by Femi Aribisala
One thing is for sure: Muhammadu Buhari would like to be the next president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He has tried three times and has failed every time. Finally realizing it is a lost cause, he said he would not try again.
But now he is persuaded to try again. His supporters are impressed that he won 12 million votes against Goodluck Jonathan in 2011. However, they need to be reminded that he lost to Jonathan by over 10 million votes.
Since the third time did not turn out to be a charm for Buhari, what are we to call his fourth attempt? Listening to the declaration of his new-fangled presidential bid in Eagles’ Square, Abuja a few days ago, it is seems this fourth time is going to be one big charade.
The sign was provided by none other than Buhari himself. Since his one credential is that he is a man of integrity who, as president, is expected to wrestle corruption down to the ground, Buhari decided to burnish his anti-corruption image by revealing that he obtained his 27.5 million naira APC nomination form with a bank loan. However, what this declaration did was to tell Nigerians that Buhari is a pretentious anti-corruption crusader. His Mr. Clean posture is nothing but a public relations gimmick.
In fairness, some of us have known this all along. Under Buhari’s watch as Petroleum Minister in the late 1970s, $2.8 billion (worth billions of naira today) was missing from the NNPC account. The matter was subject to Senate investigation under the chairmanship of Olusola Saraki in 1983. But before the report could be dealt with, Buhari conveniently overthrew the Shagari government in a military coup d’état.
Vera Ifudu, an NTA newscaster, revealed that Saraki told her in an interview that the missing money was traced to Buhari’s account at Midland Bank in London. For this disclosure, Vera was summarily sacked by the NTA. However, she appealed against her dismissal in court and won. She even received a handsome financial compensation for wrongful dismissal from the NTA.
Instead of clearing his name as a man of integrity, Buhari refused to appear before the Oputa Panel set up to look into the matter (among under things) by the Obasanjo administration.
Buhari claims to be an anti-corruption crusader, nevertheless, he agreed to serve under Sani Abacha, one of the most corrupt Heads-of-State ever in the history of Nigeria. While there has been no proven allegation that Buhari corruptly enriched himself as Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund under Abacha, it is abundantly clear that this fabled anti-corruption crusader failed to curb the rampant corruption that prevailed in the organization. Group Captain Usman Jibrin, a board member of PTF, resigned from the organization in protest over Buhari’s irregular appointments of consultants.
In 2000, the Obasanjo administration set up an Interim Management Committee to look into the affairs of the PTF, under the chairmanship of Haroun Adamu. The Committee discovered that billions of naira was stolen under Buhari’s chairmanship.
Now the same Buhari who would not or could not curb corruption in the PTF wants us to believe he will fight corruption as president of Nigeria. However, he has chosen the APC as the political platform on which to undertake this. But the APC is an unscrupulous political party that is choc-full of corrupt politicians. It is the party of Murtala Nyako who was impeached as governor of Adamawa State for converting state money to personal use. It is the party where Buhari himself and others went cap-in-hand to Otta to beg Obasanjo to be their “navigator.”
Surely Buhari knows that he cannot fight corruption by being the presidential candidate of the APC. Whatever anti-corruption crusading Buhari had in him in the past must have ended when he decided to join the APC. Should he become president, does he intend to probe his corrupt party-members? Has he made them understand he would be coming after them once elected? If he has, does he really expect them to help him get elected so he can retrieve their stolen loot and send them off to jail?
A 72 year-old man with Buhari’s experience, who was overthrown in a preemptive coup by members of his own government, knows that in Nigeria, nobody gets elected as president on the platform that he is going to be an anti-corruption crusader when he gets into office. That is a sure signal for all the politicians in all the parties to gang up against him and make sure he never makes it.
If you really want to be anti-corruption, you have to keep your mouth shut about your plans until you get elected and then catch your corrupt colleagues by surprise. You must also have resolved not to seek re-election for a second-term. It is not only the populace, but the politicians in particular, who insist on “stomach infrastructure.” But if you are talking anti-corruption while still seeking the nomination of your party, it must be because it is well known to your corrupt colleagues that your anti-corruption stance is merely for public consumption.
