General Muhammadu Buhari and President Muhammadu Buhari: Misgoverning or Misperception?

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The person of Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari as a soldier, or as a Major General and Head of State of Nigeria, on the one hand, and the person of Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari as a soldier militician, soldiering in politics, but also as an elected President of Nigeria, on the other hand, can be quite interesting for many reasons. First, it is the same individual operating in different spheres of life. The operational spheres of life keep changing but his attitudinal disposition to them does not appear to have changed.

Secondly, the operational environment of political governance has remained essentially the same. At the level of the behaviour of Nigerians, there is no change. Nigerians fight themselves at home but defend themselves outside of Nigeria. Nigerians are, generally speaking, the biblical Good Samaritans but they are more of observers when some people break the law. They prefer to run away from trouble, rather than confronting the challenge frontally.

For example, it can be rightly argued that Lagos State is a visible State of transportation lawless where social recklessness is condoned by government agents who actually are required to contain same. Let anyone who wants to disagree with this point go to Ikorodu Road any day or to Sabo Police junction in Yaba to see the acts of reckless abuse of the traffic law.

On Ikorodu road, the reserved lanes for BRT buses are always used by unauthorised commercial buses (Danfo) whenever there are serious bottlenecks. The non-authorised commercial vehicles consciously ply the reserved lanes for two reasons. Many of the buses belong to law enforcement agents, who, in the event of attachment of their buses can be quickly let them off the hook. The other reason is that, at the end of the day, it is a matter of ‘settlement’ the Nigerian way with the security and traffic officials. Openly, government agents collect bribes from commercial vehicle drivers. This is an expression of sharp corruption which everyone condones.

As a matter of fact, one day, I decided to take one very rickety danfo bus from Total Petrol station, Ojota to Yaba bus stop in Lagos in order to carry out research on why danfo drivers have little respect for policemen and road safety officers. I sat behind the driver to enable me monitor the modalities of bribery and corruption, especially how the driver would want to settle public officials in the event he was caught.

And true, the driver had ill-luck, he was stopped, but to no avail. Unlike the scientific style of commercial vehicle drivers on inter-city expressways who, when asked by the road safety officials or by police, will bring out the particulars but also put some money inside the particulars for the agent, the method of bribe giving in Lagos is openly done. It is scientific, because the policemen and the road safety officials give the impression that they are examining the particulars, whereas, the truth is that they are more concerned with the money. Besides, arrested drivers are always asked to come out and taken to the back of their vehicles to make it difficult for onlookers to see what is going on.

When I complained to the driver and was also trying to challenge the Road Safety official, the other passengers with me in the bus were the very first to say ‘please, we are in a hurry.’ One passenger even told another passenger that I must have just arrived the country and should not be blamed. At the end of the day, with an ordinary hand shake, money was exchanged and the driver continue with his act of illegality on the reserved lane.

Apart from corruption and societal indiscipline, there is also the question of insecurity: from threats to national unity and territorial integrity to Fulani herdsmen saga, and from boko haramism to daylight kidnapping, etc. This situation has not only been raising many questions on the seriousness of the war on corruption and integrity of the President, particularly in light of the recidivist insecurity in the country. This is why it has become a desideratum to investigate Alhaji Buhari as two personalities in one.

To begin with, it can be rightly posited that President Muhammadu Buhari is a victim of societal indiscipline to which he cannot claim not to have contributed by way of omission or commission. Right from 1967 when corruption and indiscipline were first identified by the Professor J.S. Cookey Political Bureau as the bane of Nigerian society, nothing has been concretely done to prevent its deepening. PMB has been in different positions of authorities in the period.

Corruption has been allowed to degenerate into its institutionalisation. Those who are precisely put in positions to contain it are again precisely the people promoting and aiding corruption and indiscipline. This is why the Government of Nigeria has been more of a problem than a solution to the multidimensional problems of the people of Nigeria. The Government is not only corrupt but actually engages in sharp practices more than the people it governed.

For instance, let us repeat for the umpteenth time, that, in April 1994, the Federal Government of Nigeria (precisely Alhaji Lateef Jakande, then Minister of Works and Housing) advertised the building of low income, medium and high-level houses. The buildings were to be completed and allocated in December 1994. As at this time of writing, no building has been constructed, not to mention allocation of houses to the subscribers. I am one of the subscribers. And true enough again, no refund has been made and no one is talking about it. Where is the justice or fairness in this case. This is one major factor that explains in part the non-patriotic attitude of many Nigerians.

It is not just the Federal Government that is guilty, State governments also share in the guilt. The land approved for allocation and duly paid for, under the military administration of Brigadier-General Buba Marwa in Lagos State. The Isheri North Land/Housing Scheme for which I similarly paid in 1996, is yet to be actually allocated in 2018. In the FCT, Houses, flats, mansions were sold under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005 to public servants occupying them on the basis of the 2004 policy of monetisation. I bought a flat but the relevant papers of ownership are yet to be given in 2018. Why? One needs to engage in an act of corruption to get public officials to act?

