Buhari: The End of Optimism? (I)

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THIS REPUBLIC  BY SHAKA MOMODU         shaka.momodu@thisdaylive.com     

President Muhammadu Buhari rose to power on the back of post-truth politics fuelled by an out-of-control social media spewing falsehoods and outlandish claims. Its propagators and masterminds hid behind the veil of anonymity while its beneficiary – Buhari enjoyed the damaging impact of fake news on his opponent. His party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) even helped to amplify and spread lies and half-truths through its social media army.

It was a very effective tool deployed to devastating effect with all its different strands of narratives designed to sink truth with fiction. It was the first time the social media had propelled an individual, particularly an ill-prepared, ill-equipped, and a candidate totally lacking the wherewithal to govern a modenising economy, to power on the strength of half-truths, misinformation and outright fiction in Africa.

It marked a new eerie reality of not just the rise of post-truth but the potency of the social media to obfuscate the truth and cause significant injury and damage to personal and institutional reputations. All it takes is a dedicated handful of bandits and merchants of falsehood, operating outside the normal restraint of social values to spew falsehoods on the internet and they go viral in seconds. These lies are spread by people whose addiction to fake news or misinformation has in itself become a threat to the social cohesion of the human community.

But far beyond that, it marked a remarkable willingness on the part of many people to romanticise and embrace lies as truths even when historical actualities at hand present a strong rebuttal to the fantasy and illusion presented to them in a packaged rebranding to sell a bad product. Though many say it is the new normal in politics, but to some of us, it signified the triumph of the nasty and brutish over civility; a win for the end-justifies-the-means politics in an era of crude populism fuelled by emotion rather than reason.

That’s not to say social media has no good. Far from it. It has become the ultimate communication platform and veritable means of networking with friends, family and people in distant climes. In short, I can scarcely imagine a world without the advances in social media.

The 2015 campaigns stirred up a thousand mega ton payload of hope and optimism amid change premised on sweet nothing. Today, millions are crawling on their stomachs for food. Even the most optimistic of Buhari’s supporters now wear long faces, many have become badly emaciated on account of hunger.
But that is hardly the thrust of this article. Rather, this is somewhat a review of how we got to the situation we have found ourselves and a roll-call of the high and mighty for the role they played in getting us here. In other words, putting the blame squarely where it belongs for future generations to read this moment in time.

For some of us, it is critically important to document for posterity the role some of us played in getting Nigeria into this mess we have all found ourselves, lest some people – the revisionists – will teach our children nonsense. And you know that they are quite many out there. Some of them have since gone to work to document half-truths and “true lies” to suite their narrative and mislead posterity.

Many of them are experienced story tellers, while some are strong on poetry. These are guys with imposing qualifications, world-acclaimed reputations, can be mesmerisingly brilliant in their presentations. Their descriptive power is beyond reproach. As a matter of fact, it was the most potent tool used to legitimise the fraud committed against Nigeria in the 2015 presidential campaigns in the name of change. They gave their endorsement to a man whose only quest to lead was driven by clannish considerations and contempt for progressive ideas but deceptively packaged as change. His candidacy was promoted by the self-serving interest of a group of people motivated more by parochialism disguised as love of country. The businesses of many moneybags who secretly financed Buhari’s ascendancy are in a shambles. I can bet they are regretting now.

Many are tempted to laugh off the pains of the rich whose businesses are crumbling under this crude and barbaric era, who now also cry. I am also tempted to scoff at the pain and suffering we the ordinary folks are all going through together today as well-deserved for a people who chose to be wilfully blinded to the dangers that were all too visible in the run-up to the election.

But of what use would laughter be to me when our country burns on all fronts? Its economy is in a shambles and has spiraled out of Buhari’s control into an avoidable recession, and possibly heading into a depression. Of what use is laughter when poverty is ravaging the land; when gloom and doom have become daily companions of millions across the land? Of what benefit will it be to me when unemployment figures have hit the roof and inflation is at an all-time high of 18.49 per cent; when a once boisterous business environment has been systematically destroyed? Death and destruction have become daily companions of our lives as Fulani herdsmen unleash an unprecedented reign of terror on the entire country. It is no laughing matter that our country is groaning under the confused and clueless APC as it burns the national economy to the ground.

