This article sets out two central developments revolving around President Muhammadu Buhari and two key figures. The first is his sudden recognition of the late MKO Abiola and the second, his reported idolisation of the late head of state, General Sani Abacha.
Buhari just pulled off a great political “masterstroke”, crowed a friend and a fierce Buhari apologist. Well, so it seemed to many of his apologists. Not exactly his apologists alone. Even his diehard critics were left breathless and bewildered. Not necessarily by the genius of the political calculus underpinning his canonisation of Abiola, but by the sheer contradiction and paradoxes involved in it. I am in a dilemma trying to figure out what is going on. Buhari is trying to serve two masters at the same time.
Out of conviction, he idolised the late General Sani Abacha, his true hero, but felt the need to appease a tribe whose block vote is crucial to him retaining the keys to the Villa in 2019. So how did he do it? He conveniently honoured the late Chief MKO Abiola, winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election who died in the struggle to reclaim his mandate that was annulled by General Ibrahim Babaginda with Abacha playing a key role.
A peep into Buhari’s past shows his disdain for June 12. When asked in an interview in 1998 about Abiola’s predicament, his response then was instructive: “You expect me to have any sympathy for somebody who financed the coup that took me out of office.”
You see, Buhari recognised Abiola not because he is a reformed democrat as he claims, neither is it because he appreciates the significance of June 12, its symbolism and the injustice of the annulment. Buhari’s recognition of Abiola was for one reason and one reason only: it is politically beneficial to his re-election bid. So his about-face now is convenient to his larger personal interest.
However, I grudgingly give him some credit for seeing an opportunity and taking it, even though I understand the motive to be less than altruistic. After all, five leaders have mounted the rostrum before him, none offered the Abiola family and the Nigerian nation “a glorious bribe” like Buhari has now done. That is not in anyway a slur on the Goodluck Jonathan administration which took the first step towards honouring Abiola’s sacrifice. Recall Jonathan tried to rename the University of Lagos after Abiola, but for some inexplicable reason, the South-west intelligentia rejected it. Many of those same people are today celebrating Buhari’s “glorious bribe”.
But the question now is, will the people see it for what it is – a Greek gift? Will this “bribe” be enough to turn things round for Buhari and give him victory in 2019? I very much have my doubts that this half-hearted concession or “bribe” will atone for the incompetence, maladministration, mismanagement, clannishness and nepotism that this government has become. How can this suddenly atone for Buhari’s clear lack of capacity to govern? How can this even atone for his own poor leadership of the country in the last three years? How can one even think that this bribe-for-votes addresses the fundamental problems bedeviling this country? Who will atone for Kudirat Abiola’s assassination by agents of the state? Have these people forgotten her cruel murder? Why was she not deemed worthy of a posthumous honour like her husband? After all, she was killed in the struggle to free her husband from detention and actualise the June 12 mandate.
Babagana Kingibe, the man who sold his head to buy a cap, did not deserve to be awarded a national honour. He abandoned June 12, became foreign affairs minister under Abacha, pooh-poohed the mandate, giving reasons why June 12 was no longer realisable and lambasted the activists that held on to the mandate. A perplexed Abiola said then that he had nothing to say about a man who from number two became number nobody. Honouring Kingible is a great disservice to June 12 and to the memories of all those who died in the struggle to actualise the mandate; Kingibe it now seems has eaten his cake and still has it. I am furious here about Kingibe’s honour. I am actually beside myself with rage that this fox is now praising Abiola. The only reason I can think of for honouring this betrayer of June 12, is that clannishness of Buhari.
For those already singing songs of victory for Buhari in 2019 because of his recognition of Abiola, let me tell you, there is a saying in the land of my fathers: “Only a fool trades his life for money.” This is not the time to let down our guard or lose sight of the dangers ahead should we make the mistake of voting Buhari in 2019 solely on account of the recognition he just accorded Abiola. The declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day may be a gimmick to gain votes after all, going by what the Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami just said that the Public Holidays Act would have to be amended to give effect to Buhari’s “intention”.
Now, let’s look at Buhari’s praise of Abacha and put some historical context and texture to it. Only a few weeks ago, Buhari canonised the former head of state and maximum ruler, the late General Sani Abacha for building roads and developing infrastructure in the country. I was however shocked that people expressed surprise that Buhari idolised Abacha. You see, “History matters; records are not kept simply to assist the weakness of memory, but to operate as guides to the future.” If you refuse to learn the lessons of history, you will always be surprised – and for some APC supporters – ashamed and embarrassed. The arrowheads of change could only watch in perplexity, wrench in agony and regret at what it has turned out to be. But there is nothing they could do about it.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane to understand Buhari’s alternate reality and how much he has tried to impose it on Nigerians. At the remembrance prayer marking 10 years of the death of Abacha, Buhari described the allegations of looting against the late military dictator as “baseless”, because according to him, “Ten years after Abacha, those allegations remain unproven because of lack of facts.” It was not as if he was not aware that money Abacha stole had been returned to the country, rather it was a stubborn refusal to accept the facts. That statement was well documented in the public records but in the heat of 2015, the salesmen of the Buhari-has-changed campaign described as “contrived handicaps” everything he had said or done that didn’t advance the new narrative.
