By Ajong Mbapndah L*
Running Nigeria is no easy feat, not even when you are Muhammadu Buhari and you have your second stint as head of state, albeit a democratically elected one. With over 150 million people, deeply entrenched regional affinities, vested political interests, the need to repay political patrons, revenue allocation and more, running Nigeria can be a daunting task.
The problems are compounded when the country is still to fully recover from the hangover of decades of military rule and unbridled corruption that has almost become a staple in successive administrations. As a consequence, while politicians swim in opulence, the bulk of Nigerians wallow in abject poverty leaving the African giant on its knees.
Against such a background, the election of President Buhari was like a ray of hope. For all the draconian measures he took during his first stint as a military dictator from 1983-1985, Nigerians reminisce about his genuine efforts to tackle corruption. It was the All Progressives Congress (APC) coalition that offered him the platform to make a second coming, but in him Nigerians saw someone who could help restore the greatness that the country deserves. Buhari therefore has little room for error. He has no choice but to deliver, not only for Nigeria but for Africa as a whole.
As he surged past the symbolic first one hundred days in office, there have been mixed signals. His partisans say he is restoring Nigeria to the right path; and as expected, opponents say he has done little to improve on the fortunes of average Nigerians. Jonathan was carpeted for not doing enough to rescue the Chibok girls. More than three months after coming to office, the Buhari Administration has not found them. From the cult status that greeted his arrival in power, many Nigerians have resorted to calling him “baba-go-slow”, something he made a joke of during a presentation at the United States Institute of Peace in August .
To the president’s credit, he and Vice President Osinbajo did declare their assets. While he may have deposited them with the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, it took a fair dose of public pressure for Buhari to make his assets public. The Nigerian press and civil society took him to task for violating a campaign promise that he would make his assets public. Critics still say the declaration falls short of the expectations Buhari set out but he does deserve credit for doing what so few leaders in Nigeria have dared to do.
Declaring assets is fundamental in any meaningful fight against corruption and by doing that he set the bar high. However it is curious that most of the APC governors have expressed reluctance to follow suit. Their argument is that while they are required to deposit their asset declarations with the CCB, there is no legal obligation to make them public. But this is the party that dwelled at length on transparency. The corruption at state levels has been pretty pervasive as well and the optics do not look good if APC governors are shy about making their assets public. What are they hiding? What are there afraid of?
While the laxity of former President Goodluck Jonathan may have let corruption go unhinged, he does deserve more respect than he seems to be getting. His shortcomings may have been plenty, but for accepting the verdict from the polls and conceding graciously, Jonathan set a standard that should be emulated by future Nigerian leaders and all other African leaders. Buhari should know better when it comes to treating former leaders with respect.
If the Jonathan administration was corrupt, it deserves to be probed, but if Buhari wants to set the standard, why limit the probe only to Jonathan? When he requests the help of Washington to recover over $150 billion siphoned and lodged in foreign banks by corrupt Nigerians, it will sound like witch hunting if only the Jonathan administration is targeted. That of Obasanjo was not corruption free nor were the previous governments of Abdulsalami, Abacha, and Babaginda.
Treating Goodluck Jonathan to public lynching with sensational declarations of how much was looted and engaging in a game of refusals and counter-refusals does a dis-service to the crafted image that Nigerians have for Buhari. Nigerians know the damage corruption has done to the country. What is needed are solutions; what is needed is strengthening the legal mechanisms which give a damn as to whose ox is gored when it comes to fighting corruption. Sensationally throwing confusing figures around not for justice to be done but to bruise your predecessor and score cheap political points are beneath the standard expected of Buhari.
While in Shehu Garba and Femi Adesina, Buhari has very talented spokespersons, a number of other people within the APC have engaged in declarations which do not help the polity, nor do they do honor to Buhari. Some APC chieftains have excelled in peddling tales after tales of corruption from the Jonathan administration. One of the APC governors even sensationally declared that during a state visit to the US, the American government furnished Buhari with a list of corrupt Nigerians, only for US officials to dismiss the story.
