BY Shaka Momodu
There is a struggle going on in Nigeria. It is a struggle between two evils – one, less so with a touch of human face and the other, extremely so – aloof, insensitive, unfeeling, deeply hypocritical and incompetent on a level never before seen in our country. My dilemma is not so much with choosing between the two, but about some people’s warm embrace of the latter. Ordinarily, one would think that the less dangerous of the two would be more attractive to many people. But I have been shocked by some people’s blind craving for danger masked in superlative adjectives of integrity, character, honesty, etc.
I must confess that I have been struggling to understand the rationale and motive of some of these people for their willful blind support for a man whose legendary lack of competence and capacity for the job of president of a diverse country as Nigeria has been established beyond a shadow of a doubt, not by murmurs of ill-feeling or whispers of rumours born out of partisan jealousy, but by loud evidence, albeit with the tragic consequences that have come through the massive decline in all facets of our national life. We are in strange times, an era where failure is hailed as excellence by a vocal group of revisionists hell-bent on continuing the path of destruction.
This government has been laying the blame for its poor performance on others. President Muhammadu Buhari’s supporters have remained in lockstep with him, creating excuses and celebrating his stunning incompetence as excellence. All policy decisions made by the previous government are bad in the eyes of this government which unfortunately has shown no intellectual depth, vision, rigour of character or creative ingenuity, to create superior alternative solutions. Sometimes I get amused when I read the president’s complaints and lamentations in the newspapers. I ask myself, how can someone whose government is totally bereft of ideas and energy condemn the work of others. A man who brazenly claims other people’s achievements the result of thoughtfulness has the temerity to condemn the same people for lacking imagination.
Let us even set all that aside and restrict our assessment to three key areas, viz., economic reforms, restoring security and intensifying the fight against corruption – the tripod upon which then-candidate Muhammadu Buhari anchored his vision to transform Nigeria. He received thunderous support from who’s who on this tripod, pushed through on the strength of the Buhari triangle of personal integrity, character, and ascetic lifestyle.
But as things stand today, can Buhari’s supporters really tell us from the bottom of their heart that he has delivered on his promise in the area of security? Some of us will not be surprised at the ”yes” chorus from the self-deluding Buharists. Buhari’s strongest selling point was that as a retired general, he was best equipped to deal ruthlessly with the anarchist Boko Haram. Of course that belief was somewhat not misplaced given his advertised track record. Well, it has proved to be misplaced after all – an exaggerated regard for a man who has repeatedly demonstrated contempt for values of national cohesion. In the mad hysteria of 2015, our nation was lured with sweet nothings into the hangman’s noose. Now in 2019, those same characters that lured the people are not done yet; they want to finally kick the stool off our nation’s feet. What is wrong with the black man of the Nigerian specie?
A report of the US-based International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) released last week spoke volumes about the state of the war against Boko Haram. Extracts from the report indicated that the Nigerian government had completely and comprehensively lost control of the engagement with Boko Haram and could show no instance when the government had tactical, theatre, strategic or information dominance of any aspects of the conflict. According to the report, as the insurgent groups grow stronger by the day, the government forces grow weaker and more beset by morale collapse.
It said: “It is fair to say that the Nigerian intelligence community itself is no longer sure what groups even comprise ‘Boko Haram’, nor has it addressed the international logistical, ideological, and support aspects contributing to the ongoing viability of the groups. The conduct of the war in the North is tied to the corruption in the military and Buhari — ring-fenced by his own team — is unable to tackle the issue.”
The report stated further that the leadership of the military, including the National Security Adviser, Maj.-Gen. Mohammed Babagana Monguno (rtd), rather than concentrate on how to defeat the insurgents is preoccupied with how to stop the leakage of information about the massive corruption running into the equivalent of many billions of dollars that has taken place on the pretext of fighting Boko Haram. All these happened on the watch of “Mr Integrity” and a “no-nonsense anti-corruption czar”.
