By Rotimi Fasan
LESS than a year to the next general election, President Muhammadu Buhari is beginning to show that his apparent indifference to being re-elected is a mere put-on meant to disguise if not deceive the unwary about his interest in retaining power. This even if he is not able to meet the promises that got him elected in 2015. Before now the president had pretended he was not bothered about retaining his office, pretending that was a matter in the hands of God in spite of all the tell-tale signs that he was only waiting for the right time to proclaim his interest given the widespread perception that he was both incompetent and medically unfit to execute the office he presently occupies.
But having succeeded in getting back on his feet in spite of the lack of any independent confirmation of his medical fitness, the president thinks he has enough within him to show that he could withstand the rigours of office. It is a testimony to the lack of transparency that has defined the issues surrounding the president’s health that both his office and handlers recently had to put out conflicting statements about the reasons for his detour to the United Kingdom on his way back from a state visit to the United States.
He would return to the UK to spend a few days more with his doctors within days of his arrival from the US. Till date nobody knows what ails the president other than the rumour of his being poisoned in the presidential residence. Whatever the case is, Buhari is now determined to hold on to the position of president. Nothing signals this better than his readiness to take on his critics in a frontal game of rhetorical attack. Last week, the president took off his gloves to take on the one man he has affected indifference to, Olusegun Obasanjo, former President and ex-Buhari supporter. Pretending to a false sense of statesmanship, the Buhari presidency had warned its officials against any response to Obasanjo’s criticism of Buhari’s lackluster performance.
In January this year, Obasanjo had openly attacked Buhari for failing to live up to par as president. In an open letter that was a rehash of what many Nigerians felt and thought of Buhari’s leadership style, Obasanjo accused the president of nepotism, clannishness and failure to bring about the much expected boom in the economy of the country. He ended his long letter with a piece of advice that has been repeated by other Nigerians since then: that Buhari should leave the stage for younger Nigerians.
While it was clear to all that the letter must have struck a raw nerve in the Buhari administration, the government felt vulnerable enough not to utter a disagreeable word in response to Obasanjo. The administration’s voluble Minister of Information, Lai Muhammed, uttered conciliatory words that suggested respect for and confidence in Obasanjo’s goodwill towards the administration. It accepted, Muhammed said, Obasanjo’s words in good faith. But one could see that the criticism from Obasanjo, being totally unexpected, robbed Buhari and his cohorts of any coherent response. The best option was the one they took: to say nothing in defence. But Obasanjo would not stop. He has since taken his sermon of criticism to new heights, putting together a coalition of political organizations that are driven by the common goal of sending Buhari away from Aso Villa back to his ancestral home in Daura.
It didn’t take too long after this for Buhari to announce his willingness to contest the next election. He waited for several more weeks and then launched an attack on his ex-supporter turned antagonist, Olusegun Obasanjo. It all happened a week ago during a visit to the president by a so-called Buhari Support Organisation, an arm of the president’s support base that was nevertheless led by a man being paid by Nigeria’s tax payers, the Comptroller of Customs, Hameed Ali. Before this nondescript group of supporters Buhari took on Obasanjo, accusing him of wasteful spending on a non-existent power project to the tune of $16 Billion.
To be sure, Buhari’s harsh words were not reserved for Obasanjo alone. All previous political leaders in recent memory with the singular exception of Sani Abacha felt the sharp edge of Buhari’s tongue. In attacking Obasanjo Buhari only flipped through an old book from the Umar Yar’Adua presidency, when a House of Representatives probe led by Ndudi Elumelu found Obasanjo complicit in the wasteful deployment of resources on the power project he initiated. It was the alleged verdict of the Elumelu probe which even the Yar’Adua administration chose to ignore that Buhari dredged up.
Leaving out the fact that Ndudi Elumelu would himself be snared in allegations of corruption connected to his investigation, it is a point worth making that Buhari until now did not find it necessary to make any allusion to not to say act on the report of the Elumelu investigation. He was happy to get Obasanjo’s endorsement for his election in 2015. But much worse in my view is his chest-thumping in a manner that would appear to refute claims of Abacha’s plundering of Nigeria’s wealth that he has not only expended more on infrastructure than any other Nigerian leader but that the only other individual who has done well in this regard was Sani Abacha.
What is more, Buhari says he could not be bothered about anybody’s perception of Abacha and, I suppose, of his primitive plundering of our commonwealth! In praising Abacha, Buhari has only engaged in a variation of the chest-thumping that led him to conclude that he has expended more on infrastructure than any other Nigerian leader. But Nigerians would be more interested in what Buhari has to show for his expenditure on infrastructure beyond commissioning or completing what Goodluck Jonathan left behind than the amount he has expended.
Should I also add that Buhari’s self-praise is nothing but much waste of precious breath? The truth which Nigerians know too well is that he was the one in charge of the so-called infrastructural development of the Abacha years. The PTF, the agency through which Abacha extended a lifeline of rehabilitation to Buhari while helping himself to the till in the name of developing infrastructure, was managed by Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari just could not condemn Abacha or he would be indicting himself, condemning his own legacy of corruption through the PTF. And contrary to what Buhari imagines, corruption is not only monetary.
For what the Adamu Ciroma probe reveals about his management of the PTF does no credit to his anti-corruption credentials. Nor was his handling of PTF projects that were generally viewed as sectional and skewed in favour of the north, a fact that has been proven with his present style of leadership.