The last few days have seen a hypocritical mass awakening to the dire existential torments the people of Nigeria’s northwest face and a dramatic diminution of Buhari’s unearned goodwill in the region. People who had constructed Buhari as an unerring, irreproachable demigod who is worthy only of worship and unquestioned admiration have started to call him insensitive and clueless.
It took the unceasing escalation of kidnappings and the deepening and widening of the oceans of blood in the northwest for Buhari’s erstwhile unthinking worshipers to come to terms with what some of us have known and said since late 2015: that Buhari is an unfeeling wretch who is also irremediably incompetent.
For the first time since Buhari happened on the Nigerian political scene, Imams are now openly preaching against him. Northwestern Nigerian social media, which had functioned as the uncritical fortress for Buhari, is now suddenly viciously censorious of him. Even Daily Trust that plays the role of Buhari’s comforter and afflicter of critics of his ineptitude is allowing critical articles to be published about Buhari on its pages.
Public protesters against government, who are a rare species in the northwest, are sprouting and giving vent to muffled, reluctant, tentative but nonetheless significant anger against Buhari.
There suddenly seems to be an epiphany in the region that Buhari is an inept, uncaring fraud who scammed the people into attributing to him qualities he never possessed— and would never possess in a million lifetimes. Nevertheless, this epiphany is hypocritical and self-centered. Evidence of Buhari’s inattentiveness to and blithe unconcern with the suffering of everyday people has always been there, and some of us have called attention to it countless times.
For instance, amid the tear-jerking humanitarian disasters that the Boko Haram insurgency has inflicted on Nigeria’s northeast, Buhari never commiserated with, let alone visited, the area until he was practically blackmailed into doing so in late 2017. Even so, he only visited soldiers stationed in Maiduguri. When the Nigerian air force bombed scores of internally displaced Boko Haram victims in the northeast in error, Buhari didn’t issue a statement to condole with the people. Nor did he visit them.
In the aftermath of unprecedented bloodletting in Taraba, Benue and other parts of central Nigeria, Buhari was insouciant. It took massive media and social media pressures to get him to visit these states. And when he did visit the places, he exacerbated rather than lessened the crises there by his incendiary, unpresidential utterances. He even chafed at being expected to condole with victims of episodic communal deaths, and used the opportunity of these visits to tout his “achievements in security.” I once called that an example of presidential dissociation from reality.
As recently as during the last presidential campaigns, when Buhari visited Zamfara, he didn’t say a word about the intensification of death and violence in the state. Instead, he incited the people to more violence. “Let us pray for rainfall so can we grow food, eat, and then cause trouble,” he told the people of Zamfara in Hausa in February 2019. None of the newfound critics of Buhari’s callousness saw anything wrong in that at the time.
It took the concatenation of widespread kidnapping in all parts of the northwest and the unremitting intensification of bloodletting in Zamfara for erstwhile worshipers of Buhari to admit that he is a crass, cold, heartless prig. This hypocritical moral imagination is similar to the selective outrage some people in Kano expressed when Abdullahi Ganduje rigged himself back to power while being quiet about, even complicit in, Buhari’s own daylight electoral robbery in the same Kano.
To express outrage only when we are personally affected by injustice bespeaks a defective moral conscience. When other parts of the nation were drowning in rivers of blood and Buhari, as is his wont, turned the other way, many of the people who are excoriating him for his cold detachment from the insecurity in the northwest were his fiercest defenders against critics.
That is why some people can’t help but exult in perverse satisfaction that the enablers and defenders of Buhari’s incompetence and heartlessness are today the victims of the presidential vices they defended, excused, and justified. But to gloat over the misfortunes of the people who defended Buhari when he ignored other parts of the country when they writhed in bloodstained agony is to be indistinguishable from and morally equivalent to them.
For one, there are victims of the bloodbath in Zamfara and other parts of the northwest who detest and didn’t vote for Buhari. Even those who voted for him don’t deserve the unspeakable cruelty that is their lot today. I admit, though, that it’s hard not to see karmic comeuppance in the kidnap of a prominent fanatical Islamic “prayer warrior” of Buhari’s second term by the name of Ahmad Sulaiman who secured his freedom after nearly two weeks of captivity and hundreds of millions of naira in ransom payment.
Nevertheless, in spite of the heightened, unexampled outrage in Buhari’s natal region over his trademark insensitivity to the total collapse of security there, he won’t do anything substantive to attenuate the horrors that threaten the very life of the people there. There are at least two reasons for this.
One, Buhari is an inherently solipsistic narcissist. In other words, he is fundamentally and unalterably self-centered. The only person Buhari cares about is Buhari. That is why he spends billions of naira of the nation’s resources to treat even his littlest ailments in London while hospitals are denuded of basic medicines and ordinary people die of easily treatable illnesses. It is the same solipsistic narcissism that explains why he has not built a single hospital even in Abuja in the last four years he has been president.
When his son had an accident with a multimillionaire-naira motorbike, he flew him to Germany. Yet, although neither he nor his family members use the clinic at the Presidential Villa, he recently said that henceforth no one outside the immediate families of the president and the vice president should use the clinic. It speaks to the depth of his egocentricity and perverse self-love that he would deny workers of the presidential villa use of a clinic that neither he nor his family members use.
The second reason Buhari won’t do anything about the growing insecurity in the northwest is that the perpetrators of the crimes that have held the region hostage have been identified as Fulani. Buhari, as I have pointed out in several previous columns, is a knee-jerk ethnic jingoist. He has a twisted idea of ethnic solidarity that embarrasses even many educated Fulani people.
For instance, the only time he ever visited Zamfara to intervene in the security situation there was to protect what he perceives to be the interests of Fulani herders whose cattle were reportedly being stolen by bandits. He even donned military fatigues for this expedition. Now, he really doesn’t care because the victims aren’t people he self-identifies with.
The president’s puppeteers have caused him to express faux, impotent outrage to mollify the people of the northwest, but the truth is that he doesn’t care. That’s why his administration’s response has been discordant at best. It said the killings in Zamfara are caused by illegal gold miners in the same breath it said they’re caused by traditional rulers. The absurdity of these claims are the biggest proof that the government Buhari leads can’t and doesn’t want to stem the rising tide of insecurity in the northwest—or anywhere else in Nigeria.