Nwabueze on Buhari: Elders as critics? By Steve Osuji

Prof-Ben-NwabuezeLast week was a nightmare for EXPRESSO; the devil, that age-long nemesis of the printer, poked his forked rod on this page. The result was a bizarre reproduction of the newspaper’s editorials of the day (on page 11) right on this page. Such a glitch never happened before in over four years of keeping this column. Sincere apologies to all the adherents of this space; especially those who noticed and expressed concern; let’s just say stuff does happen eh? We shall be much more watchful henceforth.

Last week we looked at the situation in our mega city-state, Lagos. One basically lent his voice to the unfolding new regime in our city and urged that a true city should never go to sleep. In fact, a well run city never blinks. One opined therefore that to allow such virtual vacuous state for about five months is a worrisome augury.

One noted also that our new governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, did not run with the ball on touchdown. That has caused so many nuts to loosen and explains the loud creaks in the mammoth engine that is a city is. After a short preamble I had rerun a piece ran here on Friday, June 26, 2015, titled: “A note for Gov. Ambode.” It can be accessed on The Nation’s website.

Today, we dwell on the recent intervention of elder statesman, eminent advocate and legal scholar, Professor Ben Nwabueze. I stand to be corrected, but I wager that no lawyer or law teacher in Nigeria (perhaps Africa) has contributed more original literature in constitutionalism and constitutional law than Prof. Nwabueze.

He earned his silk (Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN), 38 years ago and is a distinguished honoree of the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM). Apart from his immense contributions in shaping Nigeria’s constitution, between 1975 and 1992, he had also worked on the development of the constitutions of such African countries as Zambia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Namibia to name a few. He was also instrumental to the setting up and development of numerous Law Faculties across African nations’ universities. At 82, Prof. Nwabueze must be a voice to be reckoned with anytime he deigns to open his rich depository of wisdom and knowledge to us. His opinion would come as precious pearls and his interventions in the affairs of the nations must be like rare gems and indeed, rarefied.

But the last instalment from the erudite octogenarian in The Guardian (October 16, 2015) and some of his recent comments would appear to cast him in the mode of a common social critic and run-of-the-mill politician. The two-page article, which was presaged by a front page news extract, is titled: “The public acclaim of President Buhari as a liberator and national hero.”

His submission is that President Muhammadu Buhari is neither a liberator, national hero nor the messiah Nigerians seem to equate him with currently. Hear him: “I think it fair, in concluding this section, to reiterate that the public acclaim of President Buhari as our deliverer from the evil of corruption has been adroitly stage-managed; it is the product, not of concrete actions or results actually accomplished, but actually of propagandist talk, cleverly designed to charm the mind and hearts of people and to endear the President to them, as well as whip up public sentiments for him as deliverer, even as a messiah. The plan succeeded admirably, from which it follows that the public acclaim of the President is undeserved…” He posited further that though the president may be under the illusion that corruption is number one enemy, he is mistaken. Nigeria’s number one enemy, Nwabueze affirms, “…Is the North-South Divide, which is deepened, as it unquestionably is, by the Divide separating the adherents of the Christian and Muslim religions.”

Also high on the ladder of national challenges, higher than the scourge of corruption, according to Nwabueze, is the matter of national question. Again, let’s hear it from him:

“The National Question may therefore be described as Nigeria’s predominating and daunting problem, which, having been left largely untackled over the years, continues to loom over us. President Buhari does not qualify to be hailed and idolised as liberator and national hero on the score-card of his anti-corruption war alone, unless and until he effectively and successfully comes to grips with the National Question.”

The wizened professor spoke so many wise words in his two-page disquisition as is always his wont. Anyone seeking some light as to the current dynamics of our nationhood ought to read it.

But great as the piece may be, one has a few reservations. First, and as has been stated earlier, Prof is making too many interventions recently, making him sound like a mere politician or a social critic. One thinks that elders should speak less frequently and sparingly so that their opinion would not lose weight. (Alhaji Balarabe Musa also recently said that the anti-graft war was slow. At least 30 former governors and ministers ought to have been tried now, said the one-time governor of Kaduna State.)

Secondly, Prof’s piece seems to be a bit high-tempo-ed if not intemperate. One does not see the need for that yet; especially from an elder. But more remarkably, Prof seems a bit harsh on President Buhari; as if the president has committed a crime to have persevered these past 16 years in his honest quest to manage the affairs of the country. It is our collective shame that the lot has fallen on none else but a septuagenarian to carry the burden of this nation at this turbulent juncture of our nationhood. And worse, it is our collective woe that the immediate past president (and his rogue party) was leading the country to damnation before our very eyes.

Much troubling to one particularly, is that Prof is not known to have rebuked the immediate past occupant of Aso Rock sharply enough in those years of unbridled pillage and ruination of the polity.

The current man on the saddle is never known to have branded himself ‘liberator’, ‘hero’ or any such tag, that would be the people’s perception and not by his prompting. If President Buhari has erred in the course of the job (like seeking to add a ministerial portfolio to an elephantine presidential portmanteau and like ‘beefing’ Ndigbo for shunning him at the polls), let us treat such case-by-case, otherwise, he is new and he is doing his utmost best so far, it seems.

Buhari is not the cause of Nigeria’s woes and cannot be blamed for them. Those issues raised by Prof are long-term challenges. Could we in good conscience be bugged down by issues of national question and ethnic and religious schisms in the face of a near-comatose economy and a system afflicted by a cancerous graft and debilitating impunity? We urgently need to reclaim the country first before we can begin to renegotiate our nationhood.

Lastly, one would expect Prof to give a bit more attention to Ndigbo that currently suffer their worst catharsis and are in dire need of direction. Prof must be worried that the Ohaneze he built and nurtured for over two decades as secretary general has be turned into a soggy bowl of porridge. Is Prof worried as one is, that a misguided band known as MASSOB is giving Ndigbo a bad name and violating the Igbo essence because the land is devoid of leaders? Isn’t Prof worried that his people have become a nation of olukus whose elders observe traditional rites in the cities and pour ‘libation’ to foreign chi’s? Prof must be pained that Ndigbo that abhorred the feudal over-lordship of monarchical rule now boast of self-crowned monarchs in every street of the world! Ndi ofeke a nara anyi obodo!