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 can be reached via immaugwu@gmail.com