President Muhammadu Buhari: Psychoanalysis of an enigma

Factual Pursuit of Truth for Progress


President Muhammadu Buhari is an enigma. He is many things to many people. According to commentators, while some adore and worship him, others hate him. Some neither love nor hate the president, but just cannot stand his aloofness and taciturn nature. He can easily be described as an octopus. Octopus is an extremely intelligent creature, but usually underestimated. As explained by psychologists, enigmatic people such as the president have large egos, big as one can imagine. One way of demonstrating it is not to say anything even when the whole place is in flames, as that would mean bringing him to the public sphere. But this same man travelled throughout the country to canvass for votes. After electoral victory, mute has become his default setting. Such people are inured to criticisms.

No doubt, the president who is also a general is a thoroughbred military expert. He is tested and the several accolades he garnered while in service attest to this. He joined the military as a young man, rose through the officers’ cadre and became a general perhaps without skipping any rank, as was the practice in his days when the coup plotters ruled the roost. He fought during the civil war as a young officer and many have attested to his integrity and ascetic outlook. It is fair to assume that these qualities paved the way for him to be considered for the position of the commander-in-chief when his military colleagues decided to remove the civilian government of President Shehu Shagari on the last day of 1983. The military government described the administration as “inept and corrupt”.

While Shagari accepted his fate with equanimity, Buhari after the palace coup in 1985, would bid his time for the second coming to continue the unfinished business of “War against indiscipline”. So returning to power for the retired general was a task that must be done. For those watching from the outside, that palace coup was one dent too many for the psychological makeup of the gangling general who sees himself as infallible and whose command must be obeyed.

It was no surprise that he had to endure defeats after defeats until an alliance with seemingly strange bedfellows culminated in the All Progressives Party (APC), a pan Nigerian electoral vehicle that helped him achieve his life time ambition to rule Nigeria the second time, ostensibly to complete what his military peers truncated in 1985.That task became a reality in 2015, not least because much of Nigeria “earnestly yearned” for him, to borrow an infamous phrase deployed to market another military general who had sought to exchange his military uniform with “agbada” to prolong his iron-grip on Nigeria. Before Buhari, only one other Nigerian has had the good fortune of governing the country twice. Who knows, it may happen again, but that is not always an easy task. Whether you like the President or not, one must therefore salute his tenacity and resilience.

Meanwhile, the president while pursuing his second coming must have reminded himself of the adage of yore “Once bitten, twice shy”, and that what happened in 1985 would not repeat itself. Whereas everyone was busy shouting themselves hoarse about his failure to inaugurate the Federal Executive Council and other apparatus of state after the swearing-in on May 29, 2015, the priority of the enigmatic newly elected president was the long term stability of the regime. How he failed to retain it in 1985 is now part of history. But that episode might have sharpened his Machiavellian instincts not only about how to acquire power but how to retain and deploy same.

The first initiative was to install loyalists at the helm of the security machinery of the country. While Nigerians complained that the security chiefs, going by escalating insecurity, had overstayed their welcome, the President kept faith with his appointees until he was sure that nothing could realistically destabilize his administration and the nascent democracy. On this point, he has scored a very high grade. Even after the ouster of the service chiefs, he proceeded to reward them with ambassadorial appointments, the prerogative of the President though, one must acknowledge. But what an enigma?

As it is to be expected, assessments of the President’s stewardship over the course of the past seven years have been mixed. While there is consensus that he has done well in infrastructural development, it is ironic that Nigeria is currently in the grip of acute electricity shortage. With worsening electricity supply every passing day, it is becoming obvious that the quantum leap required to provide uninterrupted power supply in the country will not happen on President Buhari’s watch.

Even after seven years in power, President Buhari continues to evoke intense and conflicting passions among his compatriots. One businessman this writer ran into in Lagos lamented that President Buhari has always been his nightmare. He narrated that the president’s first coming coincided with his NYSC year and he was a victim of one of his military administration’s embargo on employment into the Federal Civil Service. He was therefore unemployed for almost three years post his mandatory national service. By his account, the second coming of the president has snuffed life out of his otherwise thriving business due to the “unfavorable economic policies” of the administration, including high energy costs.

Such is the lamentation of those who do not hate but have no love for the president. Residents of Lagos also continue to lament what would have been had Buhari military administration not cancelled the sovereign guarantee for the Lagos Metro rail project that was designed to decongest the roads and allow mass movement of commuters. The metro lines in Cairo, Egypt and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that started about the same time are now running smoothly with huge relief for the citizens of the capital cities.

However, the justification for the cancellation then was anchored on the need to avert plunging the country into deeper financial mess that would have arisen from the loans for the project. Unfortunately, the penalty occasioned by the cancellation is heart-wrenching, both financial and otherwise. History is about to repeat itself with the Mambilla Power Project that is presently in arbitration. But this is avoidable.

Historians will have their day in future, but the president is the history maker. Nigerians are at liberty to write and say whatever they like about the president. It is their right as guaranteed under the constitution, but they need to be reminded that he is an enigma. Or how else can one describe a personality who remained aloof at the ruling party’s presidential primaries without outwardly showing his preference? All over the world, departing presidents are never aloof to who succeeds them. The logic of legacy building and self-preservation are so compelling that even the most democratic-minded president instinctively seeks ways to have a decisive say in who replaces them in office.

It is understandable why former President Olusegun Obasanjo did not support his vice president due to the acrimony that engulfed the tenure. But that is not the case in this presidency. By allowing a free for all presidential primaries even when there is no obvious division in the presidency, the president has set a new record of why he is such an enigmatic character.

Also, before it happened in Nigeria, can anyone imagine the audacity of a sitting governor of a central bank of any nation attempting to succeed an incumbent president, even going as far as challenging the electoral law in court without any consequences? The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has now decided to review its operational logistics, no thanks to the governor who behaves as if Nigeria is indebted to him for being such a “destabilizing agent”. This fellow’s continuing stay as the CBN helmsman tragically captures president Buhari’s enigmatic character.

The president’s psychological makeup is unique and uncommon. According to news commentators and analysts, he remains unfazed and relaxed, even as the country burns; even as insurgents rule the forests; even as bandits and kidnappers rule the highways. As far as he is concerned, he is doing his best. Even when officials he had appointed to high offices fail to deliver, the president is notoriously slow to act. For him, loyalty trumps everything.

According to his spokesperson, the president will return to Daura after May 29, 2023 as a fulfilled man, tending to his cattle until Allah calls him home. Although, he still has about a year left in government, it is good to wish Mr. President a peaceful and healthy retirement in advance, the second time.

Wale Oloko, a Policy Analyst, writes from Lagos via


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