When Buhari took office in 2015, we were dealing with a largely decimated Boko Haram. Four years down the line, our country is dealing with at least four major security threats, a strengthened and highly equipped Boko Haram, ISIS West Africa Province (ISWAP), terrorist herdsmen, and heavily armed bandits that have turned Zamfara State into a killing field. Recall that when 39 people were slaughtered in Zamfara in February last year, the state Governor Abdulaziz Yari lamented how he supported and campaigned for Buhari on the strength of Buhari’s advertised capacity to end insecurity in the country. Yari, a staunch Buhari ally, spoke the truth many in Buhari’s orbit would never admit when he thought he had seen the worst.
That is the tragedy of Nigeria. Needless to remind every concerned Nigeria that the Zamfara situation as in other parts of the country has progressively gone worse, and yet the government’s response has been lacklustre, aloof and totally irresponsible. Because of the worsening security situation in Zamfara State, Yari is now begging for a state of emergency to be declared. Unsurprisingly, Buhari insensitively launched his reelection campaign in Akwa Ibom on the back of the most recent killings in Zamfara. His campaign saw nothing wrong with that. They want to win the election by all means. Talk to those in his campaign team and all you hear is the pompous rhetoric of how they “will win in February”.
In the president’s home state of Katsina, Governor Aminu Masari has joined in crying out about the state of insecurity at an extraordinary security meeting in Katsina. This was how he put it: “Our state is currently under serious siege by armed robbers, kidnappers and armed bandits who arrest rural people at the grassroots at will and demand ransom, which if not paid, they kill their victims. The people of Katsina, in the 34 local governments, now sleep with one eye closed and the other opened.” Despite the poor situation in Katsina, Masari is still campaigning for Buhari, for whom he has vowed to deliver millions of votes for his reelection. Does this make sense? Is this not a classic case of suffering and smiling?
For these people, Buhari must continue not because he is performing, but because of their “conscientious stupidity”. What a shame! While we embrace incompetence, it is Nigeria that suffers and human lives that are lost. Have you not also heard? Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima has raised the alarm that the security situation is getting worse, but said he would not criticise Buhari because the president has given him (the governor) “unfettered access to him”. So because of that unfettered access, he cannot criticise the president, even when it is obvious the situation is getting out of hand? Another classic case of “conscientious stupidity”.
Who would forget in hurry how under former President Jonathan, the Borno Elders regularly held meetings and issued statements that undermined the fight against Boko Haram? They have not issued one state statement since Buhari became president (please correct me if I am wrong). There is more to this than meets the eye in this Boko Haram tragedy. Let me ask Buhari’s supporters; are Masari and Shittima PDP members? Or are they now moles who want Buhari to fail?
Now, is anyone surprised that the killer herdsmen have suddenly paused their bloody takeover of farmlands in the middle belt and across the country? You see, they are very wise; they wouldn’t do anything that negates the reelection bid of their patron saint, and President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari. Their umbrella association, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders, has already endorsed Buhari who has been protecting and shielding herdsmen from prosecution for all the unspeakable crimes committed against our country. Is it not curious that all the marauding herdsmen from Libya, Mali and Senegal (as the president wanted us to believe), have suddenly ceased to find their way to Nigeria as the elections approach? What we are witnessing now is merely a pause to ease the path for Buhari’s reelection.
But it is a testament to foolishness for some people to celebrate Buhari for that. I bet you, if he wins (God forbid), herdsmen will resume their slaughter of innocent people and the burning down of communities with even more ferocity and vehemence. Mark my words: those who are allowing themselves to be deceived by the appearance of peace and praising Buhari for restoring order should continue in their “conscientious stupidity”. Are you surprised that all the talk of establishing “cattle colonies” across the country has suddenly been put in abeyance as the elections approach? These guys are wise!
Now let’s look at the reality on the ground. What is the state of the economy under Buhari? The economy by his own admission is in bad shape. For the president to admit the obvious is even putting it mildly. The economy is actually in terrible shape owing principally to the president’s poor handling of it. But his supporters are having none of that. The economy, they say, is in excellent shape. Every king, the saying goes, needs a jester. Buhari does have them in abundance.
