…in Buhari, we may be dealing with something more than the political – a complex personal psychological and cognitive problem, and a deep personal limitation and challenge. This could be a singularly Buhari complex, which can be of dire political implications for the country in the years ahead.
When some commentators such as APC leader Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Joe Igbokwe, Junaid Mohammed, Buhari’s media men, Shehu Garba and Femi Adesina, etc. openly defended the emerging cronyism and irredentism of President Buhari, under the guise of an uncritical sense of unity and specious sense of merit, it was obvious that they got it wrong.
But now that President Buhari, himself, has justified his irredentism and cronyism as a state policy, I wonder where these defenders of Buhari on these issues will locate and account for “merit” and “unity”?
To see people of worth only from one’s own ethnic group and confine is one main reason Nigeria will remain backward. It means Nigerian presidents and some people across Nigerian ethnic lines are committed to the tunnel view that moral value and worth are determined only by one’s ethnicity. It happened under ex-president Jonathan, it is repeating itself again under present President Buhari.
Ex-president Jonathan’s southern cronyism and irredentism partly explains the instability that trailed his regime and which pushed him out. Nigerians rose against him not just because of the corruption under his presidency,but also due to the irredentism and cronyism in his government.
Similar to what defenders of Buhari’s cronyism and irredentism are doing today, those who defended Jonathan’s irredentism and cronyism then, did so on the ground that Jonathan’s government promoted “technocracy” in government and “business” in the economy, which they saw as being available only within particular ethnic groups! The fall of Jonathan’s presidency has shown the falsehood in this self-serving claim.
Forgetting the consequences of ex-president Jonathan’s cronyism, President Buhari is presently carrying Jonathan’s southern cronyism up North, making his Northern cronyism and Jonathan’s Southern cronyism indistinguishable for their similar foundations. The fact that the beneficiaries of Buhari’s cronyism and irredentism are from Buhari’s North potentially will sow the seeds of instability and deepen Nigeria’s backwardness the way Jonathan’s southern cronyism did. This ought to be a cause of concern, even to Buhari worshippers.
But what rankles presently is Buhari’s justification of his cronyism. In an interview with BBC Hausa Service, Buhari defended his cronyism and irredentism citing the Nigerian Constitution, long years of loyalty to him by the beneficiaries of his cronyism, trust, their alleged incorruptible nature, the nature of Nigerian politics, etc. President Buhari is mistaken in his justification for too many reasons.
While acceptable personal morality is relevant to governance, personal morality does not exhaust, and cannot replace the inclusive nature of public ethics, contrary to Buhari’s and his defenders’ limited understanding of public ethics in governance in the 21st century.
If Buhari deployed his personal morality in declaring that Abacha was not corrupt, and Nigeria has been recovering the country’s stolen money from where Abacha hid these in over a decade, why should we trust Buhari’s personal morality in making public judgments and appointments? Will he not be ethnically selective, as we have in the cases of Abacha and Emir of Gwandu? Does it not mean that a kleptocrat like Sani Abacha and a breaker of law like Almustapha Jokolo will qualify today in Buhari’s personal moral language as people he trusts and can appoint to public office and get paid from the public treasury?
Personal morality is subjective, private and limited to the individual. The criteria of personal morality are not always publicly verifiable. They are limited to the individual’s judgment. We saw that in Buhari’s disastrous defence of General Sani Abacha, one of Nigeria’s greatest Kleptocrats. Given Abacha’s well-known Kleptocracy, it is obvious that the reason for President Buhari’s pronouncement that Abacha was not corrupt can only be because both of them are Northerners. And this is far too dangerous for Nigeria.
Limiting ethical issues to his personal morality may be valid if Buhari is talking about his personal and kitchen staff paid for from his private pocket. But a president crosses the public line when he determines appointment of public staff via his own personal morality – which may be defined in religious, regional and ethnic terms. The possible ethnic, regional and religious ramification of this Buhari morality, is one danger in Buhari’s irredentism and cronyism, which for personal reasons politicians like Junaid Mohammed, Bola Tinubu and Joe Igbokwe and aides like Shehu Garba and Femi Adesina have ignored understandably for personal political reasons.
On the contrary, public ethics is open and verifiable and any individual, race or ethnic group does not own it. For his failure to draw this legitimate distinction between personal and individual private morality and inclusive public ethics, Buhari is justifying the claim of those who argue that he belongs to a century long gone and dead.
For someone’s personal morality to be acceptable, it has to be weighed against public ethics in the public domain.
