Sharing my thoughts and putting my message accross
By Frisky Larr
Unlike haters of President Muhammadu Buhari, I will not relent in stressing the reality that his ascension to the Presidency truly saved the nation from imminent collapse in the hands of dormant secessionists lurking in the dark from the North, South and East. More importantly, he rescued the nation from prominent and unrepentant looters! I will not relent in pointing out very many important achievements that have been made since his ascension to the Presidency and many things that have moved Nigeria forward. Some of such achievements are recorded in areas that other leaders before him did not delve into with the necessary commitment and doggedness. We will return to the subject as this discourse progresses.
Unlike his hailers and die-hard supporters, however, I will also not relent in pointing out his unforced errors and blatant failures, some of which are very uninspiring and absolutely unnecessary. Some are so dire that they have currently placed the nation on the brink of catastrophe. Most annoying though, is that they are all, absolutely avoidable.
While it is true that the nation has, for long, been held hostage by its greedy and often, egocentric leaders, it is also true that the hostage takers of today are a combination of such leaders and the largely half-educated and pseudo-intellectual citizenry, who beat the drums of praises and irrational support, sometimes for no reason other than sheer admiration and clannishness. Some are inspired and driven by the type of blind followership they show to religious leaders, who are scammers in trade but have the tragic position of leadership over non-discerning flocks, who are prepared to follow blindly to the bitter end. In the clad of such blindness, many have buried the need for questioning leaders and understanding more and perfected the craft of inventing eulogies and outlandish characterizations. They conjure logics and subscribe to weird spinning arguments that sound rational to them alone in the tragic world of make-believe that they choose to thrive in.
Diehard supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari are brilliant examples in this category.
No doubt, President Buhari has merited huge accolades, not the least for good intentions and records of achievements that many of his critics acknowledge as well. From the suppression of Boko Haram through the TSA implementation, salary bailout to states, giant strides in promoting self-sufficiency in agriculture, moving forward on solid mineral exploration, loot recovery, the exemplary prosecution of tribal affiliates before other tribes on corruption charges, up until the launching of massive infrastructural build-up, clearance of inherited salary and pension backlog, clearance of inherited government debts to contractors, etc. Indeed, some previous administrations supervised the stealing of pension and salary funds as well as made away with payments for infrastructure. Military chiefs stole money with ease that was meant for purchasing military hardware. In fact, President Buhari’s short-lived assault on the Judiciary to weed out corrupt judges was one daring area that none of his predecessors openly stepped into. Today, one big case trails the other in corruption prosecution. Thanks to Buhari, Nigerians know today, what budget-padding means and how legislators enrich themselves at the cost of impoverishing the entire nation. None of his predecessors found the need to expose this deadly cancer that was growing from one regime to the other.
These are immense achievements for a short period of three years that flies by in the speed of a whirlwind.
Unfortunately, however, President Buhari’s failures often lie precisely within the ambits of his celebrated successes. A logical oxymoron that simply beats the imagination while trying to make sense of it all! Taking the budget-padding issue as a typical example, the President, while exposing a long-standing criminal activity spanning several regimes and periods in the legislative chambers, also failed to follow up on exposing and prosecuting the criminals. On the contrary, he seemingly proceeded to even accept a lesser level of padding in the first budget that he signed into law after refusing to sign it on two previous occasions. A whistleblower, who triggered the alarm on the padded budget was shockingly ignored by the President and handed over to the wolves to feast upon.
In the 2018 budget that the President signed into law in the wake of reelection politicking, Muhammadu Buhari took a highly laudable step that broke with the tradition of several predecessors. Following an obnoxious eight months of delay in considering the budget by the Senate, the tinkered and highly altered version was sent to the President for assent. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, the President cried out to the public reporting that the Senate has usurped his rights of budget-drafting and strongly and arbitrarily altered allocations for infrastructural projects in favor of hiking the Senate’s own voracious appetite for larceny. This exposure did not solve the problem, though. Yet, it constitutes a major step in the right direction that any successor can take forward. Unfortunately, however, he proceeded to sign it into law without telling the public what he intends to do to curb the excesses. Even though information swirls on social media that legal action is pending in court that is challenging the Senate’s right to tinker with the budget, the public has no limited, to say the least of full-scale information, on what precise legal action was filed and what holds back quick judgment on the issue or what arguments the parties are advancing to support their positions in court. In other words, there is no indication whatsoever, in public space that any such litigation is on course. This, thus, leaves room for the speculation that either a systematic and state-sponsored social media disinformation to support the President is on top gear or there is an overall media incompetence in performing the duty of informing the public. A situation that would be tantamount to the echo of the complaints that I aired in my book “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism” blowing hot air to bring down personalities but oblivious of the performance of sacred functions!
