Loyalty is unquestionably a key element of President Mohammadu Buhari’s political philosophy even if he has not espoused any systematic or coherent set of principles or ideas that guide his politics. Buhari is enamoured of loyalty and seemingly finds those who proclaim their fanatical commitment to him from the rooftops particularly endearing. But then, Buhari is not alone in this. Most political leaders in history, across time and space, have cherished the loyalty of their aides and associates, above all other virtues. Many great historical personages have been undone, sometimes fatally, by the treachery and betrayal of those in whom they reposed much trust.
PMB has personally experienced the painful thrusts of treachery and disloyalty when the military regime he headed alongside the late General Tunde Idiagbon was overthrown in 1985. The forceful change was effected through a palace coup conceptualized and executed by insiders in the top hierarchy of the regime right in the inner recesses of state power. But then, it could be argued that the logic of forceful seizure of power by the military is that those who assume office through the barrel of the gun can also be forcibly removed legitimately by the barrel of the gun. It is not a question of morality.
In the aftermath of his 1985 ouster from power, Buhari was in forced incarceration for about three years. That experience, some suggest, may subliminally be responsible for PMB choosing the heads of practically all security agencies from his part of the country and with all of them also being of the same religious faith. The implication is that these are the heads of our security architecture that PMB can feel safe and secure with. Of course, there is no way to prove this. But PMB’s greatest strength and defence, he should know, lies not in force of arms through the military but rather in the support of millions of ordinary Nigerians who admire his asceticism, discipline, simple outlook on life and his relentless onslaught against corruption.
In 1985, PMB and Idiagbon were patriotically fixated on fighting corruption but remained absolutely impervious to loud outcries from the populace on the excruciating impact the regime’s policies were having on them particularly in the areas of human rights violations. Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, was forced to declare at that time that the public seemed to be talking to a deaf and dumb government. Of course, the wily and politically astute Ibrahim Babangida’s and his collaborators took advantage of the situation to seize power.
Today, PMB once more wields power legitimately acquired through the ballot box within the context of constitutional democracy. But again, just as during his earlier coming as military Head of State in 1984, the PMB administration is frontally and aggressively fighting corruption while remaining utterly indifferent to an outrageous public outcry on diverse issues. These include, unlawful detention of persons despite court rulings to the contrary, rampant nepotism, non-inclusive governance, alleged double standards in the war against corruption as well as the unprecedented and manifestly dangerous appointment of heads of the various arms of the military as well as those of paramilitary and security agencies from the North with most of them being Muslim to boot.
This time around, the danger is not military intervention. Nigeria has thankfully evolved beyond that stage in the process of our political development with 19 years of unbroken civilian rule since 1999. However, the All Progressives Congress (APC) must realize that it is not immune from the kind of electoral tsunami that swept away the PDP in 2015, following the latter’s arrogance, insensitivity, unconscionable corruption and the complacency arising from its delusion of being ordained to be in power indefinitely irrespective of the will of the people. The APC must be wary of treading that path, which it, unfortunately, is doing now, unless it plans to remain in office in 2019 in spite of, rather than as a result of the freely expressed will of the people.
One admirable feature of PMB’s leadership style is his fierce and uncompromising loyalty to his appointees and associates. This can be a positive strength but it can also be a great weakness. It might inspire some to work hard, always going the extra mile to compensate for the loyalty of the boss and his faith in them. For others, it might encourage a sense of lethargy, indolence and complacency in the belief that they are untouchable and can do no wrong as far as their principal is concerned.
The spate of sustained killings across the country particularly through the nefarious activities of ‘unknown herdsmen’ has elicited widespread calls for the appointment of new service chiefs. However, PMB has remained stoically impervious to and absolutely unperturbed about this demand from large sections of the citizenry. Rather, he has extended the tenure of the service chiefs twice upon the expiration of their statutorily stipulated terms in office. This column does not believe the service chiefs should be sacked because of the security situation in the country.
They certainly have tried their best and made some impact especially in substantially caging the Boko Haram monster in the North East. Even if PMB removes the service chiefs today, it will not necessarily bring about an automatic end to the diverse security challenges confronting the country. No less critical is the need to urgently and radically re-configure our entire security architecture to achieve greater operational and functional efficacy in a culturally diverse, politically complex, ethnically plural, geographically vast and supposedly federal polity like ours.
This column believes there are three reasons why PMB should urgently allow the service chiefs to bow out honourably and let fresh hands take their place. Firstly is the fact that statutorily, their tenures have expired and PMB must maintain his reputation as a stickler for due process. No matter how well they may have done, others should also be given an opportunity to showcase their abilities and bring fresh ideas into the struggle to confront and contain the country’s sundry security challenges.
Secondly, the continuation in office of these service chiefs beyond their statutory terms creates the impression that they are indispensable and that there are no competent hands to take over from them. This will certainly have serious implications for morale, sense of fulfilment as well as self-confidence down the hierarchical chain of command. Thirdly, PMB can utilize the opportunity of appointing new service chiefs to address the very serious issue of the obvious ethno-regional and religious skewing of security appointments in favour of the north – an issue that is daily eroding the President’s goodwill.
In any case, what exactly is loyalty? Are any of those proclaiming themselves to be fanatical ‘Buharists’ today, doing so because they love him or because of the benefits they are reaping from his present position? Let us take Governor Nasir el Rufai of Kaduna State for instance. Today he poses continuously as an unrepentant ‘Buharist’. Yet, is this not the same el Rufai, who as head of the Bureau of Public Enterprises, endlessly sang former Vice President Atiku Abubaka’s praises to high heavens claiming that Atiku never interfered in the privatization process?
When Atiku fell out with President Obasanjo, El-Rufai, made a 180 degrees turn and began his new swan song portraying his new benefactor, Obasanjo, as a saint and Atiku as a corrupt villain. Today, El Rufai is at the forefront of the ‘Buhari is our Messiah’ orchestra. Where he will be tomorrow on the political spectrum will certainly not be a matter of principle or honest conviction but one of expediency, opportunism and personal aggrandizement. This is a perfect example of chameleonic loyalty.
Or take my governor, the youthful and ebullient Yahaya Bello of Kogi State. Here was a man who was at the forefront of the advocacy for the extension of the tenure of the Chief John Odigie-Oyegun-led National Working Committee (NWC). When he saw that PMB was unbending in his resolve that the APC constitution must be adhered to and congresses and the convention held, Bello quickly made an amazing somersault. He told an obviously astonished and startled Oyegun at a party meeting at the APC national secretariat that he was prepared to dive into the fire if that was PMB’s wish.
Pronto, the next time we saw Bello, His Excellency was on crutches, his right foot heavily bandaged. The inimitable Azu Ishiekwene, the publisher of The Interview and columnist, speculated that Bello may have sustained the injury while rehearsing the art of fire diving. I am reliably informed that some citizens of Kogi State have since embarked on intensive prayer and fasting to influence PMB to request his beloved son to take a dive into a blazing inferno.
There is no doubt that this kind of prayer is being uttered with undisguised ‘malicious and malignant’ intent (apologies to T.M. Aluko). PMB should certainly be wary of Bello’s kind of acrobatic loyalty. As for Mr President, your loyalty should, first and the last sir, be to the constitution and people of Nigeria and not to those who proclaim their love for you from the hilltop for selfish gains.