By Dele Sobowale
“What does corrupting time not diminish?…Horace, 65-8BC.(VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ,P 247).
Like him or not, Americans know they have a President who is truly hale and hearty. He speaks to them everyday and even twits to several people. Call him the Liar-In-Chief, or Twitterer-In-Chief, but you are constantly aware of his presence and you hear his voice. Madame Mussolini, Britain’s Theresa May, can be seen and heard. North Koreans probably also listen to their master in their sleep. All over the world, political leaders demonstrate their leadership by being seen and by talking to their people. Vitality is not announced by mealy-mouthed aides but by open demonstration of health. The Buhari we knew and who received our endorsement in 2011 and again in 2015 was one of these people. He had cultivated the image of a strong leader, vigorous even at his age and ready to run a government without caving under the burden of leadership. The Buhari who landed in Nigeria after several weeks spent receiving treatment in London and who announced that “I have never been this sick in my life” already had us discounting the credit given him for excellent health. The discount was more than it should ordinarily have been if Buhari’s “friends”, associates, spokesmen and court jesters have not been telling us that the President was “hale and hearty”.
Unfortunately, when their lies exploded in their faces some of them still persisted in painting the picture of the President’s health situation which soon became debunked. Buhari missed two Federal Executive Council, FEC, meetings in a row, a Minister promptly “informed” Nigerians that “it is not unusual for a President to miss a FEC meeting”. He could not cite a single example of a President present in Nigeria who missed the weekly meeting with Ministers – while in the country.
For the record, Nigeria has had seven Presidents. They were: Azikiwe, Shagari, Babangida, Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari. Azikiwe was the ceremonial President while IBB was the military president. It should not have been difficult for the Minister to point out which of them established the precedent on which he was defending the indefensible. It was not difficult but impossible because it never happened – except in the fertile imagination of somebody who unfortunately is one of the voices speaking on behalf of Buhari now.
The Buhari we used to know, who spoke in steady audible but strong voice; who measured his utterances and made them short and sensible is no more with us – now that we need him the most. Instead, what Nigerians receive these days, if anything at all, are statements released to the media on his behalf by those shielding him from those who took the trouble to vote for him in 2015. Quite frequently, the messages are conflicting, like the ramblings of a drunkard. Too often it is difficult to separate fact from fantasy. One thing is certain; just as Trump added “Fake News” to global lexicon, Buhari’s spokesmen have up-ended semantics by telling the entire world that a man who admittedly had health challenges can be described as “hale and hearty”.
Beyond the stupidity of perpetual dissembling by presidential aides are the loss of “contact” and the attending loss of confidence between the President and his people. While everybody counts on Election Day, the leaders of opinion count far more long before the ballot boxes are to be stuffed. Buhari might not be aware of this, and his closest associates will certainly not tell him, Buhari’s greatest loss of support increasingly comes from well-educated people, irrespective of ethnic group or religion, who, fed-up with corruption and lack of direction under Jonathan, voted for the change of government. They not only voted for Buhari, they canvassed for votes for him. I am personally aware of entire churches in Lagos State whose members voted for APC in 2015 because they believed in vintage Buhari. They will still not vote for GEJ today if the election is repeated. But, they will not vote Buhari either; because they don’t understand the man anymore and they are not sure if he can continue in office.
Even, his strongest selling point in 2015 – anti-corruption – fight is not so solid anymore. The Senate finally succeeded in digging up sufficient evidence to make serious allegations against the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, who had earlier been “cleared” by the Executive Branch of wrong-doing. Recruitment into the Department of State Services, DSS, recently released not only proved beyond reasonable doubt that vacancies in government were being secretly filled, but by allocations to the powerful and a section where f the country. A new form of corruption has opened up under Buhari.
A powerful address to the nation was long overdue but, there was no voice to deliver it. Unfortunately, after 70, nobody gets stronger, notwithstanding the flatteries of sycophants. The leader ages more, becomes weaker and needs more rest more often. Leadership is weakened considerably. There lies the danger to Nigeria’s democracy. Ask many people today who is their choice after Buhari and all you receive back is a blank stare. We have apparently used up our stock of people capable of providing leadership at Abuja – not just at Aso Rock, but at the National Assembly, NASS, as well.
Perhaps that is why some people, naturally, beneficiaries of the current state of affairs, are already muting the idea of Buhari for 2019. One of them, a Minister from the Niger Delta, who releases many more “inexactitudes” than any other Minister, probably takes as his example Zimbabwe – where Africans went from slavery under white men to servitude under an old black political monster. One only hopes that the Minister is only joking. The truth is: a man fighting for his life has very little energy left to fight for anything else. That is why the 2017 Budget languished for long in the NASS and the President could not and, therefore, did not shout at the top of his voice – because there is no voice anymore. All we have left now is a distant and fainting echo.
DSS ARITHMETIC: KATSINA+KANO= 17 SOUTHERN STATES
“It was beautiful and simple; as all truly great swindles are.”
- Henry, 1862-1910, (VBQ p 239).
When a constant reader sent me a message claiming that secret recruitments into the Federal Civil Service, FCS, were underway, my reaction was “No way; not under Buhari”. After all, the man had declared publicly that he was “For everybody and for nobody”. That meant that the Federal Government would be fair to all Nigerians. His first twenty appointments were eye-openers; they were harbingers of inequities still to come. And many came. But, many of us still had hope that Buhari will soon introduce more equity into appointments at the Federal level. We were wrong; sadly wrong.
Saturday Vanguard of April 29, 2017, on page 5, published a report which other papers have also carried. Titled “Outrage over FG’s appointments”, the report revealed that the DSS had recruited 479 people into the service out of which 51 or 10.6 per cent came from the President’s state – which also just happens to be the state the DG, DSS, Mr Daura, comes from. Kano State, far larger than Katsina, got 25 or 5 per cent. Kaduna and Bauchi followed in order, 24 and 23. Between them the four states of the North swallowed one quarter of all the available vacancies. My state, Lagos, received only seven (7) slots or 1.5 per cent. All the South-South states were allocated 42 slots or 8.8 per cent. Unless the DSS disclaims this report and these figures, the service would have destroyed whatever is left of Buhari’s credibility and his sense of equity. He is obviously now increasingly a Northern president, with scant regard for justice. The statement that he was for everybody and for nobody now rings hollow to ears that once received them as good tidings.
The DSS recruitment has now introduced another form of corruption– CORRUPTION BY APPOINTMENTS. This is now sitting, side by side, on the same bench with CORRUPTION BY TENURE EXTENSION. Evidence with regard to the first can be provided by the fact that close to seventy (70) per cent of all the appointments made by Buhari had gone North – even before the scandalous DSS recruitment and Katsina had received more than a fair share each time. Tenure extension for civil servants, which is seldom granted, has never been extended more than once. Under Buhari the same individual has benefited from tenure extension twice. There is no prize for guessing that the beneficiary is a northerner. Many southerners who adopted a wait and see attitude about Buhari’s administration and the President’s sense of fairness are no longer waiting. They have seen enough.
Anybody who thinks we are going to stand in the sun in 2019 to endorse inequity in Lagos State needs to go and have his head examined.