A Rejoinder: Which Buhari?

Someone, whose opinion I respect very much sent me the rejoinder below to my piece yesterday on why I now support Buhari. I don’t know if  agree with the idea that this is a referendum on Buhari – he’s already been rejected three times (or maybe 2 times) by voters so if this is his best chance, perhaps it says more about the incumbent he is trying to unseat.

Nevertheless, winning the election is less than half the job. I want a President Buhari to govern well. And given how fractious our country is, the bigger and deeper the mandate he gets, the better for him and the country. The post makes some very useful points in that regard.



Given how badly the Goodluck presidency has turned out, the 2015 presidential election is really a referendum about the suitability of the APC candidate; Muhammadu Buhari. It is however not going to be a walk in the park. Not because Goodluck Jonathan hasn’t done enough to allow even an electric pole to win the vote, but because Muhammadu Buhari, his party and teaming supporters are ignoring critical realities that will influence how folks vote come February 14, 2015.

One fundamental error of General Buhari and his campaign is the seeming inability to grasp the various nuances that are shaping the views of voters on his candidacy. This has produced messaging that is half part strident denunciation of folks who think different or are undecided, and the other half; an unfortunate and often all-out threatening of bodily harm.

In a bid to help those who want to sell GMB more effectively, I will attempt to sketch out a few voter profiles to improve understanding and perhaps help re-shape the messaging of the campaign. I will also point out some of the problems with how these folks are currently being approached/engaged.

The Christian Northerner

Many latter-day supporters of General Buhari from southern Nigeria (especially the Twitterati) still live under the illusion of a monolithic north peopled by Hausa-Fulani Muslims all of which are going to troop out in February shouting Sai mai Gaskiya. A useful education offered by @amasonic on the diversity of northern Nigeria can be found here.

While the southerner may have the luxury of viewing this election in terms of corruption and the economy, the reality for the Christian northerner is that, this election is perceived in many quarters as a matter of survival. Real life issues like the historical and well documented persecution of northern Christians, the Sharia movement and more recently the murderous onslaught of Boko Haram which by this account of the UK Telegraph has seen more than 700 churches attacked; makes issues like Malabu pale into relative insignificance.

While the southerner may see the CAN president as some amusing character, the Christian northerner tends to view him as a heroic bulwark against a genocidal onslaught. Not only will disparaging those who hold this view not win GMB any converts, it will actually entrench the view and propel voters to go out and cast a vote for what has been effectively cast (thanks to forced conversions and mass slaughter by Boko Haram in cities like Mubi) as a battle for their survival.

Sadly, instead of trying to convince folks, GMB has been at best ambivalent and on worse days resigned to the fate that these folks will never believe his strenuous denials of bigotry. No doubt his now predictable selection of notable clergy as running mates is aimed at addressing this issue, it does always appear as too little too late.

GMB has had many years of opportunity to work in northern communities to demonstrate ‘his tolerance’ but has refused to use such opportunities. At this stage, what may be helpful for the campaign is for GMB to take very clear and unambiguous positions on issues like: implementation of Sharia; and the widespread policy of refusing approval for Christians to build places of worship in many parts of the north which is essentially a means to Boko Haram’s ends by government policy.

The Southern Reactionary

There are many from the south who still hold to the idea that the north has had more than its fair share of time at the industry of pulling Nigeria back. If Nigeria has not actually had a history in which northerners have held sway at the top for a greater part of the time, it would have been easy to simply describe this group as closet ethnic supremacists. However, history sometimes takes the side of foolish ideas, and so it isn’t always easy to convince the simple-minded majority who have bought into the different shades of the it-is-our-turn argument.

Now some may snort their noses at this obviously sentimental approach to selecting leadership, but often not without their hypocrisy showing through. The truth of the matter is that, a fundamental reason why Buhari is the candidate of the opposition party is to take advantage of the groundswell of agitation for “power to return to the north”. But for this and his ability to win massively in the north, he would hardly feature at all on a merit based list of persons capable of leading a developing nation with aspirations for becoming a modern economy.

The more virulent specie of this voter (and I believe the one least likely to be converted) is the reactionary who is pushing back against the perceived born-to-rule mentality of the northerner. Nevertheless, there are many in this group who just feel that handing power back to the north would slow whatever progress the country may have made. It is to this group that the campaign must look to win converts. To do this, it must pursue an issue based campaign that shows in relatively realistic roadmaps how it would move the economy and society at large into the future.