The labour report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has shown that the country’s unemployment rate worsened in the third quarter of 2018, rising from 18.8 per cent in the third quarter of 2017 to 23.1 per cent in the corresponding quarter of 2018. In effect, over 20.9 million people were out of jobs. Inflation is on a steady rise once again. Since this government came to power, there has been an unprecedented decline in economic activities in the country while GDP growth has stagnated. An alarming 85 million people are living in extreme poverty culminating in the country being crowned the poverty capital of the world. This was a telling indictment of his government; a government that inherited an economy that was on a growth trajectory but watched it plunge into recession in less than a year cannot be trusted with anything. Please I want to know where Buhari has performed well in the last four years.
I once asked a diehard supporter of the president if he would recruit someone like him to run his business. His response froze me to the ground. “No,” he said. “Why,” I asked. He just rambled incoherently. Then I asked him if Buhari was not good for his small business, why should he be good for Nigeria. His response was more coherent this time. “Oh he has recovered some money, besides, he has integrity.” Recovered money? Well folks, that is the tragic mindset of many a Buhari supporter.
Buhari’s reign has left Nigeria in near-mortal ruins and imperiled the future of generations living or unborn. But despite his fumbling with power and the danger he now poses to Nigeria’s national security, economic, political reforms and ultimately survival, Buhari’s supporters have arrogantly hoisted him on a petard as the moral arc of integrity, character and exemplary conduct even though he has so far failed miserably the test of these attributes in his second chance to right the wrongs of his past.
All the economic reforms initiated by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) including the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) have been killed by Buhari. He refused to sign the historic Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) which was conceived to liberalise the governance structure of Nigeria’s oil industry and was one of the four bills that formed the omnibus PIB. His excuse for rejecting the PIGB was that it whittled down his powers. Meanwhile, the Buhari government is still neck-deep in endless turnaround maintenance of the nation’s obsolete refineries that are not still working with all the attendant corruption.
I have had to deal with doubts that crept into my understanding of the meaning of integrity, applying less scholarship and more common sense and ancient wisdom to find some meaning. But on both scores, I have come out empty-handed and more confused because scholarship and common sense have failed to situate or explain Buhari’s supporters’ blind endorsement. The problem is what a great black American activist, Martin Luther King Jr, called “conscientious stupidity”.
It is impossible to reason with the president’s supporters. They are dismissive of obvious evidence. Show them the facts and data to prove that things have progressively gone from bad to worse under Buhari, and they respond with tired, recycled lies. A common denominator runs through them: they love lies. Indeed, the more lies Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, Lai Mohammed, Babatunde Fashola spew to the public, the more energised Buhari’s supporters become. The more Buhari hunkers down on his nepotistic and clannish disposition, the more his supporters gyrate in thunderous applause for him as the messiah who is fixing Nigeria’s problems.
I for one do not believe that our democracy can function for long on lies, especially on lies of achievements. If we allow facts to become negotiable by Buhari and his supporters, we would have acquiesced in the erosion of the one thing that is constant for all ages: truth. This is precisely one of the areas Buhari and his governments are deficient in. Telling lies is second nature to this government. First, immediately he assumed power, he repudiated all the campaign promises that won him the election. His supporters hailed him and told us it didn’t matter. He refused to appoint ministers immediately, claiming that they were “noisemakers” and his supporters hailed the move, stating astonishingly that ministers were not needed since that would save the government huge money.
It was therefore dishonest and grotesquely preposterous to say the least for one of the spokesmen to the president to carelessly claim that the delay in the appointment of ministers was because former President Goodluck Jonathan did not give Muhammadu Buhari handover notes until 48 hours before his departure from office. “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Martin Luther King seemed to have Buhari’s supporters in mind when he made that immortal statement. Indeed what we are seeing from this government and its supporters is beyond fidelity to stupidity. Now, is Jonathan also responsible for his inability or delay in appointing ministers to the vacant cabinet positions?
The truth was and still is that the man came to the table of leadership with nothing to offer. He lacks capacity for the job he was elected to do. For six good months, he was groping in the dark trying to figure out what exactly his job description was as president. He was utterly clueless and has remained so thus far. This government is limping on towards the 2019 presidential election on barefaced lies, intimidation of opponents and false claims of achievements. We have all seen the consequences of his provincial mindset to governance. His contempt for safeguards of national unity is legendary. Indeed, this is a man the nation “cannot call to order”.
