By Simon Kolawole
I love Nigerians with all my heart. They always put a smile on your face. Moments after President Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated on May 29, his tenure was already being appraised on the social media! One witty chap said something like: “It is now 30 minutes since Buhari was sworn in and we still don’t have fuel or light!” If that does not make you laugh, nothing else will. Nobody would expect power supply to stabilise in Buhari’s first one year, much less in the first 30 minutes! The guy was obviously pulling the legs of Buhari’s supporters who had marketed him during the presidential campaign as the solution to all the problems bedevilling Nigeria.
Within hours of Buhari’s inauguration, I already knew where his biggest opposition would come from: the social media. In just one week, the signals are emitting furiously. Former President Goodluck Jonathan got the raw taste of the social media venom. At some stage, he described himself as the most abused president in the world. I don’t know about that, but there is no president of Nigeria that will not face fierce criticism.
People are in pains. Preaching patience to them — in the midst of debilitating fuel shortages, steady blackouts, mangled infrastructure, crippling corruption and high unemployment — is never going to be a fluent homily.
Jonathan is different from Buhari, of course. People did not turn on Jonathan until after several months, and some of these attacks were based on his missteps and pronouncements on duty. But, at least, he was given the benefit of the doubt for a while. He had a prolonged honeymoon— that period when your little mistakes are overlooked and people even make excuses for you. It appears Buhari would not get that kind of favour. As soon as he assumed power, he came under intense scrutiny from certain sections. Except he doesn’t read the newspapers or get Twitter updates, he would know by now that he is in for a big fight. He has to brace up.
His wife, Aisha, was the first to come under fire. The fact that she had an “official” portrait — despite the “office” of first lady not existing in the constitution — was criticised. Indeed, Buhari had reportedly said something to the effect that there would be no office of first lady. While we were still at it, a storm started on Aisha’s wristwatch seen in the “official portrait”. Some critics said it is worth £34,000 (about N10.3 million). They questioned the legendary modesty of the Buharis, but there were also counter arguments that the wife is a successful entrepreneur and has an affluent background. However, to think that nobody ever looked at Patience Jonathan’s wristwatch…
The issue of Buhari’s asset declaration was soon trending. He had promised, or someone had promised on his behalf, that he would make his asset declaration public on assuming office. He has declared his assets quite all right, but he is yet to send photocopies to journalists. To be sure, public declaration is not a legal requirement. It was President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who decided to make his own public in 2007. His vice-president, Jonathan, was against it but had to succumb to pressure after it was seen as an affront on his principal. Taking over the driving seat in 2011, Jonathan then refused to make his assets public again. Asked on national TV why he did not make it public despite popular demand, Jonathan made THAT retort: “I don’t give a damn!” It did him no favours. It is now Buhari’s turn. Some have tried to defend him over the delay, suggesting that the Code of Conduct Bureau needs to verify his declaration before he can make it public. In truth, this is not true. It is not stipulated anywhere. You simply fill the form and submit it to the CCB after your inauguration. The bureau then verifies and acts if need be. But making the assets public is entirely your decision. No time frame is defined by any law or regulation. And there is no difference between one day and 100 days.
Another highlight of Buhari’s week is the trip to Niger and Chad. Someone commented that having condemned Jonathan for seeking help from these same countries in the fight against Boko Haram, Buhari has swiftly betrayed himself. I think there is some misunderstanding here. I don’t think Buhari said we should not co-operate with them. He said it was shameful for us to rely on them to bail us out. There is a bit of a difference between cooperation and dependency.
Nevertheless, those who said Buhari crushed Chadian rebels and Maitatsine in 1983 and 1984 without foreign help were probably oblivious of the fact that terrorism is a different animal altogether.
Meanwhile, many people are worried that we still don’t have a national security adviser, chief of staff, secretary to the government of the federation and service chiefs by now. I am surprised at the delay too, especially as Buhari had two months to prepare for May 29. We should note, however, that nothing says a new president must change service chiefs. President Shehu Shagari inherited Yisa Doko (air force) and Ayinde Adelanwa (navy) in 1979. Yar’Adua did not change service chiefs until well after a year in office. Buhari can, therefore, change them at any time. But there should be an NSA, SGF and chief of staff by now, in my opinion.
The appointment of two spokesmen is yet another highlight of Buhari’s week. This is the first time a president would have a special adviser (SA) and a senior special assistant (SSA) both on media and publicity. Under President Olusegun Obasanjo, we had Dr. Doyin Okupe, Mr. Tunji Oseni and Mrs Remi Oyo as SSAs on media and publicity in that order. The first SA on communications (later rebranded media and publicity) was Deacon Olusegun Adeniyi who had a cabinet status under Yar’Adua — a first for a presidential spokesman. On his part Jonathan first had Olorogun Ima Niboro and later Dr. Reuben Abati as SA media and publicity.
Some have tried to defend Buhari’s choices, arguing that one will relate with the media and the other with the general public. I think there is some confusion here. Public affairs is not media and publicity. In 1999, Obasanjo created the position of SSA on national orientation and public affairs, which was occupied by Chief Onyema Ugochukwu. But it was later shortened to public affairs when Obasanjo needed a political talking head. In came Chief Femi Fani-Kayode and Mallam Uba Sani in that order. Yar’Adua did not have SSA public affairs. Jonathan did not appoint one until 2013. Having two senior persons in media and publicity is a strange compromise by Buhari.
Meanwhile, Buhari’s apparent refusal to show interest in the election of senate president and speaker is also under scrutiny. Many think it is a good development and bodes well for our democracy, but others think he may be digging his own grave. If his opponents install their own candidates, he could find himself boxed into a corner and find it difficult getting things done at the national assembly. Imagine the face-off between Obasanjo and the lawmakers in 2002 and 2003 which stalled a lot of bills. Whichever way Buhari goes, there will be consequences. If he shows interest, he is damned. If he doesn’t show interest, he is damned.
All said and done, I am very happy that Buhari is under intense scrutiny. I am happier that he does not enjoy any honeymoon with some of the social media warriors. Although you can argue with the quality of debate on the internet, the fact remains that it is a reflection of the views and feelings of the predominantly youthful Nigerians. Some Twitter elite believe it was their tweets that made Buhari president — and he indeed acknowledged their support in his inaugural speech — so the president cannot afford to ignore this community if he does not want to get the Jonathan treatment. He needs to watch his steps because he is being closely watched.
And now, we eagerly await Buhari’s second week in power…
Culled from Thisday