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The men around Buhari: Ballast or Albatross ?

By Ugoji Egbujo
A tree does not make a forest and the forest that APC must be , must consist of all sorts of trees.

However, as they say, when the head is rotten then the fish is rotten. Buhari’s performance, if elected , will depend on his personal attributes , the men around him and the institutions they are able to foster but much more on the mission he elects to undertake. He must have a clear mission.

Buhari has run for president three times previously and besides his traditional good showings in the north he had always failed to mount any serious challenge.

Without an organized broad platform , without funds, without a message, without a campaign , he was almost condemned to being a serial loser. Frustrated after the last attempt , he vowed not to run again. But he is back.

Buhari , with a pedigree of a ruthless coup plotter , ex head of military junta that committed gross and unspeakable human rights atrocities , comes into every election with a conspicuous handicap. Soyinka alluded to this when he compared the choice before Nigerians as the dilemma of having to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea. For Soyinka, Jonathan whom the New York Times referred to as a “lousy incumbent” can as well be the deep blue sea. But Soyinka had before now painted Buhari as a devil whom, even with a very long spoon, one must not have even a snack with. Like the Economist, Soyinka now regards Buhari as the ’ least awful’ of a set of bad choices.

Buhari , generally regarded as non- corrupt and austere, is the favourite of many who seek probity and accountability in public finances . Some, however, see him as a sectional champion , a religious fundamentalist whose popularity is, in the main, accounted for by primordial ethnic and religious sentiments of many northerners who are desperate to see power return to the north of the country. Many of these people feel that Buhari’s touted saintliness is in any case hypocritical . A sanctimoniousness that is incompatible with Nigeria’s realpolitik.

Regardless , it is the perception of Buhari as non- corrupt , firm and enthusiastic about stamping out corruption that distinguishes him from many other politicians. He is ascetic where sybaritic living has become the norm . Nigerians , it would appear , want a leader who can stay simple and spartan and take on corruption frontally.

If the ordinary people who support Buhari are excited about his recent enhanced electability, they are worried about his ability to fight corruption and re engineer perverted societal values because of his close association with those who may be viewed as corrupt. Or whom Chimamanda Adiche in her article “ Democracy ,Deferred” referred to as “patrons that have a checkered history of exploitative participation in governance” .

You remember the sort of agreement ex Gov Chris Ngige reached with Chris Uba, and you wonder if Buhari has had to engage in such a moral compromise. Democracy is about compromises but the interest of the people must be prime. And how much would the country suffer in the event of his government being ripped apart by political squabbles from any such infighting as happened in Anambra when Ngige defied Uba ? Obasanjo , then president, the one whose letters suggest is a self appointed custodian of national values, failed to ask Ngige not to keep faith with the evil bargain . A bargain that meant Uba would perpetually live off Anambra’s monthly federal allocations.

Many worry about these politicians especially the one who must be given credit for turn around of momentum. He is politically astute and conversant with the rough terrain and rigours of winning elections. He is credited with instincts many see as untrammeled greed for money and lust for power. But despite the allegations of massive land grabs and commissions from tax collections, many point to his achievements and say Nigeria would benefit from his presence around Buhari.

Rotimi Amaechi is simple, unpretentious and has an obstinate streak. I engaged him in a small argument on corruption in a dinning hall of Cambridge university in 2010. He was of the view that most Nigerian politicians are corrupt and that corruption was an endemic problem. He said to the hearing of a few other Nigerians there that his panacea for corruption was death penalty for stealing of government funds. He proposed that executive office holders could be allowed a maximum of two billion naira and beyond that death should be the penalty.

The opposition has alleged that Amaechi has become wealthy by virtue of being River’s governor and that he funds Buhari from state coffers. The influence of Amaechi in the APC is obvious, the allegation of sponsoring Buhari’s campaigns is unsubstantiated . The impact of Amaechi’s government , like Fashola’s and Akpabio’s and Kwankwaso’s is widely approved and appreciated by many in their respective states and beyond. If the argument that most politicians are corrupt is conceded then he is one of those who have performed creditably while not faring worse than others on any corruption perception assessment. It is difficult to be generous with good scores since the level of financial transparency and probity and economic efficiency in the states cannot be determined. And nothing speaks of this opacity more than Governor Amaechi accusing Wike of embezzling billions of Naira meant for building of roads and schools . Wike was his chief of staff, was not a contractor. Yet he embezzled billions? These things happen because contracts are routinely awarded clandestinely, against laid down guidelines, to party men as rewards for loyalty.

Rochas Okorocha can sometimes come across as a funny character.

He, sometimes, speaks so fast that you get the impression he is desperate to be seen as an orator. You look at the sheer number of programmes he has taken on simultaneously you are left to wonder if he knows the limits of his resources. But you drive into Imo state where I come from and you are amazed at what Rochas has accomplished. I still wonder how he will balance his books . He stands out because Nigerian politicians are generally shortsighted. For avoidance of any doubts, I have never met Okorocha . And I regard provision of infrastructure as routine stuff unworthy of any special commendation . Rev Mbaka couldn’t have captured it more succinctly when he asked if a priest should be praised for dispensing the holy communion bread and wine? But since many have come and left and left no mark, little praise must go to the one who has cared to be positively different.

Mallam el Rufai has been credited with professional steadfastness and efficiency in the manner he executed his duties as BPE Director and later Minister of FCT. Many opponents would concede that el Rufai would always strive for excellence in any given assignment. However, none of these previous jobs have gone without accusations of a few sharp practices. None of those allegations have been conclusively proven though. Time will tell how incorruptible he is.

The others include Oshiomole , Fashola , Kwankwaso, Fayemi, Bukola Saraki etc. And they are, in many respects , similar to the four discussed. Creditable performances but not generally perceived as ‘incorruptible’ as Buhari. I must concede that many other influential men may be behind the scenes

So on any objective comparative assessment the men around Buhari may not constitute the moral handicap many, even ardent Buhari fans, fear they may and which the ruling party insist they will. Many would say loudly that the henchmen of the defunct NPN ruined Shagari’s government despite his personal attributes. Others would point to Ibori and Yaradua and leave you to draw conclusions.

If Buhari wins the elections, it will primarily be because these men burnished him and got him votes he could not get the last time. So the new Buhari is a product of his association with these men. And in his last media chat President Jonathan referred to ‘the men around Buhari’ as one of the reasons why the campaigns have been volatile. What he didn’t say is that they have lent political sophistication to Buhari.

If Buhari’s integrity and anti corruption stance will suffer a little corrosion by the reputation or character of the men around him then his perception by some as an authoritarian, inflexible religious fanatic who can take the country down a strange slope can be tempered by the genial sophistication and accommodatingly liberal political pedigree of the men that surround him.

No government will thrive and create jobs solely by strict enforcement of anti corruption and anti theft laws. The Nigerian polity is replete with unbridled cynicism borne of chronic despoliation by a succession of wasteful governments. Social moral fabric has been destroyed and a state of anomie exists. A government can only thrive now if it can inspire the people who are weary and who do longer have hope and trust in their leadership. Many believe Buhari offers such an inspiration. His degree of acceptance in parts of the country is low and his political astuteness is in doubt. These men will give him stability and maneuverability if well employed but can also ruin him. Moral rectitude will endear the government to the people and instill hope but beyond that competence will be needed to build institutions and guarantee sustainable development. Buhari needs these men now and perhaps later. But he needs a clear mission too. He must draw clear lines.


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