Today, Muhammadu Buhari’s government is flying on second-term re-election mode setting all active configurations to play to the gallery amid the drumbeat of blind and endless praises by the President’s admirers. Yet, all is not well. The President has had a chain of serious failings that MAY cost him reelection in spite of all illusionary appraisals, the type that misled Goodluck Jonathan to his political no-man’s-land. The only reason that Muhammadu Buhari still looks astoundingly good for reelection today, is simply the absence of a credible replacement for him, far and wide. But we will come to that later.
The hugely avoidable sins of President Buhari are much more important an issue for the present moment than the absence of a replacement for the next four-year term. Else, there would be little understanding for the need for plurality in the field, by the wider voting masses.
In spite of several years in the doldrums struggling to become President, it came as a huge surprise that Muhammadu Buhari was not fully prepared for the challenges of the Presidency that he so cherished. He seems to have run repeatedly for the Presidency with his mind set basically, on two formidable principles: “Fight corruption” and “Return political powerbase to the North”.
The train of “Fighting corruption and decay with zero tolerance” is one that every Nigerian will appreciate and jump upon every single day of their life, if the fighter was serious, ruthless, impartial and uncompromising. From the days of Olusegun Obasanjo as President, Nigerians have shown a degree of extreme sensitivity towards selective prosecution. While President Obasanjo did an unprecedented and laudable job in setting up the EFCC and prosecuting many corrupt politicians, the whole achievement was marred by the public perception that the enemies of the President alone were prosecuted giving his friends a free ride to unperturbed looting. Right or wrong, the perception stuck. Unfortunately, President Buhari doesn’t seem to have learned much from this mishap.
With actions and inactions, the President showed huge reluctance in calling out people that were close to him even when the deeds had gone far beyond nasal perception. Even if Babachir Lawal, Ayo Oke and co. are facing prosecution today, the President, like a child, who despises class attendance for learning, is still displaying the greatest reluctance to face the tragic issue of Kemi Adeosun head-on. In fact, there are times in the history of humanity, when we all take a deep bite on a sour apple and make deeply regrettable amends on crucial spots. That is the character of consistence. The sitting Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, is reported to have forged a certificate of National Youth Service – the rough equivalent of post-education military service in many other countries – to qualify for appointment as a Minister. So far, this report by a reputable news outlet has not been compromised. Yet, the government seems completely immune to consequences for the culprit, even in the face of seeming admission of guilt and a weighty public outcry. No political price to pay. No comment from the President.
The vengeful re-opening of the corruption file of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo in the pettiest manner possible, only after the ex-President had openly rejected the incumbent’s second term bid was another glaring display of “unseriousness” on the part of President Buhari. Telling wanton lies in anger and desperation, the President reported of an ex-President, who went about “bragging” that he wasted money on electricity, when the nation knew just nothing of any bragging ex-President anywhere in the public information square. Buhari even went on to quote figures that he knew and actually knows to be at best, controversial, if not outright inaccurate. In the most childish and pettiest of forms possible, he asked an applauding audience of packaged haters, “Where is the power? Where is the power?” Indeed, the need to re-open a file that had long been processed by two previous administrations while worse scenarios were playing out right before his very nose in the judiciary, legislature and even his immediate environment, underscored President Buhari’s penchant for needless populism and pandering to hate sentiments for political sympathies. In fact, his immediate predecessor left him a can of worms to unearth and it is doubtful that he has gone through one-third of such serious cases. Unfortunately, however, very few Nigerians prefer feeding the hate-pleasure in them to seeing through the odious design in moments of overwhelming emotional and irrational obsession.
