Three familiar weeks
When President Buhari returned in the wee hours of Friday, March 10 from medical vacation in the U.K. that commenced on January 19, he slipped into the country peaceably, like a man who had undergone some spiritual procedure. Even the polity that was riled for being denied access to Mr. president was sobered to appreciate what was clearly a transformation. The president’s voice was calm and benign, a newness of form. What a change, we thought.
When Buhari later engaged some members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and service chiefs, in the First Lady’s Conference Room at the Presidential Villa, he was very frank about his encounters in London. While all the president’s men told Nigerians at different dates and times for all of 50 days that their principal was not ill, but merely undergoing routine medical checks, Buhari, upon his return confessed he had never been that ill, not even in the murderous days of the Nigerian civil war, when he confronted enemy firepower and inclement environments at various sectors of that encounter.
While his aides and ministers lied to Nigerians barefacedly, Buhari was forthright, and offered insight into his London experiences. It was not the sketchy details he gave of his engagement with highbrow medical technology in the U.K. that compelled Nigerians, friends and foes to contemplate a renewal of their expectations. It was his soul-searching promise to rededicate his life to service of country that stirred both gloaters and sympathisers to a willingness to reboot. Before he travelled, millions of citizens were at their wits end over the Presidency’s feet of clay. Things were sluggish on all fronts.
The point is that the transformation Buhari came with from London was not allowed to percolate and affect the polity for good. It’s been three weeks thence, and we have all returned to our old ways of rancour and confusion. Whereas Buhari’s body language upon his return read like that of peace and stability, it seems that some persons around him prefer to inflict chaos on the system. Buhari announced to our hearing on March 10 that he would continue to rest for the time being, while his vice, Yemi Osinbajo, whom he confessed was imbued with more stamina on account of his younger age and sound intellect, should continue to govern. It was clear then that the president needed to take things easy. But some power mongers disagreed. By the night of that March 10, the President had been reversed. No more was he going to continue to rest and no more would Osinbajo continue to act. The President was, as a matter of urgency to resume on Monday, March 13.
It was clear then, to a few political clairvoyants, that prolongation of the new lease of life, the type that Osinbajo procured while he acted for a few weeks would encounter arrested development. And that undeniable change became truncated. Instead, we were railroaded full throttle into redoubled intrigues and political sham.
The relationship between the Presidency and the leadership of the National Assembly has not been very good since June 2015. But when Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara, along with others visited Buhari in London, pictures of it were generously marketed and it didn’t look like photo trick. The two NASS leaders also visited the Villa, when the president returned, and citizens got the impression of improved relations between the executive and the legislature. It took only two days for that impression to evaporate. It was the second visit of the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu for confirmation as substantive chair at the Senate on March 13 that blew the lid. The government of Buhari had learnt nothing and brought nothing from London, it seemed. If he did, those who do not want him to superintend a stable polity have since disabled him. Citizens are baffled, that in his close encounters with Saraki and Dogara, in London and later at the Villa, Buhari did not take a minute to market Magu, his most priced asset. In London, where we were told he spent a good time watching TV, he must have seen Theresa May, the British Prime Minister sweating everyday to explain governance issues at parliamentary debates. Even Donald Trump, the U.S. President who allegedly called Buhari while he was in London is having a hell of a time in the hands of congressmen. It is taking Mr. President too long to learn the ropes of democratic governance. He should know that reaching rapprochement between the executive and legislature does not amount to weakness.
Right now, the Presidency has locked itself in a most embarrassing alley. The Senate, constitutionally, will have a final say on the issue of Magu, and if by chance there are still some political deals to be reached on the matter, so much has already taken place to demystify Magu. The man, no matter how brilliant and sincere he may have been at sniffing financial crimes has now been rendered otiose. Rather than continue to dig in and destabilise the polity, minders of the Presidency should seek wisdom outside its standoffish and redundant posture. Shop for more names and let’s move the blighted country forward.
It is even confounding that Mr. Magu’s woes are not stoked only in the Senate. The document that so imperils Magu’s confirmation is the handiwork of operatives in Buhari’s kitchen cabinet. The Department of State Security (DSS) is the author of the incriminating probe, whose details the Senate gleefully flaunts. So, who is working against Mr. President?
That’s not all. The Comptroller General of the Customs, Col Hameed Ali, retd, is another reason why the polity is unstable for three good weeks after Mr. President’s return from London. Ordinarily, the Customs policy to compel owners of vehicles already plying the roads to pay duties retroactively is not a new one. Anyone who travels long distance, especially interstate will know that it is not new. I have been stopped and my vehicle papers probed way back in 2015 by Customs men. It is a simple process and once your papers are in order, you are asked to go. Smuggling of vehicles from neighbouring countries is also not new. What is new is that Ali is on overdrive for revenue and he does not mind that majority of citizens are looking for food to eat. He is not alone in that drive. The Finance Ministry had proposed a new vehicles registration scheme that was to commence this April. Unfortunately for them, they are not carrying the parliament along. That is the reason for the huff and puff.
It is not that this National Assembly loves downtrodden Nigerians. They are lovers of themselves and have never stood for the people. They were not there when the price of fuel was to move from N87 to N145. They were not there when electricity tariff was jerked up by more than 50 percent. They will not be there when tollgates are erected to fleece motorists. They are never going to be there, not in this dispensation. In fact, it pays them more when the Federal Government earns more money from sundry taxes and levies.
My biggest worry in all of this is not the jests and the clowning in the NASS, nor the stiff-necked unprofitability of the Presidency. I worry more for the cluelessness of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and their supporters in the civil society, who misled Nigerians into this sham. They forget too soon that Dino Melaye was the anchor at APC rallies before the 2015 elections. They recruited him from the #Bring Back Our Girls campaign grounds. The camp of human rights activists and oversabi lawyers, who justified the movement of Bukola Saraki and other senators from PDP to APC then, and saw nothing wrong with it, now want to crucify the man for doing what he knows best. They hailed former Speaker Aminu Tambuwal, as he rubbished parliamentary decorum. When he dumped PDP for APC, they said nothing. Now they want perfection from Saraki and his men.
This is harvest season. Soon it will be time to plant for 2019. Think wisely!