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Forgiving a president

With just about 35 days to go, no one in Nigeria is happier to see President Muhammadu Buhari leave office than President Muhammadu Buhari himself.…

With just about 35 days to go, no one in Nigeria is happier to see President Muhammadu Buhari leave office than President Muhammadu Buhari himself.

The president has said this so many times in the past year that some Nigerians—myself included—are beginning to get tired of hearing him say so.

In his Eid-el-Fitr remarks last Friday, the president repeated his eagerness to leave office, and then went further; he begged Nigerians to forgive him however they feel he might have wronged them in the course of discharging his duties as president.

That is an extraordinary statement from a Nigerian president, and one that merits our close attention. But before then, his repeated comments that he’s eager to leave office also merits our attention, if for nothing else because being a president is a job like none other. First, why would President Buhari be so eager to leave office that he almost hasn’t said anything else of note than that over the past year? Why does he say so repeatedly and at every turn even though almost every Nigerian has already heard it at least twice? Are there any connections between the president’s eagerness to exit the stage and his extraordinary request for forgiveness from Nigerians?

It is understandable that the president’s repeated exasperation may result from the strains and exertions the demands of office imposed on him, given his advanced age, and also health worries over the past few years. It is also possible that he is just being humble, and showing that he is not given to the craze for power and its perquisites in the way other African leaders have been known for, even at very old age. But it still begs the question because Buhari contested for the same office four times before he won it, and once more while in office. What is the point of it all, if one would get tired of it all long before one’s time is off?

Being president is not a job one should be so tired of; certainly not a job one should so repeatedly say one has had enough of, after all, running for that office is a purposeful act, not a frivolous one. Even given the chance, most humans will not bother. And for the few who do run for it, we can assume, it is because they believe they have something significant to do there, and more importantly, it is because they not only believe they can do it; they also believe they are the best to do it.

Over the course of the 12 years, from 2003 to 2015, in which Buhari repeatedly sought presidential office, he certainly created the impression that he had something important to do there, and that he was the best person to do it. Millions of Nigerians believed that too, and gave him the votes, repeatedly, until he won and arrived in the same office. How could he now have had enough of it even since had more than a year left to the end? Does the president feel he has since fulfilled his mission? Does he believe that he has already delivered to the country and its people?

As president of a poor and difficult country like Nigeria, one can do an enormous amount of good, even by doing little, just as one can do an enormous amount of harm, even by doing nothing. How could anyone be in a hurry to see the back of such a position? Perhaps behind President Buhari’s haste to leave office is the realisation, at a deep personal level, that the place did not turn out as he had hoped and that he, too, now believes he has not done enough or made the most of his time in office? Many Nigerians—myself not necessarily included—have long reached that same conclusion. Or perhaps is it out the realisation —from personal experience—that presidential office, in Nigeria at least, is in fact an impossible place where no one could much whatever their initial good intentions?

This brings us to the request for forgiveness from Nigerians. During his remarks, and in his characteristic jovial tone, the president spoke about a wide range of issues, from highlighting some of his achievements in the area of security to reflecting about his years of election litigation at the Supreme Court, and how he made it to office in the end, to giving thanks to God and Nigerians for making it all possible. But there is one thing the president said that struck me rather hard:  “I can’t wait to go to Daura. If they make any noise to disturb me there, I will leave for Niger Republic. I deliberately arranged to be as far away as possible. I got what I wanted and will quietly retire to my hometown,” Buhari had said. The key line, for me, is “I got what I wanted”.

I could not help but wonder if the president got what he wanted; what about the millions of Nigerians who cast nearly 60 million votes for him over 16 years? Have they too got what they wanted? Has the president lived up to their dreams and expectations? If voting is a pact between the voter and the voted, and it is, what have Buhari’s voters got out of his presidency that would endure for long after his time in office? What have the people of Kano, or Katsina, or Niger, or Bauchi, and many more states where Buhari has won election throughout the past 20 years got from the Buhari presidency? They all certainly expected something; otherwise they would not have been throwing their votes his way throughout these past years.

Equally important, what exactly does the president mean by saying he has got what he wanted? Was it all no more than the personal ambition of one man or a collective vision led by the best in the group, as many genuinely believed and with good reasons too? If Buhari only wanted to be president just for the sake of it at a personal level, that is not the impression millions of Nigerians who voted for him had throughout his long campaign. During the speech, the president noted that God sent in new technology in the form of Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and his long-drawn ambition of being president was realised.

There was also the continuing faith of the millions of his voters who, rightly or wrongly, also shared in that ambition too. And they shared in it for their own personal reasons. They saw in a Buhari presidency an end to certain things, and an opening to other things. It is anyone’s guess how many of those millions now feel fulfilled in the same sense as the president says he does at a personal level a few weeks to the end of eight years in office. As President Buhari retires to his hometown, or to neighbouring Niger Republic, he might do well to reflect on the dreams and expectations of those millions of voters on the back of whom he rode to office, whether they forgive him or not.

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