“A voice is heard in Ramah, a voice of mourning and great weeping; Rachel wailing for her children and refusing to be consoled, for her children are no more” – Jeremiah 31:15.
At the time of writing this article, I refrained from accessing any of my social media handles because they were all bogged down with harrowing images of victims of Fulani herdsmen massacre in the Benue being carried in a solemn procession for burial. Anyone with a vestige of humanity who sees those photos and videos and the mood on the faces of Benue indigenes all dressed in black, mourning inconsolably, would know that this is not politics as usual. Current happenings in our country call for deep but sober reflection. To borrow the words of the American writer Thomas Paine, “These are [indeed] times that try men’s souls.” After Buhari was declared winner of the presidential election on April 1, 2015, he said in his acceptance speech to Nigerians: “I pledge myself and my government to the rule of law, in which none shall be so above the law that they are not subject to its dictates, and none shall be so below it that they are not availed of its protection. You shall be able to go to bed knowing that your constitutional rights remain in safe hands.”
Past and current happenings in our nation have proven Buhari’s abysmal failure in fulfilling that pledge. Again and again, we have seen that rampaging squads of herdsmen are above the law, that herds of cattle have more value than human lives, and that government could watch helplessly while a bunch of serial killers and barbarians amuse themselves with the blood of innocent Nigerians. Those who go to bed believing that their rights are in safe hands never wake up; they are murdered in their sleep. On this basis of this alone, Buhari has failed a basic test of presidential leadership, namely the security and protection of lives and property, which is the fundamental raison d’etre of government. When a government that promised to change the sorry order of things in the Federal Republic of Nigeria now presides over the funerals of its children instead of planning their future, it is a sign that our nation is doomed. This calls for a concerted effort to rescue our nation from ‘Inhumanity Nigeria Inc.’ parading itself as a constituted government.
My former teacher, friend, mentor and newly appointed Vice Chancellor of the recently approved Dominican University of Nigeria, Rev. Professor Anthony Akinwale, O.P. has generously asked me to apologise to all those whose sensibilities I offended when I advocated that we give Buhari a chance in 2015. In a reply to a recent Facebook post I made, railing against President Buhari’s gross insensitivity to the systematic liquidation of human lives across the country, Father Akinwale said, “Father Emmanuel, many of us saw this long before you. That is why you owe us an apology.” In the period leading to the 2015 election, I had a running battle with the highly respected Professor of Thomistic Thought. He told me clearly that he had witnessed General Buhari’s first tragic outing as Head of State from 1983 to 1985, and that such a man could not be trusted with the destiny of 180 million people. He reminded me that I was not yet born when Buhari stole power through the butt of the gun and further eroded the democratic gains made by President Shagari’s administration.
On the contrary, I thought we could give Buhari a chance on account of his assurances of being “a former dictator,” now “a converted democrat,” as he said in his Chatham House speech in February 2015. After watching past and current happenings in the life of our nation under Buhari’s watch, I am pained to admit that Professor Akinwale was right. The last three years have shown that Buhari has not changed. If anything, he’s become worse with power. Consequently, I feel no shame to publicly apologise to all Nigerians for the position I took in my numerous newspaper articles to advocate for the government of ‘change.’ My reasoning was that Buhari had sufficient moral and military credentials to wage the battle against corruption on account of the widespread perception of his incorruptibility, and to wage the battle against Boko Haram, which had at the time created a lake of blood in the heart of our nation. I thought that as a former military leader he would do better than President Jonathan was doing at the time.
When I published an essay on “Corruption, ethnicity and religion in Nigeria” on the back page of The Guardian in February 2015, among the many reactions I received was one from John Githongo, Kenya’s former anti-corruption czar. Mr Githongo sent me an email thanking me for the piece and for referencing the book, It’s Our Turn To Eat, written about him by the British journalist Michela Wrong, which chronicled his battle against the corruption establishment in Kenya. Like many others, Mr Githongo also expressed optimism that Nigeria would be better with Buhari in power. I thought I was in the right company.
I also recall two very warm remarks made about Buhari’s leadership during the period after his accession to power. The first was from President Barack Obama at a nuclear summit in Washington DC in 2015. Obama had introduced Buhari to a European leader as someone who was doing well to tackle Nigeria’s problems. The second moment that was captured on camera was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s defence of Buhari in chat with Queen Elizabeth and former British Prime Minister David Cameron, when Cameron passed a snide remark about Nigeria being a “fantastically corrupt” country. Archbishop Justin Welby had cut into the conversation to say, “This president is different.” All of these gave me the impression that Nigeria was set to get a totally different snapshot.