Sharing my thoughts and putting my message accross
By Frisky Larr
At about the same time in 2014, the news media – Social and Mainstream – were busy showcasing the deep polarization that ripped through the Nigerian political landscape in the common quest to salvage Nigeria. The country was in the suffocating grip of a very clueless leader, who sought to hang on to power by all means, even though the real power was wielded by everyone else around him but himself alone. Today, we are back to square one in the infamous pattern of “Same Procedure as every year”.
In the euphoria that greeted the contrasting personal qualities of candidate Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, as opposed to President Goodluck Jonathan, expectations were hyped, not the least, by the very actions and pronouncements of the candidate Muhammadu Buhari. “We will give corruption a bloody nose” was one of his most popular propagandist slogans. The earth tremored in trepidation and angels bowed before him. Humans panicked in real-time fears. Some thieves had cause to flee overseas after failed personal overtures. The petulance of hustles and whitewashing political journalism that followed, bore immense testimony to the tremor of the earth upon Buhari’s ascension to power.
Now the time has come to take the stock and strike a balance again.
The lack-luster inaugural speech aside, Buhari enjoyed a huge amount of goodwill and trust even in spite of his failure to hit-the-ground-running. He wasted six good months before installing a government. It was the first assumed pointer to his comfort zone of sole rulership without much input from lieutenants and subordinates. Yet, the inner circle that he subsequently constituted, still manages to pull a fast one, sometimes ignoring him and sometimes, keeping him in the dark and usurping his powers at will. We will come to this in much details as this discourse progresses.
Starting with his immediate clampdown on looters and reorganization of the military in its fight against insurgency, President Buhari made a very good start, chasing terrorists into hiding. He could not be accused of tribalism or nepotism. The fight against corruption began with his own kinsmen. He moved swiftly to restructure the regime of fuel subsidy having lambasted the running of the project under his predecessors, particularly under President Jonathan. President Buhari swung into action and had refineries functioning again albeit temporarily and promised to build new refineries and ensure that existing refineries will work at installed capacities. It was the breath of a new life.
He aroused expectations (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmG_dYY7YRA) that he would negotiate with foreign companies to refine crude oil against a token commission and have them bring back the refined product for public consumption. This way, the public would not even realize that crude oil had been sent out and reimported as refined fuel. That was the expected interim solution before refineries would work in full swing. It was supposedly the way he did the trick in his military days when they suffered shortfalls. His infamous sloganeering question then, was “Who is subsidizing who?”
Today, there is hardly any refinery functioning anymore. The nation is now at the mercy of just one man – Aliko Dangote – waiting on him to complete the construction of his private mega-refinery. Never mind that Olusegun Obasanjo foresaw this early enough in 2007 and sought to have precisely, this same investor, sanitize and completely refurbish and overhaul existing refineries. He was sabotaged by the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and accused of selling government properties to cronies at a token price, also by a persistent psyche of hateful antagonism, that does not care for facts and truism. Subsidy payment, although sold publicly as nominally abolished, continues today, as ever before, even if with lesser fraud and the hitherto, insanely crowded field of importers. Yet, in spite of the integrity mantra, transparency continues to be a rare commodity in the oil sector. Precisely this is where President Muhammadu Buhari began to derail.
As in many other fields, the President never considers it necessary to communicate directly with the nation and inform its citizens, when things happened that may have changed the trajectory of his promised policy implementation. Today, Muhammadu Buhari counts as one President that has shunned his electorates with the most arrogance and ignorance. Even Goodluck Jonathan met the Press regularly and dialogued with his folks.
Integrity became a huge problem once again, when the President, who rode on the waves of honor and glory for his own election, now travels abroad repeatedly for medical treatment (surpassed only by a late President, who stayed and died abroad for months unending). A practice that he, reportedly, vowed not to encourage. He does this today, without still making any project-based effort to create a world class hospital in his own palace, not to mention the country, manned by highly qualified doctors even if they needed to be flown in time and again. He just doesn’t care.
