President Muhammadu Buhari has just told the world what bothers him. At a meeting with the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, in London a few days ago, he declared that he is more concerned with the security and economy of Nigeria than with the 2019 general election. That sounds reassuring. Any President that wishes his country well cannot toy with these two main indices of good governance. Besides, Buhari came into office partly on the basis of the promise that he would secure the country from the menace of insecurity and give the economy a new lease of life. Many Nigerians believed him based on the perception that he was one man who would do what he says.
As a matter of fact, Buhari got some critical endorsements for the 2015 presidential election on the strength of his past records. The Economist of London particularly noted in its endorsement of Buhari that Nigeria’s security challenges would be better addressed by a retired Army general like Buhari, who would easily earn the confidence and respect of the armed forces of the country. This ideal situation was packaged and sold to Nigerians. Many bought into the promise it held. The result was the Buhari presidency that we have in place today.
However, the ideal with which the election was fought and won has since petered out. What we have before us is a reality that is not and cannot be coloured by precepts and make-belief. For nearly three years now, the President has had to confront the challenges of governance, especially in the aforementioned areas of the economy and security. But the result has not been salutary.
Let us isolate security for consideration here. In doing this, we must remind ourselves that the primary reason for the existence of government is the protection of life and property. When the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, came up with his theory of social contract, his concern was on how humans could live a secure life under a government that would guarantee their safety and security. Prior to the advent of the social contract, what obtained was brute force, which made it possible for the strong to trample upon the weak. That was what Hobbes called a state of nature where life was nasty, brutish and short. With Hobbes and the interventions of other thinkers and liberalists like John Locke, we came to have organised societies governed by laws.
Every government, anywhere in the world, has domesticated the social contract theory to suit its own purpose. Nigeria is no exception. Here, we have a constitution that compels our leaders to swear to an oath of office that requires them to see security of life and property as a primary responsibility. Any government that shirks its responsibility in this regard is deemed to have failed. That is where we are now.
How do we rate the Buhari government in this regard? Chief Olu Falae, elder statesman and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, has submitted that Buhari has failed as President because he has shown lack of capacity to secure the country. A significant number of Nigerians share the concerns of Falae. They are worried that insecurity has become the staple of the Buhari administration to the extent that Nigeria is believed to be most insecure under the present administration. This is very worrisome considering the fact that it was thought and expected that Buhari would do well in this regard. What could be the problem? Some people have traced it to old age. The President, not too long after assumption of office, expressed regret that he did not become President at a younger age. The suggestion here is that the man is constrained somewhat by age. Some of his aides tried to explain away his confession at the time. But the man said it as it is.
But then it has been argued that age cannot constrain the President to the extent that he cannot secure the country. They believe instead that the President’s problem lies elsewhere. What then could this problem be? The search for a clear-cut answer has been pointing in different directions. But the preponderance of opinion seems to suggest that the President is not in tune with the Nigeria of the 21st Century. Nigeria of today is supposed to a liberal and liberated country, where equality and justice reign. This our President has not been able to guarantee. What obtains instead is a military mentality that insists on seeing one part of the country as being more equal than the other. It is this mentality that the Fulani herdsman operates with. The herdsman is on rampage. He is above the law. He kills and mains freely. He carries on with a conquest mentality. He believes that the law cannot come after him. Rather, it will protect him. Under the present administration, the Fulani herdsman has returned Nigeria to the Hobbesian state. It was a state where there was no government, no law, no order to protect the people. It was a state in which the strong rode roughshod over the weak. That is the state to which Buhari’s Nigeria has degenerated. The Fulani herdsman is armed to the teeth. He can invade communities. But there is no government to rein him in.
Surprisingly, too, government is asking Nigerians in possession of arms to turn them in, yet the Fulani herdsman continues to operate freely with his. Nobody has gone after him. And there is no indication that somebody wants to go after him. So, what then is the meaning of the security that is preoccupying the President, if Nigerians live in fear on account of the activities of the Fulani herdsman? How come a government that made security one of its cardinal objectives is facing unprecedented level of insecurity? That is why Buhari’s declaration before May does not add up. The situation on ground does not bear his concerns out.
It is also doubtful that the President is paying less attention to his second term bid as he claimed. Contrary to the President’s avowal, the most talked-about issue in the country today is his second term bid. The country is distracted by it. It is also affecting governance, one way or another. Appointments are being made into the presidential campaign directorate. Very soon, they will heat up the polity with platitudes. The narrative and its counterpoise have since begun. Nigerians are debating whether the President deserves a second term or not. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has asked the President to forget a second term and make a dignified exit from the presidency. Obasanjo’s verdict is that Buhari has failed. Former military President, Ibrahim Babangida, has spoken in like manner. He has asked Buhari not to seek a second term. Falae has said the same thing, so have many other notable Nigerians.
Given the fact that the President has ignored these strong voices and has chosen to declare for a second term, he has made his ambition a major issue. It cannot, therefore, be the case that he is more concerned about security and the economy than with his second term bid. However, whatever the case may be, Buhari owes himself and Nigerians a duty. He should secure the country to justify the existence of his government. Nigerians need to feel the impact of government in this regard. This, certainly, is much more urgent than a thousand presidential declarations.