The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts – Bertrand Russell.
In 2014/2015, I watched with horror as the All Progressive Congress (APC) and a significant section of the Nigerian elite and the middle class decided to sell General Muhammadu Buhari, perhaps the most unenlightened, dull but brutal military ruler as the solution to virtually all of Nigeria’s problems. I wasn’t so much concerned about their efforts to get Goodluck Jonathan out by all means. My concern was the lies and revisionism they promoted about Buhari. As a student of Nigerian government and politics, I knew this was a suicidal move. If we ever learn from history, we should know that Buhari’s military junta, even by the low standards of the 1980s, was all brawn and no brains that nearly sent Nigeria to the stone age until Babangida and his gang put the junta out of its misery.
With three miserable presidential runs and a tag of “perpetually unelectable” hanging over him, the APC machine undertook one of the most impressive image laundering and media campaign to refurbish Buhari’s and sell him to Nigerians as the solution to their problems.
Virtually all local media and social media influencers were bought over. A significant section of the elite and middle class were also bought. Foreign consultants – including the impressive Obama campaign influencer, David Axelrod, and his political consultancy firm AKPD Message and Media – were hired. Impressively, even some of Buhari’s worst critics like Wole Soyinka, were also bought over. They dominated both traditional and social media spaces, controlled the narrative, recast Buhari into some sort of knight in shining armour, told countless lies (one particular lie championed by the vice president and senior pastor, Yemi Osinbajo, was that Buhari had a Christian son-in-law), made unbelievable and fantastic promises, and convinced Nigerians Buhari was the messiah they needed.
So total was their control of the media space and narrative that those who dared voice contrary views were viscerally attacked and shut down. It was a warning, and surprisingly, it worked. Those who knew better either for fear of being seen to be disagreeable or quarrelsome kept quiet. Historical facts were no longer sacrosanct. They were disputed, retold, and reframed to suit the contingency of the moment.
Buhari won the election in 2015 and another controversial one in 2019. His administration, to say the least, has elevated economic illiteracy and incompetence to an art. Growth has been negative or sluggish at best, inflation and unemployment are at their highest levels ever, and Nigeria now has the highest rate of poverty in the world. Even the National Bureau of Statistics (NBC) has acknowledged that 133 million people (63 percent of Nigerians) suffer from multi-dimensional poverty. Worse, kidnappings, violent crimes, insurgencies, and banditry have combined to make Nigeria one of the unsafest places on earth. This has seen a record number of Nigerians voting with their feet and seeking better lives outside the shores of the country.
Eight years later and despite all the sufferings and hopelessness they caused, the same purveyors of lies and snake oil merchants are back to sell Nigerians another visibly misfit candidate. This candidate, Mr Bola Tinubu, has all the red signals flashing all over him. He claims to be 70 years old but appears too old and fragile for comfort. Nothing is known of his background, and his educational and professional records are shrouded in controversy and are likely made up and forged. Two decades ago, he was identified as a bagman for two Nigerian drug dealers in Chicago and had to forfeit nearly half a million dollars to the United States Treasury Department in the highly publicized case. But despite this, his doubtful and shady background, the discrepancies in his date of birth and education, and many other corruption allegations swirling around him – recently, he settled out of court a case brought against him by a business partner who basically named him as a part-owner of a company providing financial advisory services to the Lagos state government for a hefty fee of more than a quarter of the total revenues generated by the state – his handlers want Nigerians to disregard all those red flags and focus on the narrative they want to promote.
Like in 2015, they have again bought up most local news media and unleashed an army of paid hirelings, together with their middle-class collaborators, over social media to harass and silence those who disagree with their narrative. And this time, they are going about it in a brazen manner, feeling entitled to the presidency.
But even if Nigerians were to ignore the many red flags surrounding their candidate, his frailty – the fact that he has been in and out of United Kingdom hospitals of late treating various unspecified ailments and videos of him suffering from incontinence and hand tremors – should conjure a feeling of déjà vu among Nigerians.
At the heart of the disaster the country is going through is the decision to draft an old, infirm, barely literate, blissfully ignorant, but obstinate ex-military General to lead a complex country like Nigeria. Bereft of any knowledge of the real world or the economy, he relied on a shadowy group – unelected and unaccountable – to make decisions. They have had a field day feasting on and balkanizing the country hiding under the cloak of Buhari. Nigeria cannot afford another surrogate presidency. Above all, they cannot afford to remain silent while these snake oil merchants continue to dominate the airwaves and narrative.