As many Nigerians continue to endure long queues at petrol stations, with some even spending nights there, including people in cars, on motorbikes, lining up with containers and, in one picture that has gone viral, generators, the sense of euphoria that accompanied President Muhammadu Buhari’s (s)election victory a year ago has vanished even among many of his most ardent admirers.
Many of the okada (motorcycle taxis) men that performed stunts with their motorbikes when Buhari won are now spending much of their time queuing for petrol or, for those with a drop of that “essential commodity”, losing custom due to the hike in fares to account for increasingly expensive petrol.
Okadamen are an intriguing proposition in Nigeria. Many of the well-off, who don’t patronise them, would rather they were wiped off the faces of our roads. Some state governments have passed laws to that effect. For motorists, okadas are unregulated pests that swarm our roads from every direction, driving on any side of the road they fancy. You never know where and when they will pop out, as okadamen operate with little or no training and no regard whatsoever for their own safety, that of their passengers or other road users. But despite their recklessness, many Nigerians entrust life and limb to an okadaman to take them from A to B.
In a similar vein, millions of Nigerians decided that a man with the intellect and a chronic lack of curiosity that would shame an okadaman, was suitable to steer the Nigerian mothership in troubling and uncertain times. To imagine Buhari was the right person for Nigeria was akin to expecting an okadaman to fly a jet.
Nothing in Buhari’s past showed he was equal to the task. Nothing he ever said showed he had the foggiest idea what Nigeria required to get it out of the mess that had been building up since even before Buhari himself was a dictator in the 1980s and failed to make any difference.
Buhari ran for president three times before he succeeded at the fourth attempt last year. While running for president, he was interviewed on several occasions. In 2011 he took part in a presidential (s)election debate and was questioned about several of the problems that the country faced. At no time before he became president could Buhari convince any sensible person that he was prepared for leading the country.
Even accomplices that helped him win last year were on record for questioning Buhari’s suitability for the top job. Nasir el-Rufai, described by the Financial Times as “among Buhari’s closest allies” and the current governor of Kaduna State, spoke six years ago about “Buhari’s stone-age economic strategy and those whose interests it served”.
El-Rufai knew last year that Buhari would take Nigeria back to the “Stone Age”, but helped to elect a “dinosaur”, perhaps because his (el-Rufai’s) interests would be served. But ordinary Nigerians do not have the same luxury. It was clear to anyone that listened to Buhari that he hadn’t taken any steps to improve his knowledge of the world since he last held high office. While some ignorant Nigerians made a song and dance during the presidential campaign about Buhari allegedly lacking a secondary school certificate, the missing gaps in his knowledge were largely ignored. One Nigerian commentator described the president as trying to operate on analogue in a digital age. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise when after visiting Germany in June last year the president claimed he saw “President Michelle of West Germany”.
At the time, many of his admirers claimed it didn’t matter if the president dealt effectively with the economy, power supply and so on. Now the economy is tanking, there is no petrol at the pumps, no electricity, and many Buhari supporters are acting like this has come as a shock to their systems.
Buhari has been true to form all along. He told us quite clearly that his level was that of an okadaman. Some chose him as the best person to pilot a jumbo jet, taking a fanciful flight from the reality that the man should not have even been trusted with an okada. Now that an okadaman is in control of a computerised cockpit, with no idea which button to press, many Nigerians are losing their heads and frantically searching for parachutes and life jackets. It is looking like one turbulent journey that would probably not end until the fuel runs out.