Chima Christian

The massive success of the latest “legacy of free and fair elections” public relations (PR) campaign is perhaps the most eloquent example of President Muhammadu Buhari’s brilliance. The PR campaign is having its day in court. For now, it has surpassed, I believe, the expectations of even the framers of that discourse.

First, any attempt that tries to discuss Buhari’s legacy in isolation is deceptive. No one event no matter how consequential is weighty enough to summarize an eight-year stewardship. Buhari was sworn in on May 29, 2015. If all goes according to plan, he would have governed for 8 straight years by the time he hands over to his successor on May 29, 2023. It is important to stress that the eight years were unbroken. Only slightly punctuated by the constitutional ritual of submitting oneself to the renewal of governance license each period of four years.

The clever attempt to frame one event as Buhari’s legacy is as deceptive as it is disingenuous. Someone who would have governed for eight straight years by the time he leaves office is inviting Nigerians to ignore his records of eight years and judge him by a single event. And we don’t see through the deceptive public relations strategy?

Buhari has firmly established his legacy. His legacy reflects in every single decision he took or didn’t take as Nigeria’s chief executive. If we are to summarise it, Buhari is leaving a legacy of insecurity, closed borders, economic crises, forex crisis, Naira crisis, inflation, fuel scarcity, corruption, unemployment, sectarianism, restiveness, a sprinkle of infrastructural development, public debt crisis, etcetera.

Those are Buhari’s real legacy to the majority of Nigerians. What the framers of the current “legacy” discourse have done is beyond clever. That is why they should not be allowed to get away with it. They are asking communities in Uzo Uwani, for instance, who were repeatedly stricken by terrorists under President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime, to forget their lived experience, and appraise Buhari’s stewardship on the outcome of one event Buhari has limited legally permissible window of influence.

They are asking the many people who, according to verifiable data, fell back into, fell into poverty, or lost their jobs due to Muhammadu Buhari’s economic and fiscal policies, to ignore their lived experience and focus on the outcome of one single electoral event is dangerously misleading. If Muhammadu Buhari was this concerned about what people would judge to be his legacy, he ought to have been circumspect with the decisions he took every day as Nigeria’s chief executive. Attempting to eat one’s bread and still have it, or attempting to reap where one did not sow only has one meaning. That meaning has not changed, and will not change, no matter how hard Buhari tries.

Secondly. Even kindergarten students of power know that whatever was done by executive fiat can be undone by the same executive fiat. That is why, for example, Anambra’s Gov. Willie Obiano, in eight short years, levelled the mountain of savings in both hard and soft currencies that were accumulated in the eight years preceding his administration. He not only levelled the mountain, but he also burrowed a pit of sub-national debt which Prof. Chukwuma Soludo is fast expanding into a valley.

Armed with this knowledge, those patiently waiting for Buhari to leave his “legacy” are looking at the wrong place. The Buhari we know has long established his real legacy to the tiny segment of the population that matters most to him. Buhari’s real legacy is the kind of undue advantages conferred on a narrow interest group in the past seven and half years. It will take another member of that narrow interest group, no matter how liberal he publicly appears to be, to sustain or at least not reverse this legacy.

Classical warfare strategy demands that the person perceived to be the most potent threat to that already defined legacy is targeted. This should explain the cold war between Aso Rock and one of the leading presidential candidates.

Those whose presidential aspirations also threaten this real legacy, but are not targeted at a sufficiently compromising level should be worried. “Sai Baba” is far more sophisticated than people give him credit for. Those who see him as a simple man keep making his job easier.

To be fair, President Muhammadu Buhari’s “free and fair elections” image laundering onslaught, is sustained by Buhari’s behaviour during a few sub-national elections, where he has, true to his character, not had any real interest. Those elections are however not as concerning to Buhari as the matter of who succeeds him. Every political leader who has had time to reflect before his exit, both in classical and modern history, has had an outsized interest in who succeeds him/her. Buhari’s promise to be the outlier is suspect. This is even more so when one considers how Buhari has fulfilled all his other promises.

Our people don’t reflect at a sufficiently deep level. That is why Buhari is so confident that an APC government allowing for, and indeed covertly working for, a PDP victory can be spun to appear like “free and fair” elections. For many, the only evidence they need to adjudge an election credible is that it produces a winner that is supposedly not a member of the ruling party. Forgetting that “PDAPC” were cut from the same tree.

I am not surprised that PDP’s strategy and communications team are now the biggest promoters of this “legacy of free and fair elections” PR campaign. I shudder the most when I see supposed Labour Party strategists join the PDP in this celebration of mendacity. For this last group, it would have been too late to cry when the head has been cut off.

Africa’s morning will come.

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