While the controversy surrounding the leak of Ibe Kachikwu’s letter is still raging on, the Presidency is under fire again following the comments of World Bank’s president, Jim Yong Kim, in an interview where he claimed that President Muhammadu Buhari specifically asked him and his organization to focus on the North in their aid interventions.
Many have held this as further proof that President Buhari is ethnocentric and unfit to preside over a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria.
To be clear, and I have to make this clarification before I proceed, I believe we owe it to the people of North East to help them rebuild their communities and ease them back into life following the carnage they suffered under Boko Haram.
I consider strongly the fact that the context within which the President made the request to the World Bank may have been rooted in the pitiable condition of several states in the North East in areas of infrastructure, housing and basic humanitarian needs – and that is by no means wrong, or a portrayal of ethnocentrism. These people are after all Nigerians, and the president swore an oath to protect and care for them. Also, the scarcity of resources compels the President, at given periods, to prioritize needs in order of urgency or other criteria he deems fit in good faith.
However, the general perception of the President as ethnocentric is largely his fault as on several occasions, either deliberately or inadvertently, he has displayed ethnocentric tendencies. It was a narrative that followed him during the campaigns and upon election victory, his actions did little to counter it; on the contrary, they fueled it.
To start with, in July 2015, two months after Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in, he paid a visit to the United States of America where he met then-President, Barack Obama. During his visit, Buhari made a stop at the United States’ Institute of Peace where he fielded questions from journalist and, unprovoked, he delivered a line that all but raised the first alarm.
Asked for his approach to issues related to the Niger Delta region of the country, particularly amnesty, bunkering and inclusive development, President Buhari responded by asking the journalist if she has obtained “a copy of our (Nigeria) electoral results” before explaining that “literally, constituencies that for example gave me 97% cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%”. According to Buhari, “these are political realities”.
For a man who just emerged President of a multi-ethnic and religious country in what was deemed the most divisive election since the country returned to democracy in 1999, his comments, two months after taking office, confirmed wide-spread allegations by his opponents and set the tone for the perception of his actions throughout his tenure – and this was evident in the criticism that followed his appointments believed to be lopsided and favoring his ‘kinsmen’.
In perhaps another show of character, President Buhari enraged a lot of Nigerians, particularly the southerners, during the last Eid-el-Fitri celebration when he phoned in from London where he had gone to receive treatment to an unknown ailment and addressed the country in Hausa, a language predominant in the north. No tangible explanation was given for the Buhari’s action as it was generally expected of him – as President – to address the country using the lingua franca to avoid allegations of segregation and alienation. Moreover, the celebrants, Muslims, cut across several ethnic groups and regions of the country. Selecting the Hausa language suggested, implicitly, that the President directed his message specifically to his “brothers in the North”, as was speculated by members of the main opposition party, PDP.
It should be noted that this happened weeks after the President phoned in to a special prayer led and organized by the Kano State Government, under the leadership of Governor Umar Ganduje, to calm fraying nerves that he was okay “and much better”.
It cannot be disproved that there are people who constantly seek to disillusion the public by offering a partial or tailored explanation of every move the president makes to justify preconceptions and score political points, especially now that another election season is almost upon us. However, on the subject of ethnocentrism, the President makes their job easier as his actions, both direct and indirect, project one who indeed considers his 97% constituents superior to the 5% constituents. He has himself to blame for that.
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