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A president and the poverty red herring

By Ikechukwu Amaechi
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari’s friends promote the narrative that he is poor, and he himself is enamoured with an “accolade” that holds him up as a clean man in the land of treasury thieves. They see virtue in his poverty, an idea which sits perfectly well with the hackneyed tale of integrity.

poverty

“Prior to being sworn in on May 29 … Buhari had less than N30 million to his name. He also had only one bank account, with the Union Bank. “[He] had no foreign account, no factory and no enterprises. He also had no registered company and no oil wells.”

Garba Shehu, the president’s media aide, pitched this statement to the public on September 3, 2015. It was a deliberate attempt to criminalise wealth and weaponise poverty by making the storyline of not owning a factory, registered company or thriving enterprises feed into the tale of an anti-corruption czar.

Poverty  narrative

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s recent claim that four years of the Buhari Presidency has made him poorer escalates this cliché as his principal gets ready for his second term. It is not a coincidence. At a dinner in honour of the All Progressives Congress, APC, volunteer supporters on March 14, Osinbajo said Buhari may even be poorer today than four years ago.

“When I looked at his assets declaration form; I was checking it in 2015, I said to him, ‘Mr. President, I am so much richer than you, it is an embarrassment’,” Osinbajo recalled. “I can tell you that he is, perhaps, even poorer than he was in 2015 when I saw his declaration of assets form.”

Buhari’s reported riposte is equally instructive. “I am only a soldier, you are a big lawyer, so you should have more money than me,” he told his deputy.

Osinbajo describing Buhari as being poorer today is a nuanced attempt to sustain the poverty narrative. But it also makes it imperative that Nigerians interrogate it. If “poverty is about not having enough money to meet basic needs, including food, clothing and shelter,” can anyone say that Buhari has ever been poor since he enlisted in the army in the early 1960s?

The World Bank says: “Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time.”

How does Buhari fit into any of these scenarios?

Put differently, has Buhari ever been poor? If yes, how poor and relative to whose wealth? If no, then why are his confederates willfully pushing the narrative?

For Buhari to be poorer today as Osinbajo claims, it would mean that his poverty net worth has shrunk since he became president.

There is need to revisit Buhari’s asset declaration and his refusal to make it public despite his promise to do so within 100 days if elected president.

In a 2014 document titled, “My 100 days covenant with Nigerians,” the then APC presidential candidate said: “I pledge to publicly declare my assets and liabilities, encourage all my appointees to publicly declare their assets and liabilities as a pre-condition for appointment.”

It was a clear personal commitment delivered in first person pronoun – I. But after Buhari assumed office, Aso Rock disowned the document without any qualms. When Nigerians insisted he kept the promise, the Presidency said Buhari and Osinbajo had submitted their assets declaration forms to the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, in compliance with the Constitution.

Not even Shehu’s statement on June 7, 2015 that details of the assets would be made public once the CCB concluded verification was enough to calm frayed nerves. Shehu said Buhari’s “declared assets and those of … Osinbajo will be released to the public upon the completion of their verification by the Code of Conduct Bureau.”

He promised that the verification “will be completed before the expiry of the 100-day deadline within which they said they would do this.” Shehu put ice on “some suggestions that [Buhari] and [Osinbajo] may not, after all, declare their assets publicly,” a suggestion he ridiculed as “a little precipitate”.

He added: “There is no question at all that [Buhari] and [Osinbajo] are committed to public declaration of their assets within the 100 days that they pledged during the presidential campaign.”

The promise was not kept. Instead, Buhari mounted his high horse of intransigence until September 3, 2015 when he grudgingly released what he claimed was his declared assets, which many disagree with.

“Prior to being sworn in on May 29, President Buhari had less than N30 million to his name … had only one bank account, with the Union Bank … had no foreign account, no factory and no enterprises. He also had no registered company and no oil wells,” a statement by Garba Shehu claimed.

Shehu had proclaimed that prior to his swearing in on May 29, 2015, “… Buhari had shares in Berger Paints, Union Bank and Skye Bank … had a total of five homes, and two mud houses in Daura … two homes in Kaduna, one each in Kano, Daura and in Abuja.

“One of the mud houses in Daura was inherited from his late older sister, another from his late father. He borrowed money from the old Barclays Bank to build two of his homes. “… Buhari also has two undeveloped plots of land, one in Kano and the other in Port Harcourt. He is still trying to trace the location of the Port Harcourt land.

Assets declaration ghost

“In addition to the homes in Daura, he has farms, an orchard and a ranch. The total number of his holdings in the farm include 270 heads of cattle, 25 sheep, five horses, a variety of birds and a number of economic trees.”

The documents finally claimed that Buhari “uses a number of cars, two of which he bought from his savings and the others supplied to him by the Federal Government in his capacity as former head of state.

“The rest were donated to him by well-wishers after his jeep was damaged in a Boko Haram bomb attack on his convoy in July 2014.”

Even Buhari himself knew that what he did was not the public declaration of assets because he still promised that “As soon as the CCB is through with the process, the documents will be released to the Nigerian public and people can see for themselves.”

That pledge is yet to be fulfilled two months to the end of his four-year tenure. So, why would Osinbajo resurrect Buhari’s assets declaration ghost on the eve of his second term? Is it a coincidence or a carefully choreographed alibi to achieve a pre-determined goal?

Most importantly, is it true that Buhari is poorer today than four years ago?

How can a man who did his medicals in Europe, whose children were in top of the range schools in Europe and America, had a fleet of choice cars when he had no factory, no enterprises, no registered company, no oil wells and lived on his pension become poorer when all his bills are picked up by the Nigerian state and his teenage son can afford a multi-million naira power bike?

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To agree that Buhari is poorer today than in 2015, Nigerians need to know what he claimed were his assets prior to his Presidency.

Anything short of that is sheer red herring, a smokescreen.

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