Buhari and Paden’s burden of goofs
More than one hundred years after Mungo Park discovered River Niger, an American scholar, Professor John Paden, has just discovered President Muhammadu Buhari for Nigerians. It is doubtful if the Clarence Robinson Professor of International Studies at the Schar School of Policy and Government of George Mason University, has ever sung Nigeria’s national anthem.
But in his recent howler of biography crafted in praise of President Buhari, he sought to give Nigeria a different anthem that ensures that the labours of our heroes past shall be in vain, while we serve with hate and strife, one nation shun of freedom, peace and unity.
Having studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, the American historian likes to thread on the path close to fiction, where it is fanciful to be economical with the truth. But one of the reasons many Nigerians that graced or beheld the public presentation of the professor’s latest public relations intervention, expressed outrage was his lazy attempt to sow the seeds of political discord and enhance the religious and ethnic divisions in the country.
Although he had lectured in two Nigerian universities, Bayero and Ahmadu Bello in Kano and Zaria, respectively; Paden would not claim to have a helicopter view of the socio-political realities of Nigeria. Even his previous work, published exactly thirty years ago, showed the narrowness of his inquiry.
Either he is fixated with political characters or fear not to injure their feelings or public image, Professor Paden recoils from getting depth into his work. This he achieves through mental fatigue or deliberate hesitation to dig out all the facts. When he wrote on the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Paden played up the usual British narrative that pits northern part of Nigeria against its southern flank.
It is surprising to note that such long-term academic staff in the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution should descend to the level of being a partisan commentator by distorting facts to embellish his otherwise scholarly enterprise.
In “Muhammadu Buhari: The Challenges of leadership in Nigeria,” Prof. Paden wrote down what he must have heard while sitting down with his principal and subject, without going the extra mile to cross check. He left a lot to the imagination, such that those who would bother to read the hurriedly put together book would have to struggle to fill in the blank spaces.
For instance, it is easy to deduce that President Buhari’s genotype is AS, same as his first wife, Safinatu Yusuf, because from Paden’s account, two of their five children died of sickle cell anaemia. While the first son, Musa, died in infancy, Zulaihatu died six years ago of sickle anaemia.
It is also well known that the president divorced the first wife in 1988, but Paden failed to give the circumstances that led to divorce. This smacks of intellectual laziness or deliberate obfuscation of facts. So, instead of throwing light on the subject of his essay, Prof. Paden ended up leaving his product with dark clouds of doubt and incredulity.
As a Ph. D holder in Government from the prestigious Havard, Oxford; the author failed to take advantage of special epochs in the life of Buhari to educate his readers. For instance, Buhari was minister of petroleum when the sum of $2.8b was declared missing from the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). A clever scholar eager to do justice to the leadership acumen of a man whose biography he was undertaking would have probed deep into what went on in NNPC, the administrative style and organizational blue print he met and left behind.
The author would also have used the golden opportunity to x-ray the investment acumen of the President, particularly what happened to and within PANALPINA, a consolidated general logistics concern, while the president was chairman of the board of directors.
But instead of digging out fresh facts about those leads, Paden rushed to the 1983 and 1985 coups d’état that brought Buhari to power and removed him from office as head of state. Even here, the professor left gaps in his summation due to the flaws in his method. It is most probable that Paden was in a hurry to kill two birds with one stone and in the haste forgot to interrogate Buhari’s tenure as head of the junta and leadership style. All these would have given a big window to the president’s politics, understanding of leadership and temperament.
There is no doubt that Paden wanted to access the quick adulation the public presentation of the book promises, as well as, the publicity its relationship to the rehabilitation of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) would provide. The book, deviating from being a reference material on politics, government, leadership development and conflict resolution, ended up as public relations stuff.
Paden gave widespread space to the arrest of top politicians and high net worth individuals on alleged corruption-related issues, cloudy economic situation triggered by dwindling oil prices, as the major reasons that precipitated Buhari’s removal as head of state by some coupists led by Gen Ibrahim Babangida (retd).
Torn between casting Buhari as a messiah and a victim of corrupt and powerful people, Paden wrote: “Buhari’s most significant economic measure, however, had to be kept a secret, even from his military colleagues in the cabinet until it was announced. (The only cabinet member who knew was Chief of Staff Tunde Idiagbon.) It was the decision to issue new currency…”
Paden avoided the path of objective enquiry and left the narrative hanging to achieve the effect of burnishing the image and public acclaim of his subject. The author failed to reflect the view that it was that command and control approach, which was styled as Buharinomics that ambushed the country’s economy and worsened the standard of living.
Paden also failed to give a hint that in his second coming, President Buhari toyed with the idea of repeating a revision of the nation’s currency, only to be dissuaded by the prohibitive cost of such a venture in a very challenged economy. Yet, in the warp and woof that attended Buhari’s leadership in those thirty months, Paden also failed to record that most crucial decisions and blueprint for the attitudinal change, known as War Against Indiscipline (WAI), was the brainchild of Idiagbon.
Paden would also have done a contrast between the Buhari’s current administration and the one that preceded it in the area of the handling of the fight against insurgency. For, if the immediate past administration had within it those who applied the money meant for purchase of arms and ammunition, some of the drivers of the present administration have turned IDP management to sources of easy money.
So what specific challenges of leadership did Paden outline facing President Buhari? That he is behaving true to type implementing the same secretive agenda that caused his ouster in his first coming?
Paden came to a set a new agenda for strife in the country, by employing the same old tactics of exploiting race relations in an ethnic conscious nation like Nigeria. Before Paden’s work, there were such others like “Dancing in the Brinks,’ ‘This House Has Fallen’ among other books commissioned by imperialists to perpetuate ethnic disharmony in Nigeria.
While the prediction of Nigeria’s possible disintegration in 2015 seems to have missed the mark, the attempt to cook up poorly researched information and distort history is aimed at achieving similar projection. That explains why a professor of Politics would take a one-sided narrative to rewrite the political and regional integration that provided the All Progressives Congress (APC).
If Paden was ready to do a good work, or his work guided by research methodology, even literature review would have convinced him about how candidates for the 2015 election, particularly the selection of the Buhari’s running mate was undertaken. Dr. Ogbonnia Onu’s book, From Opposition To Governing Party: Nigeria’s APC Merger Story,’ would have served a very good guide to the politics lecturer. But continuing a pattern he adopted in Sardauna’s book, Professor Paden succeeded in skewing the political dynamics of the country in its pre-1999 state.
The expatriate left hints about the coming supremacy battles in the ruling party. That is what he wanted to achieve by playing Southwest politicians against their caucus leaders, to make it seem as if the idea of merger originated from the north.
That he settled for launching, instead of scholarly presentation, where fellow eggheads would have critiqued the work, gave Paden’s biography out as quick service rendition to pacify his old colonialist paymasters. Paden wants to create room for tension and political squabble so that he and his ilk could be invited to display their conflict resolution theoretical knowledge. But like the report of the National Confab report, his book will gather dust at the archives.