By Ochereome Nnanna
I DON’T mind the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari chose to attend the 61st anniversary of Ghana’s independence. We share more in common with Ghana than any other African country, perhaps because of our common Anglophone heritage. But it goes beyond this. Our relationship with Ghana is such that you would think we shared borders, which is far from the truth.
Just a few pointers to buttress the point: Nigeria and Ghana have shared inspirations and aspirations. Dr. James Kwegyir Aggrey, a Ghana-born missionary and educationist broke the norm and got educated in America instead of Britain. He picked up the Pan-Africanist bug (which saw all Black people in the world as Africans and Africa as one entity) which had flowered among the intellectuals of the African Diaspora from the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States. He later came back to Africa, including Nigeria, where Nnamdi Azikiwe caught the bug and decided to pursue his education in America. Azikiwe also became a Pan-Africanist. When he returned to Nigeria, he went to Ghana to hone his journalism trade and later came back to Nigeria to start his famous newspaper chain.
Azikiwe was chiefly credited to have inspired Kwame Nkrumah, though British educated, to transform into a radical Pan-Africanist. Ghana and Nigeria competed for which would be the first to win independence from Britain. Southern Nigerian leaders, especially Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, would have grabbed freedom from colonial rule in 1956, but Northern leaders like Ahmadu Bello and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa felt they were not ready for freedom. Because of that, Ghana won her independence ahead of Nigeria in 1957 and thus became a reference point in the continent.
On 15th January 1966, Nigeria beat Ghana for the wrong reasons. Our military boys led by Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu seized power from the Balewa government. Ghana followed suit on 28th February 1966 when General Joseph Ankrah dethroned President Kwame Nkrumah. Just like Nigeria, Ghana also experienced coups and counter-coups as well as transitions to civil rule. However, it was Flight Lieutenant John Jerry Rawlings who finally took a decisive step to stop the rot in Ghana. When he shoved aside the elected government of Hilla Limann government on 31st December 1981, he rounded up all surviving former heads of state and executed them. He ran a benevolent military dictatorship and transformed into a civilian president in 1992. He went on to win elections twice before he gave up the stage leaving a sanitised country behind.
Since then, Ghana has moved on. She no longer shares many of our warts and carbuncles. In terms of the economy, democratic tradition, effective governance, decency of political leadership and dividends of democracy, Nigeria can only learn from Ghana. The main difference between Ghana and Nigeria since Rawlings exorcised Ghana of its demons is that Ghana has learned from its experiences and is making steady progress on all fronts. In almost every metric of human development, Ghana is ahead. Nigeria never learns. We repeat our mistakes. We run around our vicious circle.
There is no comparison between the social fabrics of both countries. Ghanaians are generally better educated than us. They speak better English, yet, they are very much at home with their local languages. What Rawlings, an ethnic Minority Ewe, did in Ghana proved disastrous when it was tried in January 1966 in Nigeria. Ours led to a widespread genocide and 30-month civil war. Rawlings ruled Ghana for 18 straight years as a military dictator and elected president. Today, not a single charge of corrupt self-enrichment or nepotism lies against his name. On the other hand, all surviving former Nigerian leaders, apart from our own General Yakubu Gowon and Alhaji Shehu Shagari, are multi-billionaires.
Buhari has taken Nigeria back to 1804 whereby the Fulani jihads that established the Sokoto Caliphate is now being re-enacted in the Middle Belt and Southern states of Nigeria by specially protected armed Fulani militias masquerading as herdsmen. Farming communities are being attacked, their farms destroyed, people killed, women raped and some of the communities occupied by these gunmen and their cows. Some Fulani professors are even making territorial claims. We all saw how the matter was swiftly settled in Ghana when these evil imperialists reared their ugly heads there. That is the difference between us, a rapidly-failing state, and Ghana, a country on a steady progressive trajectory.
It was to this country that our President went to be with his colleague, President Nana Akufo-Ado. Akufo-Ado has every reason to feel a sense of comradeship with Buhari. Both of them share a history of stubbornly seeking the office of president of their countries and refusing to give up hope until victory finally came their ways. Both are in their 70s, at least officially. Akufo-Ado has come to Nigeria several times, and each time he was here, he had nice words for us. He never reminded us of our worsening endemic corruption and perennial fuel scarcity due to our inability to refine our oil. The chances were that while he was with our president in Aso Villa, NEPA took the lights several times and generators had to be switched on. He did not offer to teach to help us how to refine our oil or fix our power problems. There is a way you offer to help somebody with his problem and it becomes an insult.
That was exactly what President Buhari’s offer to help Ghana fight corruption turned out to be interpreted as by Ghanaians. It is totally impolitic to go to another country and tell them that they are corrupt, even if they are. Buhari is possibly the only president who travels the world preaching how corrupt his country is. Nigeria is dirty but Buhari is clean. Buhari’s government which has continued to be wracked by allegations of corruption and protection of close aides, friends, relations and kinsmen accused of corruption, is dirty but the President is clean.
Transparency International, TI, recently indicated that corruption has worsened under Buhari. From 138th in 2015, Nigeria crashed to 148th after two years of Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade! Under Buhari, Nigeria fell in nine other areas such as International Press Freedom Index, World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index, African Investment Attractiveness Index, Global Retail Development Index, World Economic Forum Networked Readiness Index, Global Competitiveness Index, World Internal Security and Police Index, Electricity Supply Index, among others. We only made a few positive steps in Doing Business.
It is ridiculous for the president of such a country to go to a rapidly improving country and offer to “help” in fighting their corruption. Ghana scored 81 out of 180 countries surveyed, while placed 148th in the TI’s CPI. Ghana’s rating was actually a 10-point drop from its 70 standing in 2016. Since Buhari has anti-graft war as a priority, he should have actually asked President Akufo-Ado to come and teach us how to fight corruption. It is not normal for a student at the back of the class to teach his classmate who is far ahead.
Expectedly, Ghanaians refused to take it lying down. They told Buhari to go home and deal with the snakes and monkeys that swallow money in Nigeria first. Buhari would have avoided that embarrassment by restricting himself to the usual nice things you say about a country when you go visiting. The incompetence of Buhari’s aides was on grand display in Ghana. It is against the spirit of diplomacy and sound judgement to go and tell a country celebrating its independence that its people are corrupt and you can help, more so when the world only recently said you lack the credibility to do so.
Our President gave Ghanaians the justification to ridicule him – and us!