That President Muhammadu Buhari survived a grievous assassination plot in the Abuja presidential palace through a deliberate food-poisoning attempt in 2017, is known only in rumors. It was the run-up to his long stay in London on medical treatment. Many insiders have confirmed the accuracy of this rumor in hushed tones only. Yet, we are facing a political structure that should set historical records straight for the public and possible successors for a clearer understanding of the working of power in Aso Rock under the first self-proclaimed leader of integrity from whom openness should be the least expected. Never mind that the citizens have a right to know the state of health of their leader. Nigerians give it to themselves in their self-confessed acceptance of political immaturity by not pressing hard. The President has, thus, successfully hidden behind the veil of privacy to keep his sickness secret from the public that he governs. That much is called integrity.
And then, there was this lengthy submission written by Prof. Wole Soyinka in the run-up to the Presidential election of 2007. The Professor had warned Nigerians urgently, to desist from voting in Muhammadu Buhari as President (never mind that he now sings Buhari’s praise more than he tries to keep him in checks) in the face of his ugly clannish acts of nepotism and merciless execution of young souls while he was a military Head-of-State. The suitcase saga of shielding a Northern Emir from accountability for a breach of an extant draconian law that was brutally enforced on a non-Northerner, was a particular point in question.
Today, many actions of the President seem not only to be confirming and entrenching Wole Soyinka’s fear and warning of clannishness, the President does not even seem to care if he hurts public sensitivities or not. In the most spiteful of attitudes towards his own citizens, the President stays stoically silent and unnecessarily defiant, when public outcry grows deafening and unbearable on crucial issues. The cry of the massive northernization in the appointment of service chiefs (some complain of a trickle down even to the level of Divisional Police Officers) is a major point in question. As I have said in previous exposés, it has long become obvious that one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s key agenda in his quest for political power was the return of power to the North. His second priority was to “Give corruption a bloody nose”. Today, the level of northernization in the choice of service chiefs, far transcends the choice of people he can best work with.
On this same issue of extreme north-leaning appointment of operatives into crucial political and security positions, Vice President, Yemi Osinbanjo, was once on record as declaring publicly that the issue will be looked into and corrected. Yet, the President by his actions, never seeks to explain his rationale – directly or indirectly – for public discernment and never tries to be seen as actualizing his deputy’s drift, which should be assumed to have been a coordinated pronouncement.
The President allowed the so-called herdsmen’s killings to go on for ages with hundreds of innocent souls wantonly slaughtered by blood-thirsty marauders, without uttering a single word to reassure the restive, insecurity-weary public in the geo-political divide. Some observers claimed openly that the President seemed to have had a positive leaning towards his Fulani kinsmen, who seemed to be asserting themselves above a rival ethnic group in the aftermath of the senseless killings. Thank goodness, no more report of these atrocities is heard today. It was Buhari’s own Jonathan-type Boko Haram moment. He kept mute. Just mute.
Integrity took another hit, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo couldn’t take it anymore and vented his anger through an open letter, with yet another mass killing by supposed Fulani herdsmen, serving as the last straw. The incumbent President in the most simplistic, petty and unpresidential outing possible, took to telling outright lies as a counter-attack, claiming that a former President went “bragging” about spending $16 billion on power. No former President bragged, and no former President spent that amount on power. President Buhari knew and knows it but allowed anger and frustration to get the better of his emotions while he was deceitfully applauded by a lot of people to his incoherent chant: “Where is the power? Where is the power?”. Integrity never encourages lies.
Early into his Presidency, information surfaced about millions of Naira spent on grass-cutting by very close aides of the President circumventing extant rules for personal enrichment. Evidence flooded the public domain. The President kept mute. The blatant abuse of power by close personal aides stopping Ministers from seeing the President when they desperately needed to, came up high on the political agenda. Everyone heard it. Only the President seemed left out. The President shielded his aides from prosecution for as long as he could until the pressure threatened to weigh in on his re-election ambition. In the end, the big stick was wielded on the Babachirs and the Okes but not before stretching the reach of integrity to its very limits.
Then came the revelation of the forged NYSC exemption certificate. At the center of it all, was a highly respected Minister of Finance (whose competence was roundly certified) and a reputable online news portal. Kemi Adeosun, was, by all accounts, a senior cabinet member. In the eye of the storm, she posed a serious threat to the integrity of the man she served. Yet, the President let it drag on for months unending until it was finally recognized as a threat to the re-election bid.
