The Good Fortune Of The President’s Foreign Cousins

Any keen observer would have seen excessive attention being paid to the welfare and life of the citizens of Niger Republic by the Buhari administration – ironically for a President who refused to engage with his citizens even in times of national crises.

President Muhammadu Buhari / Photo credit: dailytrust.com
President Muhammadu Buhari / Photo credit: dailytrust.com

Collectively, what President Mohammadu Buhari said in just two eventful days this month is more than we have had him say in the six years of his presidency.

Forced into granting TV interviews to clean up the negative international image trailing his ban on Twitter in Nigeria, we saw Buhari Unmasked, and it wasn’t pretty.

When a man talks as rarely as Nigeria’s leader, every of his word comes under the microscope.

The president was generous.

He gave so many wayward responses on national TV that pundits may even be reaching the point of analysis paralysis.

Out of numerous head-scratching moments, the President’s reasoning for the diversion of Nigerian financial resources to Niger Republic leaves me stunned.

I am befuddled by the perfunctory explanation that the President can unilaterally allocate budget to promote the welfare of citizens of a foreign nation because they are related to him.

To me, this is the most perplexing revelation of the dispiriting display – second only to telling Nigerian youths if they want jobs, they have to behave themselves.

For a number of months, I have been watching with fascination an accumulation of news stories linking President Buhari to the economic development of Niger Republic.

They included stories about a new rail system, roads, visits and even condolences and congratulatory messages to citizens in the neighboring country who Nigerians do not know.

Any keen observer would have seen excessive attention being paid to the welfare and life of the citizens of Niger Republic by the Buhari administration – ironically for a President who refused to engage with his citizens even in times of national crises.

He would not attend the funeral of the Chief of Army staff, a few kilometers from his official residence, nor visit any local community to condole citizens for the loss of lives from bandits and terrorists, which has become a daily occurrence.

While it is difficult to comprehend the prioritisation of the welfare of the citizens of another country over that of Nigerians, it is even more complex to figure out why Nigeria would go into more debt in order to facilitate such outcomes

But our President would place a phone call to his Nigerien counterpart to sympathize if citizens of the neighboring country were attacked by terrorists.

Nigeriens are so fortunate to have two caring presidents.

What alarmed me initially was the $2bn rail line from Nigeria to Niger, on Nigeria’s credit card. It became troubling because this in-your-face neglect of Nigerians for Nigeriens is unprecedented in modern Nigerian history.

While it is difficult to comprehend the prioritisation of the welfare of the citizens of another country over that of Nigerians, it is even more complex to figure out why Nigeria would go into more debt in order to facilitate such outcomes.

On the Arise TV interview with Mr. President, the answer came – family connections!

“I have first cousins in Niger,” Buhari said. “There are Kanuris, there are Hausas, there are Fulanis in Niger Republic just as there are Yorubas in Benin Republic and so on. You can’t absolutely cut them off.”

The statement produced a jaw-dropping and an earth-shattering moment.

Although the president bore his mind with blunt assertiveness and an almost childish honesty, his thought process as the president of a nation is discombobulated.

Nigerians have elected a man to lead at a time of great national challenge, who does not understand his job description. The president of Nigeria is doing a job that he is so unfit to do, six years into an eight-year tenure. That is why many have been saying Nigeria is on autopilot.

Buhari’s answers to many of the questions reflect the mind of a man who sees governance from a personal, kindred and consanguineous worldview; a leader whose realities mismatch the expectations of his own citizens and the constitution.

Just last week, the World Bank released a half-year report indicating that while the rest of Africa is gradually coming out of the Covid-19 economic slump, Nigeria is sinking deeper into it.

With an unemployment rate in the lower 30 per cent, an inflationary rate of nearly 20 per cent and a GDP slump of 4 percent, how can Nigeria even think of helping anyone other than its teeming 200 million people who are being chocked by harsh economic conditions?

It would be okay if Nigeria was a prosperous oil-rich nation likes of Qatar, Saudi Arabia or UAE. Providing assistance to a neighboring country would make sense if Nigerians are well-fed.

But Nigerians need food and lots of it. The scriptures teach that it is not right to take food away from children and feed it to dogs, which is exactly what Buhari is doing. Nigeria is a debtor nation, in no position to give away $2bn railroad gift to any nation.

Just because President Buhari has managed to rebuild part of our mismanaged rail system which the British colonialists laid more than a century ago does not mean Nigeria has arrived.

Transportation is one of Nigeria’s biggest problems. Nigerian cities are not linked through modern infrastructure. Not even the commercial capital, Lagos, is connected by road or rail to the administrative capital, Abuja.

Nigerians can use all the help they can get right now; and be spared the burden of giving help to the president’s kith and kin in a foreign land. As they say charity begins at home.

The sad reality of Nigeria’s democracy is not that a man like the president can be elected twice; but that there is no national legislature that can put him in check

The reason given by the President for committing Nigeria to another Chinese debt for the benefit of his cousins are worrying and unacceptable.

Former US President Barrack Obama dared not spend American money on the economic development of Kenya, his father’s country of citizenship. He knew he was the president of USA and not the tribal chief over his Kenyan kinsmen?

Even Obama’s unrestrained predecessor, Donald Trump, could not consider lavishing gifts on Scotland, where his mother was born and bred, before migrating to America.

As someone pointed out, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was smart enough to avoid a spending spree on his Yoruba cousins in the Republic of Benin when a barrel of oil sold for more than $100.

Only President Buhari has the audacity to conceive such a plan and actually execute it.

The interviews were the caricature of a man who did not care a hoot what Nigerians thought about his behaviour.

His body and spoken language in both the Arise TV and NTA interviews displayed to Nigerians a leader who is extremely proud, hopelessly lost, detached from the realities of his job and is out of touch with his people.

President Buhari was cold and disconnected. He simply told us, “I will do what I will do, whatever you think.” He truly is for everyone and no one?

The sad reality of Nigeria’s democracy is not that a man like the president can be elected twice; but that there is no national legislature that can put him in check.

The American presidential system of government, which Nigeria copied, does not allow a president to spend $2bn on any infrastructure project without approval, because the power of appropriation of funds rests with the legislature.

Besides, party loyalty is a cancer that has been attacking the soul of the Nigerian democracy.

If loyalty was to the people, the National Assembly would have considered a debate on some of the strange statements the president made in two unusual days.

Written by Tunde Chris Odediran

Tunde Chris Odediran studied and practiced journalism in Nigeria. He is now a Technical Communications and Information Technology professional in the United States.