‘Haba, Baba Buhari!’

‘Haba, Baba Buhari!’

IT IS DIFFICULT NOT to like President Muhammadu Buhari if you are familiar with the history of post-independence politics and leadership in Nigeria. When you look back at the catalogue of missed opportunities, bad leadership, abuse of office, blatant pillage of our values and wanton robbery of our commonwealth, you are likely to resort to the Nigerian attitude of comparing one bad act with another bad act which ultimately leads to the conclusion – he is not the only one, after all so and so also did such and such.In a nation where institutions have failed, there is little choice than a resort to faith in individuals. I am beginning to think that therein lay the source of the groundswell of support which candidate Buhari garnered in 2015. Deservedly so.

How else do you describe a man who was a governor forty-three years ago (1975), a minister of the lucrative oil ministry forty-two years ago (1976), General Officer Commanding (GOC) of three different Army divisions (1980 -83), Head of State thirty-five years ago (1983) and chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF, twenty-four years ago (1994) and yet could not afford the fee for the nomination form of his party in 2014?Nigerians probably looked at the man and said: At least this one is not a thief. We also figured that if he was incorruptible, those around him would have no reason to be corrupt. His life is convincing advertisement for simplicity, frugality and self-discipline – qualities that are hard to find in third-world leaders. There are those fanatical Catholics like me who were not opposed to Buhari because he shares the same birthday (December 17) with Pope Francis.

That was then. Nigerians are now asking for more than just a puritan for a leader. They want a leader who acts fast, and acts fair. Not a Baba Go Slow and not a suspected ethnic and religious zealot. Buhari, no matter what he wants us to believe, has not risen above these handicaps. He is handcuffed in the court of public opinion to the shackles of his perceived slowness to act, and a greater perception of him as an ethnic bigot, a religious zealot. In this court where perception is all that counts, the verdict has been out long before the tall, wiry general from Daura was hurled to the public square – guilty as charged. And the man, we so loved, has not helped matters.

The menace of Fulani herdsmen is giving President Buhari and his government a black eye that is clearly avoidable. It can be stopped, it should have been stopped, and if it is not stopped NOW, it might snowball into another crisis far in excess of Boko Haram in proportions. The issues as we understand them are straightforward. Fulani herdsmen, who have raised their cattle in northern Nigeria for over a century have discovered fertile grazing grounds in the vegetation-rich areas of the Middle Belt and southern Nigeria. This discovery has led to herdsmen not being satisfied with supplying cattle to the South from the North, they can now graze their cattle in the South and in the Middle Belt. Fine, but Middle Belters and southerners have farmlands and hundreds of thousands of farming communities.

Fulani herdsmen and their cattle graze through these farms with ruinous consequences to cultivated fields. Naturally,affected farm owners take offence and seek redress. The herdsmen, armed with sophisticated weapons, and under inexplicable cover of law enforcement in various formations nationwide, easily repel any resistance to their activities. Another weapon in the armory of the herdsmen is their legendary proclivity for vengeance. Where farming communities are able to fend off the herdsmen, such communities are forced to sleep with one eye open, because more often than not, the herdsmen will be back, at times in the dead of night to attack, brutalise, rape, and kill.

In spite of calls from various quarters, the government of President Buhari did not come out as swiftly as expected to condemn, confront and collapse the atrocities of the herdsmen.  Rather, the government at the centre engaged in meaningless doublespeak as the violence expanded. Why is it difficult to understand that a marauding group feeding economic crops to its herd of cattle is an invitation to conflict and to violence and that arming cattlemen with sophisticated weapons is a catalyst for disaster.

How many other tradesmen or professionals are allowed to violate the economic activities of others in advance of their own? What other ethnic groups are allowed to invade the settled communities of others with weapons of war? Who else is going around with automatic weapons without permit? How much do Fulani herdsmen submit to the laws of the land? How are Fulani herdsmen able to live above the laws under which other Nigerians live and practise their trades? How long will other groups continue to endure the excesses of Fulani herdsmen without response? Has President Buhari the presence of mind to ponder on these questions? If he does not, then I dare  say that President Buhari is a danger to the country he leads.  He is also a danger to his own political interest.

President Buhari is unwittingly going in the direction of his immediate predecessor. You will recall that the crises that combine to hand President Jonathan the first defeat of an incumbent in the political history of Nigeria started with his failure to deal with the demand to remove Alhaji Mohammed Tukur, chairman of his party. That failure led to the loss of five state governors to the opposition. It also led to the loss of other political heavyweights, and ultimately to his defeat. Had President Jonathan removed Alhaji Tukur, he probably would still be President today. He failed to reason that the combined political asset of five governors far outweighed the support of a party chairman.

President Muhammadu Buhari probably needs to be reminded of the charges against him in 1985 when the same soldiers, with whom he had participated in the coups of 1966, 1975, and 1983, moved against him. The charges of being stubborn and believing that he alone had all the answers. Perhaps he needs to be reminded of his futile attempts at returning to power through three failed campaigns, and his ultimate triumph at the polls when others outside his northern Nigeria bastion bought into his change mantra. What stops President Buhari from the realisation that Fulani herdsmen are turning the rest of Nigeria against him, against his government and against his political fortune in the future?

What blinds President Buhari to that which is so vividly evident?  It is such as would make the fifteen-year old son of his neighbour in Daura wonder, Haba, Baba Buhari!

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