On Thursday, Justice Sylvanus Nsofor, Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States, died at 85. I condole with his family.
He was a well-educated lawyer who attracted the attention of General Muhammadu Buhari in 2003 when he delivered a favourable minority judgment in the presidential candidate’s election appeal.
When Mr. Buhari finally took office in 2015, the debt to Nsofor was one he was determined to pay, but by the time he appointed him as US ambassador in 2017, Nsofor was so old he could barely make it to the biggest dance on the diplomatic circuit.
It was an appointment which suggested that Buhari really did not care whether his appointees serve Nigeria or not. Think about it: Washington, D.C. is the capital of diplomatic activities on earth, which is why most nations appoint men and women in their prime.
Our embassy in the Cleveland Park area is all of 100,000 square feet, one of the largest and most demanding diplomatic properties in the American capital.
If Buhari understood any of these, he did not care. The same explanation applies to his maintenance in the office of his over-extended security chieftains.
It was unsurprising that, in marking Nsofor’s demise, Mr. Buhari did not even suggest he had represented Nigeria successfully. Instead, he described him as “an outstanding judge of rare courage and truth who is not afraid to give justice to whom justice is due.”
Nsofor was no longer a judge, but Mr. Buhari apparently did not know that, just as he does not appear to know what his obligations are to the constitution and the people.
That is why the question has now shifted from whether the Nigerian ruler is merely incompetent to whether he is incapacitated. As a historian, I have often pointed out how poorly he has performed, but is the situation worse than that? Is Mr. Buhari mentally incapacitated?
This question must be addressed. In five years, popular trust in Buhari as a man and as a ruler has dwindled not just considerably, but precipitously. He rarely speaks to the country, except in recorded video addresses or in written speeches, and never speaks to the press. Most of all, he never answers questions by himself.
On Thursday, these concerns were elevated when he backed out of a scheduled address to the National Assembly to which he had agreed to speak about the mounting insecurity in the country.
In December 2018, NIP (National Interest Party) presidential candidate, Eunice Atuejide, addressed the subject of Buhari’s fitness for office in an article in TheBoss Newspaper.
“President Buhari is both physically and mentally unable to run the affairs of this country beyond 2019,” she asserted. “It is my right as a concerned Nigerian, and as an interested party being myself a candidate at the forthcoming presidential election to raise this alarm, and to take steps to stop this disaster from happening.”
One of the earliest identifiers of this problem is the communication scholar and journalist, Farooq Kperogi. On January 19, 2019, he wrote as follows:
“On November 23, 2018, for instance, I tweeted that a doctor who has met Buhari during a personal, non-medical visit told me he was troubled that Buhari appeared to evince telltale symptoms of dementia (of which Alzheimer’s disease is a type), which is often characterised by repetitiveness, unawareness, mental deterioration, impaired memory, diminished quality of thought, slurred speech, and finally complete helplessness. That’s why neurologists call dementia ‘failure of the brain.’”
Two weeks ago, Oby Ezekwesili, another former presidential candidate, called for an independent medical panel to assess the physical and mental capability of President Buhari.
“I think that at this stage and depth of fragility of the Nigeria state, privacy has to yield ground to our right to know as citizens, the state of health of Buhari,” she said. “…the conditions of Nigeria have become too grave for us all to sit still and watch a train wreck in the making.”
The train wreck appears to be here. But, where were we?
Five years ago, we were heading to a New Nigeria. A non-Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Nigeria.
A Nigeria free of wuru-wuru or mago-mago. On the way was a saviour: this same Buhari, who claimed he would lead by example on the journey.
We were going to crush insecurity. Poverty. Unemployment. Hunger. Official indifference, collusion, and complicity. Rigged Elections.
We were going to a country where the resources of the country would be used for the country. A country were the leaders declared their assets and the best people were appointed to office.
In one campaign video, Buhari asked Nigerians, “Is the naira in your bank account of greater value today than it was four years ago? How can we allow the cowards of Boko Haram to take over any part of this country, a sovereign state? How can young people die looking for jobs in Abuja and justice is not met? What is going on here? Is this our country? Allow me prove to you that in our lifetime you and your country can be proud of this country.”
Perhaps he meant some of those things when he read them off a teleprompter, but it was a hoax. In five years, he has proved he is not capable of implementing any of them, and now, even of remembering them. And so, while things continue to deteriorate on every conceivable front, so has the propaganda mounted. And the principal propaganda is the pretence that Buhari leads Nigeria.
If he is leading Nigeria, it is sadly into fire. Think about it: under his watch, Nigeria became the poverty capital of the world. And then it became one of the most insecure nations.
Last week, the US placed Nigeria under its religious freedom blacklist. The same week, Mr. Buhari indicated that he no longer believed in the constitution to which he swore, when he claimed that the National Assembly lacked the powers to summon him. His own cabinet ministers, Babatunde Fashola and Festus Keyamo, both lawyers, had previously affirmed that the Assembly could summon the president.
It was the same week that Nigeria formally sank into its second recession in less than five years, the IMF forecasting that the economy would contract by 4.3 per cent this year, the largest in 40 years.
The World Bank described the Nigerian economy as being on the brink of “unravelling,” and that the coronavirus pandemic would send personal incomes in the country back four decades.
While the pandemic is set to create millions of “new poor” in middle-income countries, the lender singled Nigeria out as being “uniquely vulnerable” because of its precarious pre-pandemic rising unemployment and inflation, alongside falling incomes and its dependency on oil and remittances.
Unravelling. A strong word, and stronger still because Mr. Buhari may not comprehend it or any of the various challenges confronting Nigeria, let alone the sum of them all.
In the best of health, Mr. Buhari has led Nigeria only into trouble. Burdened by squandered trust and questionable health, what magic is he capable of?
And what do we tell those around him who are perpetrating the biggest—and most dangerous—hoax in 60 years?