Former President Olusegun Obasanjo on January 30, this year, at the annual business lecture of the Lagos Island Club delivered by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, called out the president of Nigeria and candidate of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), Muhammadu Buhari, on the issue of integrity. Obasanjo sarcastically, in a veiled reference to Buhari, dismissed what he described as his “sanctimonious veneer of bogus integrity.”
The world knows where Obasanjo stands on the issue of presidential power politics in 2019. The true position is that while his support for Atiku is negotiated, his derision for Buhari is writ large. In his characteristic disposition of openly criticizing his successors in office, he had last year written and caused to be published in the media a letter in which he accused Buhari of nepotism and incompetence. Remarkably, he has continued on the trajectory of making snide remarks about Buhari’s administration as occasions demand.
Such remarks coming from Obasanjo carry some approbatory weight simply because of his pedigree as former military head of state and former president; even though his self-imposed role of a moral compass has been variously questioned and put down due to his doubtful moral credentials in office. His administration from 1999 to 2007 recorded a number of blights that have made it impossible for him to occupy a moral high ground from which to speak magisterially about the perceived shortcomings of others. But trust Obasanjo! His claim to self-righteousness – the holier-than-thou attitude – is legendary.
While I was ruminating on Obasanjo’s off-the-cuff remarks about Buhari’s “sanctimonious veneer of bogus integrity” later in the day the Lagos Island Club lecture held, I received a call from a friend in Lagos who is so passionate about the Nigeria Project. He does not take lightly the pillaging of our public treasury by successive administrations. But he is particularly enamored of the Buhari persona. On this particularly day, he had spoken glowingly of the financial integrity of the Daura-born leader in a way that touched my sensibilities in this season of self doubt and national misunderstanding.
To be sure, he does not engage in a blanket defence of the Buhari administration. He only defends Buhari as an individual. This much he validated in our telephone discussions as he picked out some officials of the administration and the monuments they have either built or are building to madness in parts of the country, particularly Lagos in the name of multi-billion naira estates and other items of property. When I told him what Obasanjo had said at the Island Club lecture, he fired back: “Have you been to the Hilltop Mansion of Obasanjo in Abeokuta and the Presidential Library? We must question the source of the money with which the multi-billion naira edifice was constructed.”
My friend also hinted at the legend of the hilltop mansion of former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, in Minna as well as a few other known investments of some of our former leaders and concluded that they have helped to validate the near pristine position of Buhari’s integrity capital in the midst of the rot. He spoke of the simple residence of Buhari in Daura and possibly the simple one in Kaduna while saying he was not sure he has any in Abuja. He was of the view that even if he has one in Abuja, it would not be as palatial as they come for former Nigerian presidents.
Interestingly, he had challenged me to counter his narratives. I considered his statement as rhetoric. He said that he had made up his mind to cast his vote for Buhari even if he ended up being the only one that would do so on February 16. According to him, “there must be a new attitude, a new narrative about exemplary leadership. Buhari is certainly not a saint, but he has very largely demonstrated capacity for propriety and accountability in public office. With the support of the vast majority of Nigerians, the anti-graft war will be rejigged to gain firmer and clearly-defined tractions. That is my reasonable expectation from a Buhari second term in office.”
I quite understood the drift and the crux of his argument that continues to resonate in my consciousness days after. It is reflective of his belief that Buhari represents the last man standing in the community of honest leaders that has become almost extinct in Nigeria’s governance architecture and model. And, because there is a dearth of men of integrity, a manifestation of one or two archetypical leaders in the matrix of government produces some misconception, misconstruction and misrepresentation of character traits in the praxis of leadership interrogation and appreciation. That is the tragedy that afflicts the Buhari rare leadership example.
Therefore, in order to deconstruct Obasanjo’s verdict that seemingly tended to undercut or discount Buhari’s integrity as an electoral capital, it is important to indict the obvious context of intense partisan frenzy in which the magisterial declaration was made. It is in this milieu of the nation’s cloak-and-dagger politics that I have chosen to attempt to join my friend to hold up the white flag of integrity that bears the name and imprimatur of Buhari for public scrutiny. The basis for the scrutiny should find anchorage in some comparison of his individuality with his predecessors’ individualities in the presidential saddle.
Surely, none in our recent history will be able to compare with Buhari’s Spartan leadership that feeds his revulsion for financial corruption and unconscionable acquisition of wealth through plundering and pillaging of public treasury. I have advisedly qualified Buhari’s integrity in the context of management of our nation’s financial resources to mean financial integrity because that is fundamentally the main purpose of governmental exertions: to manage the nation’s resources for the wellbeing of the citizens in the sphere of provision of infrastructure and other facilities.
Buhari, not being a saint, ye, being only human, may not be able to extricate himself completely from such charges as nepotism, for instance, which is a variant of corruption, his involvement or non-involvement in this and other manifestations of potential improper conducts can be explicated in a matter of degrees. Regardless, he will always be disposed to defend his actions. Apart from a situation in which a leader’s hand is caught in the cookie jar of financial fraud, the other charges that verge on other variants of corruption can only be subjective and/or qualified.
In rounding off, I have thought about the antecedents of President Buhari as federal commissioner of petroleum resources, former head of state and his actions as incumbent president to relate with the following facts: that according to reports, he ensured the consideration and triumph of national interest in the awards of contracts in the petroleum ministry to foreign companies, choosing not to enrich himself in the process; that he never awarded oil blocks or oil wells to himself or cronies; that he never stole or diverted money into private accounts for his self aggrandizement; that he was never involved in stealing of public funds.
However, the facts stated supra are subject to rebuttal by those, especially opposition elements, who have contrary views and superior facts to countervail them. The build-up to the presidential election provides the opportunity for this rebuttal; otherwise, Nigerians are invited to give Buhari’s financial integrity serious consideration in the election of a president whose antecedent and character can be called upon and trusted as critical capitals for the protection of public treasury. This is the truth.
Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja.