By Dele Sobowale
“From the sublime to the ridiculous, there is only one step” – Thomas Paine, 1739-1803, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ.
“The records of some of his predecessors in office bespeak a greedy trail. When they go abroad they first ask: What is in it for me? What is there for my family? President Buhari is different” – Garba Shehu, VANGUARD, November 5, 2019.
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A former President of the Nigerian Guild of itors, NGE, who should be eternally wedded to the fundamental creed of journalism, has betrayed his profession. Malam Garba Shehu, Senr Special Assistant to President Buhari, has stuck both feet into his mouth – all in a bid to polish apples for his boss. Shehu, who is still very young, will wish he never uttered those words disparaging our previous heads of government in his desperate attempt to portray Buhari as the ONLY saint among the sinners who have ruled us. Despite the despairing records of those who have occupied the same position before him and their penchant for “polishing” the apple with hard brush, I always thought that Garba will rise above the patterns of some of his predecessors and not fall into the same sh*t hole of sycophancy as the rest. I actually believed he will not ever utter for the record statements that are absolutely false and defamatory of other Nigerian prominent citizens – especially our national leaders who were our symbols as a nation.
Garba might not realise it but he seems to be infected with the Rock Ebola of the Mouth Disease. While his attempt to paint formers leaders black is unlikely to be believed by right thinking Nigerians, among facts now indisputable is that, for the first time in Nigerian history, outlaws, called bandits, call governors to the negotiating table as equals in order to bring peace into Katsina, Sokoto and Kaduna. None of Buhari’s predecessors brought the country’s security situation so low. Long after this government would have left office, history will record that, for the first time, bandits hold sway in a wider area than ever before. Although this is not now the main focus of attention, the deteriorating security and corruption in the country call into question Garba’s moral right to criticise Buhari’s predecessors so harshly and unjustly.
“Liars ought to have good memories” – Algermon Sidney, 1622-1683, VBQ p 127.
As usual, readers will kindly follow me on a short review of Nigerian history under various leaders in order to demonstrate how utterly reckless and defamatory Garba’s utterances were. For this purpose, Prime Minister and military Head of State are synonymous with President.
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was Prime Minister until 1966, at a time when Shehu was probably unborn. There is no record anywhere that the gentle and incorruptible PM was involved in any negotiation with foreigners and he asked: “What’s in it for me? What is there for my family?” In fact, on November 9, 2019, Balewa’s son, Usman, in an interview with The NATION, page 21-23, revealed that the family was left almost destitute when the late PM was assassinated. Is this Garba’s way of demonstrating gratitude to a man who served Nigeria so selflessly?
Aguiyi Ironsi succeeded Balewa, and probably never undertook any foreign trips to sign agreements and to ask the questions Shehu attributed to our leaders. Can there be any so-called records to substantiate the charge?
Gowon took over from Ironsi. Despite serving the longest stretch of nearly nine years, he was almost totally broke when the coup toppling his regime took place. Only the contributions of friends and well-wishers kept him and his dear wife afloat in Britain. Is it possible that anybody who spent nine years asking: “What is in it for me?”, would lack the commonsense to store away some of the proceeds in Swedish banks for use in forced exile? Furthermore, he was funded again by friends when it was absolutely safe for him to return to Nigeria. Gowon is still alive and although he had not appointed me as his spokesman, I have a duty, as a stakeholder in the media, to remove his name from the list of “suspects”.
Murtala Muhammed came after Gowon, and, like Ironsi, lasted such a short time that he undertook no foreign trips involving signing agreements before Colonel Dimka terminated his leadership. Do dead men ask: “What is in it for me?” By now the reader must start to realise how totally reckless the declaration was. But, wait for more. I will skip Obasanjo, 1976-1979, in order to get quickly to our first civilian President – Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
Only a liar hell bent on calumny can easily forget that the Buhari junta, in 1984, investigated Nigeria’s first executive President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, after toppling his democratically elected government. Despite installing himself as head of government without consulting the Nigerian people, and depriving the people of one of their most fundamental rights, Buhari/Idiagbon went ahead to establish tribunals to try elected and appointed officials of the Second Republic under a draconian decree which made the Head of State, Buhari, and not the Supreme Court, the final court of appeal. Nothing can be more corrupt – not even “What is in it for me?” After all, those asking those questions (and we have not discovered one yet) would only collect a fraction of the contract sum; which is, in turn, a tiny percentage of the national wealth. A military Head of State seizes the entire country’s wealth at gun point and distributes it as he chooses. What on earth can be more corrupt? (Those who live in glass houses should stop throwing rocks).
