At the height of the notoriety of the Abacha tyrannical odyssey in Nigeria’s browbeaten politics, and following a series of coordinated international opposition against his reign of terror, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the cap-wearing Benin Chief, Tom Ikimi, launched a bold pushback. The propaganda message "NOT IN OUR CHARACTER" developed by Ikimi targeted foreigners and the few nations that were still undecided about what to make of the Abacha junta. The aim of that campaign was to discountenance a Western media driven message of a nation in turmoil, under the control of crooks and gun-totting military brass that was not only looting the treasuries of the country on an unprecedented scale but eradicating voices of dissent and leading the nation into an avoidable violent meltdown. By digging into the historical antecedents and accomplishments of Nigerians and Nigeria, the ‘Not in Our Character' propaganda tried to create an alternative narrative through framing the debate to a comparative analysis of what is known of the Nigerian character as against the stereotype being imposed by the West. However, the wisdom of the sages tells us that wherever a child keeps pointing at while in fits of tears, a discreet probe will reveal the presence of one or both parents within that vicinity. The revelations of the grand theft, deaths and human rights violations under that regime have been adequately documented and still unraveling.
Comparatively, when President Buhari miraculously beat the cloud of death that hovered around him due to his prolonged ill-health, not a few people noticed that the Buhari that returned to Nigeria was a physically different and better version of the septuagenarian that left for medical attention in England. From the thin and cachectic frame that Nigerians were familiar with, a more robust looking and energetic Buhari emerged and used every occasion to flaunt his newfound vigor and look. His handlers were quick to remind us that following the sea of people that blocked his way to his Daura home, the president walked about five miles to get to his house. An elated Femi Adeshina was not humble in his celebration of the revival and increased the crescendo of his taunt of "wailers" (the president's opponents). The president's renewal baffled many, one of whom was the leader of the now almost defunct IPOB commune, Nnamdi Kanu, who in one of his many prognostications, averred that what Nigerians were witnessing was a grand deception by the president’s inner coterie infamously known as “the cabal”. According to Kanu, the president was long dead and buried in England, and the striking look-alike we are seeing is an impostor called Jubril, that hails from Sudan, whose task was to be a puppet controlled by the "late" president's possé.
What should have been dismissed as the apparent substance induced hallucination of the talebearer began to morph into doubt with the staggering and beyond-belief staccato of paraplegic incompetence and lethargic ineptitude that characterized the Buhari presidency upon his return. Many a country folk who interceded in prayers for the president during his ordeal, in the hope that a revival would mean a return of the Generalissimo of 1983-85 that brooked no nonsense in the summary execution of policies were left perplexed. One of Buhari’s few selling points during the 2015 elections that pitted him against the PDP’s Jonathan was his much-vaunted discipline and uncompromising attitude towards corruption and its perpetrators. Having been roundly assaulted by the brazen thievery and impunity that traversed the Jonathan administration, it was hoped that a vote for the unsmiling General would provoke a renaissance of national morality and disdain for the crude accumulation of the fruitages of our common till by a few privileged kleptomaniac political class. Jonathan himself alluded to this when during a campaign, he asked the crowd if they wanted a man that was going to build prisons rather than schools. The former president's wife, the first lady, remarked that she along with other members of the then ruling class' wives were not prepared to take food to prisons for their husbands in the event of a Buhari presidency.
This perception of the president followed him into the Villa as the first few weeks of his administration saw Nigerians witnessing an efficiency in government circles and offices that was last seen, perhaps, during his first stint as a military ruler. Civil servants reported early to work, Nigerians across the country were talking about broken bottles in fridges due to an unusual steady supply of electric power, letters to public officials were promptly responded to, and a general feeling of ‘uhuru’ pervaded the land. These feats were achieved without the president doing or saying anything which led to the moniker of his ‘body language' being responsible for the anomaly. Nigerians were enthusiastic about the future and expectantly waited for the president to shift gears. This never happened until his ill-health took center stage. To be clear, the stultifying optimism with the administration had started manifesting before the president's full-blown health challenge. He took almost six months to assemble a team that was not only predictable but an ensemble of many of the same cohort of individuals that have been fingered as representing everything wrong with our polity and governance system. A former PDP chairman, two former governors with loads of allegations of corruption to their pedigree, a former senator once indicted for electoral fraud, another individual accused by a Judicial Commission of Inquiry of fraud and sexual predation in a citadel of learning all made the list of cabinet members put together by Buhari. But Nigerians were in a permissive mode, choosing to believe that the strength of character and zero-tolerance of malfeasance and graft that Buhari was renowned for will keep any pilfering hands in check in the new government.
The first inkling that something was not familiar with this version of Buhari that Nigerians were saddled with started with the alleged MTN bribery scandal involving his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari. Those who encountered General Buhari between 1983-85 were left bruised when he maintained an ominous silence at the horrific accounts of substantial funds exchanging hands to cripple a regulatory action taken by the NCC. Reluctantly, an in-house probe was setup which would clear the COS when the public was baying for blood.