Sometime in August 2015, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the “navigator” of the APC while calling for support for the government gushed out praises of President Buhari’s leadership style saying, “In the last two and a half months, Nigerians have started to witness a Nigeria of their dreams.”

When I read that praise, I had thought he was misquoted and waited in vain for a denial but none came forth. The former president even rushed to Buhari’s defence over his refusal to rein in the herdsmen who have since Buhari’s election transformed the entire country into a killing field.
The question to ask Obasanjo now, 19 months after this government came to power is: Is Buhari still building the Nigeria of our dreams, or of his (Obasanjo’s) dream?

The early warning signs of this government’s incompetence were already sprouting visibly when Obasanjo was showering praises on Buhari. It was four and a half months after his election and two and a half months after his inauguration as president; Buhari could not even appoint a cabinet. Investors had started fleeing the country and portfolio investors were increasingly growing nervous about the economic direction of the new government.

As for Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, he has been finished off by children on social media who were not even born when he won the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature 30 years ago. While I have no interest in adding to his misery, it however bears recalling here that a few days before Obasanjo came short of declaring Buhari a messiah, Soyinka had used the phrase and the symbol of Christendom, “born again” which signifies spiritual rebirth of someone from his sinful past to a new life of awareness and spirituality to describe Buhari’s two and a half months’ stewardship. This is how he put it: “He (Buhari) has not brought himself round to apologise; if he had done that, I might have been less ambiguous about him. But I think from my findings about him, he is a born again phenomenon. If I am wrong, well, too bad. Though I don’t believe in ‘born-againism’ but I think this may be an exception.”

The irony here is that this was one of the few times Obasanjo and Soyinka have put their war of attrition that can only be resolved in the “hereafter” aside to agree on anything. It was striking but a few people took note of it. But some interpreted it to mean the broadness of the support for Buhari’s government even though to some of us who saw through the scam, it underscored the strangeness of the strange bedfellows that formed the contraption called the APC and its support base, a party that has brought Nigeria to its worst economic, security and political state ever.

To be honest, Soyinka is not a man given to flippancy. He is usually deeply reflective and sees what many don’t see. But on Buhari, he got it terribly wrong. He fell for gloss over substance, stating erroneously that the one who walked with “padded feet” just to get power before flashing his teeth was the new saint that had been converted on his way to Damascus and the one who had no shoes was the sinner who needed to lose his crown. Curiously, he has maintained a loud silence about the state of the nation under his born-again Buhari despite the fierce urgency to speak on it.

Emir Mohammed Sanusi who was then known as Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the then central bank governor. He raised a false alarm of unremitted or missing $49.8 billion oil money. A figure he later revised to $12 billion, then to $10.7 billion and finally $20 billion. Sanusi abused his office and practically did everything to undermine the government he was a part of with his allegation which till date remains unproven. The letter he wrote to the then president containing his outlandish allegation was passed to then Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, who to curry favour and support of the Americans, leaked it to the US Ambassador to Nigeria.

This false allegation became a potent weapon in the hands of the APC in the 2015 presidential election campaigns. Even when the Senate carried out an investigation which showed that no such amount was missing, many people refused to believe it. An audit was also carried out which again proved Sanusi’s allegation to be a figment of his imagination, the APC refused to accept the findings.

Is it not curious that nearly two years after it rode to power promising a re-audit, nothing has been heard about the alleged missing $20 billion? What has happened to the new audit the APC promised Nigerians? Why is nobody in this government mentioning the missing $20 billion as claimed by Sanusi anymore?

Instead of trying to borrow $30 billion that will put a debt burden on future generations, why not recover Sanusi’s missing $20 billion to reflate the economy and pull it out of recession? Is it not curious that in Sanusi’s recent public interventions, he has been uncharacteristically silent about the billions which caused a massive public outcry in 2014/15? Why are those who celebrated that allegation now silent? Why is Buhari mute on it? I recall how visibly angry he was about the allegation and vowed to get to the bottom of it. Can anybody tell me why the EFCC is not investigating the missing money with a view to recovering it? Because I don’t understand. The only possible explanation is that the allegation has served its purpose and is no longer relevant.

It is instructive that Obasanjo and Emir Sanusi two big supporters of Buhari have started to develop cold feet about the direction the President is taking the country. Obasanjo after several visits to the Villa may have found out Buhari has nothing new to offer 21st century Nigeria by way of progressive ideas.