By Dele Sobowale
“Change starts with me”, President Buhari, September 8, 2016.
“When a government begins to fear the mob, it is as much as to say it fears itself.” John Fowles in THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN.
Oddly enough, there are two answers to that question: yes and no. There is abundance evidence to prove that the President who launched another campaign to officially change Nigerian attitudes and values, and his accomplice in that regard, the Minister of Information and Culture, might not be the right people to be preaching to us – their Fellow Countrymen. To begin with, not all changes are beneficial to society.
The change from a nation which had a diversified export base, up till the late 1960s to one which became enslaved to one product, crude oil, was largely brought about by long years of military rule – starting from 1966. Buhari was one of those who forced that change on us – without our consent.
Now, the chicken has come home to roost. One of the major beneficiaries of government by armed robbers of peoples’ sovereignty is now faced with cleaning up the sh*t which he and his colleagues started. Nigerians are best advised to read the scripts prepared by the Ministry of Information and Culture with a great deal of caution. At the moment, the sincerity of its authors is seriously in doubt – on account of their individual and collective antecedents. A few examples, well documented, will illustrate the point being made here. Let’s start with some recent occurrences.
Back in 2014, when it was politically advantageous to the All Progressives Congress, APC, then out of power, to support the activities of the Bring Back Our Girls, BBOG, group, President Jonathan’s administration regarded them as, at best, a public nuisance, and at worst, a security risk.
Each time their marches were disrupted by the Nigerian Police, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, speaking on behalf of the party and its presidential candidate, fired off public announcements condemning the GEJ government for violation of the fundamental human rights of the BBOG.
Anyone reading those passionate defences of one of the basic rights of free people in a democracy would have been led to believe that Buhari and Mohammed actually believed in those principles. Today, the BBOG, and others who believed in their right to free association, and who voted for APC on account of that, had been swindled. Officially now, and under APC, BBOG has been labeled a “security risk”.
Has Buhari changed? Certainly; but, it is a change for the worse for a democracy and it does very little credit to a President trying to preach a change of attitude when he has been caught in a socially disruptive change of principles. A greater leader than he would ever turn out to be, Ghandi had advised about the things that would destroy any society. One of them is “Politics without principles”.
Even if one wants to overlook that one, difficult as it is, how can one, given the economic recession ravaging the country, that the same Buhari blasted Jonathan for maintaining a large presidential fleet of aircrafts – which made Presidential Airlines the second largest in Nigeria and bigger that four private airlines put together. One would have expected that among the first Executive Orders given in May 2015 was the reduction in fleet size.
On the day, Buhari and Mohammed were going through the song and dance about value-change, it was obvious that their values have taken another change for the worse. The cost of maintenance of the fleet, previously astronomical, had become killing because everything in the crafts must be imported at N425/US$1. The Buhari who campaigned in 2014/2015 has clearly changed right in front of our eyes and he is behaving more and more like Jonathan.
Unfortunately, for us, the man has not changed totally. Had he continued to adopt the wasteful habits of GEJ and ignoring calls to rescue the Chibok girls, we could have shrugged our shoulders and resigned ourselves to four years like the locust years under PDP. But, the Buhari of 2016 is in many respects like the Buhari of 1984/85 – who was summarily removed by his colleagues in a bloodless coup. It was bloodless because nobody was willing to lift a finger to save him. Why?
Start with nepotism and bigotry, personal defects which we mistakenly thought he had discarded once he opted for politics under democratic rule. In 1984/85, Buhari’s appointments to high office totally disregarded the principle of Federal Character and the religious diversity of Nigeria. Out of the first twenty-five appointments he made during that period, only seven were Southerners or Christians.
Apart from the fact that he was a Northern Muslim, his Deputy, Tunde Idiagbon was also a Northern Muslim. The Governor of the Central Bank, Alhaji Ahmed, graduate of History, was a Muslim, so was his Deputy Alhaji Otiti. All the service Chiefs, except one, were Northerners and Muslims; so were the heads of security agencies except the Inspector General of Police. Bigotry could not have been better defined. His removal was widely hailed in the South because the General Babangida regime which followed his own was more equitable.
May 2015 presented Buhari an opportunity to demonstrate that he had shed both nepotism and bigotry. Recently, Dr Junaid Mohammed introduced some of the top appointees made since then. Any change? Certainly not. Of the first ten or so, the two southern names appearing were Femi Adesina and Ita Enang.
These two were followed by another dozen or so from the North. Lately, after distributing the plum jobs unfairly, he had started to “compensate” the South by sweeping crumbs from the “Masters’ tables”. The job of Managing Director of Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, was given to someone who some still regard as reflective of nepotism. That is still his sense of fairness. That is the sort of change he and Mohammed want us to adopt in this hypocritical crusade.
Was the budget padded or not? Buhari was the first to announce abroad that it was and vowed to punish the culprits. Now Honourable Jibrin had taken up the refrain, shouting at the top of his lungs that the budget was indeed padded. Suddenly, it is Buhari’s presidency which is now denying that the budget was padded. What sort of value-change can occur when the presidency cannot tell the people the truth and stick to it?
Permit me to end where I started. No parent in Nigeria, who loves his kids, can fail to share the agony of the parents of the Chibok girls. We cannot all join the marches in Abuja; but we can offer them moral support and encouragement. As the father of six girls, I probably would have gone mad if one of them is a captive of Boko Haram. No government which regards the agitators as security risk can ever preach any sermon to which I will listen.