• Sunday, June 23, 2024
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The past in the present


A thousand apologies to Professor Louis J. Munoz for using the title of his book, The Past in the Present: Towards a Rehabilitation of Tradition (Spectrum Books: Ibadan, 2007) for this piece.  Munoz’s book title aptly summarizes Nigeria under Mr Buhari in 2016. Like a leopard that never changes its spots, Mr Buhari’s actions since he ascended the presidency in May 2015 have closely mirrored his disastrous days as a military dictator some 32 years ago. Fortuitously, fate also presented him with about the same circumstances and challenges in 2015 as it did on December 31, 1983 when he seized power as a young and gangly military General. The only difference, this time, is that he is operating under a democratic system – and that has been his major constraint.


On many occasions, Mr Buhari never ceases to remind Nigerians how he would have salvaged the country where it not for the institutions of restraints imposed on him by constitutional democracy.  Take, for instance, Mr Buhari’s lamentation to Nigerians in Ethiopia, in a town hall meeting that the judiciary is his main headache in the fight against corruption. He has never ceased to express his frustration with the long and winding court processes that take months or years to conclude. On some occasions, he has even voiced his disapproval of lawyers accepting to defend so-called “corrupt” individuals in court. Left for him, all those the government accuses of corruption are guilty as charged and they should be locked up until they could prove their innocence, like he did during his military days.


Besides taking the country on an economic roller-coaster for more than a year with his antiquated “command and control economics” (long abandoned even by Russia) that has now led to the collapse of the Nigerian economy, Mr Buhari has resorted to his clannish and invidious tactics of governance like he did in his first coming and which earned him the reputation of a sectional leader and an ethnic champion. In 1984, majority of the members of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) – the highest executive and legislative organ in the country then – were from a section of the country. He also ensured that virtually all the security apparatuses were controlled by people from that particular section of the country.

Even his ‘so-called’ war against corruption took on a sectional tune as the NPN politicians of the second republic from the North – those in charge of the government and mainly responsible for the pillage of the nation’s resources at the time – were given light sentences or even put under house arrests while their counterparts from the southern part of the country and  who were mainly in opposition were given ridiculously long sentences – some up to 120 years – and locked up in prisons under degrading conditions.


Just one example will suffice. While second republic president Shehu Shagari – the person who bore ultimate responsibility for the profligacy of  the regime – was put under house arrests, his vice president – Alex Ekwueme – was, for no reason, locked-up in Kirikiri prison for more than a year. In December 1985, the judicial tribunal headed by Justice Sampson Uwaifo that tried him not only absolved him of any crime but inferred that Ekwueme’s wealth, had, in actual fact … “diminished by the time he was removed from office” and to ask more from him would be “setting a standard of morality too high even for saints in politics in a democracy to be observed.”


If the President’s unfortunate comment at the United State’s Institute of Peace on July 22, 2015 that he cannot “in all honesty” treat constituents who gave him 97 percent of votes equally with constituencies that gave him 5 percent is seen as a Freudian slip, then his actions since then has erased that assumption. Mr Buhari has proceeded to fill up his kitchen cabinet with people from just one part of the country.  His defence for the lopsided appointments sounds so hollow. Hear him: “If I select people whom I know quite well in my political party, whom we came all the way right from the APP, CPC and APC, and have remained together in good or bad situation, the people I have confidence in and I can trust them with any post, will that amount to anything wrong?” But that is not all. The president is now gradually filling all top security positions with people from the same section of the country.


What about his so-called war on corruption? That too is now taking an ethnic colouration as two of the prominent generals (from a particular section of the country) indicted in the arms deal scandal are being shielded by the president just as the administration was quick to rush to the defence of the Army Chief accused of buying choice houses in Dubai even when it is obvious to all that his salaries in the army is unable to buy the houses.


To those accusing his ministers of corruption, the president has come out angrily to warn them to stop tarnishing the carefully built image of his ministers. For him, only those his administration has indicted for corruption are to be discussed. He obviously misses his days as a military ruler when through Decree 4, journalists were forbidden from reporting anything that could embarrass the regime, even if it were true.


Sadly though, Mr Buhari’s sectionalism and his inability to evolve into a national leader who could serve as a symbol of national unity has meant that the country will make absolutely no progress during his tenure as president as other sections, irked by his actions, have retreated into their ethnic cocoons. Nigeria is the ultimate loser.


Christopher Akor