Considering President Muhammadu Buhari’s struggle an unremitting debilitating disease which has kept him out of his office and country indefinitely, should the 74-year -old be on the ballot in 2019?
In an ideal world, this is a non-question. The proposition carries the unmistakable undertones of callousness and mischief. For the obvious reason that President Buhari has been in a protracted state of incapacitation, it is inhuman to speculate in his electability as if he were some blue chip stock.
A certain ‘supporter’ of the president, however, responded as if the question was about a larger-than-life cult figure in a banana republic. Yes, Buhari must run for a second term. The North wants him to run ‘’even on the wheelchair.’’
The doctrinaire Buharist borrowed his response from Mrs. Grace Mugabe. Asked whether her nonagenarian husband would seek to extend his 30-year-old rule over the-food-basket-of-Africa-turned-basket-case-of-the-continent in the next presidential election, the first lady of Zimbabwe replied that her husband, Robert Mugabe, would run by all means, even if he was wheelchair-bound. (The vixen would later venture to promise that if he happened to die before the elections, he would be fielded as a ghost candidate!)
Now, it must be noted that ableism is absolutely unjustifiable. It violates the basic decencies of a civilized society. Physical disability does not diminish a man’s personhood and the physically challenged among us are entitled to the same rights, respect and opportunities enjoyed by all law-abiding members of society.
But Buhari’s re-election candidacy should be out of the question. And this has nothing to do with ableism. It has everything to do with his readiness and fitness to execute the office. So far, the unnamed ailment he suffers from has overwhelmed him to the point of being his preoccupation. The survivalist quest for recovery has rendered him unavailable to lead. Therefore, it goes without saying that he cannot be re-elected to carry on as a foreign-based, absentee president.
It is within the realm of possibility that Buhari can make a stunning health comeback. But he is no spring chicken. The reality of his age and the seriousness of his condition mean that the odds are stacked against him.
With the best medical treatment in the world and the blank check of a compassionate leave, he is still unable to bounce back in quick time. This fact suggests that his recovery is in the lap of the gods and that it is safe to regard him as a will-o’-the-wisp.
Wisdom acknowledges a present truth and constructively adapts to it. The truth of the moment, which only an ostrich’s playmate can miss, is that Buhari cannot be trusted to provide leadership at the highest level in Nigeria. Wisdom whispers that it is foolishness to plan the future around a sick, aging man with an uncertain prospect of recovery.
Let’s face it: Buhari has had his day. At the best of times, he was unable to stamp his interpretation on the role of the president. He dissipated his head of steam on hesitancy and squandered the goodwill he needed to push his agenda. With the best of will in the world, he cannot make a more effective leader out of himself now or in the future.
His sickness has tremendously weakened him as the head of the government of Nigeria and as a person. His ill-health has created the dynamic of codependency between him and his inner circle. He uses them as fig leaf for his privacy and they exploit their proximity to him to prosper as the dead hand of a privileged cabal.
In his absence, ‘Acting President’ Yemi Osinbajo has found himself working to earn brownie points for loyalty. Osinbajo flinches from taking assertive steps. He acts timid to stave off charges of ambition, instead opting to play the underling who ‘regrets’ having to hold down the fort.
He would travel to Katsina and introduce himself to the president’s kinsmen as Buhari’s son. He would not sign the budget until the cabal in London telegraphed permission in the name of the boss. He cannot inaugurate newly confirmed ministers. He cannot deal with the rampaging headhunters. He cannot move against the demented Northern youths threatening to destroy 44 trillion naira Igbo investment in the North. He cannot go beyond the brief to ‘coordinate the affairs of the nation.’
The absent president/acting president arrangement is an awkward and inconvenient theatre. It offshored power and left a well behaved figure head to maintain semblance of constitutional order. The entire administration has, however, shrunk to Osibanjo trying to impress with his loyalty to his principal. Aisha returned from London the other day to thank him for dimming his light while the master was away!
