Comments from a World Bank chief have re-enforced stereotypes of President Buhari.
Accusations bordering on clannishness and bigotry have been levelled against Buhari for as long as anyone can remember. Buhari has often been described as King of the North. But he doesn’t seem to care any longer.
Instead of fending off characterisation of himself as an irredentist, Buhari provides his critics more munitions with which to attack him. He arms his critics with more rods for his own back. It's a clear case of self-flagellation.
Take the recent revelation from the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim, for instance.
Kim was addressing a press conference in Washington DC when he let slip that when it comes to developmental projects in Nigeria, the Bretton Woods institution would be channeling its resources to northern Nigeria because that’s what Buhari requested.
Kim said, “You know, in my very first meeting with President Buhari he said specifically that he would like us to shift our focus to the northern region of Nigeria and we’ve done that. Now, it has been very difficult. The work there has been very difficult”.
Ahead of the 2015 general elections, candidate Muhammadu Buhari was assailed with accusations of ethnicity and a disposition toward Islamising Nigeria. Of course he fought back those allegations strenuously through commercials and internet clips on the campaign trail.
This writer sat through one of the 2015 town hall meetings organised in Lagos by the then opposition APC and headlined by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Buhari was not in the venue on the day, but he did send out a video in which he denied he’ll Islamise Nigeria as most persons were insinuating. He also promised to treat Nigerians across all geopolitical zones equally.
However, on July 22, 2015, four months after he was elected president, Buhari dug a huge hole for himself—a hole from which he is yet to emerge.
Dr. Pauline Baker who is the President Emeritus of The Fund for Peace, asked Buhari how he intends to deal with the restiveness in the Niger Delta and if he’ll run an inclusive government.
With a rattled and pained expression, Buhari addressed the participant who raised the question in the following words; “I hope you have a copy of the election results. The constituents, for example, that gave me 97 percent [of the vote] cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5 percent.
“I think these are political realities,” the president added.
Buhari’s 97 percent Vs 5 percent comments would be deployed by his critics and opposition elements to make the point that he’s an incurable bigot for whom no other section of the country would ever matter.
The comments were also made on the back of an election in which Buhari only received a handful of votes from the South-south and South east regions. A chunk of Buhari's votes arrived from the north.
Months after those comments, the Niger Delta Avengers intensified its vandalism campaign in the creeks; blowing up oil installations and attacking government facilities in the region. Nnamdi Kanu’s Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB) would seize on those comments to intensify their secessionist agenda.
Buhari’s first raft of appointments as president were also considered skewed in favour of the north. Till this day, the president is despised by swathes of people in the country’s South. It's a reputation that follows him everywhere.
You would think that a president who promised to treat all Nigerians across all geopolitical zones equally; who said he belongs to everybody and to nobody, would refrain from telling the World Bank to focus on the north.
Of course the presidency is insinuating that Kim’s comments have been taken out of context by the media.
In a statement, the presidency says ‘shift our focus to the northern region’ means ramping up development and humanitarian efforts in the terrorist ravaged northeast region of Nigeria. But that’s not the way it came out from the World Bank chief.
Understandably, the north of Nigeria lags behind the rest of the country on most developmental indices. But every part of this country is crying for development....every part of this country screams 'marginalisation'. A president should seek to heal and unite a fractured country, not issue one divisive comment after another.
The presidency’s response reads thus: “Northeast Nigeria has always been a priority for President Buhari, right from when he campaigned to be President. From the start of the administration, President Buhari has consistently highlighted the need for International support to secure and rebuild the Northeast region.
“Securing the Northeast and rebuilding it, and seeking international support and assistance for this, will continue to be a priority for us”.
It’s a fair point to be made. The Northeast and the north, need development and rebuilding than most; and we should all join hands to rebuild the north after all that Boko Haram has wrought in the region.
But that statement from the presidency immediately comes across as damage control if not a tad defensive. A president who has the baggage of an ethnic jingoist following him everywhere, shouldn’t be asking a World Bank chief to focus developmental programmes or whatever it is the World Bank does, in his part of the country. He should refrain from giving off the impression that he is biased.
Buhari needs to wean himself of that clannish tag. And he can’t do so by continually arming his critics and those who believe that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.