The Adeosun-gate then became one issue that finally got me questioning the President’s pattern of reasoning and that of his advisers. Is the President resistant to counseling or he simply has substandard counselors like his media team? In saner political climes, one of several options that would have been mulled and adopted to finally retain Kemi Adeosun, as the President, obviously intended to do, would have been to launch a Public Relations offensive. After all, the continued services of Kemi Adeosun in the government seems to have been more of a prized asset to the President and his confidants than her exit. Yet, they were absolutely clueless on how to weather the storm. A wave of media interviews by Kemi Adeosun, explaining her own side of the story for public understanding (no matter what pundits may analyze thereafter) would have laid the groundwork for remorse and innocence and above all, clearer understanding. After all, the issue is clear. The certificate is fake, and it is a crime and it must be prosecuted. For an integrity President, who cherishes the services of a highly qualified vicarious agent, swift prosecution would and should have been facilitated with the resultant payment of a fine or other minor punishment. This could have been followed by the belated issuance of the proper certificate and the rejection of any resignation she may have tendered to the President. By this means, the President would have taken full responsibility for his decision and explained this to the public for better understanding. It was a failure of intellectual leadership and the Minister was probably not worth the stakes in presidential reckoning.
In the end, the President reinforced his long-standing image of being too hesitant to wield the big stick when his own close confidants err and break the laws. It was a major blow to integrity once again much like the Abba Kyari debacle that is currently playing out before his very eyes. The element of swiftness in action is just not a Buhari trademark.
The President’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, is reputed for arrogance and self-aggrandized lordship over all other subordinates of the President. The rumor mill also fingered him in the successful effort that relatively tamed the Vice President in the second and long absence of President Buhari on medical leave. Today, he is in the news for all the wrong reasons. A corruption scandal allegedly involving the scamming of an unsuspecting kinsman of Abba Kyari to the tune of 25 million Naira, by Abba Kyari himself in collaboration with other accomplices has been publicly unveiled in a videoed Radio talk show within the past few weeks and months. The live-streaming online show had in attendance, the accuser, his corroborator and also sympathizers of Abba Kyari. The accusations could not be clearer, more direct and more forthright. Abba Kyari was named as the principal culprit in misleading the accuser into a non-existent contract for the supply of vehicles to the government, for which no budgetary allocation existed. The victim was required to make advance payment that was never to see the light of day. Abba Kyari was insinuated to have abused his office by influencing the Department of State Security (DSS) to incarcerate people, including a senior police officer, indiscriminately without trial as well as humiliate them and plot further schemes on them in a matter that has nothing to do with State Security.
The lid was blown open on the incident because the helpless and frustrated victim went to the media to cry out for help. Naturally, the accused, Abba Kyari, by virtue of his position, will not appear on a radio talkshow to wash his dirty linens in the public. He will not speak out and will not comment on the accusations. Yet, his boss, whose integrity label is quickly called into question will not show – directly or indirectly – any discernible reaction to salvage his integrity. Not the least, the involvement of the President’s Chief of Staff in such a petty case of 419’ing should be of concern to the President himself. Worse still, the abuse of the Department of State Security should call for heads to roll. The least that a serious government of integrity should have done, would have been to set up an inquiry without delay, to recommend measures on curbing such excesses in the future. The President is mute and will neither act nor comment in his wrong priority of stubbornly ignoring the very wrong issues.
Open to blackmail?
The President’s actions in his attempted clampdown on the judiciary to clear the rot in that third estate, is one for which he still has my admiration and highest regards to the present day. It is, at the same time, the singular action that exposed him to me as not being the long-awaited Messiah. It was the action of a leader, who, even though, had the good of the nation at heart, lacked the strength of will and skills to fight it to the bitter end. Why did he not stubbornly follow through the way he stubbornly insists on maintaining service chiefs almost exclusively from the North? After all, democracy is nothing but people’s power. The constitution derives from people’s power. Revolution is nothing but people’s power. What more support could the President have wanted but the people’s support? Did the President finally end up being blackmailed? What skeleton could the President have had in the closet? That the electoral victory that made him President cost a lot of money that he did not have, is not a secret. In the non-transparent electoral system that Nigeria operates, Nigerians will never know, where the President got his funds from, who contributed what and what anyone may want to get or actually got in return.
