Nigeria: Buhari - the 'Converted Democrat'

18 October 2019
opinion

I was having a quiet time on the internet researching an unrelated subject when I stumbled on the then presidential standard-bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Buhari's Chatham House speech delivered in February, 2015. Glancing through it, so many amazing statements jumped out at me. Just go back and read Buhari's Chatham House speech and get a sense of how this man and his handlers fooled the nation and indeed the world. That the speech and the reality of his presidency are light years apart stirred righteous indignation in me.

It was our one and only Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka who, toeing the praise singer's line, described Buhari as a born-again phenomenon in just four months of his ascendancy to power and at a time the red flags had started sprouting all around us. With no evidence on the ground to substantiate such claim then and now, it beats me why he so generously sweetened his assessment of Buhari's performance, barely four months in office. I can't tell why he was so eager to lavish on Buhari credit he did not deserve.

Except he wanted to reinforce and justify his earlier endorsement of Buhari in the run-up to the 2015 election that he had observed him from a distance, questioned those who had interacted with him at close quarters, dissected his key utterances both past and current and came to the conclusion of Buhari's plausible transformation from a jackboot military despot whom "the nation cannot call to order". Again, I have continued to ask which key utterances Soyinka dissected that swayed him to endorse Buhari in 2015. I still haven't found any. The key utterances of Buhari I have found, only reinforced why he should never have been supported. But I believe Soyinka knew better than I did.

Remarkably, Soyinka had this to say about then President Goodluck Jonathan in the build-up to the 2015 election: "The predator walks stealthily on padded feet, but we all know now with what lightning speed the claws flash into action. Of course the tendency did not begin with this regime, but how eagerly the seeming meek have aspired to surpass their mentors!" I thought then and said so loudly that his description of Jonathan was more fitting for Buhari who had been repackaged by pseudo-progressives as he walked "stealthily on padded feet", and sold to a wilfully blinded public as the messiah. Have the last four years not been revealing of Buhari's true persona?

Having received the undeserved accolades, and without atoning for his past misdeeds, Buhari added the clincher by declaring himself a "converted democrat". After his Chatham House speech, the media was buzzing with talk of his transfiguration. Really? What has come over our people, I wondered? It was just impossible to reason with people about the danger a Buhari presidency would pose to our individual and collective destinies. But I took refuge in the saying in the land of my fathers that you "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity".

In my first article against Buhari's presidential ambition, just days after he emerged the standard-bearer of the APC in December 2014, titled: Buhari, When Facts Become Contrived, I cautioned Nigerians that the only reason he was aspiring to be president was to right the perceived "wrongs done to the North" and that he had nothing to offer this country to progress it. You see, in the mad hysteria of 2015, Intellectuals, clerics, journalists, the business community, retired generals, the young and the old willingly gambled with everything for the illusion of change anchored by a man stuck in prehistoric past. It was one of the most telling moments I have ever witnessed, as otherwise highly educated and intelligent people we had previously ascribed knowledge of history and were therefore more discerning of danger - that a leopard no matter how domesticated never changes its spots - all joined forces to endorse a man lacking in competence for the presidency.

He was eulogised as a hero, the incorruptible one, the messiah, the one to right all wrongs. Those who urged caution were quickly put down and labelled as beneficiaries of "16 years of rot" by the mob. Over four years down the line, Buhari's APC-led government has been an unmitigated disaster. Its litany of broken promises litters the landscape. Its economic policies are Janjaweed in nature, unsuitable for a progressive future. Security under Buhari has simply collapsed. The country is at the mercy of a witches' brew of gangsters, bandits, kidnappers and terrorists. His government's lying and megalomania have become a permanent sore on our psyche.

Here is just an excerpt from that Chatham House speech: "On insecurity, there is a genuine cause for worry, both within and outside Nigeria. Apart from the civil war era, at no other time in our history has Nigeria been this insecure. Boko Haram has sadly put Nigeria on the terrorism map, killing more than 13,000 of our nationals, displacing millions internally and externally, and at a time holding on to portions of our territory, the size of Belgium.

"What has been consistently lacking is the required leadership in our battle against the insurgency. I, as a retired general and a former head of state, have always known about our soldiers: they are capable, well trained, patriotic, brave, and always ready to do their duty in the service of our country. You all can bear witness to the gallant role of our military in Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Darfur, and in many other peacekeeping operations in several parts of the world.

"But in the matter of this insurgency, our soldiers have neither received the necessary support nor the required incentives to tackle this problem. The government has also failed in any effort towards a multi-dimensional response to this problem leading to a situation in which we have now become dependent on our neighbours to come to our rescue. Let me assure you that if I am elected president, the world will have no cause to worry about Nigeria as it has had to recently; that Nigeria will return to its stabilising role in West Africa; and that no inch of Nigerian territory will ever be lost to the enemy because we will pay special attention to the welfare of our soldiers in and out of service, we will give them adequate and modern arms and ammunition to work with, we will improve intelligence gathering and border controls to choke Boko Haram's financial and equipment channels, we will be tough on terrorism and tough on its root causes by initiating a comprehensive economic development plan promoting infrastructural development, job creation, agriculture and industry in the affected areas.

"We will always act on time and not allow problems to irresponsibly fester, and I, Muhammadu Buhari, will always lead from the front and return Nigeria to its leadership role in regional and international efforts to combat terrorism."

