Sunday Perspectives

August 18, 2019

The return of barbarians (1)

Niger urges residents to take ownership of urban policy

By Douglas Anele

The noun ‘barbarian’ is derived from the Greek word barbaros, which means ‘foreign. It also connotes ‘stammering,’ indicating the unfamiliar sound of foreign tongues other than Greek. Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary states that a barbarian, originally, is “one who was not a Greek, later neither a Greek nor a Roman: a foreigner: one without taste or refinement: a somewhat uncivilised man (but usually not a savage).” If the connotation of ‘barbarian’ is expanded to include incapacity to govern, properly arising from incompetence, crude or unrefined understanding of what political leadership really means and Machiavellism of the grossest kind, it is clear that the ruling elite in Nigeria generally, particularly since the Biafran war ended in 1970, are barbarians, although the level of barbarity across dispensations varies.

For example, even if it is conceded that the military government of retired General Yakubu Gowon recorded some achievements during the oil boom years, that administration was barbaric going by our expanded meaning of ‘barbarian.’ This is because Gowon’s duplicitous handling of the Aburi Accord, eagerness to subdue the secessionist Eastern Region through military conquest, policies intended to cripple the defeated Biafrans, and incompetent corrupt handling of Nigeria’s economy at a time when revenue from oil would have been wisely utilised to lay the foundation for sustainable development–all this makes the former head of state and his top lieutenants barbarians. But Gowon’s barbarity and incompetence has been surpassed by subsequent military administrations led by northerners on behalf of Fulani caliphate colonialists, in-between, which there was the three-year default leadership of another retired general, this time of Yoruba extraction, Olusegun Obasanjo.

To some extent, the civilian governments of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan manifested different degrees of barbarity in the form of bulimic corruption, cronyism and appaling insensitivity to the plight of the suffering masses. But in my view, the most barbarous administration in Nigerian history, particularly since the return to civilian rule in 1999, is the current one headed by President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Probably, aside from Buhari’s military dictatorship of 1984 to August 1985 and that of late Gen. Sani Abacha, it would be difficult to pick out a government that was so nepotic, so allergic to valid criticism, so disdainful and heavy-handed towards opposing viewpoints as this government.

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Indeed, freedom to express oneself has become a dangerous undertaking since President Buhari consolidated his hold on power, to the extent that information or opinion, which challenges the claims of officialdom or questions decisions and actions of the President and other top officials of government are branded “hate speech,” or “fake news” from “wailing wailers” by vociferous media aides of Buhari or by APC’s version of Goebbels, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. Of course, the alarming intolerant attitude of this administration to dissent implies that President Buhari has not, and probably cannot wean himself of the stifling authoritarian tendencies that defined his public persona as a military dictator. The dangers of being harassed or intimidated by government officials notwithstanding, APC leaders, including the President himself, must be told that democracy entails freedom of speech, freedom to disagree with government, freedom to like or dislike the President, governor, and so on. Therefore, it is undemocratic to use instruments of state power to harass the press and intimidate individuals for being critical of government, whereas sycophants are free to eulogise the President ad nauseam using every available platform and are rewarded for it.

Judging from the incompetent handling of the economy, security challenges and the anti-corruption programme of this government, every honest or sincere supporter of Buhari before he was elected in 2015 must accept that he or she made a big mistake. Some, like Farooq Kperogi, Dele Sobowale, Timi Frank and Ralph Obidubah have acknowledged that they misjudged Buhari’s capacity to perform if given the chance to lead. Unfortunately, some of my colleagues at the University of Lagos, including Professors, who should know better, still bizarrely cling to the notion that Buhari is a good leader and would perform much better in the second term.

Their dogmatic belief in the ability of Buhari to govern well is akin to irrational religious dogma because it is held contrary to the unfolding evidence that this President appears to be overwhelmed by the hydra-headed problems of the moment and has no clue about how to tackle them. Many Buharimaniacs, who voted for Buhari in 2015 nowadays lament that he disappointed them after securing their votes at the time. The impression being that Buhari has changed from the stern military disciplinarian and anti-corruption champion, who launched War Against Indiscipline (WAI) to something else. But that impression is misleading and false. The fact is that Buhari did not change: rather, unlike his brief tenure as military head of state, when his deputy, late Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon, seemed to be the puppeteer pulling the strings with military decrees, what happened this time around is that four years as a civilian President are enough time for Buhari’s vacuity, mediocrity and incompetence to burst into bold relief. Perhaps, a conclusion justified by his inability to improve himself intellectually and in terms of enhancing whatever leadership skills he had between 1985 and 2015.

To buttress the assertion that the current administration is unrefined and mediocre, it is necessary to point out some low hanging fruits it could have harvested if truly Buhari and his lieutenants are determined to actualise the change propaganda that propelled APC to victory four years ago. The first one, which any President serious about fairness and national unity can easily pluck, deliberate spreading of top level appointments in critical areas of our national life, particularly the top echelons of Nigeria’s security apparatchik, Customs and Immigration, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and so on, in a manner that gives Nigerians from different parts of the country a sense of belonging.

Unfortunately, President Buhari, supported by Fulani caliphate colonialists and selfish knuckleheads from southern Nigeria, motivated by the few crumbs that fell from their Fulani masters’ table, successfully carried out a northernisation agenda in his appointments, contrary to Section 14 sub-section 3 of the flawed 1999 Constitution, which stipulates that “The composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs must be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no preponderance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies.” President Buhari and his supporters argue that it is his prerogative to appoint anyone he pleases or only those he knew to certain critical positions. During the euphoria of “anyone-but-Jonathan” mass hysteria before the 2015 presidential election, a well-known figure even argued that it does not matter if Buhari filled existing vacancies with only people from his village.

To be continued…