Nigeria and the Backsliding Journey To a Murky Nation, By Salihu Mohammed Lukman
Without any doubt, each society deserves the leader it has and I am inclined to strongly argue that President Buhari is our precious gift as a leader who would enable us survive to become a strong united nation. We need the combination of his rigidity and carefree disposition to take the hard decisions and damn the consequences of such.
Finally, President Buhari is meeting the expectations of diehard supporters. These are people who faithfully and anxiously have been loyal to that stubborn, indiscriminate and incorrigible anti-corruption fighter, the man who in 1984 bundled all the leaders of Nigeria into jail on accounts that serving civilian governments of the second republic involved massive corruption. Irrespective of their parties, at all levels – federal, state and local – and without any discrimination with reference to religion or ethnicity, most of the leaders of the country were arrested and thrown into jails across the country. Most of them only got freed after the August 1985 coup, which overthrew him and brought General Babangida to power.
Many of President Buhari’s loyal and diehard supporters, since 2003, had been simply craving for that no nonsense and hotheaded leader who attempted to find the antidote to our societal maladies, foremost of which were corruption and indiscipline. These are young angry Nigerians who only heard the accounts of the dreaded General Buhari. They are angry for justifiable reasons, largely because, while on the one hand they were told of a functional Nigeria that had world-class public schools, hospitals with an economy that was promisingly at par with those of Brazil, India, etc., an economy, which provided good employment for all educated citizens, on the other hand here they are in the same Nigeria where public schools are anything but schools and only children of the poor attend these schools; public hospitals are transit camps to mortuaries; and the economy simply breeds unemployment, which specialises mainly in producing jobless graduates.
These young Nigerians who are the diehard supporters of President Buhari, in their millions, mostly from the Northern part of the country, associate their travails with the conduct of leaders of the country, who over the years converted our national patrimony to their personal asset. Interestingly, most of these leaders are also from the North. These same leaders were products of our public schools but today their children hardly attend Nigerian schools. If they do, it has to be one of those expensive state-of-the-art private schools. When these leaders and their families are sick, they get flown to the best hospitals outside the country, often funded by public resources.
Although condemned at the time of his overthrow and his popularity rating became very low all over the country, including in the North, President Buhari has resurged to become the symbol of hope for most of our youth, particularly in the North. It is a reality that can best be described as a rare blessing. No one, not even President Buhari himself can provide any convincing explanation why that has come about. At best, it is a reality that will for long time remain a mystery.
The danger of such a blessing being associated with a serving leader is the high possibility for demystification on account of either non-performance or becoming the business-as-usual kind of leader. In which case it portends a high risk of being degraded to the status of other leaders, including the ones he threw into jails in 1984. Somehow, events since May 2015, when he took charge as president of the Federal Republic, have heighten such fears. For instance, the slow start, some controversial appointments, the inability to replicate the 1984 ambush against all corrupt elements, etc. all further exacerbate public concerns about whether he is still that stubborn, indiscriminate and incorrigible anti-corruption fighter. Whether he can be able to justify the confidence of the youth and descend viciously against all our corrupt leaders without fear or favour, is a big issue. It however remains the expectations of President’s Buhari diehard followers.
Notwithstanding the progress being recorded in governance, which often gets unreported and against the background of other terrible national realities either associated with activities of terrorists and insurgents by way of Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen’s attacks on innocent Nigerians, his leadership and politics, for most part of his first four years, has been trapped in negative commentaries and reports of incessant ravages and killings. Unfortunately for him, being a Fulani man, some of the commentaries have unjustifiably accused him of complicity in the activities of these insurgents.
Given his old age, combined with a challenging health, on account of which he had to also go for treatment in the U.K., a sad reminder to the state of our hospitals, almost everything, at some points seemed to be working against him. The interesting thing was that his health challenges exposed in so many ways the power greed of some of our leaders. Succession dynamics became apparent and rumors of caucusing and proposals for tradeoffs were all over the place. Some of the interesting accounts were that it is partly the activities of individuals who were caucusing to succeed him since he was concluded to be terminally ill, that fertilised the ambitions of most of the All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders who decamped to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Interestingly, most of these leaders were actually originally from the PDP. Perhaps, this could also explain why at least four of them were in the race for the presidential ticket of that party.
