By Douglas Anele
As we mentioned earlier, Muhammadu Buhari promised to give corruption a bloody nose, kill corruption before it kills Nigeria, and jail anyone convicted of financial impropriety. His tough talk against corruption resonated with the people because most of them think, rightly, that hydra-headed corruption especially at the topmost levels of government is the primary cause of our arrested development.
It follows that any presidential candidate with the unquestioning anti-corruption reputation like the one Buhari had then would likely be voted for by the majority of gullible voters – and that was precisely what happened. After Buhari was sworn in as President, his ardent supporters, those I refer to as buharimaniacs, bragged that “the new sheriff in town” had a potent anti-corruption body language, and would deal with corruption decisively to the extent that looters would find the country too hot to stay.
When critics reminded them that Buhari’s track record did not match the sky-high expectations, that his presidency was made possible by some of the most hideously corrupt politicians in Nigerian history – which indicates that the fight against corruption would be seriously impaired ab initio – buharimaniacs accused them of being part of the corruption problem based on the mischievous allegation that the critics had collected bribes from the PDP. Every indication of flaws in the new-fangled war against corruption was hastily and condescendingly waved aside with the retort that “corruption is fighting back.”
Now, three and half years on, can any Nigerian honestly claim that corruption has been given a bloody nose by President Buhari, that “authority stealing” has been tamed? Put differently, has financial rascality and abuse of power for selfish gain by top government officials gone down significantly since Buhari became President? Buhari’s supporters eagerly point to corruption cases against a handful of prominent politicians, notably Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, former governors of Plateau and Taraba states respectively, which have been successfully prosecuted by the EFCC as evidence that he is really fighting corruption. But most of these cases predated this administration. As a matter of fact, virtually all the legal and policy instruments, including institutions established for fighting financial crimes and corruption, were put in place before Buhari became president. The only significant addition by this administration is the whistle-blower policy which, according to some senior government officials, has led to the recovery of stolen funds and assets worth billions of naira.
Unfortunately, with the passage of time, President Buhari’s anti-corruption effort has become a mere caricature – critics claim that it is now an instrument for persecuting his political opponents – to the extent that discerning Nigerians no longer believe in it. The long list of corruption scandals in this administration is really depressing: discussing them here one by one will be a tedious and unnecessary waste of time. However, Mike Ozekhome, a veteran lawyer and activist, in a series in a national newspaper entitled “The ‘many’ gates of Buhari government,” analysed several cases of corruption and impunity which establish beyond any scintilla of doubt that this administration cannot win the war against corruption.
From an unbiased point of view, it is not true that the President is as squeaky clean as his fanatic supporters claim. Even if we discountenance the N2.8 billion NNPC scandal of 1978, what about the staggering dirty deals and misappropriation of over N25 billion belonging to the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) chaired by Buhari? What can one say about the comic school certificate scandal, and President Buhari’s penchant for defending his hideously corrupt benefactors and supporters even in the face of evidence against them?
Moreover, ignorant Nigerians should recognise that corruption is not limited to stealing public funds and assets: it also includes nepotism, cronyism, deliberate deception such as making promises one knows he cannot fulfil, changing one’s position on important issues for selfish interest, and deliberate unfairness towards some sections of the country because of ethnicity, religion and political affiliation. In my view, President Buhari is guilty of all this in various degrees, notwithstanding his unconvincing disclaimers and those of supporters like Profs. Tam David-West and Itse Sagay who project him as Mr. Clean, Mr. Incorruptible, and Mr. Pan-Nigeria Patriot. Even the fact that Buhari associates with, and is beholden to, politicians with the morality of alley cats casts a long dark shadow on his reputation as a strict disciplinarian who abhors corruption.
The most telling indictment of the APC government on this issue came from Transparency International (TI), whose report shows that Nigeria has regressed twelve points from 134 when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was President to 146, which implies that the country is seen by members of the international community to be more corrupt now than she was four years ago. To make matters worse, politicians with corrupt cases hanging on their necks – even opposition party members previously excoriated by APC leaders for corruption – have joined the ruling party after noticing that it has mutated into a safe haven for those who want to avoid harassment, intimidation and possible prosecution by the EFCC. Critics point to Musiliu Obanikoro and Godswill Akpabio as typical examples.
Indeed, the President seems to be comfortable with the fact that many discredited politicians with pending corruption cases are now working for his re-election. Did he forget the saying that birds of the same feather congregate together? Considering all the biases, inconsistencies and shambolic character of the so-called war against corruption, it would be unreasonable to expect that things will get better if Buhari wins again next year. His understanding of the complex nature of corruption and how to deal with it is narrow and anachronistic.
Let us harvest the low hanging fruits from our analysis which, mainly because of the need for brevity, gravitated around three major interconnected areas, namely, the economy, security and corruption. As we have seen, the gap between the promises Buhari made while canvassing for votes in 2015 and his actual achievements is too wide. As he promised, there is change alright, but generally speaking it is not in the positive direction. As a Nigerian vulnerable to the ugly consequences of mediocre leadership, it would be self-abnegating to play safe by hiding one’s true feelings about this administration.
Buharimaniacs, including top government officials and APC bigwigs, now make outlandish and false claims about critics of the President, no matter how factual and logical their criticism might be: they uncharitably describe it as “hate speech,” for which the person concerned can be arrested and thrown into prison. However, despite the dangers, I still believe there is enough evidence that President Buhari is probably the most nepotic leader Nigeria has produced, that his tough talk against Boko Haram might be insincere because before he became President he made certain statements that tended to support the terrorist group, and that the comic, economically imprudent, practice of a Vice President sharing N10,000 to traders inside markets looks like a ploy by the APC to buy votes for the next elections.
Now, keeping quiet just because we are afraid of what government might do to us is out of the question: that would be like accepting a first-class ticket to self-immolation, both individual and social. Playing safe seems good: it allows the average person to continue with the quotidian details of his life undisturbed by the police and other security agencies controlled by a revanchist government probably desperate to retain power. But such alienated life is too hollow, too self-centred and suffocating; it has the added disadvantage of allowing bad leadership to metastasise like a malignant cancerous tumour. Therefore, Nigerians should not be pusillanimous in speaking their minds when elected officials, including the President, are performing below expectation.
After all, they are supposed to be public servants serving us, although in reality they are the masters and we are the ones serving them. Still, we cannot remain silent if things are not working as they should, for the only way democracy can thrive in Nigeria is through the power of factual and logically sound criticism occasionally augmented by peaceful civil disobedience if those in power become increasingly tyrannical, pachydermatous to the peoples’ suffering or impervious to reason.
Overall, based on the analysis presented in this series, President Muhammadu Buhari should not be re-elected. Personally, things have been more difficult for me and my family than they were before his ascension to power. And judging from what one directly observes concerning most ordinary Nigerians in the same boat as myself, if hardship or stupidity has not deprived them that level of critical intelligence possessed by human beings generally, they would have arrived at the same conclusion as well. Finally, for those who still cling tenaciously to the belief that President Muhammadu Buhari is the messiah and his party the political vehicle of liberation from existential quagmire in spite of evidence to the contrary, I should simply remind them of the timely warning by the Spanish-born American philosopher, George Santayana, that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. Concluded.