Last Tuesday was an awkward day for me here in the United States. It wasn’t just that President Buhari’s ill-advised response to the insanely absurd IPOB whispering campaign that he is a body double from Sudan was the butt of hurtful jokes in the American news media, all that my students wanted to talk to me about was this issue.
“While your president certainly isn’t a clone, he sure is a clown,” one student said. Although this jibe jabbed at my national self-esteem, it’s painfully accurate nonetheless. Why would someone who isn’t a clone (IPOB actually called him a body double, not a clone) deign to dignify such implausible absurdity with a response— and in a foreign country, to boot?
Several readers of this column had importuned me to share my thoughts on the allegation that it’s a Sudanese body double who is pretending to be our president, but I always responded that the suggestion is so ludicrous, so off-the-wall, and so patently illogical that even acknowledging it would be an exercise in the legitimization of stupidity. But the president, who is at the receiving end of this fatuous folly, chose to mainstream and legitimize it.
Many people said the president’s protestation that he wasn’t a clone was intended as good-natured banter. I believe them. It’s obvious that Buhari fancies himself as possessing an uncommonly rich faculty of humor precisely because his inanely fawning aides habitually make exaggerated pretenses to finding his often unfunny jokes hilarious.
But it’s part of the performances of power that sycophantic subordinates who want to ingratiate themselves with people in power have to learn to laugh at their bosses’ jokes, even if the jokes are flat, unwitty, inappropriate, and humorless. This fact creates a false self-construal in the bosses of their matchless capacity for humor, and predisposes them to thoughtless, inapt jokes. When my American student said Buhari was a “clown,” he was acknowledging that the president was joking when he said he wasn’t a “clone,” but he was also communicating the fact that the subject-matter of the joke was beneath the self-worth of a president.
Many times, Buhari comes across as someone with an insatiable gluttony for self-ridicule in his awkward attempts at humor. In the same Poland where he protested that he was not a clone, to give another example, he joked that he would no longer whine about the problems he inherited from PDP, which aggrandized his ineptitude before the world.
He also jokes about having an irresistible urge to run away from Nigeria when the obligations of governance get to him. In November 2016, for instance, he joked that he “felt like absconding because 27 out of 36 states in Nigeria cannot pay salaries.” Again, in September 2017, he joked thathad farmers witnessed a poor harvest, “I must confide in you that I was considering which country to run to.”
These are humorless jokes, especially because Buhari has the unflattering distinction of being Nigeria’s president who has spent the most time abroad. In a September 16, 2017 column, I characterized this tendency as “Buhari’s obsessive compulsive runawayism.”Serious business of governance shouldn’t be trivialized with unamusing jokes, especially by someone whose ineptitude is dramatized by these jokes, whose incompetence is on steroids.
Nevertheless, although it’s utterly brainsick to even imagine that a Sudanese body double could successfully take the place of Buhari, this whole notion of a Buhari imposter in the Presidential Villa resonates because it captures the vast disconnect between the Buhari Nigerians thought they elected in 2015 and the bungling, wimpy, aloof, unjust, and inept Buhari that we have as president now.
Buhari had an unearned reputation as a firm, fearless, just, disciplined leader who was animated by a restless thirst to transform Nigeria, to build enduring institutions, to wipe out or at least minimize corruption, and to bequeath a legacy of justice, fair play, and national cohesion.
But he has turned out to be an infirm leader who looks the other way when injustice is committed by his close associates, who disdains the poor, who defends and praises corruption when it’s committed by people who are loyal to him, who lies interminably, who has not a clue how to glue the nation and transform lives, and who is consumed by a monomaniacal obsession to perpetuate himself in power.
For people who invested hopes in an idealized Buhari that never existed, the Buhari they see now is figuratively a clone. Even his wife, Aisha Buhari, casts him as a helpless, ineffective, and isolated leader who is held prisoner by an evil, sneaky, corrupt, vulturous, and conniving two-man cabal.
In a speech she delivered at a conferenceon Tuesday, the Wife of the President said her husband’s administration “achieved a lot but could have achieved more or even achieved all it had in one year but for two people in government who will never allow things to move fast,” adding that she was “disappointed in men who rather than fight these two men will go to them in the night begging for favour.”
This isn’t new information for many of us who are familiar with the disabling dysfunction and cronyism in the Presidential Villa, but coming from the president’s wife, even Buhari’s hardcore admirers are discomfited by the image of an ineffectual Buhari who is inexorably hamstrung by no-good, unelected puppeteers that he appointed. Even to these hardcore supporters, the Buhari they see now is figuratively a clone of the Buhari they elected.
Buhari is also the first and only Nigerian president on record who has openly confessed to being disaffiliated from many of the signature policies of his own administration. For instance, he publicly disagreed with the devaluation of the naira. “How much benefit can we derive from this ruthless devaluation of the naira?” he told business leaders who paid him a visit at the Presidential Villa on June 27, 2016. “I’m not an economist neither a businessman – I fail to appreciate what is the economic explanation.”
So, get this: we have a president whose wife says is controlled and crippled by two unelected people that he appointed. This same president is also disconnected from, and obviously makes no input to, the major policies of his administration. How is he different from a clone or a body double? The hard, painful truth is that Nigeria has no president now. Buhari is merely a figurehead who is battling with the ravages of aging and who is unaware of what is going on in the country and around him.
If there is anything that this unhinged “cloning” or “double-body” narrative has dramatized, it is that we have a president who isn’t in charge, who holds the horns of the cow while others milk it, who should be resting, not ruling. This is dangerous for the country. Four more years of this will sink Nigeria irretrievably.
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