President Buhari And The Age Limitation Hoopla By Joshua Amana Otene
Since news of President Muhammadu Buhari’s overt admittance that his age would pose a limitation to his performance in office hit the airwaves, the conventional and social media has been awash with several mixed reactions. A group of PDP apologists had expeditiously exploited the opportunity to call for Buhari’s resignation. These reactions prompted me to seek the full text of Mr. President’s June 15th address to the Nigerian community in South Africa, following the 25th Assembly of the Heads of States and Governments of the African Union; and I was not surprised to find that as usual, the media had over-sensationalized what should otherwise not be an issue of reckoning.
What has been largely described as President Buhari’s gaffe while addressing Nigerians in South Africa, lends credence to the popular notion that people dread the truth, so much that they would prefer they were told lies at times. It also emphasizes the need for leaders to be extremely scrupulous with their choices of words, even to the extent of making every communication a mere theatrical show, devoid of sincere passion and connection with the people.
Hence in his book “The 48 Laws of Power”, author Robert Greene recommends that leaders or aspiring leaders must always “Say less than necessary”. We know that in a bid to impress an audience with oratory or buttress a point by argument, leaders sometimes achieve the opposite effects-demystifying themselves before the people, attracting unnecessary opprobrium or even worse, stirring up negative emotions with cataclysmic consequences. In Buhari’s case however, he neither sought to impress nor to win an argument, but simply to communicate heart to heart with his subjects. It was this honest quest for a down-to-earth discussion with his people that made Buhari to opt for an extempore, rather than a written speech, and that was what gave vent to the hullabaloo about his age limitation.
The largely uncensored nature of the media today (exacerbated of course by the social media), and the very fact that even the slightest nuances in the lifestyles of celebrities and high-profile public figures constitute “hot news”, has given many news hunters the latitude to over-sensationalize headlines, make quotes out of contexts or in extreme cases, make false reports in a quest to attract readership and to set the agenda for public discourse, in flagrant violation of the fundamental ethics of journalism practice.
In my opinion, it is the limitations that someone has to overcome in a bid to achieve a worthwhile ambition, and precisely the steps taken to overcome the limitations that define the character and competence of such a person. For Buhari, he only wished he was President when he was much younger, brimming with physical youthful energy and equal passion to serve his country. He however, did not say or infer that he was going to betray the expectations of Nigerians because he was too old. In fact at that very forum in South Africa, Buhari reiterated his unflinching commitment to delivering qualitative leadership to all Nigerians and tackling corruption.
Buhari’s precise words were “I wish I became Head of State when I was a governor. Now at 72, there is a limit to what I can do.” He also chipped in that the All Progressives Congress (APC) government was determined to secure the country and improve its economy. “Our government is determined to secure the country, manage the economy, create employment and fight corruption. Among other things, Mr. President also assured of his commitment to strengthen Nigeria’s national unity in diversity. But all the important issues brought to the fore by President Buhari while in South Africa seem to make little or no meaning now, as the issue of his age limitation has adumbrated all others.
The question is, was it such a grievous blunder for Buhari to have expressed his age limitation publicly? In the context of normal human interaction, we encourage people to bare their minds on the issues, challenges or limitations that they face. Others may even be inspired or motivated to see or hear of someone striving amidst obvious challenges and limitations. After all, embedded in most research reports are the “Limitations to the Study”. But the limitations did not deter the conduct of the research. However in leadership, it’s a different ball game entirely. Followers expect their leaders to be above board in all considerations. Therefore it may have been more convenient for many Nigerians if President Buhari had proclaimed that at 72, he was as fit as any heavyweight boxer! Maybe our famous Bash Ali is under that illusion.
Let us not forget that the 32nd United States President, Franklin D. Roosevelt was wheelchair-bound throughout his tenure as President of the world’s foremost nation. Whether we like to admit it or not, being physically handicapped is a limitation in itself. If wishes were horses, Roosevelt must have wished that his two legs were in good condition to better serve the people of his country and by extension, the world. But Roosevelt had to cope with his limitation, and in spite of that, he saw America through the Great Depression and the World War II. A recent survey placed Roosevelt in a very comfortable position in the list of top 10 United States Presidents. His economic and social policies will forever be hailed in the annals of the United States.
It is also worthy of note that Ronald Reagan was 73 years old when he was first elected President of the United States in 1981, and 77 when he was re-elected in 1985. Reagan is equally considered today among the top 10 U.S. Presidents in terms of competence, character and sound economic/social policies. Our very own Nelson Mandela was also 76 when he was overwhelmingly elected first black President of South Africa in 1994. Buhari may be limited by age, but he is not limited by vision, experience and commitment. Therefore notwithstanding his age, he is poised and determined to bring leadership in Nigeria to a whole new pedestal.
But learning is a continuous process and since Mr. President and his Media/Public Affairs managers have seen the ripples that his assumedly innocuous statement has created, he should be guided against threading such grounds in the future, in order to avoid unnecessary criticisms, which may lead to other distractions. The recent distraction could have been avoided if President Buhari had kept his wishes for youthful vigour to himself, and not soughtPreP the understanding of Nigerians by admitting the obvious about his age.
In any case, what Mr. President needs the most now is to focus on the Herculean tasks of governance. He may not be the best orator in town. He may not be the most intelligent or tactful Nigerian today. But it is upon his shoulders that the enormous responsibility of steering the affairs of the most populous black nation on earth rests at the moment. He cannot afford to be distracted by the reports of overzealous reporters, the machinations of the opposition party or the whims and caprices of the over-expectant citizenry.