The tribunal finished its work without finding any sign of illegal self-enrichment against Shagari. They also could not establish that any member of his family benefited from any deals on account of “what is in it for me?”
“In a sick country, every step to health is an insult to those who live on the sickness” – Bernard Malamud in THE FIXER.
Permit me now to jump to the period between 1999 and today when Nigeria had been under a worst form of federalism – in which the FG collects virtually all the funds belonging to the federating units and doles out what it chooses to states and local governments. This, by itself, is the mother of all forms of corruption. And, Garba works for a President who was a leading member of several military regimes and their collective assaults on our rights. On no account can any apple polisher and a tenant in the corridors of power expect to invest anybody who participated in previous atrocities with sainthood which history clearly demonstrates they don’t deserve. I can assure Garba that he might please his boss with that drivel, but right thinking Nigerians are not fooled. We understand that those who have been invited to “come and eat” will struggle hard not to have their plates removed and their butts kicked out. But they better be careful about their utterances. For every intolerable statement, there are rejoinders. Those who live in glass houses must stop throwing stones.
Garba was invited to “come and eat” inside the Rock under President Obasanjo as a Senior Special Assistant to former Vice President Atiku. His position was later deleted when OBJ and Atiku fell out. As an assistant to the VP, it is doubtful if he was ever with Obasanjo when any agreement was negotiated with foreign governments. Thus, even if Baba Iyabo ever asked “what is in it for me?”, Shehu was not a witness. At best, he was spreading a rumour. At worst he had been guilty of reporting “fake news”. For a former President of NGE, this is sad. He did not hurt Obasanjo – because he has provided no proof.
The late President Yar’Adua lasted less than three years in office and most of the time was spent in bed – either in Nigeria or abroad. It is doubtful if the poor man ever had sufficient strength to sit through long briefings about complex contract deals. Furthermore, Yar’Adua, like Shagari, had a strong reputation for integrity. Those disgraceful words – “what is in it for me? – could not have passed through his lips. Another “suspect” is now exonerated. That leaves one – Goodluck Azikiwe Ebele Jonathan.
Perhaps, no Nigerian President – military or civilian except Babangida – ever received as much bashing from me as Jonathan. But the man is a university graduate, not a disputed WAEC certificate holder. He can see from the lofty heights of the Presidency that there are easier ways for Presidents to make money than “what is in it for me?” Among the easiest swindles are frequent foreign trips to sign Memoranda of Understanding which actually are not confirmed agreements and making them appear like substantial achievements.
Garba was asked a question about recent trips by his boss and he flew off the handle. The answer he gave would have been sufficient without the libellous statements that he added on. Right now, appropriate reply has been drowned out by the gaffe that he felt compelled to add on. In the end, he did Buhari more damage than both of them realised.
“A precedent embalms a principle” – Lord Stowell, 1745-1836 (VBQ p 198).
I waited until now expecting President Buhari to either disclaim the statement by his spokesman or accord his predecessors the respect the office deserves. But he had kept quiet – giving the impression that he endorsed it. That was a terrible mistake. Buhari forgets that he will not be in office for ever. The insults he allows to be heaped on his predecessors, if that becomes the new normal, will certainly be thrown at him after he leaves office. He would have asked for them.
As for Shehu, I am aware from long experience that only cowards insult late or former leaders. It is doubtful if he would have had the guts to utter those words when Obasanjo and Jonathan were Presidents. I pray he will live long. We will see if he has the courage to repeat the slanders after Buhari leaves office.
THE ELEPHANT AND THE MINISTER – 1
“An organisation is known by the people it keeps.”
The All Progressives Congress, APC, has a serious problem. So does Nigeria. The ruling party has a lot of people who constitute a danger to the nation. We are ruled by such leaders that one asks repeatedly in despair – “How can we start to rebuild this country with leaders like these?”
First “the Elephant in the room” was again involved in two controversies. In each one, the “Elephant” was attacked by people young enough to be his nephews but who now hold him in contempt. In the second dispute, Elephant announced that Bayelsa airport was built at N100bn. The governor names the contractors and disclosed the contract sum was N70bn. We smiled. Elephant has now acquired the reputation for disputed statements. Up Chair?
Fashola, the poster governor of the 2007-2015 set of governors, now stands as a metaphor for the flunkies running the FG. Instead of staying silent, the former governor of several years announced that “Nigerian roads are not as bad as portrayed.” That is alarming. The man is a SAN for God’s sake. Whatever happened to the rules of evidence?