DEAR PRESIDENT BUHARI, YOU HAVE BROKEN OUR HEARTS
Two years ago to this day, you brought me to tears.
You were in our nation’s capital, being inaugurated as the first Nigerian in our nation’s history to win the presidency from an opposition party. I was far away, in Lagos; but I had a cherished privilege: to be the one to publish the very first tweet on your account as President of the Federal of Nigeria.
And as my colleague, Oluwatobi Soyombo watched, I threw my head back on the chair, and I began to weep.
I couldn’t help myself. This moment was too big, was too strong; was too much.
They were tears of joy. But they were also tears of relief, personal and collective. Personal relief from the fear of the consequences of my decision – after having readied myself for four years of repercussion for supporting so publicly a man who was hardly likely to win; collective relief that we would not be facing four more years of the triumphal leadership of the corrupt and the reprobate; relief that we had just dodged a bullet.
Barely six months before I had never met you, never stayed in the same space you, didn’t even believe in you. The one thing I knew was that, for this young man, it was anybody but Goodluck Jonathan. But then you filled me with such hope, because you appeared to finally carry on your shoulders the burdens of an exhausted, furious generation.
I was as furious as anyone. Actually, I was more furious than most. Furious enough to burn bridges, risk backlash, annoy friends and family; to cross the divide to vote and work passionately for a man I had voted for reluctantly, even bitterly, only four years before.
It was like a miracle. I never believed this was going to happen. I never believed an opposition leader could win an election in our country; I never believed that citizens could make this change happen in my lifetime.
It was so hard to believe that I continued to argue with my team, right up to time that the incumbent president conceded. Our data already projected your win, but I refused to be seduced, memories of Karl Rove making a fool of himself on Fox News over a quixotic Mitt Romney win in 2012 haunting me. “Push all the votes from the South-East and the South-South to Jonathan’s column,” I said to my colleague Joachim MacEbong. “Assume Buhari gets zero votes there. What we have now is too deceptive. An opposition candidate can’t win with such a margin.”
I couldn’t believe it, until it happened. Some days, even now, I wake up and I almost still can’t believe it.
From 2010, when I became active in civic spaces, this had been the dream: to have a citizen-led movement that could put the fear of God into the political establishment.
I had spent days on the streets, in protest, at risk to life and business. I had sat in countless meetings and strategy sessions. I had spent millions of my own money invested in this vision. I had spent time in private and group prayer, shouting in pain, sobbing in frustration, crying out for all of this to not be for nothing, for some intervention, for some sign from God that our country would be better, even in our lifetimes. I didn’t believe it could be this dramatic, I didn’t believe it could come to pass.
But it did. And when it did, it was enough to overturn my theology of God’s agenda for politics. Because it certainly felt like an answer to our prayers. It certainly felt like divine intervention. It absolutely felt like the heavens had heard Nigeria’s heart cry. It had to be. This was a miracle. You were a miracle. You were a change, desperately sought. A change, desperately won.
But it wasn’t really about you, Mr. President. This was never about you.
You were a symbol of our aspiration, you were an expression of a democratic ideal: that the citizen is the most powerful force in any democracy. You were a symbol that we mattered, that our voices mattered. That if we organised, we could defeat powerful forces. That if we came together, nothing was truly beyond our grasp, no possibility beyond the reach of a determined population. That we, truly, are the ones that we have been waiting for.
For me, after 10 years of nation building aspirations and five years of activist engagement, you presented the unique opportunity for to all come together. For the networks, and the platforms and the reputation and the skills and the creativity that I had to come to a head, to join the effort to make change happen. And there were many Nigerians who took that risk also, because we saw a ray of sunlight.
We thought this was worth the risk. This had to be worth the risk.
The many people who worked incredibly hard to get you into office, but then stayed aside and asked for no benefit in return thought it was worth that risk. It was the reason I said no to an offer to join this administration in its first two years, same as many that I know. We couldn’t dare corrupt this one sacrifice – this gift – with the appearance of self-interest.
