Chinedu Ekeke: Jailing Corrupt Past Leaders And Government Officials Wont Distract President Buhari
“I, Muhammadu Buhari, do solemnly swear…”, as those words rolled off the lips of Nigeria’s new president, the country’s peculiar predilection for rousing her past to lead her future quickly came to memory:
In 1999, weary of prolonged military dictatorship and in search of a new direction, Nigerians travelled 20 years into the past, picked up a man who headed the junta that ruled the country for 3 years and installed him president. The man, retired General Olusegun Obasanjo was commissioned to stabilize the ship of state, rid the country of the vestiges of military rule and lead the country into prosperity. The first two he could achieve; but his inability to achieve the last one (partly because of his pretensions about fighting corruption and partly because, in political succession, he gives premium to malleability of candidates over competence) culminated in why Nigerians, eight years after the departure of the first general, travelled again into the past, this time 30 years, to commission another general to pull the country out of doldrums. In the two remarkable cases, antecedents spoke for the two men. Olusegun Obasanjo was the first military Head of State to hand over power to a civilian president. So, in 1999, when the military needed an ally to hand over government to, Obasanjo was an easy pick.
Muhammadu Buhari’s history revolves around that of a man who never stole a kobo from public treasury, despite having unfettered access to it at different times as a former state governor, former oil minister, former Head of State and former chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), a federal government agency that oversaw the use of excess funds from crude sales for intervention into the development of critical infrastructure nationally. In a country where the boundary between public treasury and the private pockets of those it’s entrusted with is slim, this testimony is weighty. His lifestyle, intolerance of ostentation, has been attested to by friends and folks alike. A close friend of his told me the president often wonders why people will need too much money to live well. He harbors strong repugnance for sleaze, and believes that bad behaviour must carry consequences to serve as deterrent to members of the society. It is on this premise that the new president’s anti-corruption stance, while he ruled with the gun about thirty years ago, derives conviction.
Apart from the brutal onslaught he mounted against corruption as Nigeria’s military leader, Buhari’s CV equally boasts of dealing decisively with an insurgency in Northern Nigeria that appeared to be the forerunner to present day Boko Haram. Maitatsine, a destructive Islamic sect founded by a Camerounian who migrated to Nigeria, went on rampage, killing and slaughtering people. Buhari chased them out of Nigeria upon assumption of office.
Where Nigeria is right now bears perfect resemblance to where it used to be during Buhari’s first coming: insecurity – to some degree that has got the attention of the international community, official corruption and financial recklessness of the political class, youth unemployment, poverty, total darkness in the absence of electricity and many more.
“We are going to tackle them head on,” he said in his inaugural address to the nation, referring to the legion of problems his administration had just inherited. “Nigerians will not regret that they have entrusted national responsibility to us.”
That is a matter for the next four years, and a promise which, if kept, holds the key to Buhari’s reelection if he seeks a second term. His victory was made possible by the woeful performance of his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan who caused Nigerians to regret ever entrusting national responsibility in his care. 47% of those who voted for the former president four years ago indicated readiness to switch their support for Buhari in an online poll conducted by Malcom Fabiyi and Adeleke Otunuga which was published by Sahara Reporters. Grossly underestimating the enormity of his job, Mr Jonathan played the victim from day one, evaded responsibilities, abandoned grieving victims of terror, politicized the military, discreetly stirred the nation’s fault lines and labelled critics enemies or workers for the opposition.
All living former Presidents and Heads of State heard president Buhari allude to some past leaders who made a detour from the standards of governance set by the country’s founding fathers, behaving like spoilt children, “breaking everything and bringing disorder to the house.” Part of the huge expectations on the new president borders on the application of the cane on some of these men before him and any other ‘child’ in the current regime who goes breaking the Nigerian plate. With the memes that have taken over the social media space since Buhari’s victory, there is no doubt that many Nigerians want corrupt past leaders prosecuted and jailed.
But the political class, many of whom are guilty of helping themselves to Nigeria’s treasury when they held public offices, may have set the agenda for the president: just draw the line and forget the past. Their argument is that asking questions of what happened in the past will distract the president and stop him from doing the job for which he was elected. Such logic stems from the assumption that President Buhari will sit in his office daily personally questioning individuals accused or suspected of corruption.
Nigeria has laws, it just doesn’t have courts that are in sync with the dictates of the 21st century zeitgeist. If we enforce our laws, the president wouldn’t be distracted one bit by the trial of even a million Nigerians. Thankfully, the new Vice President is coming to the job on the back of solid experience and track record in judicial reforms. If the administration begins now, an improved justice system and a reformed law enforcement system can, on their own, fight corruption without the president’s involvement. The most important contribution the president owes them he already has made: political goodwill.
If Buhari accedes to the wishes of the political class, he would have scored a zero in his key performance index, throwing away decades-old reputation on the altar of “not losing focus”.
The choice is entirely up to the new president, while the duty to report the consequences of his choices in the next four years will be ours.
*Chinedu is on twitter as @nedunaija