By Douglas Anele
In the last three series, we have examined, albeit briefly, President Muhammadu Buhari’s scorecard on the issue of security and economic management as a public servant, including now that he is the President and head of our ramshackle but serviceable democracy. From those essays, the inevitable conclusion, sentiments aside and ignoring the repetitive boring insipidities of his supporters, is that the facts do not match his hyperbolic reputation as a disciplined retired senior military officer with the intellectual and moral capacity to tackle insecurity effectively and manage the economy efficiently.
The way I see it, if indeed Buhari had all the qualities attributed to him by his sycophantic navigators, Nigeria would have been much more secure and peaceful than it is today, and the number of poor, hungry, destitute, unemployed, frustrated, and suicidal Nigerians would not be as high as it is right now. But what about his anti-corruption reputation that, unarguably, apart from subterranean electoral manipulations, was the strongest reason why he won in 2015?
Is Muhammadu Buhari really a man of the highest integrity and incorruptibility, as was claimed by some kingpins of the ruling party or is his reputation a myth that crystallised from his draconian and simplistic approach to fighting corruption as a military dictator from 1984 to August, 1985? Before answering these questions, I should make it clear that mere repetitions of a proposition or statement are not enough to make it true, an object lesson any attentive student of history must have learnt from Adolf Hitler’s propagandist–in-chief, Paul Joseph Geobbels. Therefore, irrespective of how many times President Buhari’s supporters affirm their belief in his integrity and incorruptibility, it behoves us to look at the facts dispassionately in order to separate reality from hyperbole.
For starters, let us ascertain first the meanings of integrity and incorruptibility. The Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary defines integrity as, among other things, “uprightness: honesty: purity,” while the BBC English Dictionary explains it as “the quality of being firm and honest in your moral convictions.” Thus, a person of integrity is someone whose utterances and conduct manifest a deep-seated belief in the superiority of moral humane living over and above temporary personal advantage or selfish gain.
A man (always in the sense in which woman is also included) of integrity not only stands by the truth, particularly in situations where truthfulness would be inconvenient or disadvantageous to his personal interest, he also keeps his word notwithstanding the consequences of doing so, even if it means dying in the process. Historical examples include Socrates, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela. Making allowances for the inherent fallibility of humans, it is clear that manifestation of integrity and other noble moral qualities in individuals is a matter of degree, but those mentioned above serve as models of integrity and selflessness for billions of people worldwide – and rightly so, despite their human frailties.
On the issue of incorruptibility, it must be pointed out that people mistake stealing and embezzlement of public funds as the only form of corruption, whereas corruption is a multi-faceted phenomenon. This can be distilled from the dictionary meanings of “corruption” which include “to make putrid: to taint: to debase: to spoil: to destroy the purity of: to pervert: to bribe.”
From the foregoing, it follows that if something (let us call it p) taints, spoils, perverts, debases, destroys the purity of, or makes putrid another thing (q, for instance), then p can be said to have corrupted q. In this connection, one can plausibly argue that European enslavement of Africans corrupted the natural evolution of those African communities from where the slaves were taken, just as it would be to insist that military incursion into governance which began in 1966 corrupted the character of political praxis in our country, Nigeria.
When people claim that President Buhari is incorruptible, a man of the highest integrity, the implication is that he is fair-minded and very honest; a trustworthy man who keeps his word and does not change his mind simply for egoistic reasons; a man who has not used his position to enrich himself, his family, relatives and cronies but has served the country selflessly in all the positions he had occupied till date.
Now, let us see whether these claims are accurate, and our starting point would be when he served as federal commissioner of petroleum resources during the military regime of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo in 1977. The most serious allegation against Buhari then was the alleged $2.8 billion missing in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Although some Nigerians still believe the story, there is another account which claims that the story is false: that for three years while Buhari was still in charge, the NNPC had failed to collect its equity share of the oil produced by Shell, Mobil and Gulf, totaling 182.95 million barrels. Because NNPC could not find buyers for its own share, Nigeria lost a potential income of $2.8b, which was mistakenly reported as missing funds by the media.
Now, assuming that the second account, not the first one, is correct, why did the NNPC fail to collect its share of crude oil produced by its joint venture partners and could not find buyers after belatedly collecting it? Is the failure not an indication of Buhari’s incompetence? The notion that the so-called missing money was traced to his foreign account is probably false, but he cannot escape the charge of incompetence because, according to reports, the tribunal of inquiry headed by Justice Ayo Irikefe which investigated the matter identified serious lapses in NNPC’s accounting practices that could have facilitated corruption.
As a military head of state, Muhammadu Buhari was not fair-minded when he put former President Shehu Shagari under house arrest at a comfortable federal facility in Ikoyi while he threw his deputy, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, into Kirikiri prison. He employed strong arm tactics to deal with politicians accused of corruption, but in several instances he jailed people unnecessarily as a result of what some of his critics had described as a frenzy of sadistic vengefulness.
Of particular relevance in this connection is Dr. Ekwueme, who allegedly became poorer after serving as Vice-President, and Chief Adekunle Ajasin, who on three occasions was found to be innocent of the charges brought against him. Other question marks on President Buhari’s reputation for integrity are the retroactive application of a decree that stipulated death penalty for drug offenders, which led to the execution of Bartholomew Owoh, Bernard Ogedemgbe and Lawal Ojuolape, and the fifty-three suitcases saga.
For a humanist like myself who loathes deliberate killing of a human being, the psychological motivation of deterrence for prescribing death penalty for heinous crimes like genocide, terrorism, and ritual killings is understandable; applying capital punishment in a retroactive decree to deal with drug offences reveals the sadistic character of those behind that decree. On the other hand, Buhari’s puerile attempt to blame Atiku Abubakar for the fifty-three suitcases scandal involving the late emir of Gwandu illustrates his penchant to shift responsibility for his incapacity to other people.
Fairness, impartiality and willingness to accept responsibility when one has failed are integral to integrity: in all of this, Buhari is below average. It is on record that during the tenth anniversary of Gen. Sani Abacha’s death, Buhari insisted that the late dictator did not steal any public funds. Yet, since Abacha’s death on June 8, 1998, successive administrations, including this one headed by Buhari, have been recovering what is derogatorily called “Abacha loot.” If there was no financial rascality by Abacha and his cohorts, there would not have been any Abacha loot to be recovered.
In short, unless “integrity” has lost its well established semantic connotations to suit the whims and caprices of Buharimaniacs, a man who denies a serious case of larceny probably because of ethno-religious considerations and the need to defend a benefactor cannot be rightly regarded as a “man of the highest integrity.”
We now consider Muhammadu Buhari’s career as a politician: in my opinion, by diving into the muddy parasitic waters of Nigerian politics, the President, by his own acts of omission and commission regarding the anti-corruption campaign, has demystified himself thoroughly. A man of integrity, even if in opposition and while rightly emphasising the weaknesses of his political opponents, should at least acknowledge the modest achievements of the latter.
Buhari, on the three occasions he lost presidential elections, never for once accepted defeat as a good sportsman would or acknowledged the achievements of his rivals no matter how little they might have been by his own assessment. Instead, he rejected the election results based on allegations of electoral malpractices and went to the judiciary for redress. To be clear, Buhari as a candidate, just like any aggrieved Nigerian, has the right to fair hearing in a court. Still, for him to repeatedly blame others for his political failures without acknowledging his own vulnerabilities is, to put it mildly, uncharitable.