Editorial: Deciphering Buhari’s long-standing silence

The biggest and most comfortable joke on social media today is that President Buhari will never talk directly to Nigerians to assure them of his government’s readiness to protect them from the coronavirus pandemic. Concern citizens say if he ever talks, it might when the vaccines must have been discovered. President Buhari came to power with a philosophy which postulates that everything must serve his personal interest no matter how awful. He has never hidden his disdain for established rules of governance or putting the people he swore to protect before his personal benefits.

Nigeria is perhaps the only country in the world whose leader has not spoken to them since the first index case appeared on her shores and might never speak to them. His media handlers have been precise in their attacks on anyone who dared to rouse the president to action. The times are difficult and people are living in fear. There is panic everywhere. All over the news, leaders around the globe hold series of press briefings to intimate citizens of their level of progress, provide hope and psychological support to the citizenry. Richer countries are providing financial palliatives, building hospitals and urging citizens to work from home. It is obvious that Nigeria can function without a leader so it makes sense to say that spending billions every four years to elect a president is a waste of resources.

A few hours into the day on Saturday, the ministry of health reported 10 more coronavirus case, rounding up the number so far in the country to 22. Three had come from President Buhari’s backyard. Holing himself in the comfort of Aso Rock is not in any way safe. Most of the cases were people who flew into the country from countries with higher cases, and more will be infected as the country lacks the requisite infrastructure to coordinate massive testing. The government’s lack of action when the figures were small will spell doom more than what it is doing now – ticking all the boxes it was supposed to thick weeks ago. Despite the urgency of the matter at hand, the presidential task force for the containment of the dreaded disease is chaired by a lawyer, not a virologist or an epidemiologist.

Nigeria is right at the point where it needs leadership, not the cold treatment it is getting at the moment. Nigeria needs active leadership that only acts but communicates. It is moments like these that leaders lose sleep to steer the national ship away from danger. This is the moment that those who promised to lead from the front while begging for votes step up and lead from the front. Leading is different from issuing broadcasts. Leaders in times of widespread fear, panic and distrust rise up to the challenge by coordinating responses towards progress and making sure people handling the outbreak are presented with the resources that are required. But Nigerians have been begging for such broadcasts yet they have not gotten it.

Garba Shehu, President Buhari’s spokesman in his characteristic fashion of consequential ineptitude said the president will only speak to Nigerians when the need arises. To Shehu, there is a concrete reason why the president should talk, 22 persons getting infected with coronavirus is not on the list. But there are deeper meaning in Shehu’s comment than appeals to the ordinary. This is also the moment the president wishes he had invested more in the health system of the country than a London hospital. While the president’s spokesman’s statement was still causing widespread anger, he was seen advertising an event on his official twitter handle, which he later attended. The language with which he spoke was loud and clear and people understood him.

The 9th Senate which has shown itself to be the lapdog for the executive, in its resolution, urged the president to speak and assuage fears of the citizenry. Surprisingly, the senate was a subject of attack by Buhari’s media handlers who accused the senate president of populism politics. But looking at the whole scenario that has played out and that which would also come into play in the days to come, it is safe to say that there is no consequence for actions of President Buhari. He has subdued all the arms of government that will put him in checks and now treats the country as a conquered territory.

Yet, it is difficult to assume that all is well in Aso Rock. All is not well that is why the president does more of a photo-op than actually leading.