Two cases explain the flawed nature of Buhari’s appeal to his own personal morality in public governance rather than public ethics, which includes but supersedes individualised morality. In 1984, when he was the head of state, there was a policy that all luggages coming to the country must be checked at the airport. Emir of Gwandu, the father of Buhari’s ADC, Almustapha Jokolo, came in through the airport. Buhari sent Jokolo to welcome him. The Emir allegedly came in with 53 suitcases, but none of these was checked. Of course Buhari, through one of his former spokespersons, Yinka Odumakin, once denied that all the 53 suit cases belonged to Emir of Gwandu. But the point is not in the number of suitcases.
The point is whether Emir of Gwandu’s suit cases – even if it was only one – were checked in conformity with the public law enacted under Buhari. These suitcases were not checked because the Emir of Gwandu’s son, Jokolo, as Buhari’s ADC, was sent by his boss to ensure the suitcases were not checked.
Buhari and his spokespersons did not deny this. Yet, in Buhari’s personal moral language, these are folks who will qualify as “people who have been working with me for years, who are loyal to me and who I trust!” On that occasion, Buhari’s personal morality, which is used in defence of cronyism and irredentism, became a dangerous burden for public governance.
…Buhari’s defenders have become more illogical when they argue that those appointed are his personal staff. With this straw, one must ask if the Secretary to the Government of the federation, the heads of Nigerian Customs Service, Department of State Security, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to name a few, and being all Northerners, are Buhari’s personal staff!
The second example is still about General Sani Abacha, who was one of the greatest kleptocratic heads of state in Nigeria. If Buhari deployed his personal morality in declaring that Abacha was not corrupt, and Nigeria has been recovering the country’s stolen money from where Abacha hid these in over a decade, why should we trust Buhari’s personal morality in making public judgments and appointments? Will he not be ethnically selective, as we have in the cases of Abacha and Emir of Gwandu? Does it not mean that a kleptocrat like Sani Abacha and a breaker of law like Almustapha Jokolo will qualify today in Buhari’s personal moral language as people he trusts and can appoint to public office and get paid from the public treasury?
But it is Buhari’s use of the Constitution as a form of defence of his irredentism that ought to be more worrisome. It is interesting that President Buhari, the “moralist”, will lapse into formal legalism when it comes to the need for him to defend his lopsided appointments. This is because all along his touted strength has been the moral. Why should Buhari suddenly run to the Constitution as armour for his irredentism and cronyism? There are those who argue that the nature of law has nothing to do with morality. In this regard, it implies that what is “constitutional” may be un-ethical.
But more importantly, Buhari cannot appeal to the letters of the law, for these are never sufficient to capture the spirit, voice, and un-written but implied moral breadth, intimations and echoes of the law. It is the ethical implication – which Buhari is not appealing to – that underpin the letters of the law – which Buhari is appealing to – that captures the spirit, the un-written voice, and implied moral breadth and intimations of the law. This is why a president who has respect for those he wishes to govern would capture the spirit and unwritten and implied moral breadth of the law and speak to these, rather than the letters of the law which Buhari is dubiously appealing to at this late hour after his election.
Additionally, Buhari’s dismissive appeal to Nigerian politics as justification is unfortunate. This is because when he contested three times, lost and complained or when people rejected ex-president Jonathan’s irredentism and corruption, should his complaints also be dismissed with a waive of the hand as the complaining “ways of Nigerian politics…”, as he has arrogantly dismissed the legitimate fears of Nigerians given his own subtle history of ethnic irredentism and cronyism?
Finally, having lost all the arguments, Buhari’s defenders have become more illogical when they argue that those appointed are his personal staff. With this straw, one must ask if the Secretary to the Government of the federation, the heads of Nigerian Customs Service, Department of State Security, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to name a few, and being all Northerners, are Buhari’s personal staff! If these are personal staff, it means Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Joe Igbokwe, Junaid Mohammed, Femi Adesina, Shehu Garba and others who defended this sad irredentist phase in Buhari’s presidency have turned Buhari into Nigeria and all public officers paid from public treasury to become Buhari’s domestic and personal staff! This Buhari worship and absurdity carried too far is sad.
But the point is, if a president we all thought had a constituency beyond Daura, his Northern home town, fails to understand the nature of public ethics beyond his narrow personal and village morality and cannot find morally worthy, capable and trusted hands beyond the confines of Daura and his Northern region, then we are in big trouble. We may be returning to and dealing with a “ranka dede” village tunnel vision in Nigeria’s 21st century.
This is because in Buhari, we may be dealing with something more than the political – a complex personal psychological and cognitive problem, and a deep personal limitation and challenge. This could be a singularly Buhari complex, which can be of dire political implications for the country in the years ahead.
Adeolu Ademoyo, firstname.lastname@example.org, is of the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.