The main truth is that the government, its agencies do not think that they have the responsibility or owe it a duty to respect its contractual obligations. One does not need to lobby for what one is entitled to. If one pays for the purchase of land or for a house and the vendor still expects that the buyers should come to beg before the vendor can begin to meet his own obligations, cannot but be an aberration. This is one main dynamic of official corruption and indiscipline in Nigeria.

Additionally, Government hardly responds to official complaints. Attention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not only drawn, but that of the whole administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, was drawn to cases of serious misconduct by some members of staff of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA). The response of Government was official silence. The Governing Council of the NIIA completely bastardised the intellectual values of the Institute in a manu militari fashion. Attention was always drawn to it but the answer was one sided-investigation, which, at best, was partisan. This is also why national unity and security has been a major problem that has become so complex to the extent that people are discussing the need for restructuring and calls for the establishment of a Sovereign State of Biafra. This is why there are calls by some militant groups for their right to control the resources in their areas.

Without any shadow of doubt, this is the domestic environment in which PMB has to preside over the Nigerian affairs. It is also within this framework that the integrity of PMB is being raised and that PMB as a Military Head of State and as an elected President of Nigeria has to be investigated.

Buhari as Military Head of State

Unlike other Heads of State who came to power by coup d’état, General Buhari did not stay for long before the Ibrahim Babangida coup chased him out. General Buhari ousted the elected government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari in December 1983. One reason for the coup was corruption and the need to stop it. And true, General Buhari came up with the policy of WAI (War Against Indiscipline) in March 1984. The war was meant to instil orderliness in the society, especially in terms of public behaviour.

The WAI had five phases. The first phase was to entrench good behaviour. People must line up to board public buses. It was to control indolence and encourage good home training. It was an offence to jump the queue. Throwing any dirt on the street and not in the dust bin was an offence. Self-discipline was underscored. Civil and public servants were prevented from turning their offices into commercial shops and market. Going to office late was not allowed. It was an offence that was promptly sanctioned.

The second phase of WAI was the promotion of dint of hard work in May 1984. In fact, in August, 1984, campaigns for patriotism and nationalism were launched for the purposes of national unity. Statism and tribalism were campaigned against and Nigerians were encouraged to appreciate, salute national symbols and work harder. The third and fourth phases were more critical. They were the period of patriotism and war against economic sabotage and corruption. Nigerians were encouraged to recite the National Anthem and the National Pledge. In July 1985, the fifth phase was launched. It was the war against filth at home and in the public. This is what is generally referred to as Environmental Sanitation.

Perhaps more interestingly, Buhari carried his WAI to the doorsteps of the European partners of Nigeria. The sanctions for infractions were very serious and considered by the West as either too heavy for offences considered minor. For instance, cheating by students during examination can warrant a 21-year jail term while counterfeiting, illegal oil bunkering, arson could also warrant death penalty.

Additionally, General Buhari made efforts to prevent the exploitation of Nigeria by foreigners in different ways. He introduced trade by barter, giving crude oil in exchange for imports. His general attitudinal disposition led to his perception as a nationalist, as a patriot, as a man of integrity. But many aspects of his policy, especially in the context of foreign policy, infuriated the developed partners. In fact, July 1985, General Ibrahim Babangida’s coup removed Buhari from power, reportedly to escape possible draconian prosecution by the government.
Major-General Buhari was ruling by decree. There was no parliamentary impediment that could delay or stop whatever he wanted to do. Public opposition was not tolerated. The most critical resultant problem from whatever General Buhari was doing was that he was not seen to be the very person in effective control of political governance. Some observers pointed to Major General Tunde Idiagbon, his number two man, as the main driver of governance.

Put differently, if we do admit the hypothesis that, as Military Head of State, Major- General Buhari was not fully in charge, then we must also admit that all problems arising there from should not be left for him to carry as a blame. Although as leader, he assumes full responsibility for the omissions and errors of his cabinet members and all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies. What is necessary to note for the purposes of comparisons under his presidency as an elected president is the fact that General Buhari ruled by decree, his administration was very dictatorial in design, but patriotic in objective, and quite result-oriented in outcome, as most Nigerians had already been adapting to the WAI-imposed lifestyle. All the values of that time are no more today in Nigeria and we can now ask whether the Muhammadu Buhari of yesterday is still the same Muhammadu of today.

Buhari as Elected Head of State

Major-General Buhari, as an elected President of Nigeria, is a new person entirely. First, he opted like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, not to answer their military titles. General Olusegun Obasanjo only wants to be addressed as Chief Olusegun Obasanjo while General Buhari wants only PMB (President Muhammadu Buhari). Thus, the perception of a military dictator in them is technically thrown into the dustbin of history. The truth in this case, however, is that the rejection of their titles does not remove of the fact that they are still military generals or that their military education, training, etc, are no more. In this regard, the military in President Buhari is still in him and it is on this basis that we shall now examine his administration as an elected Head of State.