Till the present moment, the nation is not aware of any single subsidy fraudster of the past dispensation that the President has successfully docked and held accountable. Like a novice in the game of politics, some powerful intra-party opponents have played on his intelligence like a brawling tiger tamed with a snap of the finger.
This is not to say that nothing good has come out of this President. So groundbreaking are some of his achievements that I admire in the field of agriculture, infrastructure projects, streamlined economic discipline in paying off inherited debts in salary and contracts, fuel supply etc. that some of my readers often erroneously accuse me of being a Buhari image launderer. On the whole however, the President has been a massive disappointment in his failure to live up to the expectations that he aroused and his failure to show intellectual leadership and uncompromising patriotism.
Take his choice of media and public relations management as an example. One is shocked sometimes, seeing his media operatives and image-makers behave no differently from cyber trolls in their choice of words negating the highness of the office they are working for. It is not unusual, for instance, to read a presidential spokesman irresponsibly using the word “Wailers” to describe opponents of the President, precisely the same way substandard online trolls would do, even though the President is there to serve both his own enemies and his own friends. Even worse to observe are those Internet foot-soldiers, who often claim to be irreconcilable Buhari loyalists, either because they are being paid or are truly voluntary fighters, who blindly defend and do more damage to the image of the President. The blind, laughable and outright double-standard defense of Kemi Adeosun’s indefensible crime played out pathetically in this regard. Some of such Internet loyalists are so superficial, shallow and unconstructive in their overblown endorsement of their self-worth, one would be forgiven for thinking they are emeritus academics of the Cambridge and Oxford world. With often very shallow analysis and superficial facts, they win the applause of the beer-parlor-type online cheerleaders and consider themselves superstars with little to zero knowledge of the scientific and empirical rules of objective and rational analyses that learned minds routinely plough their trades in.
In the overall assessment, it is obvious, from all ramifications that President Buhari’s decision to run for a second term was a highly controversial one even by his own personal standards. With his last so-called leave-of-absence in London that was in fact, a medical leave for routine treatment, President Buhari knows so well that his health is a very major issue in the scheme of things. It was, definitely, not an easy task deciding to run for reelection. As it stands today, my gut feeling tells me that there is, certainly, no single candidate in the ranks fielded by the opposition that can come close to beating Buhari in a presidential race. Not because of the President’s perfection. No. Not because his so-called integrity mantra has not been put to test with dismal failure in several instances as shown above. No. Muhammadu Buhari is generally perceived as not being personally corrupt. This is yet to be proven wrong with objective facts and figures. The crucial question then is whether or not, President Buhari is placing his personal ambition ahead and above the interest of the country. Is it his desire to defy the establishment, which doesn’t want him to return to power or his sheer lust for power? How far he is prepared to make compromises and not fight all the way to protect the interest of Nigeria against vested interests has been exhaustively analyzed above.
Today, foreign outlets report military gains by the Islamic State of West Africa (ISWA) and Boko Haram pushing back on the military gains made on the national security front as early as 2015. The ill-equipped Nigerian Army is reportedly, falling victim to superior assaults in ambushes. As many as hundreds of soldiers are reportedly being killed in one single attack with little domestic reporting. Morale has reportedly dwindled dramatically, and scared soldiers hardly dare to leave their barracks. (https://af.reuters.com/article/africaTech/idAFL3N1VZ544) Time and again, Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo has shown with swift and prudent actions, what Nigerians actually expected of President Muhammadu Buhari. Saboteurs within the President’s own kitchen cabinet worked hard to frustrate a smooth working relationship between the President and his deputy. The President stood firm and secured the honor of his deputy.
Then, why does President Muhammadu Buhari not simply make way for a more vibrant Yemi Osinbajo that he has so groomed?
Frisky Larr is the author of several political discourses. Watch out for the upcoming collection of essays “A Journey Through Times”