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The president and the silent trumpets, By Dan Agbese

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The late premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardaunan Sokoto, was once quoted to have said that it was his duty to blow his own trumpet because other people were busy blowing theirs and would not bother to blow his own for him. There appears to be some unquestionable wisdom in that. President Muhammadu Buhari appears to have missed it. He has relied on his appointees to blow his trumpet, but they have failed him.

 On his working visit to Imo State this week, the president opened up on his frustration with the men and women in his administration for failing to trumpet his achievements in the past seven years as president. He has done titanic things worthy of being loudly trumpeted within and beyond our shores. Still, the trumpet is silent. He has waited this long and these many years for the president’s men and women to loudly blow his trumpet. All he keeps hearing is the rich sound of silence. He said: “Those who should be speaking about my government are not doing so.”

That is criminal. Why will the trumpeters padlock their lips as if they were mere observers in the administration whose achievements rub off on its appointees. One could offer one of two possible reasons for this. It is either that a) his appointees are busy blowing their own trumpets they forget that blowing their principal’s trumpet is a duty incumbent on them or b) they see nothing worth trumpeting in the sterling performances of the administration. If the president knows what he has achieved and his aides do not, there is a serious problem, I tell you.

Either or a combination of the two reasons must have something to do with the president’s style of governance. For one, he is allergic to talking to the people. Perhaps, his appointees misread his body language and think he prefers to be a silent performer rather than a loud performer attended by whistles, trumpets, and cymbals. A quiet performer wants his performances to speak for him. And that is not a bad thing. The sound of chest beating on the part of political leaders can very often grate on the ears of the populace. I do not offer that as an excuse by the president’s men and women not to do the needful to promote his achievements and of his administration in which they are principal actors. 

Some of them who felt obliged to speak up for the administration did so but managed, quite remarkably, to put their foot in it. Their attempts to put a gloss on the pimpled face of the administration turned out to be failed attempts to bend the truth and twist facts out of shape. For instance, each time the minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed, gave us the latest official report on the containment of bandits and kidnappers, and assured us it was time to sleep with both of ours eyes closed, the bandits struck, and the kidnappers kidnapped, as if they were determined to make him live up to his illustrious nickname of liar.

In Owerri, the president did what his aides failed to do. He blew his own trumpet, rather loudly. It is worth quoting him at some length. He said: “On the question of insecurity and bandits, the second Niger bridge, if Nigerians will reflect; anyway, to be frank with you, I blame the Nigerian elite for not sitting and thinking hard about our country. Between 1999 and 2015 when we came in, I will like people to check the Central Bank and the NNPC. The average production was 2.1 million barrels per day at the average cost of $100 per barrel. So, Nigeria was earning at this time 2.1 million times 100 times the number in those years.

“But when we came, it was an unfortunate incident – the militants in the south-south were unleashed; production went down to half a million barrels per day. Again, unfortunately, the cost of petroleum went down from $28 to $37.”

He went on to talk about infrastructure. “But look at the state of infrastructure; some of the roads since the good old PTF days. Look at the railway; it was virtually killed. Power, we are still struggling.” He talked about recovering of some local government areas in Borno and Adamawa states from Boko Haram. He called the insurgents “bloody fraudulent people.”

“So, in relative terms of time and resources,” Buhari trumpeted, “this administration has done extremely well. I have to say it because those who are supposed to say are not saying it. I don’t know why.”

Beats me too. I suppose Buhari now knows he has to blow his own trumpet. If the people are not told that the president has “done extremely well,” they will never know and, given the current economic and other difficulties, they would believe those who tell them the president has done extremely poorly in running the country. Given the rather disjointed nature of his speech, I wonder if he spoke from a written speech or extempore. This is part of the danger of presidential aides allowing their angry and disappointed principal to defend his administration before the court of public opinion. I am sure if they have done their duty to him, his trumpet would have sounded more coherent.

It always seems to me that the president and his political appointees are not usually on the same page in matters that should give the administration the moral stature without which his leadership becomes sterile rulership. I cite one instance. In 2015 and 2019, the president and the vice-president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, publicly declared their assets and liabilities. The law did not require them to make the declaration public. They did, because they wanted to vest their administration with a moral stature and earn public trust as men to be trusted with the weal and the welfare of the people. No minister followed their example; no state governor elected on their party platform followed their leaders.

Buhari did not compel his ministers to follow his example. I believe he was remiss. He could not detach himself from his administration; nor could he lead his men and women by allowing individuals to do as they wish. Moral crusade takes many forms. Buhari came into office waving that banner, assuring the nation that it would no longer be business as usual. His aides promoted him as a new sheriff in town. It seems he was never part of the efforts to vest his administration with the halo of a moral crusader. 

The president leads and his political appointees should follow his leadership example. They did not – and they do not. The president and the vice-president were left alone to walk the lonely path of an important innovation in governance. My take is that because his appointees and those elected on his party platform, refused to follow his example and that of the vice-president, they undermined their effort at vesting the long-running anti-graft war with the moral stature it needed to succeed. Buhari staked his integrity on winning that war even before he assumed office with the promise: “I will kill corruption before it kills Nigeria.”

The failure of the president’s men and women to blow his trumpet has left his administration vulnerable to attacks by the opposition parties, as witness the presidential candidate of PDP, Atiku Abubakar, saying that the Buhari administration is dressing the country in borrowed robes because of excessive borrowing for projects that could not finance themselves. If the trumpeters were alive to their duty to the president and the country, Atiku would have had a fairer and truer picture of the unbalanced budget that necessitated the resort to borrowing to keep the rich but poor nation afloat.

Will the president take over the critical task of blowing his own trumpet? I would not advise it. Still, let the trumpet sound. It is an important part of politics and serious politicking.

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