Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Browning the Buhari mystique – Part 3

In pursuit of his presidential ambition, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari published a 73-page manifesto in 2007, titled The Buhari Programme. In it, he defined his mission in government in three words: security, stability, and prosperity. These were later redefined to three other words: the economy, corruption, and insecurity, and made the core of his campaign promises.                 

Pundits are the pencils in the hands of history. They are now peering through Buhari’s records in his eight years as president to see if he was true to his avowed mission to make our country secure, stable, corruption free, and prosperous. What they unearth will be the raw materials for the verdict of history. In the first two parts of this three-part series, we generally appraised the Buhari administration; the second part dealt with the national economy; this third part rounds off the series with a brief look at his record in fighting corruption and making the country secure. This third and concluding part is necessarily eclectic because I want to ride on the wave of other people’s assessments to underline the fact that because of the myth and the mystique with which he was clothed, we missed the man and we missed the leader we thought we had.

I leafed through the publication a few days ago and was struck by the breath of the former president’s can-do presidential ambition. I am prepared to bet that in his eight years in office, Buhari did not remember the promises he made and articulated therein, including his road map leading to a new nation that would stand as a testimony to his leadership and possibly an honoured place in our national history.

We must make some due allowances for political promises intended to win votes and real commitments that change or revolutionise nations. The first are easy to make and easier to ignore or forget. The second are more difficult to make and more difficult to run away from by leaders in democracies because they create a bond between them and the people. It seems to me that once he gained the throne, Buhari treated his manifesto, not as a serious document but as mere politics in the game of politics. To put it another way, his manifesto did not represent his genuine commitment to curing our nation of its many social, economic, and political ills that had forced it to crawl while other less endowed nations leaped ahead in the critical areas of economic and social development.

But if the document did represent his genuine mission in government and what he intended to make of it for history and posterity, then it would be correct to say that few national leaders have promised their countries so much but delivered so little. My take is that the publication was the work of his acolytes and did not entirely represent his thoughts and plans for the country.

The Buhari we thought we knew, and in whom we verily believed, could not have left the country where it is today – deep in the lurch with aggravated social, economic and security challenges than he found them. Nigeria after the man of myth and oiled mystique is a collapsed nation on the verge of a failed state. All his promises swayed in the wind; his mystique lies like broken porcelain pieces on the rubbish heap of history.

To take the third core of his welter of promises: corruption. Fighting corruption was Buhari’s pet project. One of the defining sentences of his mission in government was this: “I will kill corruption before it kills Nigeria.”

The statement resonated with us because those of us who were old enough then remember his 20 months as head of state in which he fought corruption as a desperate disease that needed a desperate cure. We applauded him even when he stood our common law maxim on its head. The maxim says that a man is innocent until proven guilty. He changed that to a maxim strange to our common law principle. In his maxim, all the politicians in the second republic were guilty until each one could prove his innocence.

His anti-graft war then was traumatic for the nation because it rested on his belief that to defeat corruption, he must save the country from the people. The trauma helped to build his mystique and, in the words of Col Abubakar Umar, “led to the mistaken apotheosis of General Buhari and the building of the myth of his unequalled competence and other leadership traits which unfortunately has not come to the fore.”

By the time Buhari returned as president in 2015, he was a jaded, ageing general. The fire in his belly as a dictator had become a heap of ashes. Sule Lamido, former governor of Jigawa state, did not appreciate this and still reminded us that “the fear of Buhari is the beginning of wisdom.” It was the fear of the new sheriff in town. It did not pan out. The sheriff, for all his vaunted capacity for catching thieves, knew more than his singing acolytes that our society had undergone changes he could not grasp. Thieves, like cancer, had metastasised.

Corruption had been redefined in narrow terms as the theft of public funds. He went to the anti-graft war with waned zeal. It did his mystique not much good. Under his watch, the theft of public funds became more rampant and more brazen with the highly placed thieves acting with undisguised impunity. The arrogant misuse of positions of authority to secure undue advantages for self, families, and friends is a more pernicious and corrupting influence of theft. It escaped the general.

Still, he expected to emerge from the anti-corruption war as a national war hero. He emerged instead, wet behind the ears, as a defeated general. He assured his own defeat with his ambivalence and a cynical retreat. His defeat disrobed him of his myth and mystique. Not many of us ever thought that it would ever be said of Buhari, as Umar did, that the “truth is that he presided over the most corrupt administration in the history of this country.” Bishop Hassan Kukah underlined that with this: “Buhari’s government amplified corruption morally and financially.”

With his hometown, Daura, brimming with more than 20 major federal government projects, including a federal university and an Air Force Reference Hospital, corruption has been good to him. More importantly, it is a scientific use of corruption that leaves no mark or stench on the corrupt.

But again, the myth unravelled, and the mystique is unsightly. He did not kill corruption. Corruption thrived and consolidated its hold on the nation. So much for the well-tended myth of incorruptibility of the beloved scion of the northern establishment.

I need not pile it on. Buhari promised a nation without its historical baggage. He failed to deliver on his promise. Instead, he left a country in the crisis of survival. What is evident is that the former president failed in his three core promises to the nation. He was a poor and indifferent manager of the economy. It went south. Its failure is crushing the people in all areas of human endeavour today.

Buhari overdrew from the bank of immense of public goodwill. He disappointed expectations. His policies exacerbated ethnic tension and divide in the country. He could not chain corruption, let alone defeat it. Corruption was given a greater latitude and men fingered for corruption by EFCC were given protective berths in the president’s ruling political party. We expected Buhari to give them a wide berth, but his party gave them favoured seats in the party, safe from the commission.

Our country has never been this insecure. We thought that our myriads of security challenges would meet their match in the hands of the retired two-star general. But he was indifferent. Our farmlands lie fallow because bandits and kidnappers have driven the peasant farmers off the land. Buhari was aware the bandits control more 14 local government areas in his home state of Katsina. President Bola Tinubu inherited all these problems from a man who promoted himself as the best man our county needed to fix all its problems. His myth and his mystique promoted him beyond his capacity – and betrayed him.

It is all academic now. Nothing history says about him will matter anymore. Buhari made that clear when he said: “I have got what I wanted.” That is what matters, whatever the pundits might say. (Concluded)

Dan Agbese
Dan Agbese
Dan Agbese was educated at the University of Lagos and Columbia University, New York. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science degrees in mass communication and journalism. He began his journalism career at the New Nigerian Newspapers, Kaduna, and has edited two national newspapers, The Nigeria Standard and the New Nigerian. He and his three close friends in the news media, Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed, and the late Dele Giwa, founded the trail-blazing weekly newsmagazine in Nigeria, Newswatch, in 1984. He held various editorial positions in the magazine and was Editor-in-Chief of the magazine. Agbese is a well-regarded and respected columnist in Nigeria. He wrote popular columns for the Nigeria Standard and Newswatch magazine. He is the author of Fellow Nigerians: Turning Points in the Political History of Nigeria, 1966 - 1999; Nigeria their Nigeria, Ibrahim Babangida: The Military, Politics and Power in Nigeria, Footprints on Marble: Murtala H. Nyako, The Six Military Governors Voices of History, Conversation with History and three journalism textbooks, Style: A Guide to Good Writing, The Reporter's Companion and The Columnist's Companion: The Art and Craft of Column Writing. He has also contributed chapters to several books on Nigerian politics. Agbese's much-admired style of writing has been the subject of a thesis by students in the University of Jos, the University of Ibadan, and Benue State University.


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