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Muhammadu Buhari on treasury looters and the 2019 election

Buhari

By Rotimi Fasan

ARE there Nigerians still wondering if President Muhammadu Buhari would be contesting the 2019 election? Are there people out there still reading the language of the president’s body to know his plans for 2019? Such people sure now have their answer. The president himself ended any doubts about his political direction post 2019 with his campaign-like visit to Kano last week. Although billed as a state visit during which he was to inaugurate some projects embarked on by the Kano State government under Abdullahi Ganduje, Buhari’s visit turned out to be a subtle testing ground and perhaps launch pad for his re-election ambition. Buhari left no room for any speculations about what was perhaps the real intention for the visit when he rhapsodized about the implications of the warm reception he received from the huge crowd that welcomed him at the Kano airport. If an election was held now, the president mused, it was certain he would carry the day given the crowd that met him.

Buhari could not but imagine himself to be on the campaign trail again. He couldn’t but imagine the electoral value of such a huge crowd in the heat of a campaign, not minding that the presence of many in the crowd was probably bought for a few hundred naira. But this wouldn’t matter to the president. What counted was what the huge crowd portended for his re-election plans now that possible rivals are emerging to align and realign for the battle ahead. President Buhari knew it would be premature in the estimation of many Nigerians for him to start campaigning for 2019. Not when he is yet to deliver on his 2015 electoral promises. But what is he to do now that potential rivals are getting into election mode and are raising questions about his performance? Aren’t they having a head start that might be difficult to erase? Nothing messes up the mind like anxiety that is not entirely without foundation. Buhari knows in spite of anything his close and extended family supporters tell him that Nigerians are not very happy with his performance.

With such thoughts running through his mind, an appeal to his base couldn’t possibly harm at this moment? Now Buhari may no longer be in the good books of former allies like Rabiu Kwankwaso who made Kano an electoral dreamland, now that he has been claimed by those even his own wife never knew prior to his emergence as president, where better to go to appeal to the base than Kano? And to Kano the president headed where he couldn’t resist the urge to bait his opponents. In this electoral mood, President Buhari went on to say something he shouldn’t have said- something he is better advised to stop saying as he pushes ahead his plan to retain his tenancy of the presidential residence. It may sound like the right thing to say for a leader determined to turn things around but given his yet-unfolding record in tackling corruption, it was very wrong for President Buhari to say that Nigerians would no longer vote for past treasury looters. That is a decision for Nigerians to make and they won’t need the president to remind or tell them of it.

The most politically aware of our people, save for those thinking of or with their stomach, are already saying it, and if ‘one will teach one’, if we would look beyond the sentiments of kin and sectarian considerations and take back our country, soon the message will be out there: no treasury looter, nobody with as much as a hint of being involved in any corrupt act will be electable.

Who are past looters of the treasury? What gives the president any right to talk about them when he is more invested in the rhetoric and optics of anti-corruption than actually bringing culprits to justice? There is no reason why past looters of our commonwealth should not be made to account for their crime. There is no reason why they shouldn’t be called out and made to restitute for their acts of sabotage against the Nigerian people. The tradition of impunity that makes excuses for and accommodates people who have criminally tinkered with the national treasury must be abandoned for good if public officials are to be less corrupt. But the Buhari administration appears to be afflicted with what I would call the malady of Lot’s Wife Syndrome that makes it impossible for it to stop looking back. This failure or inability to stop blaming past leaders and others in past administration for the country’s present ailment has created a stiffening in the neck of this administration, one that has hobbled its ability to stare ahead to confront and proffer solutions to present challenges.

As I recently mentioned in this space, President Buhari has a lot to explain about the involvement of his appointees and surrogates in corruption. He can no longer count on the understanding of Nigerians in his bid to put a moral distance between himself and those who work with or around him. He fancies himself a moral island on a sea of corruption. But that won’t work. At least not any more. What is the president doing about present plunderers of the treasury? What has he done about Babachir Lawal, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, found to have profited from the misery of displaced persons? After months of treading delicately around the edge of the issue that led to Lawal’s sack, Buhari could not muster the courage to let the law take its course. Rather he has rewarded corruption, in a sense, with his appointment of Boss Mustapha, Lawal’s cousin, as his replacement in the SGF office.

What became of Ayo Oke, former boss of the Nigerian Intelligence Agency? Nothing! The president daily loses grip of his own government as corruption takes centre stage. While Nigerians are still struggling to reconcile themselves to the Abdulrasheed Maina saga in which the president and some of his top surrogates have been implicated, another corruption war front has suddenly opened between Mounir Gwarzo, Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun. Can the president stay clean in this ocean of corruption? What example does he set for his own supporters and court jesters? Rochas Okorocha seems to be working with the president’s script of nepotism? After making his sister, Ogechi Ololo, commissioner of a strangely named Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfillment, he has apparently succeeded in getting the Imo State House of Assembly to endorse Uche Nwosu, his son-in-law who doubles as Chief of Staff to succeed him as governor. What’s Buhari’s definition of corruption? Why is he so fixated with the past?

 

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