Follow Nigerians, has Buhari delivered on any of those promises? Talk is cheap. Under this prehistoric, nepotistic and clueless general, who boasted about his military rank, eight local governments in Borno State are today under the control of Boko Haram and ISIS West African Province, ISWAP, has established a foothold in our country. Has Buhari led from the front? The man is marooned in Aso Rock enjoying the perks of office while doing nothing to pull the country back from the edge of the abyss. Banditry, kidnapping, mass killings are now so rife, that travelling by road around the country has become a death wish.

Recently, his Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, provided a revealing glimpse of the mindset of the upper echelons of the military when he declared that only spiritual warfare can defeat Boko Haram which the government had repeatedly claimed had been defeated. Now, is it not ironic that Buratai himself has now waved the white flag of surrender years after he presented a useless flag purportedly captured from the leader of Boko Haram to Buhari as an indication that the terrorists had been defeated?

Back to the Chatham House speech: On corruption, Buhari declared: "There will be no confusion as to where I stand. Corruption will have no place and the corrupt will not be appointed to my administration. First and foremost, we will plug the holes in the budgetary process. Revenue-producing entities such as NNPC and Customs and Excise will have one set of books only. Their revenues will be publicly disclosed and regularly audited. The institutions of state dedicated to fighting corruption will be given independence and prosecutorial authority without political interference." Talk is cheap indeed!

Buhari's cabinet is not only bristling with people with allegations of corruption hanging over their heads, the NNPC has become the ATM of the APC-led government. The state oil coy is a conduit for dispensing favours to political cronies and close family members. Buhari's former Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu had once raised the alarm that contracts worth a whopping $25 billion were awarded without due process or the approval of the board. Again and strangely, figures of the daily consumption of fuel in the country have been going up, diametrically opposite to the level of economic activities and the purchasing power of the average Nigerian, because people are milking the policy of under-recovery for as much cash as possible.

Cunningly, the government continues to shout transparency and accountability from the rooftops to hoodwink the wilfully blind. The anti-corruption agencies, viz. the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal are now part and parcel of the APC, acting on the whims and caprices of the presidency. They have become instruments of blackmail and coercion. The moment you join the party, your sins are forgiven, or the moment you do what the government wants, all corruption-related cases against you will suddenly be dropped by the anti-corruption bodies.

This African Union's (AU) champion of anti-corruption is a false crusader against corruption and money laundering. When it suits him, he looks the other way. We are witnesses to his aloofness in matters of corruption when it affects those close to him. With an eye on his own reelection, he endorsed Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State for a second term despite the damning video recordings of him accepting wads of dollars in bribes.

Buhari promised to abide by democratic norms in that Chatham House appearance. At the heart of democratic norms lies the rule of law and a free democratic space that allows for dissent. But now, all the institutions of state are being used to drive one man's desire to perpetuate a feudal hegemony on everyone else. In pursuit of that burning desire, anyone who stands in his way is a marked man. No sooner had he started his media campaign on corruption and had given indication that he would not obey court orders, than some members of the intellectual class started to goad him to violate the rule of law.

Professor Femi Odekunle, a professor of criminology, and a members of Buhari's Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) declared that "one of the problems we have in this country is that we put the interest of the individual above the interest of the collective; I am not for unmoderated democracy, I'm not for unmoderated rule of law in which the rights of the individual will be so hyperbolised and override those of the collective". Since then, trampling on the rule of law has become the government's new normal.

Buhari has detained many without trial and where the courts have ordered their release, he has simply ignored them. Any form of protest or even a summit that the government feels will be antagonistic to its stance on any issue is prohibited. He is now a law unto himself; the country, a conquered territory. He is the accuser, the prosecutor, the judge and the jury. Omoyele Sowore is learning the hard way that the man he helped to power isn't about to tolerate his activities and allow him the freedom he once enjoyed and took for granted under the last government. The former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki has practically been forgotten in prison. The list goes on.

Not a few saw through it, when in an extreme demonstration of his ironclad contempt for democratic norms, Buhari came for the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, retired Justice Walter Onnoghen under the guise of none declaration of some assets, just a few weeks to the presidential election that was certainly going to get to the Supreme Court as it has now, but those who should have spoken out kept quiet. Some protested feebly. Others applauded it, saying in the fight against corruption, there should be no sacred cow, even when they knew in their heart of hearts the political undercurrent involved. Justice Onnoghen was thrown to the dogs.

It was Nathan Robinson, the Editor of Current Affairs who wrote some time ago that "authoritarianism doesn't come all at once. It creeps slowly, normalising itself bit by bit, until you don't realise that it's too late". Let me also remind you of this extract from the powerful and provocative poem by the late Pastor Martin Niemoller. He used it to capture the cowardice and collusion of the German intellectuals in the Nazis' rise to power and the targeted purge of group after group that followed: "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Socialist.

"Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me." Sowore never thought Buhari and his goons would come for him someday.

As he continues to ride roughshod over us and our democratic institutions, and those who should speak out against his actions keep quiet or applaud him, let me also remind them that democracy dies in darkness. In the immortal words of Martin Luther King Jr, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." Buhari is neither a saint nor a messiah, nor the one to take Nigeria to the next level. Instead he is the one taking Nigeria backward. And the trouble is, no one can tell the end point in the storyline. But the horror of our lives is the unfolding tragedy of Nigeria.

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