Six months after Muhammadu Buhari won the presidential election and over four months after he was inaugurated president, governing without ministers and making countless excuses for his shilly-shally, I breathed a sigh of relief when he finally bowed to pressure from the public by forwarding the first batch of ministerial nominees to the Senate. This was unveiled last Tuesday by the Senate President Bukola Saraki, who read the names on the list on the floor of the Senate. The anxiety and palpable anticipation that had gripped the nation has finally melted, leaving the majority of Nigerians bewildered and bitterly disappointed at the list – a list which typified a narrow-minded, short-sighted and parochial philosophy. Going through the names, I laughed, and told my friends this must be a joke. I paged through the newspapers anxiously in the hope that the authentic list might be in the inside pages. Alas, there was no other list. This was it. Rampant rumours had just metamorphosed into reality. The list, for whatever it was worth, was an anticlimax of what we were told it would contain. After months of boring wait, the president could only submit 21 names out of the 36 he is constitutionally expected to submit. Many of the names submitted did not bear any of the hallmarks of the change mantra. This was the list that was supposed to set the tone of where this government is headed. Well, it has set out the direction, only that it was not the direction many had hoped and prayed it would be. The list was not only disheartening, it once again confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the more they shout change, the more things stay the same or even worse.
Fellow Nigerians, change is not going to come, at least not from this group, not from this party and not from its promoters. Many had expected a clean break from the old order even though some of us knew that would be a moonshot. However, we had nursed some secret hope and prayed that he just might prove us wrong. All the more so because a lot of people eager to jump on the change bandwagon had argued that Buhari would shock even members of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), who had come to feel a sense of entitlement to the spoils of victory. But alas, that has not happened. Instead Buhari has brutally shocked some of his cult-like followers who had come to see in him, the solution to all our problems. He has fallen for the usual Nigerian patronage built on the settlement of political IOUs. A supposed “key driver of change” has compromised and assaulted “the change we need” and the “change we believe”. He has viciously put a knife to the heart of change by some of the nominees he has put forward as ministers. Let no one come and tell me about anti-corruption any more. It is only meant for Buhari’s real and perceived political enemies. It is not a sincere campaign with altruistic motivation; it is mouthed just to hoodwink large sections of the populace into having faith in the change mantra. You cannot make an omelette with rotten eggs and expect it to be delicious. Let’s even put it this way: if you make an omelette with seven eggs out of which one is bad, what happens to the omelette? Will it smell nice? The smell of this change stinks.
The names that finally made the list were the same names that had been bandied around since the end of March that had given us a sense of foreboding that the news would be bad except for a few. One is now tempted to ask: what was the so-called “painstaking”, “meticulous” and “diligent” search for the breed of champions all about? Was this the A-team he promised and “took his time” to raise for Nigerians? Is this the team that will lay the foundation of the new Nigeria? Was all that time wasted to give Nigerians more of the same? Or is Buhari telling Nigerians this is the best Nigeria can produce? If so, then something is surely wrong with the criteria for the search. Who vetted these people? Why was he making all the reassuring noises about “screening”?
Fellow Nigerians, I am sorry to say the horizon seems bleaker than I had thought. If some of these nominees are the best this nation has to offer, then I swear, the challenge before us all is much bigger than I had thought. But I believe this just can’t be the best from the rich pool of a nation of over 170 million people. I refuse to accept that this is all we’ve got. I refuse to accept that this is a winning team. A devastated nation yearns for economic and social regeneration by practical application of the lessons of history. Buhari must not condemn us once again to governance by trial and error. We need people who will heal this land. And all we have got is the innocence of hope and trust. The fierce urgency of the required change is more important than the settlement of political IOUs. It is high time we told our leaders that we need our country back. Nigeria doesn’t belong to any cabal or group of cardinals; we are all stakeholders. The youth must defend this position by insisting on real change instead of making excuses for our leaders. They have the numbers and now is the time to start preparations for the next elections to take their country back. We are tired of kissing too many frogs to get the prize.
I am sick and tired of hearing that these people invested “so much” in Buhari’s election, and so must be rewarded. Be that as it may, they have to clear themselves of the allegations first.
Recall here that the president categorically told the nation that anyone with a whiff of corruption would not come near his cabinet. Even by his own supposed high standards, he has failed the nation. Some of the people he has nominated have several corruption petitions with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against them. Just to give you an example of his total insensitivity to the mood of the country — Rotimi Amaechi, who is being investigated by the EFCC for gross mismanagement of the state’s resources when he was governor of Rivers State — made the list of ministerial nominees. With the entire meticulous search and from his vantage point, is our beloved president saying he was not aware of the petitions against Amaechi which EFCC is already investigating? Some may argue that they are “mere allegations” hence, they are not enough to stop him from being appointed a federal minister. I make so bold as to say that they are enough to stop him until he clears his name. Moral integrity is an irreducible minimum for a sane society to make progress. If we continue to reward impunity and evident mismanagement of public money with appointments, then we’ll just continue on the course of motion without movement.