This state of affairs is not what the presidency is for. Sadly, it is most likely to persist in a second Buhari term. President Buhari has to admit that he has had his day. If he manages to weather this tenure, he should be grateful enough to retire. He needs to relieve his frame of the crushing burden of the presidency and to release the nation to progress beyond his infirmity. He needs to experience as much of the lightness of insouciance as the earth can allow.
Buhari needs to head home, whether he winds up on ‘Mugabe’s wheelchair’ or walks on his two legs before 2019. He should not contest in the 2019 elections. He lacks what it takes to run a viable presidential campaign, and more importantly, what it takes to run a country.
Subjecting himself to another campaign is a high risk bet. The rigors of another campaign will exhaust him, drain him and put his very fragile health at the mercy of chance.
I recognize that the shrine of power is never empty of sycophants. Every head of state we have had had an (un)critical mass of flatterers that took on the mission of spreading the gospel that the man of the moment was the only citizen competent to rule Nigeria. Abacha’s people said it of him. Obasanjo’s people said it of him. Jonathan’s people said it of him. And Buhari’s people are saying it of him.
The chairman of All Progressive Congress, John Odigie Oyegun, says the presidential ticket of the party is already spoken for. Buhari will have an automatic ticket. There will be no contest for presidential candidacy.
The president’s spokesman boasts that Buhari’s second term is a foregone conclusion. He has won in advance. He is invincible.
All of this sounds familiar. It is the sort of prideful thinking and arrogant talk that prefaced Jonathan’s doom. Buhari will experience a similar ruin if he permits himself to be suckered into buying the lie of his own invincibility.
He might be well thought of in the North. But the South is not as enamored of him. The wider electorate will not embrace him again without demur.
Buhari’s supporters often wheel out the degradation of Boko Haram and the fight against corruption as his notable achievements that qualify him for re-election. But whatever reduction in bloodshed that was achieved by the diminishing of the capacity of the terrorists to kill and hold territory in the North is being overcompensated for by the bloodsport of the ‘Fulani herdsmen’ in other parts of Nigeria. He has declined to apply state force against them because blood is thicker than water.
His fight against corruption has been discredited by the corruption of his closest aides and his hypocritical intervention as their human shield. He ‘cleared’ Tukur Buratai when the Dubai properties of the modest-salaried Chief of Army Staff were exposed. Buhari also wrote to clear Babachir Lawal after the SGF’s grass-cutting scam blew open. The enlightened demographic notes the double standard of in lavishing deodorant on your corrupt friends and spraying pesticide on your corrupt foes.
The economic recession, caused by a combination of the legacy of greed of the Jonathan administration and the chaotic mismanagement of the fundamentals of the economy by the Buhari administration, has caused countless job losses, spiked hunger and spread misery all over Nigeria. Many Nigerians are worse off today than they were before he took office. And their next vote will reflect their discontent.
The 2019 elections will be a referendum on Buhari and the ‘Change’ mantra of the APC. He is almost certain to lose if he stands. Any Trumpian character that taps into the anger in the land will defeat him.
The idea that the worst of Buhari is better than the best of anyone else is ridiculous. This country of 175 million people has a sprinkling of younger, visionary individuals who can do governance infinitely better than Buhari. Nigeria is not so poor in humanity that only a frail Buhari is qualified to be president.
The last thing Nigeria needs is a president that cannot function. We need an energetic president. A virile president with smart ideas.
And the North needs that kind of president even more. The North is the backwater of Nigeria and seems fated to remain so for the foreseeable future. All that Northerners have benefited from the long rule of their ‘brothers’ is the vicarious feeling of being in power, worsening poverty and burgeoning out-of-school-kids population.
The North may want ‘Buhari on the wheelchair’. But they need a strong president. They need a stronger president more than the other half of the country.
You can reach Emmanuel at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EmmaUgwuTheMan