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.