The past as Buhari’s utopia
Whenever President Muhammadu Buhari lifts the façade and allows us a glimpse into the convictions that propel him, he leaves no room for doubt that he is out of depth with the demands of his high office. At that moment of supposed candour, Buhari rather recommends himself to us as a relic of an antediluvian era that is far removed from the nuances of democracy and the challenges and possibilities of contemporary life.
Buhari is fixated on the valourisation of the past as an irreplaceable era that was full of glories that neither the present nor the future can yield. Thus, Buhari yearns for that past. He wants us to exhume that past because it held the secrets of an Eldorado that are elusive to the present.Yet it is a past that the majority of the citizens would like to consign to eternal oblivion because it only afflicts them with searing memories. Indeed, the past that in the imagination of Buhari provided a utopian state is in the reckoning of the citizens a dystopia that he is recreating in the present.
The past that Buhari is enamoured of was an era when the citizens chafed under the jackboots of military coupists and their minions. Buhari disdains the present and yearns for the past because he is overwhelmed by the challenges of the present. Unlike the past, he cannot with military fiat wish away contemporary realities. He cannot just reel out commands whose iniquitous object is the incarceration of some politicians because as a self-declared arbiter of justice he has found them guilty in his own court.
As Buhari himself put it, it was easy for him to fight corruption in the past because all he needed to do was to imprison the accused who had the duty of proving his innocence. Of course, this negated the jurisprudential principle that is upheld in sane societies that the rule of law imposes the necessity of the accuser proving the guilt of the accused. It is therefore not surprising that Buhari is enthralled by Sani Abacha who was a cesspool of the impunities of the era that he rhapsodises about. In the Abacha era, he was the law and he dispensed justice capriciously. Anyone who opposed his abuse of state power to silence other citizens or for the perpetration of heists for himself and cronies was guilty. And the grim sentence of death must be executed swiftly. Faced with this prospect, the only route of escape for the accused was in fleeing abroad. This was why Ken Saro-Wiwa, Alfred Rewane and many others Abacha considered as enemies were liquidated.
Since Abacha died, billons have been traced to his illicit accounts in different parts of the world. Even the Buhari government received $322.51 million Abacha loot from Switzerland recently. Yet to Buhari, Abacha is not corrupt. He is emphatic in holding up the Abacha era as a golden epoch that no government, except his own, has rivalled since. Buhari reminiscences about how on account of the honesty of purpose and commitment to the wellbeing of the citizens, Abacha built roads from Port Harcourt to Onitsha and Benin and improved education, medical care under the auspices of the Petroleum Fund Trust.
Buhari considers Abacha as perhaps the only reference point in terms of good governance. And this is why years after declaring that Abacha was not corrupt, he is still puzzled that there are some Nigerians who are repelled by the prospect of canonising him.
Since Buhari was and is still convinced that the past is a utopia that cannot be reclaimed in the present, why has he chosen to afflict us with his leadership? The tragedy is that as a nation, we expect a person who belongs to the past not only to solve our present problems but to provide a template with which to negotiate the future. Worse still, we expect a person who does not understand the price that has been paid for democracy that his so much-cherished past anathematised to appreciate its demands and the overarching need of sustaining it.
Simply because Buhari feels confronted with a utopia of the past that is eternally elusive, he does not fully appreciate the present and its challenges and possibilities. A major functionary of the Buhari government has given us an insight into the thinking of this administration. The Comptroller-General of Customs, retired Col. Hameed Ali, declared when he led the Buhari Support Organisation to the president that it is only the lazy or rabid mischief-makers who complain of hunger that has been banished from the country by the Buhari government. We must be thankful to Ali for opening for us this vista to the thinking of Aso Rock. In other words, Buhari and his co-travellers just snigger at reports that some citizens have jumped into a river or committed suicide on an electric pole because of their impecunious state triggered by the lack of the leadership genius of this administration. As far as they are concerned, such citizens choose to take their own lives because of their laziness; in spite of the economic plenitude engenderd by the Buhari government.
And this is in sync with Buhari’s position that his spokesmen have attempted to rework to avoid fraying sensibilities – that the youths are lazy and are only waiting for the government to feed them with revenue from oil resources. Buhari is so much marooned in the past that he does not appreciate the fact that even Nigerians who want to overcome the economic failure of the Buhari government are imperilled by a lack of electricity to operate their little businesses.
Such businesses are choking under the weight of the complicity of the government that would not check the impunity of electricity distribution companies. Again, the citizens who want to eke out a miserable living from their farms cannot do that because Fulani herdsmen have vowed to feed their cows with their crops. And since the fear of the Fulani herdsmen is the beginning of wisdom, they may not even go to their farms to avoid being raped or killed. Because he is befuddled by the past, Buhari does not know that the nation has been riven by ethnocentrism and religious bigotry.
Since the past is the best epoch of the nation, why must Buhari be bothered about thinking of how to make the nation better? Why must he bother himself about restructuring or any other proposal that would rescue the nation from the brink of disintegration? Buhari does not see the inequity in the distribution of the nation’s resources that has necessitated the calls for restructuring. As far as Buhari is concerned, all the best efforts for the nation’s development were made in the past –in his military government and that of Abacha- thus no more effort can be made as regards progress. For Buhari, that nations that are eager to grow plan for decades and even centuries ahead is not necessary in the case of Nigeria.
Thus, Buhari cannot successfully fight corruption because the methods he used in the past are no longer workable in our democratic context. He can only make allegations and name and shame those he perceives as his political enemies. But if Buhari is sincere about fighting corruption, he still has about a year left to make it holistic by not limiting it to the opposition. More importantly, he should demonstrate his sincerity by setting up strong institutions that would sustain the anti-corruption fight. The citizens are not swayed by the propagandist stunt that if Buhari is not re-elected next year, looters would stage a comeback and recover their stolen funds. So if Buhari is indispensable to the fight against corruption, would he remain the nation’s president after 2024, assuming he secures re-election? Would he be made to live forever so that the anti-corruption fight would not be stymied by the enemies of Nigeria who are identified by his government as looters?
Nothing recommends Buhari as a leader of modern Nigerian with its complex challenges. Contemporary Nigerians owe it as a duty to themselves and the subsequent generations to, through the 2019 presidential election, consign Buhari to the past that he duly belongs.
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