By Pini Jason
A FEW years ago when I interviewed Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari for the Chinua Achebe Foundation dialogue series, I discovered a man millions of Nigerians never knew.
General Buhari could be funny, swap jokes and laugh heartily, but millions of Nigerians did not know. All that many Nigerians know of him is the no-nonsense military dictator who, with his frowning alter ego, Brigadier Tunde Idiagbo, drove the fear of God into Nigerians.
When we discussed his era as a military dictator vis-à-vis his quest for the presidency of Nigeria in a democracy, I came away with the impression that Buhari is a man grossly misunderstood, even more by his own people in the North! In fact, in one instance, he told me that the Emirs were afraid that he would jail all of them!
The Buhari many Nigerians know is the man behind the War Against Indiscipline and who used a retrogressive decree to execute a young drug pusher, Bartholomew Owoh, and used Justice Orojoh to send foreign exchange dupes to flight. For others, Buhari is simply the man who ran Abacha’s Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF.
Although some accuse him of favouring the North in the distribution of the PTF projects, he remains the only Nigerian who ran a multi-billion Naira organisation without leaving a trail of sleaze and scandal. Many may have forgotten that he was once the Minister of the now hopelessly corrupt petroleum industry, again without scandal!
There are many Nigerians who today believe that whenever Nigerians get tired of the mess we are in, and decide to get out of it, Buhari would be the answer. But Buhari’s attempt to be elected has not yielded fruit.
Even the party on whose platform he contested elections disowned him as he contested the result of the election at the Supreme Court. As a result he founded his own party the last time around, but his fortune did not improve. One would not know whether Buhari is a victim of the whirligig of Nigerian politics or of the baggage of mistrust he carries. Some fear his stern mien, others say he is sectional and many accuse him of religious extremism.
Straight into the hands of detractors
Last week he seemed to have played into the hands of his detractors and caused his admirers some consternation with his outburst. He had warned that should what happened in 2011 elections repeat itself in 2015 there would be blood. “The dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood”, he warned.
This, not long after he said the Peoples Democratic Party would be consumed by a revolution. Before the 2011 general elections, Gen Buhari was accused of urging his supporters to lynch anybody who would steal their votes. His opponents therefore accused him of setting off the bloody violence that followed the 2011 presidential election. That violence seamlessly transmogrified into the Islamic terrorism in the North that has continued to soak the nation in blood.
The horror and umbrage that followed Gen Buhari’s outburst was therefore understandable. While the rival PDP responded as a political party intent on defending its political fortune, other Nigerians who placed their hope for the nation’s redemption on Buhari were alarmed.
They wonder if Buhari is really in the hands of good managers. Buhari is perceived as unmarketable in some parts of the country. One would expect his handlers to try to reduce the baggage of mistrust that weighs his political fortune down, instead of adding more to it.
If he said what he said in a fit of anger, it does not do him any good because a president needs level headedness and composure even in the face of provocation. After all, he was once a Head of State! What would he do if someone threw a shoe at him in a press conference? If it is frustration with the way things are in our country, we are all frustrated too. But he has allowed his opponents to interpret his frustration as desperation! Buhari should not scar people away from voting for him in 2015, only to turn round and blame it on the rival PDP.
The 2011 election has been contested up to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court has ruled. As an apostle of discipline, he should let the matter rest. To continue to question the integrity of that election casts a slur on the Supreme Court and smacks of desperation.
My question is, with the peregrination of the so-called Nigerian politicians from a losing party to a party in power, can we really blame our nation’s calamity squarely on a particular political party or on the entire class of national pestilence called politicians? Is there really any difference among these parties?
It is not in our interest to help the PDP to use 2015 to distract us from the more important issue of the performance of the government.
SON, China and sub-standard products
LAST week, it was reported that China refused to sign a draft agreement on inferior products which the Director General of Standards Organisation of Nigeria, Mr. Joseph Odumodu, went all the way to China to make them sign. In dealing with our problems, we must realise that the world does not owe us a living!
In many instances, it is Nigerian businessmen who go out there to give manufacturers specifications for inferior products, so as to make quick profits.
They should be made to bear the cost/loss. Therefore, SON should concentrate on raids in warehouses and markets and leave China out of it. It is our responsibility to protect our borders against unwanted goods. Nobody can force into our country goods we do not allow in.
David Mark and Nigerians jailed abroad
LAST week, I read with sadness the report credited to Senate President, David Mark that the Senate would not help Nigerians in death row and in jails in Indonesia. His reason was that the Nigerians were drug traffickers. “If they are still alive, they should thank their God. People who go and break laws in other countries should not expect us to protect them” Jeeez!
This is a terrible position to take about your citizens. All the other syrupy effusions about going to war in defence of Nigerians sounded hypocritical in the face of this abandonment of citizens in need of help.
Perhaps, the distinguished senator did not understand what Nigerian citizens abroad, whether criminals or angels, need. One of the biggest problems of Nigerians abroad is lack of consular representation. How do we know that Nigerians accused abroad got proper legal representation before sentencing?
What does the Senate know about the legal systems in those countries? Do they know if the Nigerians were tortured into confession?
Do they know that in some of these countries, just finding money on a Nigerian can turn him into a drug dealer?
So how do we really know the “honest Nigerian”? A Nigerian does not need to be “honest” to be entitled to his country’s consular representation! It is his right for Nigeria to ensure that he gets justice, no matter what he is accused of, especially when they face death sentence, and treated well even when jailed!
Many foreigners have committed crimes here and foreign construction workers have raped and abused our women only for their embassies to spirit them out of the country. Did the United States abandon their citizens who committed heinous human rights crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan?
There is the case of the British Indian who was accused of plotting the killing of his wife in South Africa in 2010. His extradition to South Africa to face justice is still being contested in a British court. His right as a Briton was not denied him because of the crime he was accused of!
In any case, why did these Nigerian leave the country to life of uncertainty abroad? Is it not the failure of leadership that our country offers no hope to our youths? Are we assuming that these guys would choose a life of hell abroad if Nigeria offered them any hope?
During the Libyan crisis, one of the Nigerian returnees from Libya was asked why he chose to go to Libya. He told the press that Libya at war was better than Nigeria at peace! This is something for Nigerian leaders to chew!
How do we stem the exodus of our youths to life of crime and death abroad? “Leave them there!” is not the answer. The extent of smear on Nigeria’s image caused by Nigerians in jail abroad is nothing compared to the grime corrupt public officers here smear on the image of Nigeria! The Senate President was off the mark here!
From My Mail bag
MR. Jason, I have always read your articles pre- Vanguard, and have always felt you were a bit more balanced in your opinion concerning issues, a kind of a liberal, though when it comes to my region, the North, you some times wear the garb of a Conservative(KKK, lol). However, this is not my reason of writing.
The article on the subject matter, Port Reforms and Superfluous Agencies is one of the most balanced I have read on the issue. You brought out the salient facts, and hit the nail on the head.
Your presentation of the facts from the Customs perspective is spot on. The observation made is verifiable, and as a Customs Officer I am encouraged that senior and very experienced columnist/opinion moulder that you are understood the issue, and has brought it out to the fore.
The necessary professionalism and expertise the Nigerian Customs is supposed to acquire vis-a-vis other Customs of more developed nations, and those at par with us, is being lost by the out source. I hope the right people get your message, and Nigerians, the truth. For once, we are not the butt of some “Corruption” story. I am encouraged, and shall continue to put in my best to the Service and the Nation, more so with the current efforts of my able CGC to bequeath a Customs Service that is very professional, and operates in line with International best standards and practices.
You have made my day Sir, good morning.
Umar M Alkali.