There was certainly no hope for any possible contest with President Buhari in APC, at least not with the kind of cult followership that he commands. And also, thanks to the presence of a defendable, unambitious and never greedy vice president who held fort and ensured very stable governance atmosphere in his absences. If anything, one is tempted to argue that Professor Yemi Osinbajo is another evidence of the Buhari blessing. President Buhari seems to attract very dependable vice presidents. Late General Tunde Idiagbon of blessed memory who was his deputy during his first coming in between 1984 and 1985 was his alter-ego. The other evidence of the blessing is also that rising from sickness, President Buhari is today more healthy, chummy and energetic than he was in 2015, which is why PDP could only imagine a Jubril from Sudan as the new cloned President Buhari.
There are so many other milestones recorded, but for our focus here, it would appear that all these are only possible with a Buhari blessing, to use his 1984 adage, given dwindling resources. How it is possible for what could qualify as accelerated development projects to take place with a fraction of the revenue accruing to government can best be explained with reference to progress in the fight against corruption.
Combinations of a slow start of his presidency, some controversial appointments, activities of insurgents, poor communication of very strong governance milestones, inability to replicate the 1984 ambush against all corrupt elements, health challenges, etc. would have sealed the fate of this president. Any possibility of his second tenure would have been lost long before the election. The party, APC, itself would have joined the eclipsed PDP. Somehow, may be another evidence of the Buhari blessing is the APC itself. Some of the unimaginable avoidable political problems our leaders consciously and deliberately plunge us into are inexplainable, at least not with reference to any empirically tested political theory. For instance, we are most likely qualified to be recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as perhaps the only ruling party in world history to have failed to convene meetings of any of its national organs for more than two years after winning the 2015 elections.
Here we are in a Nigeria led by President Buhari who was written off in so many ways, presented by the opposition PDP in terribly bad lights, but defying all political machinations and getting stronger with every onslaught against his person and his presidency. We can argue very strongly that he has not been able to replicate the 1984 ambush against all corrupt elements but the truth is that he has wonderfully succeeded in liberating public funds and channeling them for massive infrastructural development across the country. Some of the evidences – massive road and railways constructions across the country, at least never seen in our recent history; gradual improvement in power generation and for the first time in the history of the country we are talking of more than 7,000 megawatts in generation (we never go beyond 3,000 megawatts mark); good progress in the construction of the second Niger bridge, which was a recurrent electoral campaign promise in the past; and non-partisan economic stabilisation support to all state governments.
There are so many other milestones recorded, but for our focus here, it would appear that all these are only possible with a Buhari blessing, to use his 1984 adage, given dwindling resources. How it is possible for what could qualify as accelerated development projects to take place with a fraction of the revenue accruing to government can best be explained with reference to progress in the fight against corruption. Perhaps, a key factor that made this possible is President Buhari’s stubbornness. Many things Nigerian politician will tell you are not possible, especially when it comes to matters of managing public funds, the man has done them almost seamlessly. Somehow one cannot but recall that one of the reasons given by General Babangida for the overthrow of President Buhari in 1985 was that he (Buhari) ‘was too rigid in his attitude to issues’.
Clearly, stubbornness is a key leadership success factor. A flexible leader would hardly succeed, although often one gets to hear to such opportunistic phrases as ‘a good leader must be pragmatic’. Here is a President Buhari who from all evidences of his tenure since May 2015, is just a confirmation of General Babangida’s accusation of rigidity but the man is recording good milestones. One is tempted to conclude that given the records of General Babangida’s tenure, President Buhari’s stubbornness and its countervailing influence against corrupt public officials must have been the meaning of that rigidity cited by Babangida. In contrast to all previous leaders so far, the closest comparison were his medical trips to the U.K. and some of the reports about his children schooling abroad. Other than that, we get to hear only derived accusations that other senior appointees of his government are also corrupt.
True or not, fairness requires some minimum acknowledgement. A secretary to the government, a head of the National Intelligence Agency, head of the State Security Service, among others lost their jobs on accounts of corruption and acts of high-handedness. Interestingly, the chief justice of Nigeria, who by his own account admitted to various degree of complicity to corruption charges, is being shielded by sections of the public, especially opposition politicians. Constitutional and legal barricades are being mounted to block all attempts to bring him before the law. So-called accounts of timings since we are few weeks to elections are being presented as justifications of why nothing should happen to him. The short length of the investigation is also being presented as an evidence of vested interest.
It was becoming almost a hopelessly lost case. Then from nowhere the president applied the sledgehammer. Armed with the directive of the Court of Conduct Tribunal, President Buhari suspended the chief justice and swore in an acting chief justice. Lawyers, civil society activists, the opposition PDP and the Senate, whose leadership wants to degrade itself to a PDP campaign branch, are reported as wanting to convene to review the situation.
