President Buhari has changed.
And I don’t mean the mantra that brought him to power nearly a year ago. I mean HE has changed.
I’ve interviewed him four different times now. The first time was in 2012. Then he wasn’t too sure if he still had the stomach to stand for election as president again, having already lost three previous times. The second time was just after his Chatham House Lecture, just weeks before last year’s elections. After his victory, I got a scoop: being the first international broadcaster to interview him.
Finally, I interviewed him again last Friday at the Abuja House, here I London. So, I guess it’s fair to say I have seen a few ‘phases’ of the man.
You see during the chat I had with him last year at Chatham House, – the one before the election, President Buhari had all the solutions to Nigeria’s myriad of problems. Boko haram, would be defeated in no time (afterall this was an ex-General talking), corruption would be booted out with military alacrity and those found guilty of looting the nation’s treasury would become guests of the Nigerian Prisons Service. I remember asking him if – should he win- we would witness the War Against Indiscipline type of rulership. I even jokingly asked him if was going to throw everyone in jail like he did in 1983. He replied with a question of his own: “Did I throw you in jail?” He sought to reassure Nigerians that his days in Khaki were gone for good and everything would be done swiftly, but democratically.
Fast forward a few weeks later to our next chat, the one after he had won. It took place on the day he received his Certificate Of Return. I was given just five minutes to talk to him, because CNN were waiting in the wings and he needed to pray as well. I asked him if he had come up with a plan to defeat Boko haram, yet. His response came as bit of a surprise; how could Nigerians expect him to defeat Boko Haram in weeks? Something the outgoing administration had been unable to do in six years. I also asked about his much touted War Against Corruption. His answer: “I made that promise and I hope Nigerians will give me the opportunity to see whether my efforts will be good enough or not.”
You see this was the first sign of change I saw in President Buhari. The urgency was missing and bureaucracy was creeping in. It wasn’t even subtle. But I decided that it had been a long day for him and would get longer still. Maybe he was just tired.
When I met President Buhari last week, I was one of his first appointments of the day. The Interview was scheduled for 10 am and when I arrived, his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity Femi Adesina told me I had twenty minutes with the President. As the interview got under way I began with his promise to defeat Boko Haram. Nine months after he took office the terrorists were still ravaging parts of the North east. No, he insisted, Boko Haram had been ‘technically defeated’. When you defeat an enemy, they can no longer hit you, I told him. But Boko haram have just killed 65 Nigerians in the village of Dalori, near Maiduguri. He insisted they HAD been beaten and we agreed to disagree on the definition of ‘defeat’, as if it differs from a military man to one who has a degree in English language, Literature and Dramatic Arts.
As to the war against corruption he admitted not much had been done.
But it was when we were talking about the economy that I noticed that this new Buhari is actually the old one. The one that dressed in khaki’s from the 1980s. Against advice from experts that due to the slump in oil prices and the depletion of our purchasing power, the Naira needs to be devalued, Buhari insists that HE won’t devalue the Naira. He said his economic team had to convince HIM that the Naira should be devalued. But Mr. President it’s not about YOU! It’s about what’s good for Nigeria. Don’t get me wrong, I actually see the logic of his argument, that devaluation has never helped the Naira in the past. But his insistence that he had the final say was a bit off-putting. At times during the interview, his eyes narrowed and you could tell he found some of my questions irksome.
We to and fro’d for a while longer and as I wound up the interview, I thanked him for his time. “Yes thank you for your hard questions too!” he retorted.
Of the two main candidates that stood for last year’s election, I thought Buhari was the better man. I believe the description by Time Magazine of Goodluck Jonathan’s time in office was pretty accurate. But If I think back to 2011, then I believed GEJ was the right man; we were proved wrong. Buhari still has time to prove us right, but he can’t do that by changing back into military fatigues.
Peter Okwoche is a Presenter on BBC World News. The views expressed in this article are his personal views as a Nigerian and are in NO WAY reflective of the views of the BBC