Akin Osuntokun’s “Buhari: Which South-west”, which appeared on this page the other week, threw up an interesting perspective on the real issues facing the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the South-west, with its fielding of retired Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as its presidential candidate. The perspective was certainly disconcerting for those who thought they had pulled off a master stroke and were tapping their feet impatiently to reap the harvest of their very brilliant move. Osuntokun’s article became the subject of further discussion in Lagos last week, especially against the background of the growing realisation that the APC machinery is revealing itself to be only prepared for a hundred metres race in all core governance issues.
The gentleman who brought up the discussion argued that Buhari was not flattered by the write-up in question. He also further said that my defence of Osuntokun’s submissions in a subsequent article titled “Soyinka’s Alleged Swipe at Buhari”, and especially the idea that Buhari cannot be described as a friend of the South-west, overlooked the fact that Buhari was chosen by the leaders of the South-west geopolitical zone.
That was news to me. Was Buhari chosen for the APC by the South-west as a people and as a zone? Was there any real consensus, even among South-west APC politicians, regarding his emergence as presidential candidate? Possibly!
Then the man shot out without warning: “Please tell me, Dr Ikechukwu, if you don’t mind, what is your personal opinion of Gen. Muhamadu Buhari?” I replied that I considered him a serious-minded man, a professional soldier who means well for this country; but one who had chosen the wrong path in his current endeavours.
Then the man asked again: “So what would you advise him to do, if you were in a position to do so?” I replied that I would like to see a Buhari who, with other senior retired and respected officers, is involved in an effort to save and re-professionalise our armed forces. If he must go into politics, he should be part of a team of principled elders who screen those seeking office in his party of choice. Real political ‘godfathers’ like Sir Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awo and many others were custodians of specific political and leadership values. No one would be able to bribe Buhari to support the wrong person.
A ‘real’ political godfather has the duty of ensuring that the right people aspire to, and attain, leadership positions. He monitors and guides his protégés; weeding out those who are likely to fall by the political wayside. A godfather in this strict and proper sense of the term is simply one who stands in loco parentis, or one who is guardian to another on how to behave, and turn out well under certain accepted group values.
Osuntokun mentioned the metroline project and the subsisting negative effect of the cancellation of that project by Buhari as military Head of State. He did not, however, mention the full implications of the management of the funds put together under the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF). This was a consumption tax on petroleum products, arising from a hike in the price of petroleum products. The bulk of the consumption, consequently the source of the bulk of the PTF funds, came from the southern part of the country. The South-west was responsible for much of the overall PTF funds accruing from the southern part of the country. Meanwhile, the bulk of the expenditure, inflated or not, was not in the south.
These were some of the issues I raised with the man, to remind him that much could still be said that Osuntokun left out for lack of space. It was at this point that the discussion became somewhat personal, with the gentleman alleging a ‘mind-set’ against Buhari. He then said: “Do not think, Dr that I just stumbled on the articles of Osuntokun which I mentioned? I have followed most of you people in the media for some 20 years, all the way from The Guardian.”
With that I then had to tell him to help educate those who do not know that the position of some of us on Buhari was not shaped by current events. For instance when in 1999, I wrote an article in The Guardian titled “The Mutant Called PTF”, the objective was to remind Nigerians that the PTF should be wound up after the elections ushering in a democratic dispensation. The idea was to allow the regular institutions of state the free space to rise to their statutory responsibilities under the emerging democratic order.
A Fund that was set up as a temporary bridge intervention, to use the new tax on petrol to address sundry issues of social infrastructure, could not possibly be allowed to continue in its capacity at the time, under the newly elected President Olusegun Obasanjo. The PTF would not have been necessary if the institutions of state were living up to their responsibilities. But they had all become dysfunctional to some degree. Thus one held, at that time, that the PTF should not be allowed to become a permanent feature of our national life. Statutory agencies should regain their strength and be allowed to do their duties, to eliminate double budgeting and the antics of agencies that hide behind interventions initiatives to shirk some aspects of their statutory responsibilities – or even wreak havoc on the common till.
For the record, the aforementioned article was actually a reaction to a PTF ‘consultancy’ that was then brought to practically all media houses. An otherwise sober and rational senior media friend had the rather peculiar task, at the time, of promoting the well-funded national media campaign to convince the incoming government of Obasanjo to retain the PTF. I thought the idea was absurd and said so. I also pointed out that the figures and records of the performance of the PTF were available as indices of a frightening case of avoidable inequities, questionable administrative processes and, possibly, procedural irregularities.
It was difficult to also believe that Buhari was aware of both what transpired under his watch and the dubious endeavour to strike up a ‘consultancy’ that would keep him and the PTF afloat, while an army of ‘cow maidens’ were milking the agency. This was quite an issue in the media for a while, because the PTF had then been in existence for a few years. While that should have been enough time for the MDAs to come back on track, proponents of PTF longevity crafted the mantra of “You can’t abolish an agency that’s doing a damn good job”. But can you run a modern state, or demonstrate faith that the new dispensation would prove its mettle if you prolong the use of a life support machine for public administration? That would, in effect, be a vote of no confidence on the new government and on Nigerians.
Most media houses were approached with this brief. Many of them tried their best to argue that the then incoming civilian government should not scrap the PTF.
But it was easy to see that even the advocates did not believe themselves as they were all sadly present, and visibly confounded, at a forum where the expenditure profile and performance of the PTF was presented by agents of the organisation.
Then as now, the suspicion is that Buhari does not seem to easily see the full picture when it comes to the workings of a modern polity, under a process-driven template. He never saw that outsourcing statutory state functions and also doing parallel funding of government services undermined the accounting system and created a dysfunctional service delivery environment. Perhaps Buhari can only be blamed to a limited degree for the lack of synergy to enable the PTF and other agencies do a cost benefit analysis of government expenditure. At the time everyone was spending money on the same things and cheerfully recording expenses, but that is not the case today. All the same, let the MDAs do their jobs.
This brings us to what is essentially my purely personal problem with the very successful SURE-P programmes of the Jonathan administration, among others. That initiative is a runaway success today and the government should be commended for it. It came into being to address an alleged ‘integrity deficit’ in government and show Nigerians that the accruals from the hike in fuel prices would be well utilised. I dare say that Nigerians are now well convinced about that. They can see the projects, the jobs, the changed lives and much more. But it is important that it is reviewed, disaggregated its various components and retired to the MDAs that should ordinarily have statutory responsibility for those components of SURE-P.
Gen. Buhari would long since have made a lot of difference since he left active service if he had focused on helping develop his chosen profession. Today, chances are that his current sponsors only want to use him to secure new berths and expanses. The signs are emerging by the hour.