What better quote to start this article than one by Vladimir Putin: “Those who fight corruption should be clean themselves.” In case you’re wondering if this was said by the famous (or infamous) Russian president, allow me to calm your nerves. Even I hoped this Putin is the Putin we love to hate, and alas he is the author of this starter quote. I think Putin preaching against corruption is like a beautiful oxymoron. That’s why this quote launches today’s article about Nigeria’s corrupt saint.
In the run-up to the 2015 general elections in Nigeria, erstwhile General Muhammadu Buhari’s credentials as a reformed democrat were burnished. An impressive media campaign highlighted his strides as military dictator in 1983-85 as evidence of his intolerance for the corrupt and the forces of corruption. Any talk of an overhanded approach in his military era and allegations that his deputy, Tunde Idiagbon, was the real drive behind that regime was quickly dispatched to the abyss. Here was Buhari, Nigeria’s very own messiah, coming to clean up the stench of corruption in Nigeria.
In a supposedly democratic era where flamboyance was the order of the day, Buhari cut the figure of a modest monk akin to the Unsullied in Game of Thrones, with no regard for wealth nor corrupt inducement. His smart handlers highlighted his humble home in Daura, his hometown, and pointed out that unlike other past rulers of Nigeria, he only collected a percentage of the magnanimous benefit legally accruable to his account. More interesting was the suggestion that a bank loaned him money to buy the APC’s presidential form for the primaries. Of course, no one talked about his children schooling in the UK nor his reliance on foreign medical care. That was irrelevant. The important thing was that corruption was going to be fought to a standstill.
Move on to May 29, 2015, the day President Buhari was inaugurated into office. His famous statement about belonging to everybody and nobody triggered applause even from detractors and benevolent sceptics. This statement was supposed to mean that the cash cows and influencers who organised his campaign would not receive undue preference compared to the ordinary person on the streets. Everyone (at least majority) was happy with a “new sheriff in town” after years of plundering by the despicable PDP.
The first sign of trouble came when Nigerians requested for Buhari’s assets to be publicised. This ought not to have been an issue as he made the promise himself that on assumption of office, he would make his assets public and ensure his appointees do the same. This was a shade at former president Jonathan who infamously said he did not “give a damn” about publicly declaring his assets since it was not required by Nigerian law. On request, Buhari’s spokesman deflected by saying the promise was to make assets public within the first hundred days after inauguration, and that the declared assets were awaiting verification by the Code of Conduct Bureau. Finally, as the self-appointed deadline approached, a summarised list was released. Summary is even an exaggeration as the declaration was effectively useless. How does saying Buhari has just five houses say anything about his worth? A house could be worth N1 million, N1 billion or more. However, still basking in the euphoria of electing an anti-corruption czar, Nigerians magnanimously accepted the offered crumbs.
Skipping the enthronement of some questionable persons as federal ministers after a six-month search for angels, Buhari’s next major issue came from the 2016 budget. This budget unleashed the phrase “padding” into Nigeria’s political lexicon. If you want more details about this fiasco, you can read my articles: “Nigeria’s Best Budget Ever” and “All Eyes on Paddington”. Buhari used a get-out-of-jail-free card to get out of this mess, but the padding got repeated in the 2017 budget. Thanks to a cult following in Nigeria’s north by people who feel Buhari can never be wrong, and a considerable army of sycophants down south, Buhari escaped these messes with his integrity still largely intact.
One thing about having integrity is a commitment to keeping your word. However, just like America’s Donald Trump, Buhari has demonstrated that special rules apply to him. As Trump has survived moves that would consume a “normal” politician, Buhari has consistently gotten away with things that would have messed up an average Nigerian politician even after factoring the shamelessness of Nigerian politics. During the election campaigns, Buhari and the APC made a host of heavenly promises to Nigerians. On assumption of office, the enthroned saint denied every single promise and claimed they were made by his party and not by him. Imagine Barack Obama becoming president and stating the campaign promises that got him elected were made by the Democratic Party and not by him. Despite this volte-face, Buhari’s white garment remained cleaner than that of Most Senior Apostle Ebenezer at Cele Bus Stop.
Still on integrity, accepting responsibility for one’s actions and inactions is a hallmark of integrity and sainthood by extension. The Buhari administration has in two years taught Nigerians the fundamentals of shifting blame. Every unpalatable incident has been blamed on the past administration, and where that has been too un-cookable, rats have been blamed. These two years have redefined sainthood to include lying proficiency. From Uncle Lai Mohammed to Uncles Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina, the three key spokespersons have cooked lies that shock even the devil. Let’s look at the latest meal.
Nigerian media is buzzing with the issue of Abdulrasheed Maina, a civil servant who was sacked by the former administration due to corruption charges and declared wanted by the government. Maina was said to have escaped to the UAE to avoid prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). However, Premium Times recently exposed that he was brought back to Nigeria by the Buhari administration, reinstated into the civil service, given double promotion and offered top-notch security by the State Security Services (SSS aka DSS). In the uproar that followed, blames were traded between the minister of interior, the head of service of the federation and the attorney general, with another angle claiming a court had declared his reinstatement. As Nigerians asked for heads to roll, Buhari ordered for Maina’s sack (legal?) and then requested for a report from the head of service on the issue. Up until now, that report, alongside the one submitted by the vice-president on US$48 million found in a Lagos apartment, are still being studied by President Buhari.
Requesting for a report in a clear case of corrupt collusion was not enough to make mockery of Nigerians. The government went further to insult public sensibilities by claiming the recall was masterminded by the past administration. Even experts in buck passing would not have thought of such a claim. That a fugitive’s return, reinstatement, promotion and protection was done by persons loyal to the Jonathan administration despite official correspondence at the highest level of this government is a lie too far. If prior incidents are a guide, nothing would come out of this brouhaha as the spin doctors would maintain the narrative that Buhari is diligently fighting corruption and any apparent scandals are just evidence of “corruption fighting back”.
So far, the Buhari administration has run on a policy of “see no evil, speak no evil, but tell as many lies as required”. In beating corruption records set by past administrations, this administration has done the miraculous—maintaining a façade of sainthood. That is arguably its greatest achievement. Is Buhari a saint? Is Buhari corrupt? As a Nigerian musician, Omawumi, would say, “If you ask me, na who I go ask?”
Image Credit: M. C. Escher – “Angels and Devils“