It is difficult, indeed impossible, to know exactly what transpires inside the mind of a man. Even psychologists — those pretty well informed about the infinite variety of the human mind — may well tell you so. But I’m reasonably certain that President Muhammadu Buhari’s mind gladdens exceedingly at every opportune moment to travel outside Nigeria for any event that ranges from the most ridiculous to the least sublime.
Since Buhari was sworn in as president about six months ago, one has lost count of the number of official trips he has made overseas. If you factor unofficial trips into the equation, then be prepared to go as far back as when he made that much talked-about unscheduled visit to the United Kingdom (what for? I still don’t know) ahead of his swearing-in earlier this year.
Now no one begrudges the president of Nigeria his right to travel outside the country for official or unofficial business; that, at the very least, comes with the territory. And boy, Nigerian presidents sure do love to gallop in and out of the country. Remember President Shehu Shagari? Well, the former president gained a jaw-dropping reputation for his nonstop junkets abroad in his exquisitely embroidered babaringa outfits. It did not matter whether the country was burning at the time, the frequency of Shagari’s mostly sybaritic foreign trips was not to be interrupted. Self-styled military president Ibrahim Babangida circled the globe in eight years, and in much ostentation, too. The only place he did not visit officially, and please correct me if my memory suffers from cataract here, was the United States where he would have loved to be feted by then President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. Babangida, probably the smartest of Nigerian leaders in the last 50 years, lobbied obsequiously for this trip in such a way as portrayed him as having lost his self-respect and the dignity pertaining to the office he held.
In his Second Coming, Olusegun Obasanjo, the irreverent critic, also did what he once lambasted Shagari for. And like Shagari also, Goodluck Jonathan turned his attention elsewhere as his country combusted. Even when a section of the country was under siege by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram with as many as 2,000 victims just slain by the group in Baga village in January, Jonathan, the outsider who cried louder than the bereaved, the Rip van Winkle who would help other men’s wives with chores while those meant for his wife remained untouched, still found both the time and sufficient “reason” to travel to Paris imaginatively, if not physically, to join the leaders of other countries gathered there to mourn the 12 victims of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly, who had been gunned down by Islamic terrorists in January. Jonathan came under searing fire for that, especially for his failure to acknowledge the worse tragedy that had just happened in his own country. Nigerian leaders have a large natural propensity for doing outrageous things.
It is that same ailment that Buhari appears to be terribly suffering from, and his strain, already so exasperating, threatens to be without precedent and, as a consequence, remedy. As I write, the president is in far-away Paris attending to some universal problems with rather mundane, humdrum significance in comparison with a multiplicity of internal travails in clamorous need of urgent, sustained attention. This is by no means an attempt to discount the importance of safe-guarding our environment from willful human depredation, but shouldn’t President Buhari be home at this time looking for that elusive silver bullet to the very heart of Boko Haram instead of being at the United Nations Climate Change Conference where all he’s required to do is give one or two presentations and yawn and get some sleep and watch a football match and then jet back home afterwards?
Buhari must have woken up Sunday morning in Paris to yet another sad news of Boko Haram attack on yet another northeastern Nigerian town. As is consistent with many of the group’s attacks, Sunday’s attacks was audacious. The group stormed a military base in Gulak town, Yola, sending soldiers to flight. It fell to the town’s civilian population to repel the terrorists and reclaim their town. Why does this have to be so? Why are Nigerian soldiers still impotent under the firepower of Boko Haram many months after Buhari promised to lick the problem? I see a sign of failing leadership.
But as seemingly intractable a problem as Boko Haram is, it is only one of many others Nigerians have found so wearisome under Buhari. Government is not working for many. Our democracy remains increasingly fractured with cries of secession issuing forth from parts of the south, cries we may ignore now at our own peril later. Buhari claims to be fighting corruption, but it has been, to use a hackneyed term, all motion with no progressive movement. Whole towns and villages remain without electric power. Millions are either out of job or have been without one in the first place for years. It took Buhari almost a lifetime before he finally emerged with a ministerial list, and when he did they were all men and women that did not justify the eternity he had invested into the search. It all reminded you of Diogenes, that legendary Greek figure who, carrying a lamp in broad day light, went from one Athenian street to another looking for an honest man. He never found any.
We can go on and on. The bottom line is these are problems that need the president’s laser-like attention at home. He can dispatch his ministers and designated envoys to Paris or Honolulu or Timbuktu or Outer Space to attend to some of the emerging national and universal concerns while he hunkers down back home meditating and acting meaningfully on pressing problems. Unfortunately, that is not the style of this president. His style bears striking resemblance that of General Sani Abacha who mastered a somewhat deceptive indifference to things, including emerging threats. But unlike the late Abacha who would suddenly strike like a cobra from atop its topmost coil where it had sat poised watching, Buhari, instead, is apt to resort to impotent griping about the difficulty of the problems he has inherited.
Part of what made Buhari appealing during the last presidential campaign was his ability to sit down and find daring solutions to difficult problems during his First Coming as military head of state. You may disagree with some of his prescriptions and actions then, but at least he was seen and felt to be doing something tangible. We believe he can still do that again, and if his problem is his inability to sit down in his office and do a hard day’s work, then we will be left with no choice but to order him some Gorilla glue to keep him adhered to his chair at Aso Rock or wherever he administers this country from.