Indeed, Albert Einstein was right when he stated that “no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”. Buhari is at the heart of the problems plaguing Nigeria. He cannot be part of the solution. More so, he lacks the mental capacity to rise higher, above the status quo and visualise a great nation. He is a tribal lord with courtiers and sycophants – right from the vice-president down the line to ministers, state governors and members of civil society who have been praising him for “saving Nigeria” despite the grim reality staring us all in the face that the country is gradually losing relevance amongst the community of nations.
Many supporters of the president’s don’t give a damn about the implications of another four years of Buhari so long as he is in office just enjoying the perks. It’s all about their candidate winning the election willy-nilly and the preservation of their self-interest. The national interest has no meaning to them. They will choose Buhari over Nigeria as demonstrated by their utterances. To them, the atrocities reigning under Buhari are being perpetrated by either former President Jonathan or the PDP. They cheer him on when he is directly or indirectly implicated in acts of corruption. They make excuses for him and blame others for his clear leadership failures and hail him as the deliverer.
Now let’s look at Buhari’s record on corruption where he derives his mythical integrity. Buhari’s integrity first took a dive when he appointed the former Bayelsa State governor, Timipre Sylva, a man who was then facing multiple criminal charges of fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and outright corruption in court, as co-chairman of the Transition Committee. It was a body blow to the acclaimed anti-corruption posture and integrity of the “no-nonsense anti-corruption czar”. I pointed out that disturbing contradiction then but either many were too soaked in celebrations of Buhari’s victory, or they saw it but simply didn’t care. Curiously, the charges against Sylva were dismissed a few months after and the 48 houses he acquired during his four-year reign as governor were returned to him.
Buhari’s anti-corruption war has since moved on to reveal a less-than-noble intent and a reputation far more tainted than Bola Tinubu, Rotimi Amaechi and Fashola wanted us to know. His war on corruption is a targeted war on opposition elements while shielding and protecting his party men, close aides and friends. While his supporters continue to force-feed us with tales of his integrity and honesty, the evidence on the ground points to the contrary.
Buhari appointed the ex-secretary to the government of the federation Babachir Lawal, indicted and sacked for corruption and embezzlement of IDP funds as his campaign coordinator in Adamawa State. He has also just appointed Godswill Akpabio, a man under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the national coordinator of his presidential support committee. Governor Abdulahi Umar Ganduje of Kano, a staunch ally of Buhari, was caught on several videos receiving dollar bribes from contractors. What did Buhari do? He sang Ganduje’s praises. Lest we forget, Ganduje promised to deliver five million votes to Buhari in the 2019 presidential election. Where is the integrity in all of these? Does integrity now mean hobnobbing with suspected thieves and even benefiting from them? There is a time honoured adage that says, show me your friends and I will tell who you are.
Under Buhari, $25 billion contracts were awarded by Maikanti Baru, GMD of the NNPC without following due process. The Senate set up a committee headed by Senator Aliyu Wamakko to probe the transactions. Pronto, Buhari invited Wamakko to the Presidential Villa for a meeting. That was the end of the probe. Mr. Integrity my foot! The train has since moved on. What a country!
What about the astronomical consumption of petrol that is riddled with fraud and subsidy payments that are shrouded in secrecy? Baru has given multiple figures of the daily consumption of petrol. Under Jonathan, we were told 33-35 million litres. Under Buhari, it has been a revolving door: 60 million, 70million and as high as 80million litres a day, in a difficult economic environment with no corresponding purchasing capacity by Nigerians. These are the figures Baru, the sole importer of petrol, collects subsidy on. From 35million litres under Jonathan to as much as 80million in some months under Buhari.
The man his supporters claim has integrity has four times vetoed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill that was meant to make the 2019 elections more transparent and credible, the last being on the flimsy grounds that its implementation was too close to the elections. Consequently, INEC has just said they would use the controversial Incidence Form in the conduct of the elections. Yet, Jonathan assented to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill on the 26th of March 2015, a few days to the election. It is a shame that even his supporters want him to rig the elections. They applaud his refusal to sign the bill as “superior politics”. The truth is he wants to benefit from the magical numbers that come out of Kano and other northern states.
Indeed, Buhari has become the nemesis of a progressive Nigeria. To those campaigning for him to continue in office, history will be less forgiving of what they have done to our country.
Happy New Year to All.