Now, let’s look at how Amaechi performed in office. How does one explain that for eight whole years, Amaechi failed to complete the Port Harcourt monorail project, which symbolised the face of his administration after spending N33.9 billion of taxpayers’ money? The consultants recently told the Judicial Commission of Inquiry how they advised the former governor against continuing with the project. It even recommended the dismantling of the project and how to unbundle it in such a way that the state government could salvage some financial benefits out of the N33.9 billion so far invested in it. This is the same man Buhari has found worthy to be a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
We must set a new standard by firmly rejecting the old order. The president ought to have set the tone right from the outset especially considering the huge support he had. Imagine for a moment, the president banning anybody with weighty allegations of corruption or corruption cases in court from the presidential villa or firmly refusing to shake hands or meet with them. Do you for one moment realise the impact such actions would have on the psyche of the nation? Imagine for just one quick second the implications of the APC refusing to avail its platform to anyone with criminal cases of corruption hanging over that person to pursue any political ambition? But here is the party of change struggling to outdo the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in its degenerate mendacity of immoral behaviour.
Recall that before Buhari was sworn in as president, a delegation from Adamawa State had paid him a visit at the Akinola Aguda House, Abuja. Buhari in an emotional rage vowed to revisit the $20 billon allegedly unaccounted for by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). This allegation was made by a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and now Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi. The then president-elect said the allegation would not be swept under the carpet, accusing the then government of sacking Sanusi because he blew the whistle on the NNPC. Now, what has changed? While he took Sanusi’s allegation seriously, he has brushed aside the allegations against Amaechi and a former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, and went on to nominate them as ministers.
Fashola, it should be recalled admitted that he used N78.3 million to upgrade his personal website. His only defence was that it went through procurement and there was “no objection”. He also used N640 million to renovate a car park and other “associated works” and also spent N139 million on the drilling of two boreholes all in the Government House. It is astonishing how Fashola’s image has fallen, from revered to reviled.
No doubt Mr. President would have known that these figures were absolutely bogus and inflated. There is a petition by the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) with the EFCC against Fashola. If we treat allegations of corruption against certain individuals with levity, as the president has done, how will he fight corruption with justice and fairness? This reinforces the suspicion in some quarters that those he does not like, he brands as corrupt and those he likes, he treats as angels irrespective of their shortcomings.
This attitude to the fight against a vicious vice that has eaten very deep into the fabric of our ethos, and is now even threatening the very survival of our country is a losing one. You cannot cherry-pick what constitutes corruption and mismanagement of public resources. If we become selective then the end comes sooner. We’ll never rise to the status of a great nation without the institutionalisation and the full application of crime and punishment for all, irrespective of the affinity with the president. He has to live true to his inaugural talk: “I belong to nobody; and I belong to everybody.”
Now, can anybody tell me what Audu Ogbeh is doing on that list? What vision will he bring to the birth of the new nation we yearn for? In 1982, when Olusola Saraki, the late father of the Senate president, was the Senate Leader, the former PDP national chairman appeared before the Senate in Lagos, having been nominated by the then President, Shehu Shagari. Now, fast forward to 33 years later, he would appear before Bukola, the son of the elder Saraki, to be screened for a ministerial position. It must be noted that by that 1982, Bukola Saraki was a 19-year-old secondary school-leaver preparing for his medical career. Then, Audu Ogbe was 35. Now, he is 68 years old. It seems the older you are, the more Buhari believes you have the magic wand to turn things around.
Enter into the political world of Kayode Fayemi. This was the first governor to be defeated in an election and had the courage, honour and dignity to raise the bar in our body polity by congratulating the man who defeated him. It was a first in this part of the world, and a refreshing breakaway from the old order of acrimonious and disputed mandates. It was such a relief and many people celebrated him as the man birthing the new order. But we celebrated too early. Within days, Fayemi was singing a different tune like a canary.
He started looking for proof that the election was rigged. He found a “useless” tape where it was allegedly planned how the election would be rigged. However, it was just circumstantial as it did not prove anything. A man who did not accept when he was rejected by the people is the same person Buhari has found worthy of his cabinet. He failed to accept change when another person was preferred to him. Is such a man capable of bringing change at the national level? Here is a man who it was alleged spent over N3.3 billion on the building of a new governor’s lodge in a state in desperate need of basic infrastructure.
If indeed this was the outcome of the meticulous search, then it is little wonder Buhari described them as “noisemakers”. More importantly, it appears the president does not have the slightest clue how to get us out of the hole we are in.
Now, can anybody out there tell me why Mr President is appointing himself the Minister of Petroleum? Oh! I think I know. He wants to stamp out the fraud in the sector and has left no one in doubt about his resolve. I just wish he would also appoint himself the Minister of Education to clean up the education system. The decay, rot and corruption there are far more than what we have in the oil sector. More importantly is the fact that, this is where the competitive future of this country lies. It requires an immediate state of emergency and the highest level of attention to address the myriad of problems besetting it. Any further delay would be dangerous for the future.