While President Tinubu Was Away On French Leave


One attitude Muhammadu Buhari, the former military General who was Nigeria’s president from 2015 to 2023, brought into his presidency was the disdain for public opinion. He treated public disapproval of his actions and policies with so much contempt. However strident the criticism, Buhari turned a deaf ear to it and carried on as if the people did not matter.

If the people mattered, they chose not to show their anger when it should count. How else would anybody explain Buhari’s reelection in 2019, and what has become the victory of Bola Tinubu of the same All Progressives Congress in 2023?

Somehow, it reinforces the belief that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu appears to have adopted, too, that being deaf to public opinion has no consequence. The events of the past eight months indicate that the President may have chosen to be similarly insensitive.

By January 24, insecurity has reached an alarming level in the country. Bandits and kidnappers had became so audacious that hapless citizens were forced out from their homes or buses in which they were traveling and marched into the bushes.

Hundreds of millions of Naira are being paid weekly as ransom to rescue kidnap victims. It has become wise these days to save for the ‘rainy’ day when you may have to pay or be part of the crowd-funding to rescue a loved one.

At the height of such national calamity, President Tinubu chose to leave the country for what he said was a private visit to France. He chose to travel out and spend all of two weeks without official leave, unperturbed by the public outcry over the situation in the country.

He would not be swayed by the widespread cry for measures to curtail the rampant acts of kidnapping on the roads and in cities across the country.

‘Renewed Hope’, the mantra with which he campaigned for the presidency last year, has not yielded much for the people who are today worse off economically. Renewed Hope has turned to renewed misery. The average Nigerian is no longer sure of a decent meal in a day. Businesses are shutting down, and multinationals are leaving Nigeria at a time the Naira, the Nigeria currency, is increasingly nose-diving against the US dollar.

While the President was in France, probably having croissants for breakfast, protests over food scarcity broke out in several cities across the country. From Akure to Minna and Kano, hungry citizens lined the streets to protest the scarcity of food. Insecurity got worse, and life and property were wantonly destroyed, so much that the nation’s capital, which had remained like a fortress over the years, is today being violated so rampantly.

A tremor also hit the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which he leads. The announcement on Sunday January 28, 2024 by the military regimes in Niger Republic, Mali and Burkina Faso of their immediate withdrawal, is a major crack in the regional body formed through the Treaty of Lagos on 28th May, 1975. It does not only signpost the departure of most of the Sahel region, it has left the regional group with less than half of the 6.2 million square meter land mass it started with 49 years ago.

If the move was shocking, the accusation leveled against the ECOWAS gave a deep insight into their frustrations and what has defined the current political movement in the Sahel. Not only did ECOWAS fail to identify with their ongoing efforts to shake off the yoke imposed by their long political, economic, cultural and monetary association with France, the body was more interested in imposing “illegal, illegitimate, inhumane and irresponsible sanctions” which they say undermined their efforts.

In Senegal, the 62-year-old President Macky Sall canceled the presidential election scheduled in his country for February 25, 2024. The needless crisis that he foisted on his country is a huge embarrassment to ECOWAS, and it came after his fruitless attempt to elongate his tenure when his final term ends in April.

Sall has in the past 20 years held the position of Prime Minister and head of the Senegalese legislature before becoming President in April 2012. He has also been Tinubu’s strongest ally in the ECOWAS and in the face-off with Niger Republic over the ‘anti-democratic’ military take-over, Sall was one of the strident voices of condemnation.

It was Marie Antoinette, the wife of France’s King Louis XVI, who in 1789 charged that hungry peasants who protested that they could not find bread, to go eat cakes instead? It reflected either her frivolous disregard for the starving peasants or her very poor understanding of what the people’s complaint meant. Or both.

So, while Tinubu was in the same France, he had neither bread nor cake to offer Nigerians; not even agbado that has become the baseline for poverty. And there was no soothing word to show concern those two weeks.

Not until his arrival on Tuesday, February 6, did the usual fire brigade approach to governance commence with the hurriedly summoned meeting to address food security. He also set up what minister of Information, Muhammed Idris, called “a special presidential committee to address the issue of food shortage or lack of enough food on the table of most Nigerians”.

What really has happened since his return? Nothing much, aside the revelation that he approved half of the amount in the N1 Billion proposal for the federal government committee for the new minimum wage. He also reportedly dispatched a delegation to the Sahel countries earlier suspended from ECOWAS and threatened with military action at a stage, to rescind their decision to withdraw from the body.

Tinubu should read the handwriting on the wall and not toe the path that was so familiar with Buhari and which has brought the country to the present ruin. He may indeed be reading Nigerians wrongly if he believes they have become so complacent that they would take just anything.

The trip was Tinubu’s third to France and his 14th foreign visit since he assumed office eight months ago. Are the trips necessary in the circumstances we find ourselves? The answer is an emphatic no!

This is the time to settle down and provide leadership and seek solutions to our nation’s problems as he promised. A president who has witnessed the fall of the national currency by over 100% in just eight months should know better than gallivant across the world.

Many Nigerian leaders jet out of the country on ‘private visits’ only to sneak to their doctors for various health checks, but having not be told of any overriding reason for the trip at a period of national emergency, we must accept it as was communicated. The call by Abubakar Atiku that the President steps aside for his inability to provide leadership at a crucial time in the nation, may be taking it too far, but it somehow underscores the nation’s frustration with such nonchalance, which the trip symbolised.

Sheddy Ozoene is Vice President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors


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