The reality is that it is only President Buhari in the politics of the country that can take such a landmark decision of suspending a chief justice of Nigeria about three weeks to the day of his re-election. It is only President Buhari, perhaps, in the history of a country like Nigeria in any part of the world that will not feel threatened by any remote possibility of not being elected. This is only possible if personal stakes are not anywhere near being endangered, at least so it seems. This has been the Buhari our young Nigerians have been yearning for.
All objective critics need to acknowledge this palpably carefree disposition of President Buhari. Unfortunately, here we are as a murky nation with claimed learned persons ganging up against good and accountable governance initiative in the so-called name of promoting the rule of law and separation of powers; some inglorious Senior Advocates who are reported to be having various legal cases before the chief justice, are becoming his defence counsels; Nigerian Bar Association, whose president is also standing trial for corruption charges at the Code of Conduct Tribunal is mobilising the bar in the defence of the chief justice; while a section of the civil society, which from all intent and purpose is more partisan than our politicians is becoming louder in its condemnation of the suspension of this self-confessed corrupt chief justice.
The unholy alliance between former President Obasanjo and former Vice President Atiku is one of the signature marks of a backsliding journey to a murky nation. Other marks are how rule of law is being equated with criminality and so-called civil society actors who should be development agents are working against development.
It is worrisome how shamelessly we want to invoke some legal jargons to rationalise criminality. And we want to develop our nation, we want to join the comity of civilised nations and we want to strengthen our democracy. How is this possible with this backsliding mentality? Without any doubt, each society deserves the leader it has and I am inclined to strongly argue that President Buhari is our precious gift as a leader who would enable us survive to become a strong united nation. We need the combination of his rigidity and carefree disposition to take the hard decisions and damn the consequences of such.
Although one is not pretending to be a prophet, the noise around this issue of the suspension of the chief justice will soon be truncated by the elections, which will come in just about three weeks. The victory of President Buhari will settle the matter. One can proceed to further argue that following the victory, there would be dramatic shocks largely because of the way President Buhari is being underrated and sometimes contemptuously dismissed. I guess most quiet and humble leaders tend to be lowly rated. But one thing that is so evident in the case of President Buhari is that no one seems to be able to predict him on matters of governance, including his wife.
The fact of unpredictability, coupled with the hunger to record expeditious achievements and the anger of some disappointments, which are being concealed by his introverted nature, he is most likely going to devastate many people to the extent of possibly producing more Buba Galadimas. The probability of injecting more focused and strong drivers would be higher. Against such a reality, the momentum for the fight against corruption would have new energy and momentum. With the trial of the chief justice clearly presenting itself as the closing balance for President Buhari’s first four years, the focus on the judiciary will be the opening balance of the second four years. Once there is a focus on judiciary, issues of conduct of lawyers, police reform and restoration of societal values would then be possible.
Coupled with progress towards completing infrastructural development in the areas of roads, railways, air travels, seaports developments, return of public schools, hospitals and other facilities, the process of establishing a strong correlation between our democracy and national development would have become evident by the end of President Buhari’s second four years. Such a strong correlation would further signpost the Buhari blessings.
Once that happens, President Buhari will emerge as the father of Nigerian democracy. I can give it to former President Obasanjo, these are most likely the issues that are firing his jealous tantrum having mismanaged a golden opportunity with his third term attempt. There could also be the fear of what could likely be his fate in the face of an indiscriminate anti-corruption war led by President Buhari. That could explain his new unholy alliance with his former Vice President Atiku Abubakar after sixteen years of consistent condemnation and campaigns against him.
The unholy alliance between former President Obasanjo and former Vice President Atiku is one of the signature marks of a backsliding journey to a murky nation. Other marks are how rule of law is being equated with criminality and so-called civil society actors who should be development agents are working against development. It will take a President Buhari’s rigidity, stubbornness and carefree disposition, crowned with unique Buhari blessing, which makes things possible only under his leadership to commence a new journey to a forward looking, value driven and development-oriented nation.
It will not be an easy transition. There will be lots of high decibel noise, conspiratorial scheming, criminal gang ups, unholy alliances, the public would be mobilised in so many directions by vested interests against President Buhari’s second four years. I however hold a very strong conviction that in the end the nation and our people will be the better for it. Many Nigerians would continue to lament and condemn him; people and organisations would agitate and campaign against his second four years; but just like the case in 1984, which produced the current generation of diehard supporters since 2003, so also would his second four years produce generations of Nigerians that would recognise him as the father of the nation. It is truly a leadership moment the nation is confronted with. 2023 will tell and the stubborn and rigidly blessed Buhari could be on the threshold of history.
Salihu Mohammed Lukman coordinates the Progressive Governors Forum in Abuja. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org