One of the self-care treats I’ve chosen to indulge in, for my own sanity, is never to torment myself by watching a Muhammadu Buhari interview on television, but a good-natured yet “troublesome” friend of mine for whom I have profound respect never ceases to mischievously tyrannize me by forcing me to watch Buhari’s interviews obviously because he knows that seeing Buhari’s trademark parapraxises and unfailingly disastrous rhetorical incompetence would extract a response from me.
It was the friend who first sent me a link to the interview Buhari granted to Channels Television’s Maupe Ogun-Yusuf and Seun Okinbaloye on Thursday. After enduring 40-plus minutes of merciless self-torture to watch Buhari’s hollow, sadly familiar, and well-rehearsed ramblings, I came away with the same impressions I’ve always had of him. I’ll taxonomize these impressions into three broad categories.
One, Buhari has a fixed, limited, predictable, and stereotyped repertoire of responses to every question or concern about Nigeria that he never transcends. For example, every response to questions about his regime is abidingly prefaced with remarks about how the APC in 2015 ran on a campaign to stamp out insecurity, revamp the economy, and fight corruption. It’s a refrain he must repeat in every damn interview, and it’s immaterial if it’s relevant to the question he was asked.
When he is questioned about the endemic insecurity in the country and the deepening oceans of blood that drench the land, like clockwork, he never fails to talk about how some local governments in Borno and Yobe used to be under the control of Boko Haram in 2015 and how his regime has liberated these local governments. He has said this in every public statement or interview since 2015. This is, of course, not true.
Even the Shehu of Borno told Buhari on November 30, 2018, that “the people of Borno State are still under Boko Haram siege,” that “Nobody can dare move out of Maiduguri by 10 kilometres without being confronted/attacked by Boko Haram,” and that “Quite a number of farmers are being killed and kidnapped on a daily basis.”
Boko Haram factions tax citizens in rural Borno and Yobe (a clear indication of their control of the states), and way more soldiers have been murdered by Boko Haram in the time Buhari has been in power than at any time in peacetime Nigeria.
When any question borders on rural and urban banditry in which Fulani outlaws are the perpetrators, his predictably safe, standard, prepackaged response is to regurgitate the nonsense about colonial cattle routes and grazing grounds.
Questions on the economy? Well, he has a ready-made story about how, when he came to power, petroleum production declined, the price of crude oil dwindled, and how “militants” from the Niger Delta were “unleashed” on his regime. PREMIUM TIMES and Dubawa fact-checked his story about oil production and crude oil prices, which the fact-check showed he has repeated several times in the past, and determined that it is entirely false.
How about questions on unemployment—or anything that requires the government to live up to its own side of the social contract by being responsible and nurturant? His formulaic response is, “Go back to the land,” as if we’re currently underwater creatures trapped in the seas or particles suspended in space. He’s started spouting this exact phrase since August 2015, a few months after he was sworn in as president.
During a meeting with Dr Kanayo Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on August 7, 2015, Vanguard reported Buhari as saying, “It’s time to go back to the land. We must face the reality that the petroleum we had depended on for so long will no longer suffice. We campaigned heavily on agriculture, and we are ready to assist as many want to go into agricultural ventures.”
In other words, Buhari is a scripted, robotic, unimaginative talking mannequin who has no capacity to veer off from the limited pool of stereotyped responses to questions he has memorized about seven years ago. That is why every interview he has granted is characterized by mind-numbingly mechanical sameness.
The second broad category of my impressions of Buhari’s interviews is that his dementia, about which I sincerely feel sorry for him, comes through when he is confronted with questions that are unrehearsed, that require him to think on the spot, and that invite a demonstration of intimate familiarity with recent events.
One of the symptoms of early-stage dementia, which I suspect Buhari suffers, is trouble with short-term memory. Whenever any interaction requires him to use the resources of his old memories, he is often fine and can come across as composed and clear-thinking. Problems arise when he is faced with recent events, particularly when he is unscripted.
Unlike the softball questions he was asked during the recent Arise TV PR show dignified as a journalistic interview, Channels TV’s reporters went beyond the questions they were required to send to Buhari in advance and asked probing follow-up questions—like all good journalists should. And this was where Buhari’s cognitive and intellectual infirmities were laid bare.
Whenever Buhari is asked a question that requires an answer outside his narrow, well-rehearsed mental collection of ready-made responses that draw from his old memories, he instinctively picks any arbitrary response that comes to his mind, which is often at variance with the question he’s asked.
That was why when Channel TV’s Ogun-Yusuf challenged him to justify his opposition to direct primaries when he is himself a direct beneficiary of the process, he looked like a deer in headlights and said he expected to be asked “how did we overthrow the PDP.” And then he went off on a tangent about the 2015 election, which had no connection with the question he was asked but which allowed him the latitude to relapse to his comfort zone: reliving and regurgitating old memories while evading new ones.
A question about his appointment of Dr. Doyin Salami as his economic adviser and the specific role Salami will play in his new appointment was largely elided and instead yielded an incoherent waffling about agriculture, about how only 2.5 percent of Nigeria’s arable land is being cultivated, about border closures, rise in rice production in Nigeria, etc.
When Okinbaloye asked him about Nigeria’s rising debt profile, the progressive fall in the value of the naira, and the skyrocketing inflation in the country using the official statistical figures of the government he putatively heads, he was thrown off.
Then he deployed his time-tested strategy: he dug deep into old memories and invoked a ready-made response that had not the remotest relationship with the question asked. “Well, I am not sure how correct your calculations are, but all I know is that we have to allow people to get access to the farm,” he said. “We just have to go back to the land. What we have done so far, we have achieved some successes and people ought to measure our successes viz-a-viz the problems when we started.”
Buhari is clearly the victim of recognizably diminished sentience and cognitive presence, and everyone around him knows it. Everyone in the upper reaches of governance in Nigeria knows it. Even directors of the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA) politely admitted in a secret memo to Buhari, which Peoples Gazette of December 23, 2021, uncovered, that Buhari’s aides make him sign documents he doesn’t understand.
“As the head of this massive entity call Nigeria, sometimes your, aides, advisers and handlers, may, out of selfishness and vested personal interest, deliberately mislead you, to unwittingly do some things against your known principles, unfortunately, because, they know that sometimes, due to some urgent numerous state matters that need your urgent attention, you may not necessarily be too meticulous about everything,” the Gazette quoted the directors to have said in the memo.
Nonetheless, dementia doesn’t explain everything. Buhari has always been an intellectually incurious person. He doesn’t read, is mentally indolent, and is averse to learning. People who don’t exert their brains are often apt to develop cognitive impairments earlier than those who do.
Olusegun Obasanjo is almost 90 years old (if you recall that Wole Soyinka, who is 87, once said he used to call Obasanjo “egbon,” i.e., the term of respect for an older person in Yoruba, when they were growing up in Abeokuta), but he is still as mentally alert as a 25-year-old because he constantly rejuvenates his brain by reading, learning, and writing.
Because of Buhari’s ingrained intellectually and cognitively indolent habits, his brain has no space for the storage and retrieval of new information unaided. That’s why he is such a disaster.
The final category of Buhari’s interviews center on his inveterate contempt for the poor even though his own parents were poor, too. He is also compulsively sadistic. That’s why he thinks the only fate recent graduates (who are not his children or relatives, of course) deserve is farming, not government jobs, cars, and fancy housing.
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.
Buhari should give no more interviews. We’ve already had enough.