Just on March 03, 2017, a lengthy American report on democracy, human rights and labor in Nigeria (https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2016/af/265288.htm) stated unequivocally that “Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. … pervasive corruption affect all levels of government.” It is worth remembering that Buhari rode to the Presidency on the cloak of a no-nonsense arbiter. Abdulmumin Jibril had a dossier on thieves in the legislative chambers, with whom he interacted, wined and dined. The President was not interested any bit in knowing who they were or what they did, not even at the cost of also prosecuting Jibrin along with the people he accused if dirt was also found on him. No. Invariably, he sent the ultimate message that the country could well do with some dose of corruption and malpractices since he couldn’t take on everyone. The fact that budgets were padded, ordinarily, with the help of individuals in the bureaucratic establishment, is not a secret. Yet, no investigation has been carried out to weed out the bad herbs in the midst of a raging battle. All the subsidy thieves of the Jonathan days are still a mystery locked in some secret boxes. These are a part of President Buhari’s “One step forward, two steps backwards” philosophy no matter how many imperfect steps he believes he may have taken to curb budget-padding. Reversibility and the human factor remain incurable diseases.
The reality that has not dawned on the President for now, however, is the fact that a lot of vices and evils may have been chopped off today, but perception will ultimately remain the final judge in history. Who will bother to know that the Ghana-must-go moneybags are no longer exchanging hands freely in the lobbies today? Who will care if railway lines run from Abakiliki to Zaria? If Senators and Representatives are still becoming overnight millionaires before the eyes of an anti-corruption crusader, who seems to tolerate them without a care, all those positive steps will simply pale into insignificance. The same applies to the decimation of Boko Haram that the President set his eyes upon only in the latter days of his quest for the Presidency. No one will remember this feat, which by the way, is now suffering serious setbacks, if the President allows it to be overshadowed by avoidable foolish mistakes. President Buhari does not seem to have learnt much lessons from the Obasanjo days, in which unnecessary enemies set off the Niger Delta militancy and the kidnapping of expatriates. After all, the President’s refusal and failure to prosecute his anti-corruption war with zero tolerance as exemplified by his backtracking on cleansing the judiciary, betrayal of Abdulmumin Jibril, bickering on Adeosun and a host of countless other cases, he has little choice than to tread with caution when making political enemies. This would have been irrelevant if he had been ruthless in uprooting every corrupt tree on his path and won the formidable support of the masses to be his advocate.
Indeed, it is the highly simplistic execution of these two apparent political objectives of fighting corruption and returning the powerbase to the north, that speaks more in favor of their veracity than much other ancillary evidence. The fight against corruption has been compromised in the most simplistic manner possible almost re-sounding the echo “Touch not my anointed but blow up my insulted.” On the other front, the calculation seems to have been the fulfillment of the constitutionally laid-out prerequisites for the Federal character, while the age-long anger at the divulgence of powerbase from the north and spreading it throughout the federation by Obasanjo, was to be given a free ride to re-actualize the post-independence northern grip on power.
While the rift with former President Olusegun Obasanjo topped the political agenda, voices emerged on social media citing the refusal of the President to accept some Obasanjo’s nominees for political appointments as the root cause of their dispute. The loudness of the outcry from both sides of the political aisle, however, seems to suggest that President Buhari’s agenda in the rejection of several nominations from different quarters was simply his deep commitment to the re-northernization of the political establishment. If true, this short-sighted calculation simply seems to have negated the reversibility of such futile exercises.
I have, indeed, represented the view that a President should always be free to choose people that he can best work with irrespective of their region of origin. Unfortunately, however, team-compatibility is something else altogether, than ethnic divisiveness.
As if there wasn’t much pressing issue to tackle on the national stage than such pettiness, the President seems to have taken this issue so seriously as exemplified by the appointment of all military service chiefs from a specific region, that he even allows it to get between him and many of his political facilitators in his ascension to the Presidency.
Today, the engine of the President’s infrastructural ambition is being oiled by a widening debt profile after the drastic reduction of same by a predecessor. The outcry across the aisle is that of incompetence on the economic front and is echoed by people, who know far better than I do, on this important discipline. Moreover, the simple battle for survival on the part of Fulani herdsmen that spans several administrations and years, was allowed to spiral out of control under the incumbent President through a long period of sheer indifference that some observers believe, speaks to petty tribal sympathies. Killings attributed to Fulani herdsmen today, evidentially have nothing more in common with the struggle for grazing land. It has long metamorphosed into contract killings as a political statement at the cost of innocent lives, boiling down still to political inexperience in the delicate craft of making political enemies and playing forces against one another.
