“Humanity is the first step to change”: Why Nigerian presidents need to be more empathetic

Almost 24 hours after Boko Haram militants razed down Dalori village in Borno state, Nigeria, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari finally released a statement condemning the attacks. Buhari, who was in Addiss Ababa attending the AU summit, sent in a message through his spokesman, Garba Shehu. However, what was stated hardly went well with Nigerians. Nigerians had been clamoring for their leader to say something, especially after the killings that happened in Chibok also in Borno state, only days before Dalori’s. However, President Buhari did not release a statement after the Chibok attack. His statement after the most recent assault suggests, maybe, Nigeria’s leader is yet to realize and fully accept the gravity of the attacks in northern Nigeria.

Rarely has there been any press release from Nigeria’s Minister of Information Lai Mohammed after Boko haram attacks. Rather, all Nigerians often hear from him is details about the people arrested for corruption. News of EFCC arresting rich politicians fill the news and updates, while the charred and smoking remains of people in Dalori are testament to the helplessness of Nigerian citizens scattered in North Eastern Nigeria, waiting for their leaders to rescue them. Nigerians want to know their leaders have a humane side. His decision to move the army headquarters to Maiduguri seems to have barely changed anything, since most of the recent attacks have been in and around the city.

There have been no less than three attacks since President Buhari made the classic Boko Haram was “technically defeated” statement. One month on and the defeated are not yet gone. It seems the President, safe in his cocoon of power, really believes Boko Haram has been defeated, and is in a bid to ensure all Nigerians think so too. However, the only problem is that “these” Nigerians have been bearing the brunt of the terrorist attacks and are unlikely to believe the “defeat” propaganda. In his bid to assure Nigerians that everything is well, he has failed in just that. Stating that the terrorists were out to “embarrass his Government” seems rather  ill-timed considering the fact that many people are still mourning their loved ones. Is it really a question of the administration alone or perhaps our leaders live in a different reality from the people?

When the events that unfolded in President Jonathan’s administration are considered, perhaps Buhari’s behaviour seems like the rule and not the exception. By the time President Jonathan accepted the fact the Chibok girls had really been kidnapped, the girls were long gone. Nigerians, who knew the girls were kidnapped, clamored for action from the Government, with reports that they could still be rescued within a week of their abduction, but this fell on deaf ears. There was also the case of him the former president dancing at a political rally in Kano just a day after Boko Haram bombings killed many people in state capital Abuja.

For a man who came in with promises to find a lasting solution to the Boko Haram menace, Nigerians expect President Buhari to seek a more lasting solution than a “technical defeat.”Leaving it very late to offer condolences or some form of empathy to Nigerians who died in last week’s terrorist attacks shows that maybe the President is really disconnected from what is really happening in Nigeria. Its one year on since Buhari’s famous campaign slogan of #Febuhari and the fears now are that just like Goodluck Jonathan, President Buhari might continue on the delusion, that Boko Haram pose no problem and that the people are secure. If his statement is anything to go by, “embarassing the Government” is the least of his problems. Perhaps the “change” mantra, which was promised Nigerians should start from the top.

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