Muhammad Buhari said on Wednesday that England’s King Charles III asked him if he had a home in London and that he triumphantly declared that he didn’t. Buhari then embarked on his boringly familiar sanctimonious self-congratulation about his modesty and frugality.
“Even in Nigeria, the only houses I have are those I had before I got into government,” Buhari said. “I’m not very much interested in having assets all over the place. I feel much more [sic] freer when I have nothing.”
But King Charles obviously wasn’t interested in Buhari’s possessions or lack thereof. He apparently asked if Buhari had a home in London because of the number of days Buhari spends in London while pretending to be president of Nigeria.
Nigerians like to tag Buhari as a medical tourist, but tourists are infrequent and temporary visitors. King Charles’ question to Buhari suggests that he thinks Buhari is now more than a London tourist; that he is now almost a London resident. Since most residents have homes, King Charles wondered if Buhari had one in London, especially because he is supposed to be the president of a sovereign country.
It is not often that presidents of countries spend as much time outside the countries they rule as Buhari does. The man who in the 1980s told us to cherish Nigeria because it’s the only country we have unfailingly goes to the London for his medical care while Nigeria’s health sector rots away.
As of August last year, Buhari had spent more than 200 days in London on medical trips since becoming president in 2015. The tally has increased since then. King Charles knows this. That was why he wondered if Buhari had a home in London. In other words, King Charles was only slyly telling Buhari that London was practically his second home— and calling attention to how irresponsible it was for the president of a supposedly sovereign country to spend as much time in London as Buhari does.
But Buhari thought it was an opportunity for his favorite shtick: self-aggrandizing and self-righteous exhibitionism and a sneaky dig at people who’re prosperous, which his supporters used to mistake as his identification with everyday struggling folks.
Buhari’s personal philosophy, which essentially revolves around false claims of frugality and righteousness and a corresponding envy for people he perceives as affluent, encapsulated in the claim that he feels “much more [sic] freer when I have nothing,” is probably responsible for Nigeria’s downward spiral into the abyss of extreme poverty on his watch.
Buhari derives joy from seeing people writhe in abject poverty and deprivation. He hates to see opulence, even if it’s legitimately acquired, in others. That’s why there’s an old joke among people close to Buhari that the best way to remain in his good graces is to feign poverty even if you’re wealthy. He once fired a personal aide because the aide wore an expensive wristwatch.
Buhari’s unease with seeing affluence in others is almost congenital. In my January 8, 2022, column titled “Buhari should give no more interviews,” I talked about this:
I wrote: “Buhari has always been like that. His nickname as a youngster in Daura was ‘Danliti mugu,’ meaning ‘Danliti the sadist.’ In Hausaland, people habitually say, ‘Da sauran aiki; Buhari yaga mai rake da iPhone.’ Literally: ‘There’s still more to be done; Buhari saw a sugarcane hawker with an iPhone!’ In other words, the appearance of even a glimmer of prosperity in people activates Buhari’s sadistic instincts. He betrays this every time he talks.”
These past few days have proved my claim. For example, the primary reason Buhari supports—or instigated—the redesign of the naira is that there are people who have “money buried under the soil,” according to his spokesman who literally translated what he said in Hausa into English. He said such people “will have a challenge” with the naira redesign policy.
Just like his disastrous 1984 naira redesign policy that was targeted at people he thought were undeservedly wealthy but which ended up hurting poor people and doing nothing to the rich, this latest envy-inspired sadistic targeting of the rich will miss the intended prey and hit the poor hard again.
And, as India’s 2016 experience with a somewhat similar policy called “demonetization” shows, all that “money buried under the soil” that Buhari is worried about will return months after putting people through the hardship of returning their money to banks. In an insightful December 7, 2018, article titled “What happened after India eliminated cash” that I think every Nigerian should read, Deepa Krishnan gave a glimpse of what Nigeria should expect.
“Two years later, the dust has settled, and it has become obvious that demonetization was not the resounding success the government expected it to be,” Krishnan wrote. “India’s black money problem has not gone away. The economy has taken a beating, huge financial losses have been incurred, and the marginalized poor, least able to withstand adversity, have been negatively affected.”
In a country where the informal sector is way larger than the formal sector, where cash still rules, it’s impossible to mop up all “money buried under the soil.” You may succeed for a moment, but it will go right back to the same spot later so long as the structure of the economy remains the same.
But, more than anything, this policy is driven by Buhari’s vulgar, sadistic envy for the wealthy and the prosperous.
It’s the same sadistic joy in the suffering of others that caused Buhari to tell a Kano-based Hausa TV station by the name of Tambarin Hausa that people have no reason to complain of hunger if they don’t want to go to the farm.
“I said that since we have farmland and God has blessed us with rain, what reason does a Nigerian have to say he’s hungry?” he said. “If you are hungry, go to the farm. I’m aware that floods have ravaged some farmlands this season, but we are still selling rice made in Nigeria, and we can feed ourselves. Is that not an achievement?”
Never mind that insecurity has so enveloped the country that farming is no longer an option in many communities. His own children don’t go to the farm, of course. And this is where his hypocrisy is really galling. Buhari disdains wealth only if it is possessed by others. While he fires personal aides and avoids friends who display opulence in their dressing and other material possessions, he doesn’t mind it in himself, his children, and his close relatives.
In 2016 during a particularly acute dollar scarcity which affected Nigerians who went to school abroad, the BBC asked Buhari what his thoughts were, and he said people who couldn’t afford to buy dollars at the black market rate shouldn’t have their children going to school abroad.
A that time, his own children were also in school in the UK, so the BBC journalist reminded him of that and wondered if he, too, would withdraw his children since dollars were scarce and he advised parents who couldn’t find dollars to withdraw their kids. His face formed a frightening frown. He then said his children were in the UK because he could afford it and tough luck to those who couldn’t afford it.
That interview succinctly captured the essential Buhari who has chosen the UK as his second home to the point that King Charles wondered if he had a home there.