By Sam Omatseye
The president has always seen silence as a mark of dignity in a time of crisis. When he opens his mouth eventually, he spews out venom that neither gives him nor the office he occupies any form of dignity.
Tall, gaunt, lean of face with a straight stare and loping strides, his smile comes across more like a lickspittle than a royal. Yet, behind that simpering exterior is a granite heart. However, little cunning or high thinking dresses up his hearty resolves. So, in the final analysis, what we have is not the Buhari of nobility but a pretension to the high moral act. Sometimes that façade confronts us in the form of silence.
Occasionally he does speak. When he breaks his silence, he ruptures not only peace but logic. As I have noted in the past, Buhari’s soul is a battle between the martial impulses of his breeding and the entitlement of his ambience as a Fulani hierarch. And then there is a third. He has managed, since his ouster from power as head of state, to cultivate the talakawa. So, he sees himself as a sort of royal with a common touch. He is simultaneously on top and at the bottom, a prince and pauper, a head and herdsman, at once erupting from the floor and swooping down from heaven.
How does such a man operate in a democracy? Well, unless democracy tames him, he will see it as his right to tame democracy. That is the war going on with the man we elected president. His silence on the N9 trillion scandal only portrays his contempt for institutions and persons who want to tame him like colt to the discipline and humility of popular persuasion. If democracy is about the triumph of popular persuasion over collective will, Buhari is bending to the side of the will. As French philosopher Jean Jacque Rousseau has argued, collective will often cloaks despotic arrogance. Robespierre and Danton, even Napoleon, were culprits.
As a soldier Buhari works with diktat. As a royal, he sees the world from the hill top. As a talakawa patron, he gives them love in his own light. In return, they give him worship. Democracy therefore will work for him the way he operates with the talakawa. He expects us to bow down to him. He is the king of our democracy. He abides the contradiction. Men like Churchill or General Dwight Eisenhower had high-born sensibilities, but hey were cowed by the institutions of democracy. Buhari acts otherwise. The thing is that Buhari is not high-born, he has acquired the streak by age and his rise in the military and social graces of the land. When you expect to give, it means you define the love in your own image. The targets of your love only do one thing: worship you.
What we have is the making of the Aristotelian tragic flaw. Like Sophocles’ Oedipus and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Buhari’s flaw is hubris. That explains why his speeches and comments in times of crisis tend to be condescending.
We witnessed it early in his tenure when he would not set up a cabinet. Or when his wife rattled him, or when he reacted to the scandal around his army chief, or when recently he fouled the air when he returned from his medical leave and came down in primitive anger against the Southeast. There are some storms he has never found worthy of his tongue. Chief among them is the poisonous lop-sidedness of his appointments. He is still mum on Babachir Lawal and Ayo Oke, and even the rumbles among his principal officers in the presidency. Some jump out of the shadows. Like his request to a World Bank chief that the institution should focus work on the north.
This perhaps explains why he has been frozen from the neck up in spite of the uproar over his NNPC appointments. So, following from that, why would we expect him to say something about the new tempest on Nigeria’s oil. All he did was retreat to is familiar terrain on the N9 trillion ambush of our national treasure.
Now, he may see his silence has golden, as a way of standing above the rolling waters, of asserting his rectitude. But that could be so if he has come out with a line of wisdom through his lieutenants. His lieutenants have actually been quiet, too. It was all left in the hands of the culprit-in-chief to hand over the boil to his appointee, Maikanti Baru.
If his explanations had found traction in reason, we could have pardoned the president. We could say, well, it was all a case of mistaking a mouse for an elephant. But the big elephant in the room has remained one man: Muhammadu Buhari.
He acts as though it is mere matter. It will pass over, his image as a man of purity will shield him, so he does not have to be above board.
After all, some of his followers have been treating him as a god. They swear by him, they risk cholera by drinking water on dirt roads, they worship head on the ground as though on prayer ground. So how can he submit to mere mortals to explain.
He does not need to explain when Baru says he sought permission from him (Buhari) to make such a consequential decision. He does not need to react when he bypasses the man he appointed to the position as board chairman of the NNPC. He does not see it fit that he set up a board that the NNPC Act invests with powers and a mere mortal he puts there as GMD subverts their authority and boasts about it in Buhari’s name. Does he not know that as president, the only person to whom he can hand over authority is a minister or vice president?
The constitution says so. Or does he read the constitution? If he cannot delegate to himself since he is oil minister, he automatically hands over to his minister of state. By bypassing that, he has violated due process. And he does not want to talk about it? By the way, is it damning to note that these contracts were purportedly signed when he was on medical leave? He himself had said his men brought him files to sign in London. If he did not sign Baru’s, did he give him a nod. If he did, he violated the oath of office, and is that not enough for him to resign, or for impeachment proceedings to begin?
Does he not know that matters like this should involve the BPP? Did he not hear the voice of Oby Ezekwesili on that? Did he not hear his GMD draw false equivalences by saying that Kachikwu did the same thing, therefore there was nothing wrong? Is that the way to fight corruption?
If a man like Baru can play fast and loose with our endowment as a people, where do we place those who are faithful like Dakuku Peterside in NIMASA and Professor Ishaq Oloyede at JAMB. The president was quick to order the probe of the predecessors and rightly so. But he is easy on the humongous erring of his “man” Baru. They say it is not cash contract, and so not contract “as such.” Abi dem think say we be mumu?
As far as this column is concerned, unless Buhari reviews and annuls the contracts, his war on corruption is melodious lie, an exercise in hypocritical grandstanding. He is therefore hiding in silence. The silence is roaring, and our ears are full with its every decibel.
-Sam Omatseye is the Chairman Editorial Board, The Nation Newspaper
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