Nigeria may have become too complex for Jonathan to handle but this does not mean the things he did right should be forgotten. When the Ebola scare hit West Africa, Nigeria escaped it. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Nigeria a polio free zone. Akinwumi Adesina did a great job with the agricultural sector in Nigeria while serving as minister in the Jonathan administration and was elected as the President of the African Development Bank. Some former officials in the Jonathan administration have welcomed the probes and expressed support for Buhari’s corruption crusade and every right thinking Nigeria should.
How about the law taking its course? How about doing proper investigation? How about allowing the judiciary to play its role? Fighting corruption is no trifling matter and President Buhari himself may be aware of it by now. After using more than three months in search of scandal-free credible people to constitute his cabinet, he still came up short of the expectations of many Nigerians. Some analysts and many every day Nigerians think that the appointments do not cast Buhari as the transformational leader marketed to the electorate. Buhari has the opportunity to further mark history in his own way if he eschews partisanship and ethnic cleavages in his quest to restore sanity to the polity.
And he should definitely have no regrets in doing that. While Buhari may have used the platform of the APC to win the elections, it is debatable whether a different candidate from that party would have had the same results. The question here is: was it Buhari who was voted for or the APC? The corruption in Nigeria knows no political boundaries. It is not as if APC governors have in the past fared fundamentally better than those of the PDP. No one should lose sight of the fact that even some top cadres of the APC were formerly of the PDP and left not because of major policy differences but because of the way political spoils were shared.
At his age, with his experience, with his reputation, the expectations from Buhari are certainly high. Now is the time to deliver, and he has the obligation to do that else why did he run for office so many times? Certainly he will be confronted with formidable odds but in the Nigerian people, he has the best support any president resolutely committed to shaking things up can hope for.
The expectations from Buhari definitely go beyond Nigeria. The continent has been sorely lacking in leadership. His predecessor failed to be an effective spokesperson for Africa. His colleague from South Africa, the other continental giant, is saddled with problems of his own. Nigeria is the natural leader of Africa but how can it pull the rest of the continent forward if it cannot get its own act straight?
From fighting corruption, to implementing the rule of law, responding to the aspirations of the people and living up to political promises, what Buhari achieves has the strong potential to impact Africa as a whole. The day Nigeria gets its act straight the rest of Africa will do same. If Nigeria cannot get it straight, how can the continental giant be trusted with responsibility of leading when it comes to other crises in the continent? How can Nigeria address issues in Burkina Faso, in Guinea Bissau or in Ivory Coast? And if Africa cannot solve its problems, does this not expose the continent to intervention from outside forces?
In a continent where opposition parties have had a very rough time making a breakthrough, could Buhari’s performance make the people think more of the opposition as a viable alternative? While the ruling parties in many African countries have either rigged elections or exploited other advantages to maintain themselves in power, the truth is also that some of the opposition parties that have come to power have had very little to show. It is not for nothing that opposition parties in many countries were the most excited when Buhari had his landmark victory in Nigeria.
At the African Union Summit in South Africa and at a recent talk at the US Institute of Peace, Buhari did make jokes about his age and memory which many took out of context. While Africa needs young, vibrant, energetic leaders, one must also consider the fact that it is a continent where age goes with wisdom; it is a continent where the words, deeds and actions of the elders are respected. He is not yet in the category of leaders in their 70s and 80s who have clung to power for decades with little to show.
Buhari must therefore use his wisdom to chart a new path for Nigeria and Africa. He has the potential to make history: to be remembered as the leader who restored sanity to Nigerian politics, the leader who tamed unbridled corruption, gave the youth a reason to hope and the transformational figure Nigeria needs. On the other hand he may end up a ridiculous figure, just another politician who was all talk and failed woefully when Nigerians gave him the opportunity. The choice is his to make. And starting with the understanding that the problems of Nigeria go way beyond the short comings of his immediate predecessor Goodluck Jonathan is the better perspective to start from.