Continuing from there somewhat, on April 27, 2016, the presidency posted on its twitter @NGRPresident at 9:09 a.m. as follows: “Nigeria is awaiting receipt, from Swiss Govt, of $320 million, identified as illegally taken from Nigeria under the Abacha administration.” To the discerning, that was an unmistakable sign of denial. It deliberately did not mention the fact that Abacha was the one who took the money illegally. Instead, the post created the false impression that the money was taken probably by some officials who served under that administration. Well, the Abacha loot only has Abacha’s name tied to it, so no matter how hard or how much anyone tries, it won’t change anything. Abacha stole Nigeria’s money. To conclude otherwise stretches logic, common sense, and credulity beyond the breaking point. What Buhari has consistently done is to dismiss inconvenient facts and put out his own alternative facts in an attempt to subsume the truth or negotiate the facts.
His latest praise of Abacha came just after his government received another tranche of $322 million from Switzerland allegedly stolen by Abacha. For those who may have forgotten, it was former President Olusegun Obasanjo who initiated the global search and recovery of the Abacha loot.
For those who thought the “progressives” and conservatives mix of his party, the democratic environment which places a premium on the people’s sensibilities may have reformed him, and his political ascendancy would change what had not changed in him all those years, I say how terribly mistaken they have been – a leopard cannot change its spots. They have been disappointed.
I am not about to blame Buhari for living true to form. As a matter of fact, he should be respected for his consistency in championing alternative facts. The blame should rather go to those who are hell-bent on making a hero out of a man who has consistently frustrated their attempts by his utterances, actions and inactions. The harder they tried, the more their efforts were rebuffed. Yet they keep trying.
You see, while he exonerates Abacha of corruption, he steadfastly pursues allegations of corruption against opposition elements all over the world and is busy releasing names of treasury looters. Does this not smack of double standard? He holds the Abacha era as the golden example of leadership only rivalled by his own government – his brief stint as a military head of state and his current civilian tenure. With these exceptions, all other leaders after him, military and civilian, will be “judged by God for wasting Nigeria’s resources”. How self-righteous can a man be? Now the president was reported to have made this baffling statement: “Sometimes, I wonder about those who can afford to send their children abroad for studies and yet continue to sabotage the economy, I wonder what kind of Nigeria they want their children to return to and work. There is a lot of lack of imagination. If you are working for the country, then you should not be misappropriating and misapplying public funds the way people did.” Can you imagine? From the evidence in the public domain, those accusations are at the minimum hypocritical and self-indicting – this administration is more guilty of them and are at worst, malignant.
But let’s even ignore Buhari’s fixation with the past and his fascination for Abachamania and look at some of the substantive issues of the provision of infrastructure, viz. roads, education and healthcare. The Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) interventions in these areas were piecemeal, ad hoc in nature, devoid of policy and strategy at best. It was essentially all about renovation and rehabilitation of physical assets, provision of drugs and equipment at hospitals; chairs, desks, etc. in schools. As relieving as these interventions were, they were cosmetic to the underlining problems bedeviling the areas Buhari referenced in his statement. Under Abacha, Nigeria was not the Eldorado that Buhari wants us to believe it was. Universities were frequently shut down either as a result of student protests against his government, or because the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had the temerity to embark on strikes to protest the lack of a conducive learning environment. For the first time, students lost one full academic session at least during peace time.
It was under this “Eldorado era” which Buhari cherishes so much that the refineries where allowed to collapse. Import licences for the importation of fuel became one big racket – that regime laid the foundation for all sorts of phoney briefcase companies that have ever since characterised the oil sector. It has grown ever since. Who can forget how under that regime toxic fuel with a very bad odour was brought in by the agents of that government!
Veteran journalist, Ray Ekpu provided some compelling review into how Buhari ran the PTF in his article in The Guardian recently. He presented Afenifere’s analysis of the siting of the PTF projects in the country under Buhari. The picture is disturbing: “The consumption of petroleum products by the South was 70% while that of the North was 30%. However, the distribution of the PTF projects was a reversal of the consumption pattern: 70% to the North and 30% to the South. All southern states had 4,440.43 kilometres of roads rehabilitated (24%) while states in the North had 13,870.47 kilometres rehabilitated (76%). Teaching Hospitals’ rehabilitation: South 38%, North 62%; Specialist hospitals: South 29%, North 71%; Food supply: South 17%, North 83%; National Health and Educational Rehabilitation Programme (NHERP): South 0% and North 100%; Vocational Programme: South 3%, North 97%; Primary School rehabilitation: South 12%, North 88%. Haroun Adamu acknowledged the gross imbalances in the sharing of the projects but regretted that his committee could not do much to remedy the situation since by the IMC mandate, they could not embark on new projects. From the findings, there was a massive fraud in the PTF, fraudulently masqueraded as achievements.”
Clearly, Buhari’s ethnic agenda did not start today. Unfortunately, during the 2015 election campaign, even though this fact was in the public domain, we were told he had changed. People we had previously ascribed knowledge of history to, turned historical facts on their heads, declaring Buhari a messiah. Since Buhari’s ascendancy to the presidency, he has displayed the worst of everything he was accused of pre-2015.
Since he came to power, killer herdsmen have been on a killing spree, buoyed by the body language of Buhari and the utterances of the officials of his government. Blood has been flowing everyday, everywhere, as human lives are now valued lower than the lives of cows. Folks, we must never allow June 12, which was a Muslim-Muslim ticket that, against all odds birthed a pan-Nigerian mandate to be exploited by those who are anti-June 12 at heart, and whose primary quest for power is to promote their clannish interest. Nigerians, shine your eyes and vote wisely.