By Obi Nwakanma
Muhammadu Buhari, and the (APC) campaigned on an anti-corruption platform in the last election. They had accused the last administration of corruption and waste, and had actually embarked on what people later came to see as a “witch-hunt” – the selective use of the now terribly directionless EFCC – to go after opponents of the party, like Olisa Metuh, or enemies of Buhari, like Sambo Dasuki.
The picture I’m just creating here should be obvious: the APC has failed to live up to all its campaign promises. But I shall make that the subject of a more detailed essay. My concern today is how, as part of the failures of the party, and as evidence of its real self, it marketed Muhammadu Buhari to Nigerians as the next thing to Jesus Christ.
He was this incorruptible knight with the measure of weight and the sword of justice, who must be elected to solve Nigeria’s problem once and for all. Some even went to the great ridiculous extent of saying, without Buhari, Nigeria would collapse. It had no future. These exaggerations, built up the myth of a man whose past had nothing but the skeletons of this nation to show for it.
As a former Military governor, as a former member of the Supreme Military Council, as a former Commander of a Division of the Nigerian Army, and as a former military dictator, Muhammadu Buhari was the classic example of everything that went wrong in Nigeria. He embodied the rule of the Generals, and their continued hold on Nigeria’s political soul from the shadows.
He was just a leader of its other faction: the faction that lost out to another faction in the August coup of 1985. But he had been turned into a saint – this ascetic and unfrivolous man, who was as straight as a ruler. Nigerians of course had finally to buy the hokum, pushed with all the frenzy of threat and propaganda, to regard the gentle Dr. Jonathan, the conciliator and compromiser as “weak and corrupt.”
Nigeria “needs a strong president” they were told. Nigeria needs a “moral president” – a man who cannot be corrupted; a peoples General. The problem was that Buhari was neither a peoples General, nor was he all that concerned with propriety. He was more into the regional and identity power tussle of sharing the Nigerian elephant, everything else be damned.
Now, this president is far more a president horizontally than vertically. It is beyond his power not to be sick, and cannot be blamed for being sick, but he needs to be honest about his situation, and place Nigeria above his personal and regional interest.
The trouble, even for me, is that I suspect that President Buhari is not in a fit mental state right now to comprehend his own situation, and make decisions of the quality of statecraft that would be thoughtful and logical.That is why I think that Buhari’s handlers are now, just as they did the gentle Yar Ardua, exploiting his condition to bilk Nigeria, and to direct actions in the name of the man, that could never serve Nigeria well. Otherwise, I suspect, should Buhari have been in full possession of his faculties, he would never have consented to be kept in a London hospital to receive treatment for this long.
This, afterall, was the man who bewailed on his first coming that even Nigerian Teaching hospitals have been turned into “mere consulting rooms” and promised to change things. This was the same Buhari who railed against the misuse of public funds, particularly in subventing executive recklessness. It is the worst kind of executive recklessness to spend Nigeria’s scarce resources treating the president in private clinics, with specialists in London. Nothing can be more corrupt or wasteful. To treat a president like Buhari in a foreign hospital– who has huffed and puffed his way to the presidency with high moral talk like “Nigeria is all we have” and with all that talk about the corruption in public office – carries with it, devastating irony.
It should be expected, that the Health ministry by the authority of the president would have – or should have ordered new equipment, upgraded the infrastructure, and repositioned the Abuja National Hospital, a major national investment that is currently badly run because of all the contradictions that is Nigeria, to handle the president’s health needs. Better still, to justify all the billions of naira appropriated to the Presidential clinic in Aso Rock, Buhari would have – should indeed have – insisted on receiving care, and being treated in his own lair. There are Nigerian specialists all over the world who may be invited specially to manage the president’s health needs, and the President’s personal physician, paid by the Nigerian tax payer as it is, could coordinate his treatment, both for its national security implication, and its symbolism, from Nigeria. But these things involve estacode, you see. And the per diem paid as estacode is one of the means by which Nigeria’s public officials bilk the nation’s treasury with elegance. It is a form of “stealing backed with proper receipt.”
A sick president treated by a foreign country is not only a national security threat; he not only costs Nigeria money; his condition costs Nigeria the time of his service for which he is paid, and for which he enjoys all the benefits of the presidency. A particularly unwholesome aspect of this entire situation is that an entire presidential infrastructure has moved with him. Reports this week that Nigeria’s Presidential Jet is parked permanently in London, accruing demurrage, should be unacceptable to Nigerians for a number reasons. First, the Presidential Jet is not the personal property of any sitting president. It is misuse of power – the real meaning of “corrupt practice” – to appropriate, on standby, government property which shouldn’t be in London in the first place. Second, parking it all this time in London costs the tax payer money that could have been used to fix a decent Nursing Home for the use of the ailing president in Nigeria, and three Osibanjo, as the president in situ has far greater need of this plane to transact Nigeria’s official business, the reason why the plane was commissioned in the first, and fourthly, it continues to reflect poorly on Nigeria, which is possibly the only nation in the world that might ever conceive of parking its Presidential Jet in a foreign capital, just as it is possibly the only one, that treats its own president in a foreign hospital.
Again, the National Assembly fails Nigeria by not asking the proper questions, and by not putting the right mechanisms into motion to determine the situation of this president. Is our sick president still of sound physical and mental condition necessary for continuing in office? A proper board of inquiry should be constituted to determine this, and meanwhile, vigorous moves should be made to return the presidential jet to Abuja, where it belongs. It is the presidential Jet, not an Air ambulance.
Enough of this corruption and abuse of public office by this form of the personalization of important public property. This is exactly what Buhari promised to put to an end!