IN the first part of this article, we met Brand Buhari: a Nigerian leader reputed as “Mr Integrity”. Even his most ardent traducers are reluctant to accuse him of being corrupt for fear that such an accusation might fall flat or out of line with what the public has come to believe.
He is also known as one who will spare no effort in fighting corruption any time he is in authority. I have yet to come across a Nigerian who says he does not believe Buhari can fight corruption. For that matter, I have yet to come across a Nigerian who says he does not want Buhari to succeed in the war on corruption even if in a corner of his mind he wishes him to fail for selfish or political reasons. This man who could not mend the roof of his country home, was ejected from his rented apartment in Abuja, and could not afford to pay for his presidential nomination fee without borrowing, must be a POOR man, judging by the standards of his fellow former heads of state.
Buhari set out after his inauguration to fortify his image as “Mr Integrity” or if you like “Mr. Clean” by delaying the appointment of his cabinet of ministers for four whole months. His reason: he is taking his time to look for upright or above-board Nigerians. These ascetic brand characterisations of our new president immediately bring to mind an eccentric ancient Greek philosopher, Diogenes. He was one of the founders of the school of philosophy called Cynicism. He believed the purpose of life was to reject values that drove ambitious people to vain pursuits (power and wealth), often to the peril of themselves and humanity at large.
Diogenes practised what he taught. He went to Athens and lived in a barrel in a marketplace. Diogenes was fond of going about in daylight with a lighted lantern. When asked why, he said he was looking for “an honest man”! One day, he was relaxing in his barrel when Alexander the Great, King of Greece, one of the greatest military generals of all time and Emperor of one of ancient world’s largest empires, came to greet him, surrounded by a coterie of mean-looking military guards. You would expect Diogenes to jump for joy and blow “ranka dede” into the condescending, outstretched palm of the mighty general. But he did not move a single muscle. When Alexander the Great asked him:
“Pray sire, is there anything I can do for you? Ask, and it shall be yours”. An unimpressed Diogenes answered:
“Yes. Can you get out of my sunlight?”!
I told you earlier that I waited with bated excitement for the public unveiling of the declared assets of President Buhari because I wanted to compare the aforementioned depictions of him as “poor” and a “saint” with other, periodic indicators that, after all, Buhari might just be a more circumspect product of the Nigerian system.
When it comes to the issue of corruption, many Nigerians (and perhaps Africans) will tell you that they do not mind if a leader steals a little provided he works for the people. It is cynically called “workshop” (work-chop) in Warri patois. Martin Meredith, a historian of post-independence Africa once wrote of corruption in the former Zaire under Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga. He said Mobutu often advised top government officials: “yibana mayele”. “If you must steal, then steal just a little or you will risk being arrested”. In this light, corruption is measurable by volumes, though the appropriate metric of measurement to know when it becomes unpardonable is never disclosed.
The other side of the coin for Brand Buhari leaves us confused. Shortly after he was declared elected by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), a story, supported by pictures, surfaced on the internet that Buhari is the alleged owner of a multi-billion naira mansion situated at No. 9 Udo Udoma Street, Asokoro Abuja and valued at 2.1 billion. I am not aware that Buhari’s camp has debunked this allegation. Now, he tells us that he owns “a house” in Abuja without indicating the address or its current value. This would have helped us to know if a man reported to have been ejected from a rented Abuja apartment only three years ago actually owns such a property. If so, you will agree with me that the two pictures do not fit.
Again, keen-eyed media snoopers spotted the beautiful wristwatch that Hajiya Aisha Buhari wore in an obvious flaunting manner to her husband’s inauguration. Reports which went viral over the internet had it that it was an 18-karat “white-gold diamond” Cartier Baignoire Folle worth $50,000 or 35,000 Pounds Sterling or about 15 million Naira (in today’s exchange rate). Again, I am not aware that Buhari’s camp has denied this. Instead, members of the public are left to debate among themselves whether the Abuja house and the wristwatch are worth up to that amount.
I had thought the president would seize the opportunity of his assets declaration to put all these allegations to rest, but sadly, he left us more confused than ever. During the presidential campaigns, Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) promised (though spokesmen have been denying that he ever did so) to “publicly declare my assets and liabilities (and) encourage all my appointees to publicly declare their assets and liabilities as a precondition for appointment”.
On exactly their 98th day in office, Buhari and his Vice President unveiled their assets. He told us he had five houses in Kaduna, Daura, Kano and Abuja (no addresses, no valuation attached); two undeveloped plots of land in Kano, one other in Port Harcourt, farms, an orchard, ranch, livestock including 270 cows (during the campaigns we were told the number was 150), 25 sheep, five horses, “a variety of birds”, a “number of” economic trees, and an undisclosed number of cars.
Nothing was said of his liabilities. Moreover, nothing was mentioned of the liabilities and assets of his wife and adult close family members because such people are often used as fronts to divert stolen public funds and property. In fact, the public declaration of assets of President Muhammadu Buahri fell far short of the meticulous declaration by his fellow Katsina-born late President Umaru Yar’ Adua, who attached the valuation of all his possessions and those of his wife, Turai, as well as their liabilities, including leftover proceeds of campaign contributions. It is, however, obvious that Buhari is not a poor man. He is, in fact, a dollar millionaire, though nothing close to other former presidents.
Telling us you have “a house” in a township without indicating the value is equivalent to saying very little. A politician can have a modest private office or home before he goes into power. In his asset declaration form before taking power it is “a private office” or “a house”. After service, it is still a “private office”, or “house”, but the fact that it was demolished and remodeled into a multimillion naira “private office” is cleverly hidden in the vague after-power assets declaration. The gullible public has been played yet they clap.
Buhari’s asset declaration is not transparent and falls short of expectations. It is below Yar’ Adua’s par (the first president to do so). It is dodgy, incomplete, and almost as good as not declaring anything. Given the failed attempts by the president’s and APC’s propagandists to disown the pledge to make those declarations public coupled with the late, rather reluctant manner in which they were unveiled, I wonder what Diogenes will say if Buhari pays him a visit today.