You Told Me So

My fellow Nigerians, before the 2015 election I campaigned for Muhammadu Buhari online. Offline, I worked to get him elected.

I apologize to you all.

I knew the concerns raised about him. His performance as Military Head of State raised red flags: anti-market policies and instincts; abuses of civil and human rights. Other people suspected him of ethnic and religious bias, which they feared would skew his decision-making.
I shared some of these concerns. Not all, and not to the degree his opponents and detractors did. I felt we had two flawed candidates1, and I could live with Buhari’s flaws.

I was woefully incorrect. I cannot live with Buhari’s flaws. He clearly does not understand how markets or an economy should work, nor is he interested in listening to experts. He has scant regard for the Rule Of Law, when it gets in the way of whatever crusade he is taking on. He is not sensitive to the delicate balance that must be struck to run a multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria inclusively.
Another error: I grossly overestimated the following checks on Buhari:

  • The ability of other voices in his party, the APC, to shape policy creation and implementation. I’ve watched party leaders like Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar2 become watchers like me.
  • The strength of our institutions, laws and conventions to check a President intent on overreaching his legal and moral mandate.

To summarize, my assessment of Buhari’s temperament and competence, while not optimistic, was far rosier than reality. My hopes of containment have also proven to be as effective as the Maginot Line.

I got it wrong.

Many got it wrong with me. The social media universe was split down the middle on the election. A quick look at Political Twitter and Facebook will show you that a frightening number of pre-election Buhari advocates are sticking to their guns. As Buhari doubles down on discredited fiscal policies, economic aimlessness, and tyrannical approaches to governance, many Buharists are doubling down on supporting him. Some are even finding new ways to justify every new violation with the intellectual equivalent of Simone Biles’ floor routine.

What drives these hold-outs? “They’re getting paid” has become the standard answer. I don’t agree3. Most simply are afraid to admit their pick was a bust. On Nigerian social media, where intellectual infallibility is currency, saying “I got it wrong” is filing for bankruptcy.

The bitterness of the campaign on social media, and the grudges held by Buharists and GEJites against each other, have made this worse. After Buhari’s victory and swearing-in, his supporters dismissed most criticism (some valid, some ridiculous) as sour grapes from “the losing side”. Very soon, they had coined a name for them: Wailers. Soon the Wailers were calling their deriders “Hailers”. Each accused the other of ignoring the facts in picking its candidate. Each viewed every success or setback of the administration as an opportunity to heap scorn on the other. The stage was set: Buhari’s term would be a referendum on which side was right, and by extension, on which held the monopoly on dispassionate, intellectual, fact-based opinion-forming. For a hailer to turn against Buhari would amount to admitting she was initially driven by emotions, ignorance, sensationalism, religious and ethnic bigotry, and financial gain.
“The Art of War” tells generals that if they want their soldiers to fight to the death, they should burn bridges behind them, and make escape impossible. Conversely, it advises letting the Enemy know surrender will not be met with death, to break their morale. No prisoners are being taken in the battle between politically interested young people, and both sides are entrenching themselves
We shake our heads at the previous two generations, wondering how they could allow themselves to be played against each other along ethno-religious lines. Right now, we are being herded into artificial tribes, whose totem poles are the very politicians and parties we should be uniting to keep in check, and eventually replace. The venom between Wailers and Hailers is no less crippling to politically progressive thought and action than the tribal narratives that dominate rural politics. These new divisions are perhaps even more insidious because they can be couched in rationality, and because they are making the best and brightest of my generation do damage to each other’s reputations before we have even gotten a chance to fight for this country. We are destroying ourselves over which of the two horrible candidates foisted on us was better, when we should be thinking about how to put ourselves in a position to nominate better candidates next time.
Every day, Wailers and Hailers are abusing themselves in defense of politicians motivated by self-interest, who welcome the distraction. The constant inter-party defections by these same politicians should teach us all a valuable lesson: Those guys NEVER throw each other away. Neither should we.

Again, I was wrong about Buhari. Any real hope of raising our discourse must start with that admission. The next step is for all of us to accept that we made our decisions both for intellectual and emotional reasons, and will continue to do so, because we are human.


  1. I don’t want to turn this into another comparison between Buhari and ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. There is more than enough of that on the internet to fill a year’s worth of MMA Pay-Per-Views.
  2. Since the original publication of this article, Atiku has left the APC in frustration.
  3. Yes, Social Media payrolls exist, and all parties have them, but in Nigeria the Baboons Chopping are always far fewer than the Monkeys Working.