As if taking a cue from the COS, the president’s Secretary to the Government of the Federation was found liable for corruptively influencing the award of contracts meant for IDP camps to his front companies and consequently embezzling the sums released for the projects. Even with the public outcry that greeted the revelations, followed by an inquiry by the National Assembly and an unprecedented resolution by both Chambers that the SGF be sacked and prosecuted by anti-graft agencies, the president played dumb. The clearest smoking gun that something was definitely eerie about the “renewed” Buhari was the overrule of his directive by the Head of the Department of State Security(DSS). The president had forwarded for confirmation to the Senate, the Acting head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, but this process was nullified by a not too subtle security report sent to the Senate by the DSS. The report all but called to question the legitimacy of the nominee and the appropriateness of the nomination. That the DSS was bold enough to challenge the president's nomination of Magu, not once but twice got tongues wagging about the personality that occupied the Aso Villa as Commander-in-Chief. Many who encountered the Buhari of 1983-85 knew that no way would the DSS had gotten away with such rudeness and act of gross insubordination if he was still the same person.
The list of faux pas, negligence, allegations of corruption, outright refusal to carry out the president's orders by his aides and appointees is an inexhaustive one -I recall with trepidation and angst how the president alluded to this when he hosted Christian clerics who complained to him about an ethnic and religious imbalance in his appointments. Perhaps, the most embarrassing of the serial scandals is the recall of Abdulrasheed Maina to the civil service, an action that many felt would have seen heads of those directly or remotely involved rolling. Other than directing that Maina be ‘re-fired', it has been business as usual. An agglomeration of all these and more has set tongues wagging with many wondering if indeed there is no truth to Nnamdi Kanu's allusion to a clone of the president residing in the Villa.
Beyond the comic relief that such extreme conjectures and conspiracies provide on the social media, there is nothing further from the truth. However, given that the personalities of the president in 1983 and 2015 are split, there is a need to probe further into the complexities of this dual persona.
Let me state forthwith that I do not possess any knowledge of the president's mental state, neither do I have an advanced degree in psychology or psychoanalysis. However, a meticulous dissection of the patterns of inactions and actions taken by the president with regards to maintaining a well-coordinated presidency can only lead to certain educated assumptions about his personality. My considered opinion is that the president is exhibiting signs of pistanthrophobia which in turn has led to his capture by his coterie of courtiers. Pistanthrophobia is a morbid fear of betrayal or a fear of trusting people. This condition manifests in so many ways, but the underlying trait is the lack of ability to trust anyone especially those outside the sufferer’s comfort zone. Interestingly, those within the trust bracket are usually very small to create any contradictions in the mind of the pistanthrophobe that the world or unknown quantities may not have it in for him/her. This condition is neither a genetic mutation nor is it carried in the double helix of the DNA, it is, therefore, an acquired trait that is grafted into the conscious and unconscious layers of the mind-sets of the individuals. For many, the condition is an epiphenomenon of several years of betrayal of trust by people they have encountered.
A historical examination of President Buhari's career will reveal a litany of betrayals. In 1985, he was stabbed in the back by one of his closest friends in the military who upstaged him as the head of the junta. While in detention, his wife, almost dying from starvation, and against his wish, accepted gifts from this same ‘traitor' leading to her divorce from him when he was released from detention. In politics, Buhari faced betrayals from his party and those closest to him in the several elections and election petition tribunals that he faced. Prominent among these was his party chairman who accepted a position in the ruling government, his long-time lawyer who jumped ship and joined another party, his trusted spokesperson for many years who joined the Goodluck train. Such was the extent of the betrayal that the usually reticent and phlegmatic General shed tears in one of his encounters with the media during the 2011 campaign and vowed never to seek elections again. These instances and much more may have gradually made the president pistanthrophobic.
A natural concomitant of this morbid distrust for people is the development of Neophobia, a fear of trying new things or new ideas. It is within this context that President Buhari's aides and inner possé, having understood the president’s odium and strong aversion for trusting people, may have captured and entrapped him in a whirlpool of siege. In this state, he reckons that it is better to continue to deal with devils he knows than be at the mercy of angels he knows absolutely nothing about and who may just be armed with a pitchfork. The pistanthrophobe's neophobia makes it near impossible to fire erring inner caucus members since eventually they would have to be replaced with new ‘untrusted’ individuals. Usually, members of the ‘trusted’ clique are not always the best qualified and merely enjoy patronage due to the unflinching and immutable support they enjoy from a neophobic president. How else do you explain the series of appointments of incompetent, inexperienced and inept individuals into office? The story is told of how files remain untreated in the offices of the president's most trusted allies. How again do you explain the fact that gaffe and gaffe, scandal after scandal, incredulity after incredulity, constitutional breach after another, perpetrated by this small clique of loyalists, the president still forbears and indulges this ‘trusted’ few?
Perhaps, Jubril from Sudan is a metaphor for a reluctant, impervious and incapacitated president that lacks the will, strength of character and raw courage to act decisively no matter whose ox is gored. As the policy thrust of his presidency stutters to a grinding halt, the president must be reminded that history will only be fair to him for the extraordinary things he did to drive change rather than the maintenance of a status quo of laissez-faire in dealing with his cabal of loyalists.
Dr. Chima Amadi, a 2016 Chevening Scholar at the Department of Government of the London School of Economics is the Executive Director of the Centre for Transparency Advocacy.