Cleaning up APC
It is not surprising, therefore, that despite all the noise about anti-corruption coming from Buhari and his cohorts; he has failed to fight against corruption in the APC. We did not hear him raise a voice against the incongruity of a so-called progressive party demanding a cynical nomination fee of 27.5 million naira for its presidential primaries. One would have expected a truly anti-corruption crusader to make the point that the nomination fee is unacceptable. Instead, Buhari readily acquiesced to the requirement in order to safeguard his all-important presidential ambitions.
Since Buhari cannot, or does not, fight against this corrupting nomination fee in the APC, and insist on its reduction to something far more reasonable, how can he expect us to believe that as president in a political system with the separation of powers; against a legislature likely to be controlled by the PDP; he would be able to fight corruption? Somebody is fooling somebody here. Or else, somebody is living in a cloud cuckoo land.
Charity, they say, begins at home. If Buhari is truly anti-corruption, he should begin his crusade in the APC. Is it progressive for a political party in Nigeria to ask its candidates to come up with 27.5 million just for the nomination papers for an election where only one person will emerge as the winner? Is it not corrupt politicians that are likely to have this type of easy-come easy-go money? Is this not an open invitation for the winner, if he actually manages to secure election to the presidency, to recoup this extortionate fee from public funds?
Anti-corruption bank loan
What did anti-corruption Buhari do about this outrageous APC requirement? This is where the whole matter becomes ridiculously implausible. According to Buhari, rather than fight against the measure, he took out a ban loan to pay for it.
Buhari told us about his “loan” out of embarrassment; in a pathetic bid to validate his anti-corruption credentials. But this so-called loan indicates that Buhari does not understand what it means to be anti-corruption. For Buhari, anti-corruption is a posture; it is a swagger; it is a badge; but it has no bite and, in the usual Nigerian fashion, it will be prosecuted with hypocrisy.
Buhari wants us to believe that he cannot afford 27.5 million naira. Nevertheless, he rides around in a bullet-proof Jeep and maintains a convoy of Land Cruisers. He cannot afford 27.5 million naira. Nevertheless, he declared his candidacy lavishly in Eagle Square, Abuja. Did he also take out a bank loan for that? Four months to a make-or-break election, Buhari would have us believe he has no money. How does he propose to finance his presidential campaign? Is he going to take 1 billion naira loan from the World Bank for this?
Why would a bank lend Buhari that amount for a presidential pie-in-the-sky that failed to materialize three times in the past? Is that not likely to be a bad loan? How long did it take for the loan to be processed? What did he put down as anti-corruption collateral? How does he propose to pay the money back? Mr. Integrity needs to spell all this out for the sake of his fast-disintegrating anti-corruption credentials.
I did not know loans are so easy to secure in Nigerian banks today. Perhaps Buhari could introduce me to his bank manager. I would also not mind taking this kind of soft loan. I am sure I can always come up with some unproductive excuse or the other for it. Is such a loan even legal today under Nigeria’s stricter banking laws?
How many honest Nigerians can afford to give a non-refundable 27.5 million naira to a political party, on the off-chance that they will be able to secure the party’s presidential ticket? If they win the nomination and even get elected president, how would they pay back the money?
Not presidential material
It is clear that Buhari is not only lacking the money to pay for APC nomination papers, he does not have the funds to pay for advisers, to counsel him about what to tell the public and how to prosecute an effective presidential campaign. His advisers might have educated him that there is something called “fund-raising.” Surely, the most popular politician in the North-West can find some of his ardent supporters to give him 27 million naira. Certainly, a former governor of the Central Bank can easily cough up the money.
Buhari wants to fight an election that will take place in four months time. From what he tells us, he does not have 27 million to prosecute that election now. If this is true, he is not the right man to be president of Nigeria. For a man who is running for election for the fourth time, that is the height of cluelessness. It shows Buhari is lousy at marshalling resources. Otherwise, he is fooling nobody but himself.
Femi Aribisala is a scholar and international affairs expert. He is currently an iconoclastic church pastor in Lagos. He is also a syndicated essayist for a handful publications in Nigeria.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.