Buhari! Beware Of Public Opinion!! By Tonnie Iredia
In a democratic society like Nigeria, an elected President is the embodiment of power. Such power does not really belong to him; rather, it belongs to the people. Put differently, the President is merely a custodian of the people’s power making it imperative for him to feel their pulse all the time and ensure he always acts on their behalf. What this suggests is that the President is obliged to listen to public opinion. But then, to determine public opinion on a subject is not easy considering the improbability of unanimity of opinions on an issue. In fact, in matters of opinions, the public
can be divided into three groups: the apathetic – that pay little or no attention to any issue; the articulate, that are always cynical; and the active, that are often vocal. Bearing in mind that there could be gains and dangers in listening or failing to listen to any of these groups what should President Buhari do? The premise of today’s article is to remind Buhari of what he already knows as a former head of state that public opinion in Nigeria usually portends more danger than good
To illuminate this premise, let’s take a few occurrences in the nation since May 29th this year when the current government was instituted. First, is the issue of the request by state governors for loans to clear months of unpaid workers’ salaries. The vocal public represented by state governors made it look like as if the consensus was for the loans to be granted. While some people may have felt it was perhaps the most humane approach to the issue, others were as usual apathetic on the subject.
As soon as the loans were granted, a new public opinion surfaced that the loans should not have been granted because state funds were partly squandered to rig elections while the balance was embezzled. Of course, this is a popularly held opinion. So if it is right to provide loans to prevent workers from premature deaths, is it also right to in a way replace embezzled funds instead of recovering them from the looters? In which case, does that not run counter to the highly anticipated aggressive fight against corruption?
To make matters worse, another major fight – the one against insurgency does not appear to be progressing as the insurgents have become more active. This has been attributed to what Premium Times in a kind of opinion poll found to be President Buhari’s current slow approach to governance. The posture according to findings by the paper was in particular affecting the prosecution of the war against the insurgents in the north east.
Many government officials and some retired security and military experts who spoke to Premium Times reportedly expressed the view that the decision by the President to allow uncertainty surround the tenures of the service chiefs and the National Security Adviser he inherited was greatly affecting the war. Indeed, the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party’s spokesman, Olisa Metuh who has suddenly become vibrant said on national television last Thursday that government was yet to do anything new.
When the President later announced the sacking of the service chiefs, he probably thought he was on the same page with public opinion until another major political party, the Labour Party, said the sacking of the service chiefs was done in a hurry and as such condemned it. In a statement issued in Abuja the National Chairman of the party, Abdulkadir Abdulsalam, declared that, “it is my candid opinion that Mr. President should have exercised a little restraint in sacking the service chiefs; he should not have taken that action in a hurry. He should have considered the totality of what is on ground.”
Since the man issued a statement in his capacity as chairman, was he really doing so on behalf of the party considering that he also stated that the statement was his candid opinion? The Labour Party’s statement, probably entertained the president particularly the part which stated that “But the fact of the matter is that his action may have also been informed by the security report he had. We do not know what is available to him, which made him take that action hastily the way he did it.” In other words, Buhari must be daily confronted by several issues which may be mistaken for public opinion and which are constantly at variance with what a leader personally experiences.
One of such issues concerns the alleged order by the President that military check points throughout the nation be dismantled – a decision which Presidency sources say was influenced by the President’s personal experience. The story was that Buhari as a person was once held up in traffic for hours at the outskirts of Abuja as a result of a military check point. When he eventually got to the spot of action, Buhari a former military leader was enraged to see his otherwise precious soldier operating like a traffic warden engaged not in any security checking of vehicles but directing traffic. Should such a traveler who later became President seek public opinion before stopping the drama? But then, bearing in mind the anxiety of the nation for an end to insurgence, should the President’s order have been understood even by robots to include the North East where bombings had been on the increase?
The history of bombings since insurgency started has shown that checking points are irrelevant. So, what next? Two years ago, there was an unconfirmed story that one signals officer of the Nigerian Army in Lagos had designed a kind of close circuit television with which activities in a place as far as Kaduna can be monitored from Abuja. Should that not be our interest now instead of fruitless checking points which further traumatize our people? Well, public opinion can be spoken or written; it can also be manifested in meetings and demonstrations; but public opinion does not have to be coherent; which is why mob action is often appreciated as rash. In other words, a leader should beware of public opinion.