After the disastrous outing of President Muhammadu Buhari at the televised town hall meeting last week Wednesday, his team had to come up with an explanation. According to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, what Buhari lacked in oratory skills, he made up for with his integrity and he – Osinbajo, that is – uses his professional abilities to shore up Buhari’s rhetorical disabilities. With that, the Vice President echoed the sentiment their followers and propagandists have been circulating on WhatsApp all week that Osinbajo is to Buhari what Aaron was to Moses. For those unfamiliar with the Bible, God appointed Aaron to accompany Moses on the mission to rescue the Israelites from enslavement because of the latter’s stammer. As much as that analogy resonates, it does not match the Nigerian context. Our current enslavers are the All Progressives Congress administration. At the top of the pyramid of oppression sits the Pharaoh from whom Nigerians need deliverance – Buhari.
Still speaking of Pharaoh, his character has two sides: the brutal enslaver, and the one who defied the Hebrew God. By the way, I find the second one quite fascinating. It takes some nerve for a mere mortal to stand up to God. He and his forefathers could not have built the glory of Egypt if they were the type that easily cowered because a supernatural being threatened them with plagues. Pharaoh was the kind of man who would instead meet God on the battlefield of the Red Sea than let himself be threatened with destruction. His fearlessness and ability to overcome the most primal of human impulses – survival and self-protection – transcended him beyond his human status and made him a god in his own right.
His kind of courage, conviction, and self-transcendence elude our dear leader, Buhari.
When I look at Buhari, I get a sense that after he was ousted in August 1985, he went back home embittered. He could never get over his loss, and that lack of strength to let go perhaps explains why the man never did anything with himself. Unlike Generals Yakubu Gowon and Olusegun Obasanjo, he did not improve on his education nor take a course in self-development. Unlike other ex-heads of state, he had no flair for the enterprise of self-enrichment. He also did not have any power or influence that could buy him a place in ex-military boys’ club. He took up an appointment here and there with people he should have been too pure to touch with even a disinfected glove but there is not much else to his credit. He has no record of self-education, self-improvement, international exposure, community service, or monument of social service in his name.
Then, came democracy in 1999.
When he saw a fellow ex-general become president, he jumped into the fray too to recover what was taken from him. By the third defeat, he thought all hope was lost, and he would never have his prized jewel back. That was when he broke down in tears in public. By 2015, the stars aligned in his favour. His supposed poverty and his inability to strive for mental and material self-enrichment began to look like some act of personal integrity when contrasted against the flamboyance of his peers. In a country where we have been conditioned to believe that people get rich either by stealing public funds or by money rituals, what could be more compelling than an image of a man like Buhari who has moralised his poverty and self-satisfaction?
He would eventually become the President, but fate’s joker was his age.
One of the first honest things Buhari first uttered when he became President was that age was going to limit his performance. Looking back now, it was the most honest thing he ever said, and as it turned out, the last time he would be so introspective. The man knew that the person that was elected to cleanse the soul of our ethically and spiritually filthy society was both a mirage and myth. The real force behind his much-vaunted fieriness – his former deputy, Tunde Idiagbon – was long dead. Even the autocratic persona that made up Buhari was long gone, whittled down by the whims of biology. Since 2015, Buhari has spent an appreciable amount of time in the hospital, hiding behind the veil in Aso Rock, and dodging public scrutiny. He is not what his followers think he is, and there is only so much he can do with his waning force.
Since there can be no empty space of power, a two-man cabal runs the country in his name.
While a much-diminished man is kept from the public, his aides manufacture tales about him. When it is convenient, the man is “unaware” of everything going on under his nose. When that does not work, they claim he is on top of every situation. For example, the same Osinbajo who claimed Buhari had no prior knowledge of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen’s case to make it seem as if Buhari is detached from the operations of anti-corruption agency forgot himself and claimed that Babachir Lawal will now face the law only because Buhari had “prevailed” on anti-corruption agencies to file charges against him. Osinbajo claimed that Buhari’s piss poor performance at the town hall was due to a malfunctioning microphone but seemed to overlook that we are public witnesses to Buhari’s failing memory and diminishing ability to recognise basic things. When I relate him to Pharaoh, it is only because of his superintendence of the suffering of Nigerians, not because he has the strength of character of the God-king.
Still speaking of Biblical tropes, Osinbajo’s conduct is more Absalom than Aaron.
To stage a coup against his father, Absalom started by endearing himself to his father’s subjects by offering what his reclusive father’s rulership was lacking – access. He befriended the common man as a friend – not as a prince – until he stole the hearts of the people for himself. Ahead of the usurpation of power, he manufactured social acquiescence through his grandiloquent act of accessible leadership. You can see Osinbajo taking similar steps in preparation for the Yoruba presidency he has pimped this election season. No, Osinbajo is not going to overthrow Buhari to realise his 2023 ambition, but he uses a similar strategy as Absalom. He goes to the marketplaces, cinemas, the so-called common people’s homes and workplaces posing as a friend of all; the prince who deigns to mingle with unwashed masses. His social mingle is a staged spectacle, carefully curated and transmitted to the public by his PR managers. How can one not be convinced of his preparation for leadership when one sees him hugging and being hugged exultantly by the young and the old alike? While he plays Absalom to win the heart of southerners, winning northerners is a different dynamic. That one requires standing by Buhari and making a showy display of his loyalty.
He is a ventriloquist for Buhari, but still, a puppet whose survival depends on bowing before the cabal’s graven image.
Let me say that I do not expect Osinbajo to break ranks and admit the truth of Buhari’s condition. That would require him to be a man of a different set of principles and a spine of vibranium to go with it. At the very least, he needs to stop hawking this lie that we need to keep Buhari hoisted at Aso Rock at all cost because he has this thing called integrity. The way they dredge it up to cover Buhari’s nakedness has banalised the meaning and turned the word to an empty signifier. Even Ganduje now talks about anti-corruption and integrity! Look, if Buhari has any integrity in him, he would not be waiting until he falls on his face before he is forced to admit to himself that he ought to retire and live out the rest of his days in Daura with some dignity. Fate gave him the Presidency back, and he should demonstrate his gratitude for the privilege by making his exit while he can still hear some applause.