On Twitter last week, Nigeria leader Muhammadu Buhari wrote:
“Happy Birthday to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, National Leader of our great party, the APC; pillar of democracy; and father of modern Lagos State. His best years are still ahead; I pray that the almighty God will grant him longer life, health and more wisdom to keep serving Nigeria.”
It reminded me of the newspaper article, ‘The Three Changes Nigeria Needs,’ which President Buhari published in the Wall Street Journal on June 13, 2016. He expressed the hope that his work in the years up to 2019 would “build an economic bridge to Nigeria’s future will be just as important for bringing lasting peace and prosperity.”
Here are four quotes from the article:
One: “Nigeria is at a crossroads. Just over a year ago, people voted in a historic democratic election to end corruption and business as usual, opting instead to build an economy that delivers for all Nigerians.”
Two: “We have begun to tackle the endemic corruption and mismanagement that is crippling our economy and corroding trust in our institutions. The anticorruption fight is at the heart of combating poverty and improving security.”
Three: “We need accountable government and a public sector that can do more with less.”
Four: “I am optimistic that our actions are providing the breathing room Nigeria needs during this period of fundamental change. But we cannot improve living conditions and restore fiscal health without making people feel safe and secure—just as we cannot defeat militancy without reducing poverty and dislocation.”
I argued at the time that the article was not necessary in the first place in the international press. Nigeria’s challenge is what Nigerians, particularly its leaders, do in Nigeria, not somewhere beyond where people are content to watch us self-destruct as they document the incompetency and hypocrisy of our leadership.
Nonetheless, the next three years of Buhari’s reference are now over. I do not know whether he is sending another article to WSJ, but his birthday tweet about Tinubu, one of Nigeria’s political figures, proves that nothing has changed.
Because you know a people by its values. “…National Leader of our great party, the APC; pillar of democracy; and father of modern Lagos State…”
Buhari’s words are a confirmation that Nigeria is stuck in the quicksand of political godfathers and a pseudo-democracy in which the purpose of pursuing political power is not to serve, but to be served, and to enrich oneself.
Tinubu may be a pillar of the APC, but he is not a pillar of democracy; he does not believe in “one man one vote,” but “one man (Tinubu), all votes.” Indeed, apart from his riches, he is best-known for having grounded the advancement of democracy in Lagos.
During the recent elections, Tinubu bragged about his riches, declaring that he was richer than Osun State. This “pillar of democracy” then unveiled himself also as being better than a bank: an individual needing to move cash around in bullion vans.
No, there is no law against moving your riches in bullion vans, but this is a behaviour that needs to be defended only in Nigeria, as it would not arise elsewhere. Minister of Information Lai Mohammed appeared before a House of Representatives committee last Thursday. He explained that Nigeria is spending vast amounts of money paying foreign public relations firms and lobbyists to “correct impression” about what is going on in the Buhari administration as it has been denied loans because of misinformation abroad.
It is a simplistic explanation; indeed, previous governments have called the same principle the “Nigeria Image Project,” or “Heart of Africa” or “Rebranding.” It is image-laundering: a government trying to look better abroad than it really is at home.
Think about it: Mr. Mohammed himself said in 2016 in Abuja that in the seven years between 2006 and 2013, 55 persons served as government ministers, state governors, public officials, bankers and businessmen looted $6.8 billion (N1.34 trillion) from the nation’s public purse.
And then last Monday, Ibrahim Magu, the chairman of the EFCC declared that just 32 individuals and corporate organisations stole over N1.3 trillion in just four years between 2011 and 2015.
Compare those numbers against another statistic published just four days ago by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who said at the11th Bola Tinubu Colloquium in Abuja that in 2010–2014, Nigeria earned a massive $383bn. Despite such vast revenues, the Peoples Democratic Party failed to complete single major infrastructure project in 10 years, he said. Buhari and the APC pretend not to understand that persistently and perennially pointing out just how bad the PDP was neither makes APC good or better. Indeed, it makes APC at least as bad, if not worse.
APC was elected to do what PDP couldn’t or wouldn’t: provide effective, accountable governance. It has not. If Nigeria earned $383bn in four years (and presumably $800bn or $1trn in 16); if 55 persons stole $6.8bn in seven years; if 32 persons stole another $6.8bn in another four years, how has the government ensured justice?
Where are those 55 and 32 persons — and the others from 1999-2011 — and why does the APC government hide and protect them?
Why is there no serious effort to recover these hundreds of billions of dollars when the government goes on its knees in China every month begging for $3bn or $5bn?
The answer, my friend, is that APC has become worse than PDP, having added duplicity to complicity. International anti-corruption bodies have pointed this out throughout the Buhari years. For 2018, Nigeria received a ranking of 144 out of 180 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, with a 27/100 score.
And in its annual ‘Country Reports on Human Rights Practices’ in 2016, 2017 and 2018, the United States has repeatedly identified “massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption” at every level of Buhari’s government.
In other words, the government should stop doing Nigerians a favour by squandering funds to launder our image when all the damage is being done at home.
While Buhari is content to broadcast an anti-corruption profile, far too many of the APC’s and the government’s top figures advertise the contrary: that Nigeria under Buhari is the same as the Nigeria Buhari criticises.
Words have never been enough. Buhari is great at anti-corruption rhetoric, but he is extraordinarily comfortable with people who, after a few years in a governorship or a ministry miraculously emerge as “economic” powerhouses, owning the state and real estate, airlines and aircraft, islands and highlands, newspapers and newspapermen.
This is why I previously wrote that Buhari will need a third term.
I mean, you do need a long time to explain — for instance — how saving Kano State for Abdullahi Ganduje, an alleged bribe-taker, builds an economic bridge for Nigerians. And oh, did we loot The Gambia for Yahya Jammeh?
In 2016, the WSJ didn’t take long. Two days after Buhari’s article, it declared in an editorial, “Buhari Is Nigeria’s Problem, Not Its Solution.”
You can feign integrity, but you can’t buy credibility. If we make this one change, we have a chance.