One early morning in May last year, about three weeks to the inauguration of the victorious Muhammadu Buhari as the new president, the then First Lady, Mrs Patience Jonathan, descended the staircase into the presidential living room and muttered quietly but to the hearing of the few top government officials who had gathered waiting for her husband: “For dis same country wey we dey; we get president wey don die patapata; yet, my own loyal people say president sabi rule from anywhere. But for my own husband…”
Even while the former First Lady may not have completed her statement, the message was not lost on her audience that their loyalty was being called to question. But if Mrs Jonathan imagined at that period that she had seen any disloyalty, I wonder how she would be feeling today. I am not so sure many of our businessmen, especially those ones that are perpetually “into oil and gas”, are still trooping to the residence of the Jonathans. And I would be most surprised if madam is still holding court, receiving those shameless politicians who were fawning over her, including those old enough to be her father or mother yet were addressing her as their mummy!
Incidentally, her husband was more circumspect about the fate that could befall him outside power. Speaking at a thanksgiving and farewell service in his honour on 10th May, 2015, just 19 days before he handed over, Dr Goodluck Jonathan said: “Some people come to me and say ‘this or that person–is he not your friend? Is it not your government that this person benefited from? This is what the person is now saying.’ But I used to say, worse statement will come…I used to tell them that more of my so-called friends will disappear.”
I have not seen the former president for a while (even though I intend to seek him out, again) but he must today be a lonely man, considering how many of his friends of yesterday may have voted with their feet, now that he is in the political valley. Where are the GEJites, the Transformation ambassadors and promoters of those cash-and-carry groups that seized the airspace to tell us “No Jonathan, No Nigeria”? Even the old man who pompously declared himself to the world as father to the former president has more or less publicly disowned his “son”. Such is the ephemeral nature of power in our country yet most of our public officials hardly ever learn, as they carry on as if they own tomorrow.
I have seen this hubris again and again and it begins from intolerance of criticism, however well-intentioned before graduating into being surrounded by sycophants who would say only what the leader wants to hear while demonizing those with opposing views. The lesson never learnt is that when public officials begin to dance only to the music of time-servers, then they are already in trouble because those are usually the first to leave when things go wrong. On such a day as this, that is a lesson that will serve President Buhari.
Exactly one year ago today (31st March, 2015 that is!), the nation was on tenterhooks as we awaited the announcement of the presidential election result. Even though Buhari had such an unassailable lead at the polls that he had practically won, to the extent that in Nigerian politics two plus two does not always approximate to four, there were apprehensions of a looming catastrophe. To compound the situation, we had a certain Godsday Orubebe throwing tantrums at the results collation centre as Nigerians and people across the world watched on television. But Jonathan saved the day by recognizing that the market was over. He took an unprecedented step (in our country) to call and congratulate Buhari. I know it is now fashionable to belittle the gesture but it was a big decision that saved our nation from an impending national crisis the end of which nobody could foretell.
Yet, hardly had Buhari settled down in office when he started facing a barrage of criticism of his own from those who didn’t want him as their president, and did not vote for him at the polls: The displaced Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) politicians who had lost their patronage, the Christian bigots whose opposition to Buhari stemmed from no reason other than that he is a Muslim, the ethnic irredentists who hated the idea of another “Hausa-Fulani” man in Aso Rock as well as those who genuinely did not believe Buhari has what it takes to be a democratic president in today’s Nigeria. For this group of critics, presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, baptized them with the moniker: Wailing wailers!
Since action and reaction, according to a law in physics, are equal and opposite, it was no surprise that a new group also emerged that became known as the “counter-wailers”. This also comprises an amalgam of different interests: Those who voted for Buhari because they believe in his capacity to make a difference in our lives, the millions of Nigerians who were disenchanted with Jonathan and wanted him out not minding the replacement, the All Progressives Congress (APC) propagandists and the network of cyber activists that fought for “Change”, even when all the promises contained in their glossy campaign documents have now been disowned by their man. This group had (and still has) a one-liner argument for every criticism: corruption is fighting back!
And then, there is a third group that has been dubbed the “Buharideens”. To members of this group, Buhari is almost like a god who can do no wrong. Irrational to the point of fanaticism, you also get a sense that the only reason this group would defend Buhari, and attack whoever as much as criticize him, is just because he shares the same faith and ethnic affiliation with them. Buhari is a Muslim or a “Hausa-Fulani” man and to them, that is all that counts. This group reminds one of the Ijaw triumphalists of yore but where are those characters today?
Now, when you look at the three groups, what I find interesting is the shifting grounds. As at June last year, Buhari’s first month in office, the population of the “counter-wailers” and “Buharideens” far outnumbered that of the “wailing wailers” on the internet. However, even before one of his ministers told Nigerians he doesn’t give a damn whether or not we sleep at fuel stations because he is not a “magician”, the popularity of the administration had begun to shrink such that if a census were to be conducted today, I will not be surprised if the “wailing wailers” carry the day. That is why I believe the president and his handlers should be worried.
The challenge of the “wailing wailers” is that it is a population that can easily grow as it draws from those who voted for the president believing there is going to be a “Change” but may now be feeling they were traded a lemon for an orange. These usually are fickle supporters who can easily change camp, depending on how the administration’s policies (or lack of one) impact on their economic well-being. Therefore, the lesson for Buhari is that if he continues to fritter his goodwill such that he is left only with the “Buharideens”, then his presidency will be endangered. For that not to happen, he needs to pay more attention to why many of the “counter-wailers” of yesterday are gradually joining the “wailing wailers” and what exactly the issues are.
For sure, President Buhari is living up to his reputation by exposing the mindless looting of public funds that went on in the last administration. And by that, he is fulfilling his campaign pledge to fight corruption. Even the most implacable foe of the president will concede there is more sanity in the system today regarding transparency and accountability. Buhari has also shown greater resolve in taking the battle to the Boko Haram terrorists who are practically on the run and can only hit soft targets. But as commendable as these are, at the end of the day, Nigerians will still ask themselves if their lives were better or worse under his watch.
Given the astronomical fall in the price of crude oil for a nation that is virtually dependent on petrodollars, it was always going to be a challenging period for Nigerians, no matter what the administration does. But a hungry man, as a Yoruba adage says, has no temperament to listen to any sermon. The problem really is that there is not even any “sermon” going on since the government is very deficient in policy articulation and flexibility while there is practically no citizens’ engagement or strategic communication. For a government that was ushered into power with such an unprecedented public goodwill, that is a real shame.
With the national currency on a yo-yo and the situation at the fuel pump getting worse by the day, the list of the “wailing wailers” is growing against the background that the federal government has not come out with a coherent economic policy to address their challenges. And when critics point this out, the cheap blackmail is either that they are part of the corruption network “that is fighting back” or they are simply “wailing wailers”. That is not going to sell for long.
At the end of the day, what President Buhari must realise is that the long honeymoon is expiring, especially as we move towards the one-year anniversary when more questions will be asked. The administration should therefore be worried that those who effusively campaigned for it just about a year ago are now making common cause with the “Wailing Wailers”.