The parts 2 and 3 I promised would be far much shorter now because a fellow opinion columnist named Okey Ndibe, a prolific writer and an author of so many valuable books has brilliantly covered the same subject in his article titled, “Corruption & Buhari’s Perfect Storm.” That article can be found on SaharaReporters dot com website. He too pretty much agreed like I did that Balarabe Musa had every reason to be cynical and less optimistic that the Buhari push on corruption can have any lasting effect in Nigeria given our history.
Professor Ndibe did not dwell much on that history in his article. Part of my plan in this part 2 is to fill in the gap as I feel eminently qualified to do as a senior administrator in the Federal Public Service for 25 years. The first major fight against corruption in Nigeria came from Murtala Mohammed when he took over power following a bloodless military coup he led in 1975 while General Yakubu Gowon was away in Entebbe, Uganda attending a meeting of the OAU. The coup went without shedding any blood because most people agreed with the coup plotters that Yakubu Gowon regime had overstayed its welcome and that it was time for Nigeria to move forward. Late Joseph Garba who came from the same Benue Plateau area with Gowon and was the Commanding officer of the Brigade of Guards at Dodan Barracks, was on the same page with the coup plotters and he ended up becoming the Foreign Minister of the new Murtala Regime and his Deputy Olusegun Obasanjo showed that they meant business when Murtala annulled the 1974 Census by pretty much agreeing with Obafemi Awolowo who singlehandedly killed the Census with his Convocation keynote speech at the University of Ife where he said that the Census was dead on arrival and therefore could not stand. I prepared the initial draft of the speech that Awolowo was supposed to read at the Convocation but the great Awo took the speech that was passed to him thru the chain of command at the Federal Ministry of Finance comprising of Aminu Saleh as Deputy Permanent Secretary and the great Abdul Azeez Attah as Permanent Secretary but he did not use the speech at all. Unknown to all of us in the Ministry, Awo’s keynote speech was not cleared with General Gowon his boss. General Gowon was sitting at the State box at the Unife Auditorium with President Leopold Senghor of Senegal and Sir Eric Williams, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. The two Presidents were there to receive an honorary degree conferred on them by the University. Murtala lifted word for word some of the statements made by Obafemi Awolowo to annul the Census. Awolowo wrote the speech himself. It was a once- in- a- life-time speech.
Murtala made it clear from the onset he was going to fight corruption and indiscipline in Nigeria and he started by shaking up the Civil Service and declaring war on civil servants and Public officials who belonged to secret cults in Nigeria and those who engaged in private business on the sideline using their positions in the Cult to steal from Government and to enrich themselves Murtala decided to clip the wings o super Permanent Secretaries who had become so powerful under General Gowon that their Commissioners could no longer control them.
The most prominent of them at the time were Allison Ayida, Phillip Asiodu, Ahmed Joda, E.M.E Ebong, Abdul Azeez Attah and Festus Awoniyi to mention a few of them. He insisted they could no longer speak in the Executive Council and they would only attend those meetings as advisers to their different commissioners. Some of the Permanent Secretaries like E.M.E. Ebong took the new orders personally and they felt insulted by it and were very resentful of the new Sheriff in town but could not say it loud. Murtala destroyed the “Espirit de corps” or the morale in the Federal Civil Service as many civil servants were summarily retired and the Civil Service never recovered from the onslaught till now I might add. The resentment continued under Obasanjo who took over after Murtala was assassinated by Colonel Dimka after 200 days as head of State. Once Murtala left the stage, the Civil Service gradually went back to its old ways again until 1979 to 1985 while Shehu Shagari was President. Then Corruption came back in full force not only in the Civil Service but also in every sector of society with the powerful politicians like Umaru Dikko and other party officials like late Meredith Adisa Akinloye, Chairman of the NPN leading the way. It became so bad and offered a reason or rationale for General Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon to stage their own coup in August 1983.
Their coup and their war against corruption and indiscipline lasted only 20 months when Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha took over and ruled for close to 9 years during which Corruption became totally institutionalized in Nigeria. The period extended to the few months of Ernest Sonekan as interim Head of State and for close to the 5 years of Sani Abacha until 1998 to 1999 when Abdulsalam Abubakar and late Okhai Mike Akhigbe ruled for one year before handing over to Obasanjo as a civilian President in 1999 to 2007. The whole scenario continued for the more than 2 years of Umaru Yar Adua and the more than 5 years of Goodluck Jonathan when corruption has now become a way of life in Nigeria in every sector of the Nigerian economy and everywhere you look.
I described the statement by Balarabe as brilliant and some of my critics wanted to crucify me for saying so. It was brilliant because it was factually correct. Balarabe has every reason to be cynical given our history. Some of my Igbo friends have criticized me again for daring to ever mention or criticize any Igbo man or woman. I have developed a very thick skin on that and it does not worry me a bit. I do not criticize the Igbos for the fun of it. I am as Igbo as any of them criticizing me as I have said before. If the Igbos could criticize Nnamdi Azikiwe, their greatest leader ever when he deserted them to swear allegiance to Yakubu Gowon and the Federal side during the Biafra war, they would criticize anybody. The greatest criticism of Professor Ozodiobi Osuji has always come from his fellow Igbo brothers and sisters. I knew Professor Osuji. I have great respect for him as an intellectual giant and one of the best brains and writers on the ChatAfrik website we both write for.
The guy has produced the highest number of articles rated 5 star by acclamation and consensus. He has got to be doing something right to come that far. I have never seen a Nigerian tell the truth like he does regardless of whom is his target. Whether you are Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa/Fulani he does not spare you. I like him for that and I respect him. Above all he is a prolific writer I want to emulate. The Igbos are great people. I would be crazy not to acknowledge that. The British voters have just acknowledged that by voting 3 MPs of Igbo origin into the British House of Commons. One of them has a chance to replace Ed Milliband the Labor leader and to become Prime Minister of Britain at some future date.
Only a crazy man would not give honor to whom honor is due. There is no way I can talk of Nigeria without making some references to the Igbos because they are part of the 3 tripods holding Nigeria together. I criticize my fellow Yorubas if I need to. I criticize even Obafemi Awolowo, our greatest leader. I criticize Meredith Akinloye. I criticize Reuben Abati, Doyin Okupe, Ebenezer Babatope, Ahmed Tinubu, Iyiola Omisore, Jimmy Agbaje, Ayo Fayose even my greatest benefactor, Chief Fasoranti, Akure Community leader.
I don’t care who you are, if I need to criticize you, I would not run away from it even if you are my mother or father. I criticize the Igbos if needed. I don’t do it out of malice. The Igbos can call me whatever names they like. It doesn’t bother me. Some of my closest friends and heroes are Igbos. The day I saw the Igbos come under the skin of Wole Soyinka for making a statement credited to him in Boston, I knew they are beyond redemption. Wole Soyinka has remained one of the most loyal supporters and believers in the Igbo people ever since I knew him. If he disagrees with the Igbos on any issue, that is no reason to condemn Wole Soyinka, hook, line and sinker forgetting all the times he has always supported them.
Much as I understand Balarabe Musa’s cynicism, I disagree with his conclusion that the Buhari war against corruption in Nigeria would not last. Fighting corruption is like fighting ISIS and Islamic Fundamentalists or Boko Haram. If Buhari and the APC do not stay focused on it with the persistent of a demon, I agree that the forces that fuel corruption in Nigeria, even within his own party, are going to regroup and gang up against him especially in a civilian or democratic setting we currently have in Nigeria.
I remember that when Murtala Mohammed came with his war against indiscipline in Nigeria, that was one reason Colonel Dimka and his gang took him out. If they had not succeeded in taking him out, he most certainly would have succeeded just like he did when he made Africa in general and support for Nelson Mandela the very cornerstone of Nigerian Foreign Policy. I am very sure that there are elements in the APC today who profit from corruption and who would do everything to frustrate Buhari and the forces loyal to him in the APC. Elements like Ahmed Tinubu, Rotimi Amaechi and Shola Saraki, Okorocha and so many others who are capitalists pretending to be social democrats are not going to be happy to let go. The corrupt elements from the PDP who are falling over one another right now to pitch their tents with the APC are doing so because they want to corrupt the APC. The Leopard does not change its skin that easily. They know no other way to run a Government than to plunder the state. Buhari and Osinbajo and John Oyegun would be naïve to pretend that those elements are not going to rubbish the APC as time goes by.
All Nigeria needs is a good leader who is able to stand by his principle and not budge under pressure. Buhari and Osinbajo must be aware there is going to be resistance by the elements I have identified and be fully ready to resist or tackle them. I remember that when Murtala Mohammed came up with his campaign against corruption and indiscipline in the Public Service, I was at the material time one of the violators of the new ethics Murtala wanted to institutionalize in the Service. I was one of the founding Directors of a company known as Unimotors Nigeria Ltd. The company used to sell vehicles and I was their link in the Civil Service to make sure that civil servants who got loans to buy cars came to our company to buy their cars. Many of my colleagues who have bought their cars thru me knew I had some connection with Unimotors and I had to know they were going to blow the whistle on me at some point if I did not resign from the Company. I knew Murtala very well because I have worked with him before in the Army Headquarters and I know he did not play. I had a choice to either remain in the company and got fired or to quit and to retain my job in the Civil Service. I settled for the later.
I guess what I am saying is that Nigerians would be watching Buhari and Osinbajo to be sure they really practice what they preach. If they are caught in double standards, they are toast. I can tell you that. I remember Buhari putting Ekwueme, The Vice President in detention or in jail for close to 3 years while allowing Shehu Shagari to be remanded in the comfort of his own home for the same offense Ekwueme was thrown into jail. I recall the Emir of Gwandu being allowed to come in with 52 boxes of foreign money which were cleared at the airport by the Emir’s son who used his position as a top aide to Buhari to get all those boxes cleared at the airport at a time the same Buhari was throwing other Nigerians into jail for committing less egregious offenses.
I recall his regime throwing many Yorubas including Ambrose Ali, Onabanjo, Jakande, Fashoranti, Adekunle Ajasin, and Ebenezer Babatope into prison while allowing other northerners to go scot free. If he does anything remotely similar to that with his new dispensation, forget it, the Balarabe Musa’s prediction would come to pass. But if he remains consistent and completely honest and transparent by using himself as an example, he would succeed because Nigerians now fully understand that if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. I am glad he has already discouraged praise singers who call him “Your Excellency the General” He says he now wants to be addressed simply as Muhammadu Buhari and nothing else.
That is a good sign to me. The British and the Americans who introduced those meaningless titles to us have since jettisoned those titles and appellations because they mislead their leaders to think they are better than they are. If they can do that why not leaders in the third world?
I repeat that the Buhari fight against corruption would not derail like all the previous attempts before it because I believe that Buhari has learnt from his past mistakes. The mere fact that he has waited for 12 years to be elected President has taught him some useful lessons. That he has done it reaching out to other opposition parties in the South has shown he has learnt his lessons.
He now understands the principle of give and take and that it is totally absurd for the North to develop a winner-take-all presumption that sees the North as born-to-rule is a milestone to celebrate. Buhari can now tell the difference between a military dictatorship and a Democracy, and how to navigate his way as the new democrat.
These are fantastic lessons he did not fully understand for the three times he sought the presidency but failed. He has now been put in a position to understand all the deprivations and frustrations that Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe suffered in their fruitless quest for the presidency of Nigeria. It is a good lesson that assures me that Buhari is no longer the same Buhari we used to know.
That he would select a Vice President who knows the Law and can help to distill some of the legal views put forward by his Attorney General is an added advantage. We thank God that Buhari now understands what his Ph.D competitor did not understand that stealing is corruption. That is another reason to draw the conclusion that the new Sheriff in town is not the old Buhari we used to know who would allow a few things to slip thru the cracks just because he could not be in two places at the same time.
Buhari now understands that he bears vicarious responsibility for everything that happens under his watch as President. Those are the things that President Jonathan did not fully understand that when Ayo Fayose or Obanikoro speaks for him, he must take the blame for any fallout from that error of omission or commission.
The Part 3 will focus like a laser beam on what other things Buhari must do to ensure that his determined war against corruption remains not just a slogan but the conventional wisdom in Nigeria. I urge all of you not to forget the Okey Ndibe article I alluded to in the first paragraphs of this article because they really shed more light on the subject far better than I can.
I rest my case.