By Douglas Anele
When I read in the newspapers that the President, Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari, was complaining in Ethiopia that our judiciary is his major headache in the highly dramatised programme of anti-corruption directed largely towards members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), I remembered late Chief M.K.O. Abiola’s witty remark that “the bigger the head, the bigger the headache.”
This is not the first time the President had said something negative outside the country about Nigeria, about the immediate past government, or about the institutions of state.
Last year, while on a visit to the United States, Buhari hammered repeatedly on the high level of official corruption in Nigeria allegedly perpetrated by the then ruling PDP under the leadership of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Some months later, at a forum in France, he told the entire world that Nigeria was broke, and blamed it once again on corruption by the immediate past government.
At every opportunity, President Buhari and his subalterns, especially Lai Mohammed, Adams Oshiomhole and Nasir El-Rufai, do not waste time washing the dirty linen of Nigeria in public by telling the whole world how corrupt key members of the previous administration were, how they had stolen billions of naira and dollars from the public treasury.
When some Nigerians criticised the President for projecting an overly negative image of Nigeria and Nigerians to the world, thereby making our country seem risky and unattractive to foreign investors that his government claims to be encouraging to do business in Nigeria, Buharimaniacs both in government and outside of it were infuriated.
They argued, falsely, that Buhari was telling the whole truth and that there was nothing strategically wrong in the President declaring to the entire world that corruption has reached epidemic level in Nigeria.
Of course, astute managers of state know that “truth”, especially in complicated socio-political context, is multi-dimensional and perspectival. It cannot be captured completely within a two-valued logic in which every proposition is either true or false.
Therefore, the sensible strategy for a leader to manage information that could have adverse international repercussions in a country such as ours currently facing serious economic challenges is to refrain from assertions that would send alarming signals to prospective indigenous and foreign businesspersons.
In other words, Buhari ought to be mindful of what he says about Nigeria, because as President he is the number one product from Nigeria, and his words carry a lot of weight. Smart leaders use words and expressions to describe their countries in a manner reminiscent of a bikini. It is clear, by just thinking of a beautiful woman in a bikini, that what the bikini reveals is interesting; but what it conceals is even more interesting.
Information management is a critical component of good governance and proactive foreign relations, which explains why governments all over the world spend huge sums of money to either suppress or neutralise information that might be detrimental to their geopolitical and economic interests; they also spend considerable resources in spreading information that projects positive image of their countries.
To take just two examples, despite the hydra-headed challenges of life in the United States, President Barak Obama consistently tries very hard to project the image of America as the greatest country in the world. In India, chronic poverty, preventable diseases, and obnoxious antiquated cultural practices make life extremely difficult for millions of people.
Yet, no Indian Prime Minister would dream of presenting that image to the world. On the contrary, the Indian government spends millions of dollars in global television advertorials highlighting the image of an “Incredible India.”
Therefore, Buharimaniacs who see nothing wrong in President Buhari repeatedly denigrating Jonathan’s government, raising alarm on the state of our economy, and casting aspersions on the judiciary so publicly and especially in foreign lands, are either naive or are so consumed by the desire to see the former President humiliated that they cannot comprehend the serious public relations damage their “truth-telling messiah” is doing to Nigeria and its people.
If the President and Buharimaniacs think that by telling the whole world, particularly the West, that his predecessor’s government was neck-deep in corruption and that the country is facing economic crisis as a consequence in order to elicit sympathy and unalloyed support from America and European countries, then they are poor students of contemporary history.
The West, in general, and America, in particular, cannot help us, notwithstanding the pathetic picture Buhari is painting about Nigeria, because our country is not of strategic interest to the West anymore. Nigeria’s contribution in trade with Europe and America is low, and it is tilted heavily in favour of the West anyway because the country is a chronic import-dependent country.
More importantly, crude oil, which gave Nigeria some advantage in the international arena for the first four decades after the civil war, has lost a lot of its economic and diplomatic significance. Nothing exemplifies the dwindling influence of Nigeria in the international political economy now than the steady decline in the price of crude oil in the international market.
In my opinion, any support from Western leaders for the Buhari administration would be mere tokenism since, in their reckoning, Nigeria is no longer as important as she used to be due to the decline of crude petroleum in shaping the architectonic of diplomacy worldwide.
Keep in mind the subterranean racial undercurrents and inequalities in international politics. Notwithstanding the declaration, in relevant charters of the United Nations, that all peoples, irrespective of their differences, belong to one human family, some key decision makers in Europe and her cultural colonies in North America still believe strongly in the racial inferiority of the black race when compared with the white race.
Nigeria contains the biggest concentration of black people in the world. As a result, it would be a mistake for any Nigerian leader to bend over backwards, to the extent Buhari is doing right now, in the hope that the West would look at Nigeria with kindly eyes and help our leaders to rebuild the economy and political institutions to meet global standards.
President Buhari’s wry identification of the judiciary as his major headache in the attempt to deal with those accused of corruption can be interpreted in different ways.
To begin with, it can be interpreted as an indictment of the judiciary as complicit in allowing corrupt VIP Nigerians to escape justice. Some respected jurists have lamented the fact that the virus of corruption has penetrated the judiciary, with devastating effects on the justice delivery system nationwide.
From this point of view, the President is largely correct. There are indications that nowadays, judgment goes to the highest bidder. No doubt, there are excellent magistrates, judges and justices of the Supreme Court who are performing their duties in accordance with best global practices. Unfortunately, there are judicial officers for whom justice is determined by the size of the bribe you are willing to give.
In addition, the President is venting his frustration with a system which he believes truncated his first three attempts to lead the country in a democratic setting. He narrated his harrowing experiences, beginning with his first attempt, thus: “I ended up in the Supreme Court and for thirteen months I was in the court. The second attempt in 2007 I was in court close to twenty months and in 2011, my third attempt, I was also in court for nine months.”
To be continued