But it’s not just about those who can afford to keep their distance. It’s more about the many whom your inchoate policies hurt the most – the people you told us you were running for.
Remember that woman who wrapped up her entire savings and donated to your campaign? Do you remember her, sir?
What would you say to her, if you saw her today?
I write this today because I don’t know what happens next.
I don’t know if you are well, or how well you are. You haven’t treated us, your citizens, your voters, with the respect of telling us what ails you, how it ails you and how it affects your ability to do your job. Instead you treat us with the scorn and contempt that Aso Rock seems to breed – the contempt of silence.
Look at the nation you left behind, as you duck for cover in the United Kingdom: Healthcare so shabby even you can’t rely on it for your own well being. Schools still exactly in the state at which you met them 24 months ago. An economy in shambles. An anti-corruption fight running around in circles. A nation fragmented, with the one time since the 1960s where Biafra has become a dominant narrative – courtesy of tone-deaf ethnic-coloured politics. Businesses attacked by a combination of violent tax authorities and ham-fisted fiscal policies, which seem to punish citizens for the failings of past governments and inadequacies of this one. Indeed, the anecdotal stories of businesses folded up, investments dried up jobs lost and dreams shattered have become the defining testimony of your leadership.
You have taken the hopes and the dreams and the faith that we invested in you, and you have shattered them into many tiny pieces.
Is this fair? Is this right? Is this why you ran? Is this what those four attempts were about? Is this the plan you had? Is this the vision you shared? Is this what this was all about – just being president?
It is easy for us to hide under the shadow of your acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, who makes it easy to prove citizens right, that we made the proper choice to vote for change and to upset the old system in 2015. It is convenient to turn to him as justification for our wisdom.
But the truth is that, for me, it isn’t. You are the man with the mandate. You are the man with the ultimate responsibility.
To be honest, there is no regret in voting for you. Even if everything failed, even if your acting president had been a failure, there would be no regret in voting for you.
We had a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. As it turns out, we chose the deep blue sea.
If that time came again, I would make no other choice, even with everything I know now. With everything I have, and everything I believe and everything I hold dear, I am passionate about the fact that, despite the disappointment you have presented to us, voting what you represented for president was a crucial step in re-making Nigeria, in the long term.
I just wish you had made it easier, with your performance, with visionary leadership, with actions and decisions, to justify that choice. I wish we could point to the short term as well as the long term as the vindication of that choice. I wish you had risen up to the occasion, Mr. President.
Yes, you care for Nigeria. I know that. Or at least I think I do. But that doesn’t matter. It’s neither here nor there. Love is not just something you say, love is something you do. And there is no evidence, today, of your love.
We didn’t vote for you to try your best; we didn’t vote for you to complain to no end, no. We voted for you to make change happen.
And no matter what your remaining rabid supporters, either blinded still by anger at Dr. Jonathan, blinded by the comfort of denial or blinded by proximity to power, say, this is the truth: we are disappointed in you. This is not the change we voted for.
Of course, there is still a year to make it happen before the politicking fully kicks in, but not today.
Instead, disappointment, shame, sadness – that has become your legacy.
And it breaks my heart sir.
It breaks so many hearts, home and abroad. Those who believed passionately in you. Those who didn’t believe but decided to give you a chance. Those who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for you but still celebrated the possibility of change. Those who rolled the dice and hoped for the best.
Your performance, your failings, the ineptitude, it has severely broken their hearts. It has severely broken my heart.
I sincerely hope, in your quiet moments of truth, that it breaks your heart too.
Chude Jideonwo is co-founder and managing partner of RED (www.redafrica.xyz), which brands including Y!/YNaija.com and governance consulting firm, StateCraft Inc (www.statecraftinc.com). Office of the Citizen (OOTC) is his latest essay series.