Within six months of inauguration, the man Nigerians elected in a historic voter revolution has created an alarming pattern of absenteeism. President Muhammadu Buhari, who is hyped as an orator of ‘’body language’’, has been voting with his feet since May 29, 2015.
An audit of his overseas travel shows that, so far, he has accumulated more than forty days and forty nights of elopement!
Though Buhari begged for and received from Nigerians a clear mandate to help break the free fall of a nation that is disappearing into an economic abyss, a Nigeria that offers the world one of the most frequent and highest death tolls due to terrorist attacks, he shows that he can hardly afford the discipline of sitting down long enough to master the desperate emergencies of the nation.
With the recurring image of a lanky, bespectacled man standing at the door of the presidential aircraft, waving and waving an umpteenth good bye, Buhari has literally compelled the discerning to cotton up to the fact that he would rather go elsewhere than fulfill the sedentary lion-share of his job!
Time is the easiest to calculate aspect of Buhari’s wanderlust: By checking his itinerary and adding small numbers, one can determine that our brand new leader has notched a month plus stay abroad. The monetary cost is different: It is hidden. Nigerian taxpayers do not know the irreducible minimum amount of their money that grows wings whenever he leaves the Nigerian airspace in his presidential glory.
What’s remarkable about Buhari’s incessant travels is the customary festivity choreographed to celebrate every of his departure and return. The ceremony dovetails with our uniquely Nigerian style. We don’t stage plain stupidity: We bestow rich embroidery on it!
This is how it works…
A retinue of Buhari’s aides and senior government officials, including the Vice President of the republic, abandon their posts to accompany him to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. They wear a sad, somber and sober look; saying with the loudest decibel their frowns can muster that 175 million Nigerians would miss Baba!
Baba climbs to the door of the aircraft. He turns and starts to wave. He smiles a beauty pageant girl’s strained and sustained compulsory smile. He keeps waving. Waving unrushed and unhurried. Waving in avuncular slow motion. The slowest photojournalist clicks half a dozen times.
Some days later, few minutes before his plane’s touchdown, a phalanx of VIPs line up beside the sprawling red carpet. They wrench out radiant warmth from faces that would rather not cooperate. They smile to say that the whole nation had missed its Beloved President and is delighted to welcome him back.
These grand rituals of presidential arrival and departure ceremonies are faithfully covered and reported as… monumental national news!
Frankly speaking, it is shameful that Buhari, the individual whose lot it is to hold the reins of leadership at such a time as this, made himself the valid topic of flippancy. No one would have envisaged that, after President Olusegun Obasanjo explored the world between 1999 and 2003, we would, in 2015, return to the task of tallying the days of presidential abdication.
Some conjectures beg to explain the character of this incumbent absentee president...
Buhari still has the hangover of excitement. He grabbed the brass ring after four enervating electoral contests: He thrusts himself too frequently into the sky to dramatize that he is on cloud nine!
Or Buhari likes to huddle with his counterparts. He would not skip any fellowship of world leaders. He would not pass up the thrill of embodying Nigeria in a room where a select few sculpts the fate of humanity. He would not miss a photo-op that would enrich the album of his apotheosis as a democratic head of state.
Or he has a breeding that conditions him to roam away from home. He happens to hail from a background in which the main means of livelihood is tied to restless motion and odyssey.
Whichever of the above that made Buhari a president who is more conspicuous in his absence has also made him the anti-hero of adventures!
In this regard, he has not quite distinguished himself from his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan. President Jonathan attended international summits with a mammoth crowd: In 2013, he had an entourage of 600 persons trailing! The large company was his way of highlighting the status of the country he rules as the most populous in Africa!
Buhari sets forth with a relatively modest number of co-travelers. But that is a cold comfort. The high frequency of his departures roughly cancels out his lean train.
To be sure, the President’s job description entails a dimension of international travel. The world is a smaller habitation now than it has ever been. Leaders of different nations must forge alliances and implement decisions that shape the world order.
Yet, Buhari’s insistence on ubiquitous visibility, his insistence on reporting for any conceivable foreign talkshop or diplomatic gathering, his insistence on leaping at every invitation to jet out of the country, is embarrassing. It smacks of gross irresponsibility.
So distressing is the situation that to commentate on the cycle of Buhari’s flying out and his flying in, one would have to borrow the byword the emcee repeats ad hominem at an auction: Going…Going…Going…Gone!
Buhari appears to feel obligated to be present wherever two or three other heads of state are gathered. He would attend…even if the agenda is not consequential enough to warrant his physical appearance: Even if there are pressing domestic issues that need his personal intervention.
This week, Buhari jetted out to Iran to participate in one gas exporters’ summit. He left behind a Nigeria in petrol drought. With movement of man and goods frozen. The President who appointed himself ‘’the substantive Minister of Petroleum’’ left and he took his Minister of State for Petroleum along.
Buhari returned from Tehran, showed up at the burial of Madam HID Awolowo, saw the fuel queues everywhere and flew to Malta.
His aides updated us about his feats in Malta. They published photographs of the Nigerian leader ‘’sharing a joke with the Queen.’’ His coruscating wit worked: Elizabeth smiled back at him!
Well, that was supposed to pacify us. Buhari is not idling away in Malta. Even though motorists have to keep vigils at filling stations, the President cum ‘’substantive Minister of Petroleum’’ is serving us in a more significant capacity. He is tickling the fancy of the Queen –on our behalf!
Of course, putting a smile on the face of an 89 year old English woman is a more urgent endeavor than easing petrol circulation in Africa’s biggest economy!
President Buhari has been more of a whinger than a performer. He is either lamenting the ‘’empty treasury’’ he inherited or bemoaning the rampage of corruption. He finds it easier to agonize than to engender the paradigm of change he had espoused as a candidate.
His inordinate penchant for overseas travel might well represent symptoms of frustration. He is seizing any available opportunity to momentarily escape the drudgery of sitting behind his desk and staring at the critical issues that plague Nigeria.
Distancing himself away from the country provides him spatial divorce from the pressure to deliver on his soaring campaign promise he made to increase economic growth, create millions of jobs and build critical infrastructure nationwide. He gets to enjoy a pleasurable vacation. He immerses himself in the environment of his host country throughout the span of his visit.
When he attended the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this September, he spent time like he had plenty of it to waste. He blew the equivalent of one week –shaking hands with this president and posing with that president and loafing around in between!
The sight of Buhari flying out, returning to Abuja, and flying out again, to grace all manner of appointments that can be handled by a representative, haunts one with the irony of a General and Commander-in-Chief flitting from one foreign refuge to another.
I fear that Buhari’s spiraling junkets is dictated by the Fight-or-Flight dynamic. Animals tend to have two mutually exclusive reactions to any palpable problem or threat in their surroundings. They would stay rooted and confront the trouble: Or they would flee.
Buhari’s flights seem to be dictated by the Flight option. And that’s a defeatist resort. Because he can’t successfully administer Nigeria as a roving leader. No single national problem will shrink because he chose to be a homing visitor.
It’s obvious that Buhari did not sufficiently prepare his mind for the toughest job in the land. He had underestimated the demands of the Nigerian presidency. But now that he has the job, he must sit back and square himself to face the prevailing challenges…even if it’s only because he had asked and shed tears for it.
President Buhari needs to suspend his overseas gallivanting and spend more time tending to domestic matters. He just has to wander less abroad and work more at home!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu