Muhammadu Buhari became president of Nigeria with a lot of goodwill in bag. He did not win marginally, so to speak; he won convincingly. Personally, Olusegun Obasanjo took away the little patience and goodwill I had left for militicians. As an example, I personally witnessed his promise to repair the derelict Lagos-Ibadan highway and extend the dualisation to Ilorin on assumption of office in 1999.
He was in office for eight years and his party (PDP) remained for another eight years. Billions were budgeted for these and other roads in the past 16 years, yet the roads remain the same, and perhaps worse that he met them. Consequently, when Buhari contested the position of president the last three times and lost, I neither supported him nor was I interested in doing so. Not that my support matters, but neither did his losing; he could have kept losing forever for all I cared. But Nigeria matters to me. It should matter to Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora.
The political scenario and landscape of Nigeria changed with the creation of the APC. A new “smoothie” blended with all types of fruits (like and unlike creatures) – some decent and many of dubious political extractions. The outcome of this union, the resulting smoothie, looked appealing, but as the saying goes, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. We needed to have a sip of this new APC before we could tell. Now I have, and it does not taste so good.
Going back to my narration, with the earlier proposed Buhari candidature, an unstoppable Tsunami seemed to have been created with the arrival of APC. By the time the PDP knew what was coming, Goodluck Jonathan had relocated to Otuoke with the lovely Patience (Madam Peace) in tow. Just over a year since this new government assumed office, this “smoothie” (APC) is actually beginning to taste sour. There are too many problems of governance; some inevitable, many predicted and others created from inexperience and/or arrogance. Old habits die hard. Many chameleons are now showing their true colours but then that story is for another day. Today I want to address President Muhammadu Buhari.
Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and again and expecting a different result. Corruption is not new in Nigeria and I doubt if anyone is still surprised by its scale or in denial of its adverse effect on Nigerians as a people. Corruption is perhaps singularly responsible for killing more Nigerians indirectly since independence than anything else, through hospitals, schools, roads, and other infrastructural decay. If 16 years of PDP’s show of shame has taught us anything, it should be that Nigeria cannot continue to fight corruption in the same way.
Clearly previous strategies have failed and so there is need to change both tactics and strategy. It feels a little awkward that I am saying this because for a former military man, that is “Military Tactics 101”. Buhari must have learnt these basics from his military background, including all the excellent foreign training from the UK, India and USA by the grace of God at Nigeria’s expense! I was confident he knew this and it would be at the forefront of his change mantra, especially because he spoke so passionately about corruption, including in his famous phrase (now not so famous to me) that “if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria”. It was clear the economy was in a mess before he assumed office. It was clear many things were wrong. He knew this and he wanted power to change these things. Nigerians did not beg Mr. Buhari to contest the last election, it was his choice. If his party members begged him, that is their problem, not those of Nigerians. He campaigned and promised the people that there would be change!
Mr. Buhari needs new laws and new courts to fight corruption. He needs these like yesterday, not tomorrow. Let him present the drafts, let the National Assembly debate these as a matter of national urgency, let the public make some noise if the National Assembly is too slow in debating and approving these new laws.
Personally, I was not expecting any major changes or transformation in the economy or infrastructure quickly. I am not that naïve. The problems are enormous. What I was confident would happen, which is where I now accept my naivety, is that we would fight corruption differently. Mr. President assumed office and just continued fighting corruption with the same “hoe and cutlasses” that Obasanjo, Yar’adua and Jonathan used. This is 2016, what about mechanised fighting of corruption? Yes, I was naïve. I assumed Buhari had designed some new strategy, tactics and modern “equipment” to fight corruption with. I assumed he took the last four years (at least) contacting his lawyer friends and other legal mind on how best under the rule of law to fight corruption to a “standstill” – to again use his word. I took this for granted! I expected him to come out smoking through the National Assembly with a new law that will make the fight more successful. I was confident this would be accomplished in six months. It is now over a year, and no new legal framework, just the same “hoes” and “cutlasses” to fight corruption. Funny, along with the vice president, they now say corruption is fighting back. How convenient? Or as the Millennials would say, “duh”?
Where do we go from here?
Femi Falana (SAN) put it succinctly: “At the end of the four years of the Buhari administration, the success of the anti-corruption policy will not be measured by the number of arrests or investigations carried out by the anti-graft agencies. If the status quo remains unchanged, the Nigerian people and the international community will blame the administration for its inability to secure the conviction of corrupt politically exposed persons with all the evidence at its disposal. Therefore, a special court ought to be established to deal specifically with economic and financial crimes, as well as electoral offences.”
Mr. Buhari needs new laws and new courts to fight corruption. He needs these like yesterday, not tomorrow. Let him present the drafts, let the National Assembly debate these as a matter of national urgency, let the public make some noise if the National Assembly is too slow in debating and approving these new laws. The vice president – Yemi Osinbajo – has the reputation to have done some brilliant judicial reform work in Lagos State under Tinubu. He is renowned as a brilliant legal mind. I did not for a minute think that Mr. Buhari would use him elsewhere as priority work. He (Osinbajo) needs to stop doing everything else and both support and push Mr. President to get a new legal framework for fighting corruption in place. The burden of proof must change. Yemi Osinbajo said it too. Let the thieves prove that the money we have traced to them is legally theirs. Did they inherit it? What business did they do to have so much money and/or properties to their names? We need evidence. Cases must not start until the EFCC prosecution team is completely ready. All cases must be disposed within four to six months. The appeal system must no longer be more than six months. It should go straight to the Supreme Court from the special courts. Judges of the special court must be of impeccable credentials.
Some meek decisions already making rounds regarding corruption need to be reversed urgently and publicly by Mr. President. First is the rumour that with plea bargaining those kleptomaniacs who return their loot will soon be allowed to go and sin no more. This needs to be publicly and urgently denounced. Even when you return your loot, you must serve your term in jail. I concede you could get some discount on your jail term but you must serve time. There will be loads of people in jail over the next few years if so.
I am afraid Mr. President, neither my positive affect for you nor your body language is relevant in this national discourse. At the end of 36 months in office, you would probably be looking at the prospect of another term. That will not happen if you cannot confidently make certain pronouncements.
If Mr. President is serious, Nigeria will need more prisons built. The 2017 budget should provide for big prisons to be built in at least four of the eight geographical zones – two in the North and two in the South. They must be excellent correctional facilities that meet international standards of 2030 (not even 2016). We must include prison visits into our curriculum going forward. Let our primary and secondary school students have excursions to these prisons. Let them see and listen to our jailed politicians. Second, let Mr. President be serious with this scandal called budget “padding”. He says he has never heard the term before, now he has. Civil servants and everyone else who has had a hand in this scandal of padding should not remain on government payroll. Their appointments need to be terminated immediately. Yes, let them keep their benefits (if any) but they need to go, not recycled into other departments of the civil service. This is the only way others can be deterred in the future because they know there will be consequences. Third, let Mr. President be always true to his words. We are still waiting for the list of those who returned money to the treasury from the CBN and how much they returned. His word must be his bond. He was a fine officer (and a gentleman) of our military!
Fourth, shame on the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). Baring a few notable exceptions in their membership (credible and selfless lawyers), it is all about money to their pockets. They will just defend everyone including the “devil” and make money. Are these legal minds not angry enough that there are far too many people stealing from the commonwealth and that the law to halt this is not working? Is it impossible for them to start a movement through the NBA so they can propose a water-tight anti-corruption bill, and then get their own members in the National Assembly to jointly sponsor it? How exactly are they going to contribute to national rebirth apart from individually earning part of the stolen commonwealth when they defend looters of this commonwealth? Shame on them!
Finally, I think I like this President. I like his body language. I personally endorse most of his international travels. And yes, I think he is very hardworking. The problems are serious as they are urgent. I am afraid Mr. President, neither my positive affect for you nor your body language is relevant in this national discourse. At the end of 36 months in office, you would probably be looking at the prospect of another term. That will not happen if you cannot confidently make certain pronouncements. Imagine these declarations from Mr. President sometimes mid-2018: (1) This government has obtained over 500 convictions of corrupt public officials. (2) We have improved power supply to 20,000 megawatts and electricity is now constantly available to Nigerians or at least considered satisfactory by Nigerians. (3) We have improved the national road network and completed the rail network to Kano and Calabar from Lagos. (4) We have now completely incapacitated Boko Haram and Nigerians can now move freely in the North-East. And we have brought back our Chibok girls. (6) We have improved security by strengthening the police. (7) We are now on the way to institutionalising the various constitutional frameworks to strengthen this country. (8) We are now more determined to do more – and these are the next seven things we will be tackling going forward….
Mr. President, it is very easy to lose the people’s goodwill. It is slipping away by the day. Listen to Nigerians, feel their pulse, and please do not listen to those men around you. These men are the bitter fruits that are doing the damage to our smoothie and making it taste vile.
Gbolahan Gbadamosi is an academic and writes from Bournemouth, United Kingdom. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.