The intoxication of power can deaden people’s moral sensibilities, weaken their faculty for empathy, and cause them to be ensconced in an alternate universe. My widely shared July 27, 2019 column titled “How Political Power Damages the Brain—and How to Reverse it”provides scholarly, empirical evidence for this.
Nevertheless, Muhammadu Buhari appears to be breaking records in the depths and severity of his divorce from quotidian reality. He seems to inhabit a universe that is completely disconnected from everyday Nigeria. In his parallel universe, he has transformed Nigeria into a Nirvana where there is a superfluity of the best imaginable nourishment for everyone and where life is pleasant, pleasurable, and perfect.
For instance, in his speech at the inauguration of his ministers on August 19, Buhari said he had “secured” the country, “improved the economy” and “fought corruption” to a standstill, adding “none but the most partisan will dispute that we have made headway in all three areas.”
The reality, of course, is that Nigeria is more insecure now than it has ever been since its founding. The theater of sanguinary frenzy and abductions for ransom in the country has both widened and deepened in ways that have no parallel in Nigeria’s history.
The economy has witnessed negative growth throughout the period Buhari has fancied himself as president, and debt has ballooned to unimaginable proportions. Unemployment is now the worst it has ever been since 1960. On his incompetent watch, Nigeria earned the dubious honor of being the world’s poverty capital.
Although Buhari disputes that Nigeria is now the poverty headquarters of the world, he continually says he will take “100 million” people out of poverty in the next 10 years (never mind that his “tenure” is supposed to end in four years). If 100 million people need to be taken out of poverty out of Nigeria’s 190 million people, isn’t that an admission that more than half of the country’s population is desperately poor? So what exactly does he dispute about the World Poverty Clock’s characterization of Nigeria as the headquarters of the world’s poorest people?
Corruption is now so shamelessly brazen that even positions in government, including ministerial appointments, are now literally auctioned off to the highest bidders. As a source close to presidency told me recently, “The rottenness is unprecedented and no society or country can survive this level of fraud, crime, and sleaze.” It’s supremely symbolic that the vast majority of Buhari’s current ministers are people who have been investigated for financial crimes by the EFCC.
Only a person who is unmoored to reality, who is dissociated from the real world, who should be a patient in a psychiatric hospital, would even joke that Nigeria is secure, that the country’s economy is improved, and that corruption is being fought. That’s why I think Buhari is suffering from a condition I choose to call presidential dissociative disorder (PDD). It’s a condition that causes him to take rent-free residence in cloud-cuckoo-land and that uncouples him from the experiential realities of real living people.
Another jarring instance of presidential dissociative disorder occurred on August 15. While commissioning the Nigerian Air Force Reference Hospital built in his hometown of Daura, Buhari was reported to have remonstrated “against foreign medical treatment.” He pointed out that the location of the Air Force Hospital in Daura would “minimise the need for people in these areas [apparently areas around Daura] to travel to Kano, Kaduna, Abuja or even overseas to receive medical treatment.”
I initially dismissed the story as a humorous spoof, given Buhari’s notoriety as a UK medical tourist. But it turned out to be a factual story. Now get this: According to the Punch of April 20,2019, Buhari spent a total of one year and 39 days abroad between May 2015 and April 2019, mostly on foreign medical tourism in the UK while healthcare at home falls apart on his watch.
Buhari has spent more time in foreign hospitals—at the expense of Nigeria—than any past president or head of state, dead or alive. He beat the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua’s record by a wide margin. While Yar’adua spent 109 days in foreign hospitals during his presidency, Buhari spent 172 days in UK hospitals as of May 2018.
Given that British news agency Reuters reported in 2017 that several of Buhari’s foreign trips are actually covert medical trips (such as when his media aides prevaricated that he had made a“technical stopover” in London on his way from the US in May 2018), the number of days he spent in foreign hospitals exceeds what has been publicly acknowledged.
If Buhari wasn’t unplugged from reality, he wouldn’t be caught railing against medical tourism, his favorite pastime. He should be embarrassed by any talk of foreign medical care. But he lives in his own world, his own self-created psychic silo. It didn’t start this month, though.
Recall that on May 22, he told outgoing ministers that they should “be proud” that they “were part of a government that ended Boko Haram.” He said this at a time of Boko Haram’s forcefully slaughterous resurgence, at a time when more soldiers were murdered by Boko Haram than at any time since 2009, at a time when several communities in Borno were under Boko Haram’s control, and when the population of IDPs continued to rise to astronomical levels.
Recall also that in the aftermath of a horrendously bloodstained communal upheaval in Taraba in March 2018, which compelled him to pay a forced sympathy visit to affected communities, Buhari told grieving communities that he had fulfilled his campaign promise to secure the nation. “Today, even our worst enemy can attest to the fact that the APC-led federal government has done well in the area of security,”he said. “We have decimated Boko Haram, while the fight against corruption is going on well.” If government had “done well in the area of security,” why was he on a tour of scenes of bloodletting?
What more evidence do we need to conclude that Buhari has disengaged from the world the rest of us live in? A man who doesn’t see the contradiction in bragging about his “success” in security while on a condolence visit of several parts of the country that were drenched in unspeakably agonizing oceans of blood lives in an alternate universe. He is completely divorced from reality. And that’s frightening.
It appears that Buhari’s apparent senile dementiais colliding with an emergent presidential dissociative disorder, causing him to be detached from reality! His thoughts, actions and the reality in the country have parted company. What is sadder still is that his dissociative disorder is infectious. All his aides have caught it. That’s why the entire country is caught in a state of suspended animation.
By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D