AT what point did it dawn on outgoing Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari that he can’t cope with the pressure of the office, which he held for eight years?
From the moment he assumed office on May 29, 2015, and was immediately confronted with the task of forming a cabinet. Buhari dithered. Governance suffered, Nigerians became increasingly impatient, and pressure mounted on the new President to name his ministers. Eventually, it took Buhari six months to make the decision.
The indecisiveness that surrounded the appointment of Buhari’s first cabinet became a feature of his administration. Millions of Nigerians, who expected so much from the retired Army general, were initially worried that the former military ruler seemed not to be moving fast enough. They remembered Buhari as a military dictator, a man of action but what they were getting was ‘Baba-go-slow‘, as the new President came to be known in his earliest days as a democratically elected civilian ruler.
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On May 23 – six days before he rounds off his eight-year government – Buhari finally confessed that he can’t cope with the pressure of the office.
Buhari made the confession at a dinner organised in his honour by the Nigerian Armed Forces. It was one of several activities lined up for the May 29 inauguration ceremony. The President arrived late for the event.
Apologising for his lateness, Buhari said, “Please, I will like to digress from the prepared speech. I apologise most sincerely for keeping you waiting. I can hardly cope with the pressure. I am desperately looking forward to the next six days.”
Like most of the cringingly frank comments Buhari has been making about his increasingly desperate desire to be rid of his responsibilities as Nigeria’s President, the statement came without prodding, out of the blues. There was no apparent reason for such uncomfortable admission of weakness.
Having served as military head of state for two years, 1983 to 1985, before he was ousted in a coup d’etat, Buhari spent 12 years pushing to return to power as a democratically elected president, following Nigeria’s return to civilian rule in 1999. He contested and lost three presidential elections – 2003, 2007 and 2011 – before winning in 2015.
But, in a weird turn of events, after eight years as President, Buhari can’t stop telling anybody that cares to listen how desperate he is to leave the job.
The man can’t wait to leave Aso Rock. Listening to Buhari’s recent confessions, one gets the impression he wouldn’t mind being as far away as possible from the Eagle Square, venue of the handover to his successor, President-elect Bola Tinubu, on May 29.
Buhari had on several occasions made it clear he was counting the days to the end of his administration. He will then have the opportunity to actualise his heart’s desire – to be as far away from Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, as possible.
On April 21, when residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) paid him a Sallah homage to mark the Eid el-Fitr celebration, Buhari, while restating his impatience to leave office, noted that he already got what he asked for.
“I can’t wait to go home. I deliberately arranged to be as far away as possible from you people. I have got what I have asked and will quietly retire to my home town in Daura,” Buhari said while addressing the FCT residents, led by Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Mohammed Bello.
Home sweet home: Daura? Kaduna? Niger Republic?
After passing the baton to Tinubu on May 29, Buhari will proceed to his hometown, Daura, in Katsina State. He will stay there for six months, before retiring to Kaduna State. This itinerary was revealed in a statement released by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, on April 27.
From all indications Buhari has missed the rustic settings of Daura, his village. During the valedictory session of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on May 24, Buhari told his ministers that he was looking forward to receiving those who would not mind the long distance to visit him in the rural community.
“I look forward to many of you, disproving that Daura has become too distant because I am no longer Mr President,” he said.
If all goes according to plan, Buhari will take off from the Eagle Square to Kaduna immediately he hands over to Tinubu on May 29. “I assure you, I have been counting the days, I am looking forward to Monday (May 29) very desperately. I will use the weekend to sign some of the papers so that from Eagles Square, I will fly to Kaduna and eventually go to Daura,” Buhari said on May 26, at the Presidential Villa, during the public presentation of a book titled ‘A promise kept: A compendium of significant achievements of Muhammadu Buhari Administration 2015-2023’.
But it is also possible that Buhari will not be staying in Daura or Kaduna. It is likely that the outgoing President will relocate to Niger Republic, a neighbouring West African country.
Addressing the FCT residents who paid him a Sallah homage on April 21, Buhari said he would leave for Niger Republic after handing over as President if he is not able to get enough rest in Daura.
“If they make any noise to disturb me in Daura, I will leave for the Niger Republic.”
On May 23, Buhari restated his readiness to relocate to Niger Republic. He spoke during the inauguration of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Corporate Headquarters in Abuja.
“I said if anybody with force moves, I have a good relationship with my neighbours. Niger (Republic) people will defend me,” Buhari said, outlining his intention to go on exile if the country he has just ruled for eight years is deemed uncomfortable for him to live in after May 29.
From Buhari’s comments, the plan to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, particularly Niger Republic, if things get difficult after leaving office, had been in the works since 2015, when he assumed office as President.
“That is why when I became the President, my first visit was to Niger Republic, Chad and Cameroon because, based on personal and national issues, the neighbourhood is very important. If you don’t secure the confidence and cooperation of your neighbours, you are in trouble, your children and grandchildren will be in trouble,” he explained.
“So it is very good that I established a relationship with my neighbours. I said these few things about my personal belief because I have only six more days to go (from May 23). And I try to plan to be as far away from Abuja as possible. Thank goodness, I come from an area which is far away from Abuja.”
Buhari’s relationship with Niger Republic is quite an intriguing one. A report published by The ICIR in April 2021 highlighted that Niger Republic is the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy under Buhari.
As highlighted in the report, Niger Republic was the first country Buhari visited after he was sworn in as President in 2015. In March 2021, Buhari named a major expressway in Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, after the then President of Niger Republic Mahamadou Issoufou, and was in turn honoured with Niger Republic’s highest national award, Grande Croix Des Ordre National Du Niger. Immediate past Niger Republic President Issoufou visited Buhari just before leaving office. His successor Mohammed Bazoum called on Buhari shortly after taking over – his very first official trip.
During the reception for Bazoum at the Presidential Villa, in Abuja, Buhari vowed that he would do everything possible to secure Niger Republic from terror attacks by the Boko Haram insurgents. Buhari made the pledge to protect Niger Republic despite his administration’s failure to address security challenges in Nigeria.
Again, the Nigerian government, under Buhari, embarked on the construction of a $2 billion rail line from Kano to Maradi in Niger Republic. Buhari performed the ground-breaking ceremony of the new rail line on February 9, 2021. Buhari’s former minister of transportation Rotimi Amaechi revealed that he travelled to Niger Republic to beg the government of the West African country to allow Nigeria to build a railway for them.
There are claims that Buhari might be from Niger Republic. But such claims remain just insinuations. They have not been proved. However, speaking with The ICIR for the April 2021 report titled ‘Niger Republic as ‘centrepiece’ of Nigeria’s foreign policy under Buhari‘, a former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) Bola Akinterinwa, a professor, noted that Buhari has a ‘personal relationship’ with Niger Republic. But he did not explain the nature of the relationship.
Time to attend to cattle
From Buhari’s past and recent comments, it is not certain that the outgoing President would be interested in taking up an active role as ‘statesman’, like former civilian Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan. Obasanjo and Jonathan have continued to offer themselves for service to Nigeria and the international community on different levels since they left Aso Rock.
It remains to be seen whether Buhari will do the same. As a former military head of state, before he returned as a civilian President in 2015, Buhari hardly attended meetings of the National Council of State – a body that includes the country’s past and present leaders.
The only activity Buhari has an interest in pursuing after leaving office is attending to his cattle. He said he has missed the activity.
Speaking on life after Aso Rock during the valedictory FEC meeting on May 24, Buhari said, “I will also be happy to do the many things that I have not been able to since May 29th, 2015. One of such is my favourite pastime of taking care of my cattle.”