Why do I have to be the guy to tell the kids there will be no Santa Claus this Christmas? Why do I have to be the one to get people out of their insanity or obsession with illusion and face reality? Why do I have to be the chap to break the news to an excited mob of fans of “change”, thereby spoiling the celebratory mood and joyous hymn of “progress”? Do I have to be the person to tell them the so-called “progress” is actually a mirage?
For some inexplicable reason no one else wants to be told the truth. Fellow Nigerians, what we have seen in the last couple of months is troubling, even though many pretend not to see the red flags sprouting all around us. Of course true change is not without flaws, as that will be expecting too much, but when the pathway becomes spotty and smothering, then there is a problem.
It leaves one with that awkward sense that the more they shout change, the more things stay the same. It has been a long symphony and victory dance without the orchestra. Some of President Muhammadu Buhari’s statements and the undercurrents of some of the decisions and appointments he has made so far are remarkably familiar and distinctively chilling – a throwback to his past stint in public offices.
The actions fly in the face of “change” and our sensibilities as a multi-ethnic society and put those who staked their reputations on him being a changed man gasping for breath, even though they will not admit it publicly. They must be pinching themselves now to make sure they are not dreaming. Well, maybe they are still dreaming. Or maybe they have become too obstinate and delusional about the current realities to admit the dilemma they now face.
But more than anything else, the president’s actions so far confirm the fears of those who cautioned that the “leopard never changes its spot; neither does the tiger changes its stripes” no matter the level of rebranding.
Well after 100 days after the president and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), swept to power on the fiery rhetoric of change, massive expectations heralded by high hopes of a national rebirth appear to have crashed and burned. The high voltage fast and furious propaganda that swept them to power is running out of steam. The APC had roused the feelings of many Nigerians into a level never seen before in this clime such that common sense made no sense anymore. The only thing that mattered was blind hysteria accentuated by unrealistic promises that Nigerians of the Twitter and Facebook generation found difficult to resist. It was like some people spread some beer around. The result was sheer madness by nearly everyone who took a sip of that beer. And there was no stopping them anymore; it caught on like wildfire in the Harmattan.
The atmosphere was so infectious that the wind of change that blew across the land made casualty of those who called for reason, insisting on proper vetting of the message and the messengers to avoid the pitfalls of the past. The fierce urgency of the now-now campaign of change has been consumed by the cold hard facts that you cannot give what you don’t have.
More precisely, 170 days after a mandate was obtained, Nigerians are yet to see any concrete sign of the promised “change”. It appears the truth is gradually dawning on the mob supporters of the APC about the deceit and illusion foisted on Nigerians. At least, the APC and the presidency have now officially denied most of the promises they made on the back of which they anchored the change campaign. The fiery tone of the promises during the campaigns has given way to a tepid plea for time and patience from a people who were told before the election that the challenges bedevilling the country required utmost urgency, and that delay in voting out the then incumbent would be catastrophic for the nation. The language and manner of the plea for understanding is now restrained and less confident. They have lowered their voices from the fever pitch of the campaign mode to the quiet urgings for understanding, patience alongside a bag load of excuses on why they can’t deliver.
They told us that Boko Haram would disappear with the “experienced and no-nonsense” ex-general in charge. But the deadly sect has killed nearly two thousand people with multiple explosions since the inauguration of this government.
But what we are seeing and witnessing is not only confounding, it is mystifying to say the least: the mass release and recall to military duty of soldiers who either sabotaged the war against the sect or aided the enemy to embarrass Nigeria – including those who deserted on the fake excuse that there were insufficient sophisticated weapons to match the sect’s. But it has since come to light that many of the weapons being used by the terror sect belong to the Nigerian Army. We watched in agony footages of the utmost humiliation of our fully armed soldiers abandoning their weapons and fleeing from battle from a ragtag band of terrorists.
We are also witnessing the release of terror suspects who carried out heinous crimes against humanity. Many of the soldiers who fought and died to keep Nigeria from being overrun by Boko Haram appear to have died in vain. What about the several thousands of innocent victims killed or maimed by the terrorists? Over 100 days after taking office, this government has not shown any indication that it understands the workings of a modern economy. It appears someone cut power to the engine after a full campaign throttle, and the “witchcraft of change” that had seized the land has crawled to a halt.
All we hear and see now are remonstrations and political infighting within the ruling party such as the “treasury is near empty”, “I wish I was younger, at 72, there is limit to what I can do”, “we will not recognise Dr. Bukola Saraki as the senate president”, etc. We are now being daily bombarded with chilling figures of looted or unaccounted funds by the previous government. The figures are so colossal and mind-boggling that it is either those accused of the alleged crimes were insanely stupid for stealing so much or those bandying these figures are simply lying through their teeth.
Now, let’s not forget that Buhari’s strongest selling point was his anti-corruption posture. However the president committed the first sacrilege to his anti-corruption crusade when in his very first decision after his election he appointed the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva, who then had a pending criminal case against him as the co-chairman of the Transition Committee. I was shocked at the news, and that singular act from a man advertised as the face of “change” dimmed the freshness of hope. Naturally, I soon wearied of their message of change. The expected moral rebirth had just suffered immeasurable damage by that first mistake. It prepared me for what was to come and to be more cynical and doubtful of the message.
How can a president whose strongest point was his disdain for corruption in any shape or form, appoint a man with a pending case of corruption and criminal mismanagement of public funds hanging over him to co-chair the transition of power for the rebirth of a new nation? But as usual, some people with less value for the moral health of society jumped in to defend it on the grounds that a man is innocent until proven guilty. That is the law, and I agree. However, a society is not governed by laws alone, but also by moral values. What message was he sending to the Nigerian people by that appointment?