The Idealist

The idealist is the one who really gets under the skin of the new crop of ‘realists’ who have just seen the Buhari light. The ‘realists’; many of whom in recent times have argued about how unelectable the General was, now consider the idealist to be unnecessarily nit-picking and refusing to see the big picture (of a bill board with a Buhari sporting a 50,000 megawatt smile in a Tux and a Sanusian bow tie).

The idealist is often an intellectual himself; often a liberal left winger who considers things like human rights and democracy to be sacred. The idealist finds it excruciatingly difficult to imagine a former coup plotter as beneficiary of the democratic process. For those of extreme idealist persuasion, that is like appointing a ‘former’ paedophile as a primary school head teacher.

However, there are moderate idealists who just want General Buhari to acknowledge that what he did was wrong and that he sees things differently now. That executing people under retroactive laws was not the best thing to do; that having one set of rules for northern politicians and another for their southern counterparts doesn’t exactly cut the image of a red cap and akpochi wearing nationalist. Moderate idealists want the GMB campaign to realize that there is little to choose between the man who calls Abacha a saint and the one who wants to make Alams a Senator.

Sadly, the campaign and his supporters have largely refused to woo this group of voters by conceding even the obvious. It is as though they fear that once this garb of sacredness they have clothed the man in is removed, all that may remain is an impotent scarecrow.

Losing the Referendum

As far as I can see, this election is shaping out as a referendum on Buhari because I suspect most Nigerians realize that Jonathan has been largely a lame duck president taken hostage by insurgency and corruption.

However, due largely to the less than effective way in which the GMB campaign has been running, he seems to be doing too poorly for an election in which he is essentially the only candidate. There is a huge population of Nigerians who want anyone but Jonathan, but many of them would also rather just stay home than vote the current candidate that the GMB campaign has managed to present to the public.

The GMB campaign has presented a man who only manages to energize his core group of supporters. They in turn are too busy giving notice of the hell they will let loose if he loses in February as to have time to do any real canvassing.

It is barely 6 weeks to the elections that will usher in the change the APC/GMB promised Nigerians. I hope it is enough time for them to demonstrate the ability to deliver by first making the necessary change in direction that their own campaign sorely needs. The electorate needs to be sold a significantly improved version of the candidate.


Why Buhari?

Opposition parties don’t win general elections, governments lose them – British adage

How does someone go from really disliking Buhari to openly supporting him in 4 years? I doubt I’m alone in this – certainly I know a good number of people who wont have touched him with a long pole a couple of years and are now just waiting for their ballot paper so they can vote for him. I think that Nigeria will have a new President come May 2015 and it will be Muhammadu Buhari.

The first thing to note is that Buhari is actually quite easy to beat in an election. He is a very popular politician and I doubt any other politician in Nigeria today can come close to matching his numbers purely on name recognition and character. The man is not a crook and in Nigeria of today, that counts for a lot with millions of Nigerians. But he has one big strength – anti corruption – which makes it easy to develop a strategy to beat him in an election. To put it another way, when Nuhu Ribadu was in his prime at EFCC, it would have been very difficult for Buhari to defeat Obasanjo in an election. It does not matter whether the anti-corruption drive of Obasanjo’s government was highly selective in picking targets, the main thing is that that Buhari’s strength in an election was blunted Obasanjo having a highly public campaign against corruption.

What has happened over the past 5 years is that Goodluck Jonathan has gone out of his way to make Buhari as attractive as possible to many more people, as if under a spell. That a 72 year retired General who has been in semi-retirement for the better part of the last 30 years now has his best shot at becoming President – at the 4th time of asking – really ought to make pause and reflect.

Let’s be honest with ourselves – Nigeria is one of the best places for a politician to steal public money and get away with it. We do not really punish corruption in the normal way that other countries do – throw offenders in jail. Except you offend someone or fall into the hands of the British courts, you get to steal and keep the loot. Even when you have the misfortune of actually going to prison, it’s usually for a short period and you come back to your life as it was before you left. There is no shame or loss of privilege.

Consider Bode George who actually went to prison for corruption amount to N100bn of split contracts. Here’s what happened while he was in ‘prison‘:

Saturday Vanguard investigations revealed that the Chief  Bode George and his colleagues had  been confined to the V.I.P. section of  the prison since they arrived Monday evening and have  started eating meals prepared by their families.

It was gathered that there were no signs of molestation by other inmates of the dreaded prison yard as the new very important inmates were being  accorded special treatment because of their former positions in the country.

