Buhari’s Achilles heel
Garba Shehu, the usually unflappable senior special assistant to the president on media, said at the weekend that corruption was fighting back. Though he was cool and calm, he didn’t quite succeed in hiding the fact that, like many other Nigerians, he was worried that corruption is indeed fighting back. And it appears to be doing so furiously.
It is bad news not only for President Muhammadu Buhari, who made the fight against corruption one of the cardinal programmes of his administration, but also for the majority of Nigerians who invested so much faith and trust in the man and his mission and who voted for him principally for that reason.
Members of the international community also extended their goodwill and support on two grounds: the fight against the twin evil of insurgency and corruption. The insurgency, by popular acclamation, has been significantly decimated, though its leader, Abubakar Shekau or his double, is still alive; though the rump of the group makes occasional foray into Maiduguri threatening fire and brimstone, and though the majority of the captured Chibok girls are still in captivity. Despite this ugly drawback in the otherwise remarkable national effort by the country’s gallant troops, the world and the largely appreciative Nigerians are willing to give kudos to President Buhari for a stellar performance. At the same time they urge him not to spare any efforts to bring back the Chibok girls and free all others who are in Boko Haram captivity.
The president should do all he can to retain the confidence of the citizens as far as the fight against corruption is concerned. And there is need for him to know that the mood in the country is gloomy, not only because of the economic hardship, but because of the perceived lethargy in the fight against corruption. The people share in the fear and hope of Garba Shehu that indeed corruption is fighting back but they hope that the president will refuel and re-energise, including recruiting more capable hands, to vanquish this monster with its egregious capacity to wreak untold havoc.
This phase of the war requires a change in strategy and in perception. But we will be making a big mistake to keep believing that this war is all about EFCC’s Ibrahim Magu, as the field commander and members of the National Assembly, especially the senators, as the enemies that must be conquered in the fight against corruption. It will also be a grave mistake to keep harping on the Goodluck Jonathan years as the only period when corruption entrenched itself in the society though we admit that the 16 years of PDP rule contributed enormously to the squandering of the commonwealth. It also hastened the country’s drift to economic perdition.
We must be courageous enough to take a holistic look at the tragedy on our hands and fashion out a formula for dealing with it, root and branch. Some of us have had reason to say before that this war seemed to be a solo effort of the president; that not many of the so-called Buharists who are chorusing his anti-war rhetoric genuinely believe in the mission to rescue this country from corruption. To do sincere battle with corruption, the war generals must, like Caesar’s wife, be seen to be scrupulously above board, above being tainted with corrupt practices in all its guises. They are like people who live in glass houses. They cannot hide.
Given his antecedent, majority of Nigerians were prepared to swear that with Buhari in the saddle, corruption would take flight and Nigeria, free from the shackles of graft and financial malfeasance, would girdle its loin and prepare to launch itself as one of the economic miracles of the new millennium. On assumption of office, Buhari’s body language alone started to inject sanity into the system. At least for a while. The crooked and the kleptomaniacs naturally went into hiding.
But that mystic was to prove later on to be mere mystic. The dilemma facing the new president was evident enough. A converted democrat, he was not oblivious of his limitations and his pace. Certainly Buhari the president is not the General Buhari of 1984 who swore to do battle with corruption and went ahead truly to do titanic battle with corruption. General Buhari, in his first coming, thoroughly scrutinised the background of all those he appointed into his cabinet. For example, the man who was announced as the military governor of the then Cross River State, an Air Force officer called Wing Commander Archibong was replaced overnight before he could be sworn in. Security reports had it that the officer’s missus had done something unbecoming of the wife of man who would be governor. Not to cause any public stir, his namesake, Dan Archibong, a colonel in the Army, was instead named and sworn in as governor of Cross River State. That was Buhari, the general.
Those politicians who had sticky fingers were found to have fiddled with public funds and were herded into detention. General Buhari introduced War Against Indiscipline, WAI to bring sanity into our social life. WAI gave birth to the culture of queuing in public places and there was a WAI brigade to ensure compliance. Queuing has remained till date a lasting legacy of his military administration.
Nigerians, therefore, had no reason not to believe a man who had a singular reputation for keeping his words. When the All Progressives Congress, APC, put him up against PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan in the presidential election, it appeared a done deal. And that is what it turned out to be. In his first year as a democratically elected president, he made three key anti-corruption statements which I took to heart. He said his administration would never allow corrupt people to buy their way into public office. Meaning only decent people of impeccable integrity would ever dream of smelling public office. He enjoined the society to stop celebrating corrupt people, thereby creating the impression that corruption pays. Thirdly, he gave an assurance that nobody should have anything to fear unless those who deep their hands into public treasury.
I have no doubt in my mind that he means well and he wants to be taken seriously. But did President Buhari walk the talk? Of the three points referred to, I guess the first two have been honoured more in the breach than in observance. A careful look at some of his appointments would make you wonder if this stance was scrupulously adhered to.
In one instance, a candidate in a pending election was screened and cleared to contest the election despite the fact that he had a pending case of corruption with the dreaded EFCC and the current Buhari administration was forced by its minders to look the other way.
We seemed more focused today on the National Assembly while ignoring the plight of citizens who are subjected to all manner of humiliation at the state and local government levels where apostles of corruption are having a field day. And there is nobody to check them. What is on display in many states including those controlled by the APC is not the rule of law but the rule of the lawless. President Buhari, as party leader, appears to be blissfully unaware because, somehow, he appears disconnected from the party. Apparently, he believes all is well when obviously all is not well.
The president and the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo have proved to be decent men and have continued to enjoy the sympathy and the goodwill of the people. But the question is what stops them from asserting themselves. I have been unable to know what to make of the vice-president’s occasional lamentations. At one time, early last year, he talked about the frustration of the two of them – the president and himself – anytime they looked for men of integrity and honesty to help the administration to accomplish major tasks. He was worried that the all-pervading atmosphere of corruption has impeded their search for men who are imbued with sufficient passion and patriotism and adequate intellect to boot. And recently he was heard appealing to no one in particular that men of strong character should be given a chance in government to make their contributions.
The current effort is to fish out and punish the corrupt, those odd characters who have messed up the country and had turned innocent people into paupers. While that noble effort is on, the long lasting effort, in my view, should be directed at the establishment of strong institutions that will prevent corrupt practices and reduce the temptation to be corrupt. Such institutions should make it impossible for people of dubious backgrounds to be recruited into public office.
People who start life on the fast lane, who started running before they learnt how to walk, who, for instance, cheat in examinations in school to gain advantage over their hardworking mates, people who, later in life, worship in the temple of corruption, know no other decent way of earning a living. Such people can only corrupt and contaminate the war effort. And because they profit from corruption, they will do anything to protect corruption.
If such individuals infiltrate public offices they become fifth columnists who would sabotage the efforts of leadership and help to bring the country down on its knees.
Buhari cannot afford to fail the country and all those who have invested their trust and their hopes in him. Those who genuinely believe in the Buhari efforts must be honest enough and courageous enough to stand up to be counted. President Buhari himself has no choice but to do away with the corrupt who are congenitally glued to financial shenanigans. If they are not destroyed, they will destroy the country.