A tragic 3-second moment is how I'll remember Buhari's 8 years as president
Buhari missed numerous opportunities in eight years to show that he took his duty of care to Nigerians seriously.
For starters, he'll be remembered for the Second Niger Bridge, a generational project which he impressively completed and even more impressively named after himself — branded like a high-profile adaptation of a "Musa wuz here" inscription you're likely to find on the door of a public toilet.
Many others will remember Daura's most (in)famous export for his stirring "I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody" line from his inauguration speech which got the people going even though no one was sure what it meant.
There are those who will remember Buhari for the conditional cash transfer programme his government claims has benefitted close to two million poor and vulnerable Nigerian households with a princely monthly token of ₦10k each.
There's also a whole generation of farmers that benefitted from the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) which disbursed ₦1.1 trillion to 4.6 million smallholder farmers.
Perhaps, the Debt Management Office (DMO) will remember him as the man who presided over Nigeria's debt rising from ₦12.1 trillion to ₦46.3 trillion in eight years — inheriting one of the world's fastest-growing economy only to drag it to the trenches with two damaging recessions.
More than 20 million out-of-school children will remember they didn't get the promised access to education while Buhari walked up and down the halls of the Aso Rock Presidential Villa.
Don't forget about the more than 23 million Nigerians who make up the statistics of the record-breaking 33% unemployment rate Nigeria hit under the Buhari administration.
He increased the national minimum wage as well as the monthly allowance of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), but he also blew up inflation from single digits to just above 22%, damaging enough that these increments became weak weapons in the average Nigerian's battle to rise above the cost of living.
Boko Haram ravaged Nigeria's northeast for years until the old soldier assumed power and terrorism deaths dropped by over 80% almost immediately, an impressive feat that deserves its spotlight in the sun with Buhari's sweaty forehead glistening with pride.
But it was also under him that violent killings spread rapidly beyond the Northeast with terrorists terrorising the Northwest, and criminal herders wreaking havoc in the Northcentral.
Sure, Buhari masterminded the negotiation with Boko Haram that secured the release of 107 of the Chibok girls abducted under a different government in 2014, but his administration also oversaw a sad trend that resulted in nearly a dozen Chibok-level events as terrorists turned students into target practice and schools into their playgrounds every time they got bored in the forests.
There was Dapchi which heralded the underreported death of five schoolgirls and the still pending return of Leah Sharibu; and there was Kankara, Jangebe, Kagara, Afaka, Greenfield, Birnin Yauri and other school abductions that happened at the time Nigerians became unavoidably resistant to being shocked anymore.
It's impossible to forget Buhari for the trains — after all, he's the first Nigerian president to complete numerous rail projects. He completed the Abuja-Kaduna rail line, Abuja metro line, Warri-Itakpe rail line, and had enough left in the tank to approve a rail line from Kano State to the neighbouring Niger Republic where he's admitted he has cousins.
I've personally used the Lagos-Ibadan rail line before and there's a lot to love about the ease it provides travellers and a nagging wonder of why rail development wasn't done sooner by previous administrations.
There's also that Siemens deal that's supposed to transform the power sector and save another generation of Nigerians from the “Up NEPA” curse, but is taking its sweet time to actually start showing workings.
Who's ever going to forget the delightful TraderMoni and NPower schemes or the historic Not Too Young To Run law being momentous Buhari wins? Or that Mr Anti-Corruption granted presidential pardons to two former governors who were in prison for robbing their states blind?
Or that he shut the country’s land borders to stop rice smugglers — a policy that failed spectacularly and drove inflation upwards, but which the president has been engineering a narrative to say Nigerians loved.
There will be many stories told in the future of Buhari's administration and what made the man tick or doze, but the one I'll never forget about him is a moment that lasts all of three seconds.
The Buhari I'll remember
During one of the tragic peak periods of criminal herdsmen attacks which left dozens of people dead in Benue, the state governor, Samuel Ortom, became openly critical of Buhari's lack of adequate effort to handle the situation.
Around the time of his criticism, Ortom and other state governors landed in the same room with the president for a Council of State meeting at the Presidential Villa in February 2018.
During his greeting tour around the room, Buhari approached Ortom and shook his hand before he uttered those abominable five words, "How are your cattle rearers?"
He smiled, contented that he'd made the world's funniest joke, and moved on to the next governor ready to show he's the AY Makun of Nigerian politicians.
Buhari's mocking question to Ortom, couched as a joke, will remain one of the most confusing acts of his eight years, and especially betrayed the efforts of his team trying to portray him as a leader with a human touch and who’s sensitive to the realities of Nigerians.
A pervading public perception of him before he assumed office was of a hard human being incapable of displaying the required emotional intelligence to steer the affairs of a diverse nation with a multiplicity of interests.
That joke, alongside some of his other (non)reactions to high-profile national tragedies — like hosting a lavish APC dinner hours after the Owo church massacre in 2022 — proves that the perception wasn't misplaced.
Buhari missed numerous opportunities in eight years to show that he took his duty of care to Nigerians and Nigerian lives seriously. When he was pressured enough, he sent Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo or any other representatives to be the bearer of condolences.
Those three seconds with Ortom may not be the most significant act of his eight-year administration, but I've struggled to compute the interaction into any reasonable context that would make it okay for him to think about doing it, much less do it. It's confusing and impossible to get past, unless you decide that it's nothing more than it appears.
Muhammadu Buhari will pack his bags on May 29, 2023 and leave Aso Rock Villa for a new president to take over; but, years from now, I'll remember him for that one moment that summed up his administration: uncaring, disconnected from reality, wicked.
Pulse Editor's Opinion is the opinion of an editor at Pulse. It does not represent the views of the organisation Pulse.
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