By Minabere Ibelema
I am neither a reporter nor a broadcast anchor. So, I am not in a position to interview the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd). In any case, he doesn’t often grant interviews. So, my best bet is to make believe that the president is sitting across the table from me and taking my questions. Here, we go:
Mr. President, in your Democracy Day speech, you declared thus: “The day I joined the Nigerian Army I was prepared to lay down my life for Nigeria. As your President I remain ever committed to upholding and defending Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
Question: In your private moments, away from advisers and all, have you reflected on why Nigeria is at its closest point of breakup since the civil war?
Contrary to the prevailing sense among Nigerians and Nigeria observers around the world, you asserted that, “As a nation we have come very far from where we started and we are getting incrementally closer to where we ought to be.” Seriously, Mr. President? Are you reading a political barometer that is different from everyone else’s?
Back to your declared willingness to die for Nigeria, many Nigerians believe that you are more committed to your own than to Nigeria. The most glaring indication is your appointments of heads of key departments, especially in security and revenue generation positions. Why have you persisted in doing this? Are you unaware that representativeness in the executive arm of government is a litmus test of fairness?
Mr. President, you met recently with members of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council to discuss the nation’s crisis. Subsequently, your Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, told the press that you said this to the group: “I remain an unapologetic believer in devolving power to the people and that is why I signed the Executive Order granting autonomy to state legislature and judiciary.”
Questions: If you are this committed to devolution of power, why have you fiercely gone against the decision of southern governors to ban open grazing? Does this not reinforce the conviction of many Nigerians that your passion is for your own?
To find a legal rationale for your support of open grazing, you directed the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to recover grazing routes and restore them for herders’ use. “What I did was ask him to go and dig the gazette of the 1st Republic when people were obeying laws,” you said on Arise Television. “There were cattle routes and grazing areas. Cattle routes were for when they (herdsmen) are moving up country, north to south or east to west, they had to go through there.”
Question: By so fiercely countering a duly considered decision of half of the country’s governors, are you not further inflaming an already overheated polity? Do you not see how that feeds the separatist agitation?
In the interview, you said that the law should protect people whose lands are destroyed by cattle: “If you allow your cattle to stray into any farm, you are arrested. The farmer is invited to submit his claims.” Questions: If you thought this is a solution, why did you wait until southern governors banned opening grazing before proffering it? Will the compensation be applied retroactively to the beginning of your tenure in 2015, even back to the 1960s?
In any case, Mr. President, it is quite interesting that you turn to the 1960s for solutions to problems in 2021. Since the First Republic, Nigeria has fought a civil war, abandoned the parliamentary system of government, and had two major constitutional revisions. The country has also become much more urbanised. So, how rational is it to go back to an open grazing practice that was allowed then?
Regarding secessionist agitations, you have made some inflammatory remarks, especially regarding the South-East. In your infamous tweet, for example, you warned separatists that they would be dealt with in the same way they were dealt with during the civil war. Again, in your private moments, have you regretted making such an inflammatory statement, what is, in effect, a taunt?
You furthered the taunt by reportedly describing IPOB as a mere dot in a circle. In military training, soldiers are thought to watch out for things on the ground that could indicate a landmine, right? A whole platoon could be blown to bits if they ignore an ominous “dot”, would you say? And to draw a parallel with pathology, are you aware that physicians don’t take unusual dots on the skin lightly? For they could portend serious problems with major organs. So, are your disparaging comments a matter of ego or emotional release?
Surely, IPOB activists have said quite a few demeaning things about you, the Fulani, and northerners in general. They routinely refer to the country as Zoo Nigeria, an appellation that should offend all Nigerians. It suggests that we are all animals and it vindicates racist aspersions. Could it be that you’ve so taken these remarks personal that you’re discarding presidential decorum in your comments?
On another matter, Abubakar Shekau, the long-term leader of Boko Haram, had proven to have more lives than a cat. Now, it appears he is actually dead at last. He reportedly blew himself up rather than yield to the demands of the rival Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) whose soldiers had captured him. The news must have been a relief of sorts to you. Question still is, why did ISWAP succeed where Nigerian soldiers had failed over the years?
Mr. President, you were probably alluding to the 2023 elections when you said in the Democracy Day speech, “As your President, I remain committed to providing an enabling environment for a free, fair and credible electoral system under my tenure.” As you know elections are always harrowing times in Nigeria. And Nigeria is already going through harrowing times.
Questions: Have you truly thought through how elections could be conducted in the context of this multiplier effect? Some of your remarks have had the effect of stoking separatist sentiments, especially in the South-East. Have you considered the possibility that separatists can make elections impossible in parts of the country? In that case, do you foresee a declaration of national emergency and on that basis extending your presidency?
Finally, there is this pledge in your speech: “My commitment to bequeathing a sustainable democratic culture remains resolute, my pursuit of a fair society remains unshaken and my desire to see that Nigeria remains a country for each and every one of us has never been stronger.”
There is no question that this pledge will be met with considerable skepticism. Will you follow through with another pledge: That you will examine every policy, utterance and appointment with a view to demonstrating that you mean these words?
Thank you so much, Mr. President, for taking — and responding to — my questions.
A few questions for Buhari
By Minabere Ibelema