Now, it is becoming a major benchmark for presidential efficiency or inefficiency like Boko Haram was in adjudging the President’s predecessor. Reports now emerge, of armed attacks on defenseless villagers lasting 8 hours and spanning 11 villages in the Boko Haram fashion of old, without security forces coming anywhere near, while a total of 52 villages have been reportedly sacked since the start of the conflict. After it galvanized hidden critics from general silence into open agitation as the last straw that broke the camel’s back, the President turned vindictive and became confrontational, once again, out of sheer political inexperience. Today, the subject remains high on the political agenda overshadowing almost everything else tthat the President has achieved.
As a potent political subject that will always capture top-spot on the agenda, the sponsored killings are likely to continue to keep the President on edge and torment him as his strongest political weakness. It may be utilized by by forces that he failed to confront while the sun was shining. Yet, the President had a choice. Inter-personal disputes and conflicts that should have never been allowed to take a strong foothold on the periphery were stubbornly nurtured to fester into monstrosity. Where dialog was needed, precisely after an open letter, the President chose conflict unnecessarily to attract applause from petty minds on the advice, also of petty thinkers and half-baked strategists – the type that buried Jonathan.
Today, his adversaries mock him quietly because he had set himself the wrong priorities in an attempt to flaunt the credentials of a democrat-extraordinary and is now finally turning around to face a bitter reality.
The Fayoses and the Sarakis, you name them. The President had the opportunity to tame them all and keep governance on the course of calmer waters without diversions and side shows for the gallery. Yet, he chose to pretend that he was presiding over a matured democracy, where everyone knew the rules and the limits. He pandered to western sympathies and pampered characters that were bent on killing the fabrics of a nascent democracy. Yet, characters like Ayodele Fayose and Bukola Saraki would never even have been tolerated in grown democratic climes in the first place. Today, Saraki is reportedly sponsoring criminal gangs and defection gangs. The President defied experienced counseling at the appropriate time and is now, suddenly waking up to the dawn of reelection campaign to trim the wings of a flying poison.
The name of the deplorable petty game has now been defined as the sharing of returned Abacha loot as campaign bribes to an electorate that may sometimes choose porridge over treasure. Is Muhammadu Buhari not far above this petty level of politicking? What has happened to the presidential clinic in Aso Rock? Has it been equipped to a presidential standard? No update. No public information. What about hiring high quality doctors to man the presidential clinic and halt the incessant overseas flight for treatment? Wherein does the President see the urgency in money distribution aside electoral favor?
In spite of all these weaknesses though, Nigeria keeps waiting for the opposition to put forth a candidate that has the requisite appeal and acumen to dislodge Muhammadu Buhari. A candidate that will take the positives of the incumbent President one step or even two steps further! Move Nigeria two steps forward where Buhari took just one step. A candidate that will be prepared to jail his own wife or mother, if he finds her guilty of criminal malpractices! It must be a candidate that will not bicker or lose time like the incumbent President does each time decisiveness is expected of him. Vice President Osinbanjo showed Nigerians a taste of decisive and positive actionism with his infamous visit to the Nigerian international airport when his principal was sick before he was quickly tamed by the President’s men. Yet, Buhari has not got the message. Nigeria today, cannot afford an Umaru Musa Yar’Adua type or the Goodluck Jonathan type of President, who refused to move the nation forward from where they found it.
Today, only the spirit of Tunde Idiagbon would have been in a position to topple Muhammadu Buhari. A Nuhu Ribadu properly nurtured through the years without amateurish political prostitution, would have come halfway to dislodging Muhammadu Buhari.
For now, President Buhari’s weaknesses may be plain angering and have disappointed all the expectations of a revolutionary. Yet, finding a replacement from the current breed of politicians lining the public space that will satisfy and promise Nigerians a better stewardship than Buhar’s seems plain utopian and an impossible task. That is public perception as it stands today.
Frisky Larr is the author of “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism”, “Africa’s Diabolical Entrapment” and “Lost in Democracy”. Watch for the upcoming work “A Journey through Times”