As I recall it at the time, he was later moved to a ‘flat’ inside the prison with air conditioning. He came out of prison to a lavish reception that was shown live on TV and within a few months was nominating ministers that remain in government today. There is no evidence that he has suffered any loss of wealth on account of him going to prison and the current PDP gubernatorial candidate for Lagos, Jimi Agbaje, got the ticket because of him.

Why then did President Jonathan pardon Diepriye Alamieyeseigha last year? The point of the Bode George example above is to show that there really is no punishment for corruption even when you are convicted. Alams had served his time and had become influential again. There was nothing a pardon was going to do for him other than soothe his ego and perhaps allow him to convince himself that he was innocent afterall. Why did the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria use the powers of his office to grant such a pardon? Why?

After 4 years in office, this government cannot honestly point to anything it has done to at least stop corruption from over running the state. What we now have is a free for all. We have become numb to stories about Malabu or N123bn disappearing from the civil service or $6.8bn fuel subsidy scam or N28bn in pension funds going walkabouts. One time we even had receipts! The list is endless. Everyday there is one new theft or the other and some don’t even make the headlines. Even when there is a crisis or major incident that does not look like a corruption case on the surface, once the story starts to unravel, we see that it is actually corruption. A clear example of this is was the NIS tragedy that led to the loss of 17 lives because people were so blinded by greed. The Minister responsible still attends Federal Executive Council meetings in Aso Rock every Wednesday. And then there are the things we hear about the military about how our soldiers are sent into battle ill-equipped to face a deadly enemy because money continues to disappear before it gets to them. When he has managed to show some decisiveness, it is in sacking the Central Bank Governor for blowing the whistle on the cesspool of graft that is the NNPC. But he openly complains that his petroleum minister is summoned too often by the National Assembly at a time she was being probed (even if half heartedly) for corruption.

Goodluck Jonathan did not invent corruption in Nigeria – we have been at it since forever. What he has however done is take it to unseen levels that are difficult to explain. It is one thing to allow corruption to fester under your watch, what is perplexing is watching the President actively try to downplay by splitting hairs between ‘mere stealing’ and corruption. By arguing that corruption only exists as rhetoric, he seeks to convince Nigerians that what they see and hear everyday is some kind of an illusion. He does not believe that it is something that can totally corrode decision-making in a nation. He has no will to fight it.

The American Professor, Andrew Wedeman who has studied China for decades wrote a book called ‘Double Paradox:Rapid Growth and Rising Corruption in China‘. An excerpt from it:

Corruption in China more closely resembled corruption in Zaire […] But unlike Zaire, China punished around 668,000 members of the ruling party for corruption over a 5 year period and sentenced 350 to death.

We know what happened to Zaire. As countries go, it cannot really be called a going concern anymore. There is a real risk of state collapse in a country where corruption is allowed to roam free as has been the case in Nigeria in the last 4 years. Nothing useful can get done – indeed, if this government gets re-elected next year, it plans a budget where 91% of all spending will go towards recurrent items. Corruption helps to promote incompetence such that what is not stolen is wasted.


There is a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to George W. Bush’s ‘Bushisms‘. His grammatical challenges, combined with his Iraq misadventures helped to raise the status of eloquence in politicians aspiring for President in America to the point where they voted a former Law Professor with a silver smooth tongue to succeed him. Francois Hollande called himself ‘Mr Normal’ when he was campaigning for the French Presidency in 2012. He won. Why? Because Nicolas Sarkozy spent 5 years in office acting abnormally. He raised the status of normality to the point where French voters were happy to settle for a man who they pejoratively referred to as ‘Flanby’ – a kind of wobbly caramel pudding with a soft centre.

Were the Americans and French voters right to do a 180 turn from leaders who had turned them off? Well, we know the Americans had a chance to correct their decision in 2012 (if they felt they had been wrong in 2008) but instead stuck with it for another 4 years. The French will get their chance to make amends in 2017. As at today, it looks like they cant wait to kick him out of office but a week is a long time in politics, never mind 2 years.

Buhari has not much changed as a person over the years. It is Goodluck Jonathan who has raised his status. It is Goodluck Jonathan who has raised the status of a leader who can tackle corruption. And he has lowered the bar so much that if a President Buhari sacks just one Minister for corruption, he would have out performed Goodluck Jonathan. If he manages to supply the political will to send a couple of people to jail for stealing, Nigerians will feel like they did the right thing by voting him into office.

Nobody is going to vote for Buhari to come and put an end to corruption. Even in China where people are executed for stealing public funds, corruption has not stopped. It is to at least turn us in a different direction that makes people feel at least that we are not being completely overrun by rampant graft.  think Buhari did a decent job with the economy when he took over power in 1983 but even he will be blown away by the scale of the challenges today. With the various economic headwinds facing Nigeria, one can only wish the next President the best of luck.