Second, PMB is not governing by decree unlike before. He is now behaving like a typical Nigerian politician. However, he is now governing by a combination of the rule of law, if it is convenient and by manu militari, when it is not convenient. When he was to be sworn-in as president in 2015, PMB declared solemnly on oath to ‘preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.’ The mention of defending the constitution is necessarily an acceptance of constitutional democracy which also requires the respect for protection of the fundamental human rights of all Nigerians.

As much as there are elements of truth in PMB’s protection of human rights, there is nothing to suggest that the Buharian administration wants to religiously comply with the rule of law which he solemnly swore to defend. It is on record that Nigerians that have either been convicted or whose records have been questioned are in his administration contrary to public complaints. Public opinion matters little for PMB on this matter.

Thirdly, PMB is only focusing on the aspect of corruption in the 1984 WAI agenda. However, the anti-corruption agenda is apparently now engaged in selectively. Besides, it is limited to the elite. Corruption at the lower levels of the society is manifested in different forms but not yet put in the picture of war against corruption, less than one year to the end of PMB’s first term. In other words, of what purpose will cutting branches of the corruption tree be if the corruption at the stem or root level of the corruption tree is allowed to grow?

Fourthly, PMB cannot be said to have any regard for whatever public opinion expressed on matters of national security as at today. PMB told Nigerians that he sent the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to relocate to the theatre of anti-killers of the people in Benue State. It was the same PMB who also told all Nigerians that he did not know that the IGP did not comply with his directive. Any right-thinking person will expect that PMB would call the IGP to order thereafter. He was never called to order.

The hallmark of political order in Nigeria of today is rising insecurity in many ramifications. Many Nigerians have been calling on PMB as the Commander-in-Chief to appoint new Service Chiefs as the current Service Chiefs are not able to contain the increasing threats to national security and unity. Kidnapping and armed robberies, Fulani herdsmen attacks on farmers, unfortunate killings of people in Benue State now constitute one side of the coin of insecurity.

The other side of the coin is that the Government is not seen to be taking any sanctionary measures against offenders. This gives an impression, rightly or wrongly, that PMB has partisan interests in the matter. The criticism of PMB has been to the extent that PMB has to respond to his critics by noting that whoever is saying that he is aiding the killing of other Nigerians must be ‘evil.’

True, we can agree with PMB on this point of being ‘evil.’ However, there is no way one would not still jump into the conclusion of PMB’s aiding and abetting when there are no official responses to public complaints. Conscious silence on public complaints cannot be a good policy. You can imagine when a supervisory authority that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is said to have carried out investigations into petitions against the Director General of the NIIA and the same Director General was never called upon to answer or give his own version of the truth, to what extent is the objectivity and validity of the investigation?

How do we explain the fact that a committee set up to investigate the various allegations of acts of serious misconduct levied by the Director General against some members of staff of the NIIA, and comprising representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Public Affairs Commission, Head of Service of the Federation, Department of State Service, etc, not only investigated the allegations but also indicted them. Why did the Buhari administration keep silent over it? How should the people of Nigeria react to the allegation that the Director of Administration and Finance of the institute, Ms Agatha Ude, changd and falsified the results of promotion examinations to favour some staff, apparently for ethnic motivational reasons, and the attention of the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council was drawn to it and yet, the best the Governing Council could do was to cover it up by writing a malicious report on the Director General rather than addressing the issue of serious misconduct? All these are happening under PMB. Truth is indestructible. Bullets cannot kill the truth.

Perhaps more disturbingly, how do we explain a situation where an Accountant General of the Federation approved the payment of a second furniture allowance to the Director General of the Institute and the same Office of the Accountant General would later come back to accuse the same DG of fraudulently receiving a second furniture allowance. This is the type of public service over which PMB is presiding. Political governance under PMB, as at today does not allow for patriotism, dint of hard work, honesty of purpose. It consciously encourages corruption, politico-military esprit de corps to the detriment of fairness and justice.

The essence of the foregoing illustrations is to draw public attention to the fact that they are happening under the PMB administration which says it is fighting corruption tooth and nail. It is also to note that PMB is a new person who cannot be rightly said to be truly committed to the anti-corruption war. The current international perception of PMB is that he has a double standard approach to the fight against corruption. If PMB is still to be adjudged as a true anti-corruption fighter, the fight must not be selective and limited. How the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs laid the foundation for the permanent destruction of the NIIA must be investigated and not done secretly. Today, the NIIA has become a shadow of itself, mainly because Government accepted to cover up allegations of serious misconduct there, and yet, it is also preaching the gospel of anti-corruption. Who will listen faithfully to that type of sermon? Most unfortunate. This is killing Nigeria softly. But this should not be.

What appears to be the situation is that, again, like the time PMB was a military Head of State and he was said not to be fully in charge of power, there is nothing to suggest that he is again in charge of political governance as elected president, that is, his honesty of purpose and integrity may still be intact. This will mean again that there is either a misperception of what PMB represents or there is simply a situation of misgoverning. But whatever is the case, for as long as there is no visible fairness and justice in the anti-corruption struggle, and for as long as fighting corruption does not include the grass root level, the whole anti-war exercise cannot but be considered a wasted effort, which really has been the case since 1967.