Of recent, the irrepressible Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, who appears to be carrying his four-figure table about with infectious relish, has been regaling the nation with unsalutary tales of missing or stolen monies. Of particular interest here is his claim that the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) remitted only N2 billion out of a total sum of N162 billion it generated as revenue in a year, and that those who presided over the affairs of the NPA spent N160 billion. Now, how does it appear to Oshiomhole that the man who was the Managing Director of the NPA, Alhaji Habibu Abdullai, when such humongous mismanagement was perpetrated is suddenly brought back and reinstated to the same position he was sacked from by former President Goodluck Jonathan? Oshiomhole probably spoke too early, or should I say he failed to read the president’s “body language” correctly – which is the new policy direction of this government?
Another contradiction in the change that has rendered the anti-corruption stance a mere sloganeering monologue, unworthy of repetition or the ink it is written in is the emergence of Abubakar Audu as the APC standard-bearer in the upcoming governorship election in Kogi State. For those who have forgotten, Audu, a former governor, was charged to court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for corruption, fraudulent conversion of public property, stealing of taxpayers’ money and money laundering. His case has been in court for 12 whole years, held down by lawyers arguing over technical details, aided by pliant judges, who grant stupid injunctions and a legal system crying for reform.
Now tell me, where in the world does a corruption case go on for 12 years with no end in sight? It is this same man that the APC, the supposed party of “change” has availed its platform to contest the governorship election on November 21.
I am waiting for the day Buhari will go to Kogi State, stand on the same campaign podium with Audu, present the party’s flag to him, raise his hand and urge Kogi people to vote for him and afterwards come back to Abuja and voice sermons against corruption again. If Audu goes on to win, the case will be practically dead, as he will be protected by immunity. Fellow Nigerians, is this the “change” that people talked about?
In Bayelsa, Sylva, who also has a pending criminal case in court, is gunning for the party’s ticket to contest the gubernatorial election on December 5. And news filtering through indicates the APC cardinals are in support of his quest. Should he also emerge as the APC standard-bearer and proceed to win the election, his criminal trial will be dead. Is this the change that was promised?
I remember, not so long ago when Ayo Fayose won the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket to contest the governorship election in Ekiti State and Iyiola Omisore contested on the PDP ticket in Osun State, the APC claiming the moral high ground, roundly criticised the decision as an insult to the moral sensibilities of Nigerians and reminded us that Fayose had a pending criminal case in court. Its satellite brigade of lawyers, activists and world-renowned intellectuals joined the fray, condemning the PDP. Now the wordsmiths have all kept quiet as the so-called party of “change” that was supposed to walk a different path is showing its true colours and exhibiting total intolerance of political dissent even within its ranks and re-enacting the very same behaviour they condemned in the PDP. They have all buried their heads in the sand. Why can’t we just condemn the same impunities we all saw in the PDP that are so evidently manifest in the APC, or are we suddenly supposed to venerate these same vices as our moral values and expectations because it is the APC now committing them?
This brings me to the crisis that has been rocking the National Assembly since a set of leaders emerged against the preferred choices of the APC cardinals. Right from the outset, Buhari told the whole world that he had no preferred candidates, and that he would work with anyone that emerged either as the Senate president or speaker of the House of Representatives. At least I bear witness to this. But since Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara emerged as the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House respectively, Buhari has not hidden his disdain for them through his now famous “body language” by which we have been governed in the last four months, which clearly gives the lie to his claim.
For defeating his preferred candidate for the Senate top job, Saraki has faced a barrage of retributions from state institutions. I had mixed feelings when the news of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) charges broke: my first instinct was to jump in celebration and say serves him right, but I realised that it was too reductionist a position to take in the face of the clear abuse of the machinery of state power we are now facing in the hands of a man and his party – unarguably the greatest beneficiaries of a tolerant democratic space.
In my article titled, “Gbajabiamila and the ‘True Lies’ About Party Supremacy” published in the August 4 edition of THISDAY, I stated inter alia: “A chill runs down my spine if because he has also now defied his new party, and beat its preferred candidate, his case file is suddenly dug up for retribution. Some have argued that there is no relationship between the developments, and that it was a coincidence. But how many coincidences do we have to get before they stop being coincidences?”
Why is it that it is now the CCB is suddenly interested in the crimes committed by Saraki since 2003 when his immunity lapsed since 2011. As bad as Saraki’s case is, and as much as I want him punished for allegedly bringing down a bank and purportedly looting the Kwara State treasury, it is hard to reconcile myself with what appears clearly and brazenly to be a politically motivated trial. While the APC wants Nigerians to believe it is about the war against corruption, the evidence before the public points to politics. Some have argued that the president has no hand in Saraki’s ordeal. Good point! Maybe, the CCB read his now famous “body language” correctly, which his supporters claim has brought sanity to the country.
What the unfolding Saraki drama has shown so far is that the APC does not take defeat lightly. It supported all the nonsense the former Speaker Aminu Tambuwal did to his former party, but now it cannot even bear for a moment that Saraki had the effrontery to defy it. Where are the human rights activists and the “69 SANs” who were so eager to defend Tambuwal under the silly guise of defending our democracy? Is it not disturbing that they can’t speak up now? To them I say: indifference is not a virtue. Maybe we are now seeing the true colours of the much-talked about change encapsulated in Wole Soyinka’s “Buhari Born Again Phenomenon”. But let me leave you with the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”
All we can see is a re-enactment of the past packaged as change.