Will Buhari turn out to be the best President Nigeria has ever had or be so bad that Nigerians will be itching for 2019 when they can correct their mistake? It is impossible to tell. But it is – at this time – definitely a risk worth taking. This is why those who are trying to accuse people of inconsistency for changing their minds on Buhari are running a fool’s errand. The times have changed and this will be reflected in the votes in February.


There are countries that have done well in terms of development under a monarchy – Nigerians who like to visit Dubai can attest to this. Some dictators have also done well for their countries – Thomas Sankara comes to mind. And of course, much of the Western world continues to develop while being democracies – Sweden being one of the best examples.

You can get a good leader under any system. The trouble starts when you get a bad leader and you then want to change them. You discover that under a monarchy you have to wait for the King or Queen to die or in a dictatorship you wait for another dictator to come and kick them out of office.

But democracy – ah – is the only one that guarantees you can change leaders you don’t like at regular intervals.

It is for this reason that I am now firmly a Buhari supporter. He is not going to win the election. Goodluck Jonathan is going to lose it.



Lunatic Liu And The Quality of Corruption

To achieve a great leap, a generation must be sacrificed – Liu Zhijun

I’m continuing my education on China and I recently came across a story that I thought worth sharing. It’s about a chap called Liu Zhijun aka Great Leap Liu aka Lunatic Liu aka Minister Liu.


For this post, I have borrowed heavily from Evan Osnos’ Age of Ambition‘  – one of the most enjoyable books I have read recently.

In 2003, Liu was made China’s Railways Minister. To give an idea of how big this job is/was, China’s railways alone employs around the same number of people as the entire US government does (over 2 million people). The Railways Ministry has its own police and courts amongst other things. It is the very definition of a fiefdom.

Great Leap Liu had very humble origins and he started his career inspecting rail tracks with a torch in the middle of the night. From there he rose to Minister through a combination of a frightening level of hard work (how he got the Lunatic Liu nickname) and unlimited ambition (also marrying a woman from a well-connected political family). When he was made Minister in 2003, he set a target to build 7,500 miles of high-speed rail by 2008. At that time, all the high-speed lines in the whole world were less than 7,500 miles.

So how did Lunatic Liu do?

The Work

1. Before his tenure came to an end in 2011, the annual budget controlled by Lunatic Liu’s ministry was well over $100bn. He managed to lay over 6,200 miles of high-speed track (more than the whole of Europe combined) while accumulating debt of almost $500bn. These are large numbers but the thing to note about high-speed rail is that, due to the speed of the trains, the lines have to be constructed practically in a straight line unlike normal rail. So if there’s a rock or mountain in the path of the line, it has to be blasted and tunnelled through. If there’s a valley, you have to build a bridge over it. And so on. These things significantly add to the costs.

2. I was in China last year and had the privilege of using the high-speed trains. It’s the real deal, no doubt about it. (See my notes here). The 5 hour plus journey from Beijing to Shanghai (and back) is the best train journey I’ve ever taken in my life. Vastly superior to anything here in the UK. And much cheaper too – the return ticket cost me around £50 at the time.

The scale of what has been achieved needs to be seen to be understood. Much of the credit for this has to go to Lunatic Liu who relentlessly drove the programme of construction forward by sheer force of will.

The photo below is one of the favourites I took – Shanghai Hongqiao Rail Station


3. The CRH-380A model is the crowning glory of China’s high-speed rail system. It is manufactured from start to finish inside China. In 2010, under the watchful eyes of Lunatic Liu, the train set a world record of 486km/hr in a test run. You can watch the video here.

4. The high-speed rail network now carries more than 2 million people everyday and connects over 100 cities in China. It is on course to lay 10,000 miles of track by 2020 based on current plans. The line from Beijing to Shenzhen is 2,400 kilometres in length – the longest in the world and cost about $70bn. It is due to extend into Hong Kong by next year.

There s much to talk about China’s high-speed rail system that one blog post cannot do it justice. But I hope you get the gist – every record possible has been broken by the Chinese in this project and Lunatic Liu played a huge role in making it happen.

The Corruption

In 2011, Lunatic Liu was sentenced to death after a trial for corruption. The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment so he will likely die in prison. The thing about China is that once you have been expelled from the party for wrongdoing, the party scrubs all your achievements from the public records. Given that most media is controlled by the government, it is now almost impossible to find articles where Lunatic Liu was being praised.

