogue, but now that the agitators have accepted to dialogue he has kept deploying troops in the region. He does not want to heed the pleas of the leaders of the region that he should use the opportunity of the ceasefire to negotiate and bring enduring solutions to the problems of the Niger Delta.
Buhari is aware that his conquest is not complete until he removes two major obstacles in his way. He does not want any intervention from the judiciary and legislature. This is why he wants emergency powers. Even if he does not enjoy the support of the legislators in this regard, Buhari is free to do whatever he likes. After all, he has conquered the citizens, and who can question his thinking that he has not only four years but eternity to slog towards his promised change for the benefit of the people?