By Emmanuel Aziken
It was exactly 33 years ago today that General Muhammadu Buhari’s first voyage to tackle corruption was swallowed up by the internal dissension within the military that led to his ouster. The morning after the coup on August 27, 1985, Nigerians were gripped by the image of the unbending and tough talking Head of State being taken away from Dodan Barracks by soldiers.
Thirty three years on, and in his second coming as a civilian president, Nigerians are now bemused by the claim that rats this time have forced Buhari to abandon his office.
But rats and Buhari in the metaphorical sense have come a long way.
It is a link that goes back at least 34 years. Middle aged Nigerians would remember the 1983 presidential campaign of the late lawyer, activist, and politician, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite who died in March 2016 at the age of 82.
Dr. Braithwaite as the presidential candidate of the Nigerian Advanced Party, NAP in the 1983 elections left a legacy in the country’s political lexicon as the man who promised to kill all the rats, cockroaches and mosquitoes in the country.
The party’s refrain of driving rats, mosquitoes and cockroaches out of the country quickly caught the fascination of many Nigerians, especially the youths and students. Despite his wealthy background, Braithwaite’s NAP was undoubtedly the most socialist inclined of the six political parties that contested the 1983 general elections.
One of the promises of NAP was to move Nigerians living in Mushin at that time to Victoria Island and also move those living in Victoria Island to Mushin. In effect, the policy measure was undoubtedly in tandem with the basic idea of true socialism which is to eliminate class differences among men. However, despite Dr. Braithwaite’s enchanting promises, voters did not appreciate him, given the fact that he was the last of the six presidential candidates, having scored only 271,000 votes in the election.
The election result was, however, widely contested and the political instability that arose from the “landslide victory,” of the then ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN was part of the justification for the 1984 coup that brought the then Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari to power on December 31, 1983.
Another reason was the spread of corruption across the polity as metaphorically depicted by Braithwaite as rats.
In that his first coming, Buhari set out to kill corruption, jailing politicians indicted for corrupt acts to scores and hundreds of years in prison.
Whereas Braithwaite’s anti-corruption message was choked by the mastery of the political class who put his rat-chasing NAP out of reckoning in the 1983 elections, Buhari’s anti corruption drive was plugged by the high wire politics in the military that caused him to be removed from office exactly 32 years ago today.
Whether it was the impact of his removal that allowed the rats to spread to all corners of the national fabric is a question that is yet to be answered.
But there is no doubt that it is the corruption of today and years past that led to the degeneration of the country’s health system. A country that in the 60s reportedly received the Saudi Royal family on medical tourism, degenerated with the best of its hospitals turning into mere consulting clinics. It is that situation that led to the unfortunate incident of Nigeria’s president going away for three months for medical treatment abroad.
While the president was away these rats literally scourged the country as they spread the deadly Lassa Fever round the country leading to avoidable loss of lives. The rats even had the nerve to breach the multi billion naira security architecture in the Presidential Villa to ravage the president’s office. The easy access of the rodents into the president’s office easily reflects the ease with which corruption has ravaged the country.
Indeed, the way the country has declined can best be measured by the fact that more than 35 years after Dr. Braithwaite vowed to kill all the rats in the country that the rodents even got the temerity to drive our president out of his office. That is Nigeria’s dilemma!
Braithwaite’s refrain during the 1983 campaign was: “I will kill all the rats, cockroaches and mosquitoes.” Today, the refrain of the president and his minders is “we must kill corruption or else corruption will kill Nigeria.”
Braithwaite’s inspiration for Buhari’s anti-corruption assertions is best captured by the fact that when the politician died last year that President Buhari eulogized him as a sage. It is a term that is sparingly used in these climes and had until then been mainly attributed to Chief Obafemi Awolowo!