So what did he do?

1. Last week a woman named Ding Shumiao aka Ding Yuxin was sentenced to 20 years in prison for corruption relating to contracts in the Railway Ministry under Lunatic Liu.


Chinese people derisively referred to her as Daft Mrs Ding. She changed her name to Yuxin apparently because Shumiao was a ‘village name’ that gave away her very very humble origins. She began her ‘career’ by selling eggs by the roadside and somehow built a multi-million dollar empire (worth $700m in 2010) spanning railway carriages and transportation after she had a buka that became popular with railway executives.

Because the Railways Ministry was so huge and dispensed billions of dollars in contracts, there was a feeding frenzy to get in on the action. Mrs Ding thus became a sort of middle woman who could arrange contracts for you for a fee. It was during a routine audit that someone spotted a payment of $16m to her company as a sort of ‘commission’ by another government-owned company that was trying to get contracts from the Rail ministry.

How did she get so influential with Lunatic Liu? She supplied him with women. In the corruption report against him, he was accused of having 18 mistresses across the country including TV stars and actresses. Mrs Ding appeared to be the one who made the hookups for him.

2. According to gist, depending on the kind of position you wanted, you could pay anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000 for a job with the Railways ministry (the $15k would get you a Supervisor position apparently). The whole ministry was so corrupt that people who had been no more than cooks in their lives were ‘engineers’ in the Ministry.

One promotional video for the ministry that was 5 minutes long ‘cost’ $3m to produce. When investigators went to the house of the person in charge of producing the video, they found $1.5m in cash and papers to 9 different houses.

3. Lunatic Liu had a younger brother called Liu Zhixiang who joined the Ministry under him and became the head of the ministry in a town called Wuhan. The younger Mr Liu was also deeply corrupt and took bribes for everything. In 2006 he was given a death sentence (also commuted later) for hiring people to kill a contractor who had threatened to expose him.

Unfortunately for him, the contractor wrote a will before he was killed which included the line ‘If I am killed, it will have been at the hand of corrupt official Liu Zhixiang’. The contractor was killed in front of his wife with a knife.

When Liu Zhixiang was arrested, he had so much cash n his house that some of it was starting to turn mouldy. In all, about $50m in cash and assets was seized from him – he was taking a cut of every railway ticket sold in his area apparently.

4. 5 months after Lunatic Liu was arrested, there was a devastating crash in a town called Wenzhou. The wiki page of the crash is here. The gist of what happened was that there was a storm and lightning struck a signal box while it was on green. Somehow, this then froze the light on green while disabling one of the trains that was in service in a tunnel at the time. Another train was coming behind it and of course was working on the green signal. Before it could be stopped, it rammed into the stationary train from behind and knocked it off the bridge where it was.

In all, 40 people died and almost 200 were injured. It emerged that the company that built the signalling system had done a rushed job and probably got the contract by paying Mrs Ding as you would imagine. Lots of people were fired after the investigation and the incident sort of confirmed what many people had feared with the pace of work under Lunatic Liu – things had been done too fast. There was a lot of soul-searching in China afterwards with people wondering if statistics were everything and how much human life mattered to corrupt government officials.

After the crash, speeds were reduced across the entire high-speed network

5. Lunatic Liu understood the art of sycophancy very well. He knew that as long as he was delivering targets, his bosses would be happy. When the first line to Beijing opened in 2008, it was almost 100% over budget. The Guanghzhou Station was supposed to cost $360m to build. In the end it cost 7 times that amount. But it remains a magnificent thing to behold with 15 platforms and used up around 3.7 million metric tonnes of cement (more than 30% of what Dangote cement produces in a year).

One time President Hu Jintao was passing through a station where Lunatic Liu was and it is said that he ran so fast across the station to meet him that his shoes came off but he continued running anyway.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries which developed the technology for Japan’s Shinkansen bullet trains complained bitterly that Lunatic Liu stole their technology and passed it off as Chinese made. They threatened to sue and it became a diplomatic incident before they backed down.



So there you have it. Feel free to search the internet for more of the gist as I have left out some things for word count reasons.

Note that in the year of the crash that killed 40 people, Chinese rails carried 400 million people. 40 people easily die on Chinese roads daily as the World Bank noted at the time. And as much as Kawasaki complained about technology theft, the Americans complained about the same thing many years ago when the Japanese began building their own train system.

Having read all that, I now invite you to take the poll below.

Merry Christmas and see you in 2015, God keep us.