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Femi Adesina and the Acquired Aso Rock Syndrome (1)

By Douglas Anele

My first encounter with Femi Adesina around 2010 was when I served as external member of the editorial board of the Sun Newspapers. Amanze Obi, a friend and classmate at the University of Lagos who was the substantive chairman of the board, had gone on leave of absence to take up commissionership appointment with Ikedi Ohakim, former governor of Imo State, and Adesina became chairman in his stead.

I was delighted to work with Femi Adesina because he is amiable, humane, gracious, and dedicated – a gentleman to the core. But we disagreed on one thing, namely, religion. Adesina is a devout Christian (if I am not mistaken) of the new Pentecostal variety, whereas I am an atheistic humanist who sees religion as an archaic dispensable product of human evolution.

Femi Adesina

Thus, we occasionally argued about religious matters, and Femi, who I fondly call ‘chairman,’ would prophesy (I think ‘predict’ is a more accurate description) that one day, I would, in his own words, “win souls for our Lord Jesus Christ.” Of course, I laughed off his optimism concerning my possible return to Christianity, because there is no way I could really accept the bizarre ideas and worldviews espoused in the Holy Bible.

That notwithstanding, I liked reading his well-written ‘Kulikuli’ articles in the back page of Friday edition of Daily Sun. Now, in the weeks leading up to the 2015 presidential election, I noticed that ‘chairman’ was championing retired Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s fourth attempt at the presidency. In several articles, Femi Adesina lampooned Jonathan’s administration for its failure to fight corruption, provide adequate security nationwide, put the economy on a solid foundation and uplift the living standard of the masses.

On the other hand, he eulogised Buhari by portraying him as a disciplined, honest and patriotic Nigerian with the ability to fight corruption relentlessly. Adesina recalled with nostalgia the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) of 1984 to 1985, and called on Nigerians to vote massively for Buhari because he is the only presidential candidate with the will and requisite experience to clean up the mess left behind by the immediate past administration.

Perhaps, Adesina’s public support for Buhari must have made a good impression on the President–elect, such that on assumption of office he was promptly appointed and given the post of special adviser on media and publicity. When some of my friends in the university and the media cynically remarked that Adesina used his ‘kulikuli’ column as platform to market himself for political appointment, I reminded them that he was not the only senior journalist campaigning for Buhari, and that he would do the job to the best of his ability.

However, it never occurred to me that ‘chairman’ would go beyond that, to the extent of expressing views that are quite misleading and inaccurate. Like media aides to both military dictators and civilian Presidents before him, Adesina is now suffering from Acquired Aso Rock Syndrome (AARS). But what is AARS? In simple terms, AARS is the tendency of an appointee of a sitting President, governor, minister or high-ranking public official to hyperbolically idolise, please and curry favour with his or her boss.

Thus, when a chief of staff, minister, commissioner, special adviser, special assistant and so on distorts facts, unfairly criticises or blames others for the President’s failure to fulfil campaign promises, and in most cases argues as if his principal embodies the very best of human virtues when the facts tend to indicate otherwise, then the individual concerned is suffering from AARS.

Genuflecting sycophancy is oftentimes associated with AARS. However, the terminal stage of AARS is when the official concerned begins to portray the benefactor as a messiah on a rescue mission, imbued with superlative wisdom, knowledge and moral consciousness. A President, governor or minister suffers from AARS when, under the influence of sycophants, he ascribes to himself positive attributes that he does not possess, refuses to accept responsibility for his mistakes, and always blames others or inherited problems for his failures.

The worshipful respect my ‘chairman’ has been displaying towards President Buhari particularly since his appointment, to the extent of claiming excitedly after being ignored for some time, that the telephone call he received from the President who was receiving treatment in a London hospital “made his day,” is unwarranted, considering Buhari’s antecedents and quality of leadership since he became President over two years ago, which, in my view, is low.  President Buhari’s pedigree and military career are not outstanding.

Remember, because Buhari did not possess the requisite educational qualifications, he benefitted from the northernisation policy in the army instituted by Sir Ahmadu Bello and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa after independence, which necessitated  lowering the minimum academic qualifications required for enlistment into the officer corps of the Nigerian army to accommodate more Northerners.

Also Buhari, with the possible exception of late Gen. Sani Abacha and retired Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, had taken part in and benefitted from more coups than any of the most prominent military officers in Nigerian history.

Max Siollun, in his book, Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976), identified the coups Buhari participated in as a soldier and the political appointment he got after each successful coup. Buhari was federal commissioner of petroleum resources when the scandal of the alleged missing 2.8 billion naira in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was reported.

Only a handful of Nigerians know the contents of the report submitted by Justice Ayo Irikefe’s probe panel on the matter to the Shagari administration, or still remember the fifty-three suitcases scandal involving a late emir of Gwandu and father of erstwhile aide camp to Buhari, Mustapha Jokolo. Clearly, President Buhari’s reputation as a disciplined corruption fighter rests mainly on the WAI programme during which some prominent politicians of the Second Republic were given lengthy jail terms by military tribunals, and the queuing culture was introduced and enforced by stern-looking, koboko-wielding soldiers.

Even at that, Buhari’s pro-north disposition came to limelight especially in the manner his regime treated former President Shehu Shagari and his deputy, Dr. Alex Ekwueme. Whereas Shagari was put under house arrest at a federal government facility in Ikoyi, Ekwueme was kept in Kirikiri prison, although both men were eventually exonerated from allegations of corruption.

As a military head of state Buhari’s tenure was so suffocating and dictatorial, such that when he was overthrown by Babangida and his cohorts in August 27, 1985, there was jubilation nationwide. Afterwards, Buhari went into oblivion until Abacha chose him to head the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF). Interestingly, in a news report entitled “How Buhari Ran PTF,” Newswatch magazine of March 13, 2000, detailed how a probe panel set up by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo discovered billions of naira allegedly mismanaged under Buhari’s watch, which included 28 billion naira spent on expired HIV/AIDS kits!

The committee also found that much more PTF projects were executed in the north than in the south where the money was generated from in the first place. It is instructive to note a very disturbing Machiavellian example of how former military heads of state shield and exonerate one another from allegations of mismanagement and corruption: Obasanjo claimed when Buhari and some leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) visited him during the presidential campaign in 2015 that Buhari did not steal any money from the PTF.

This is probably the reason why President Buhari does not want to investigate serious allegations of corruption that took place from 1999 to 2007. Additionally, in spite of evidence to the contrary, Buhari and Babangida, at the tenth year anniversary of Abacha’s death in 2008, said that the dictator did not embezzle public funds. From the foregoing, it is obvious that Buhari’s reputation as a patriotic Nigerian who will fight corruption no matter who was involved is exaggerated. He probably did not enrich himself as much as his counterparts; but he also did not demonstrate astute management of human and material resources in the leadership positions he occupied before becoming President.

The question now is: since 2015, has President Buhari improved so much as a leader to the extent of deserving the kind of unquestioning respect and admiration accorded him by his die-hard supporters like Femi Adesina? Are there good reasons why Nigerians, particularly self-respecting Ndigbo, should flock to the APC because of Buhari?

To be candid, for now there is no such reason. I have not seen serious improvement in Buhari’s leadership credentials since he was elected into office to justify unquestioning loyalty from Nigerians. It is within the context of a reasoned assessment of Buhari’s antecedents and performance presently that one can rationally assess Femi Adesina’s recent article, “Wise men still come from the East,” published in Saturday Sun of March 18, 2017.

To be continued.

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