One of the joys of being a columnist is to occasionally receive a remarkably cogent response to one of my pieces. Sometimes, the response comes from a reader who agrees with me, but who wishes to shed fresh light on an issue. Just as frequently, it is from an interlocutor out to point to gaps in my argument, and to propose a different outlook.
My column from last week yielded one such harvest from a correspondent who, it was obvious, agreed with the spirit of my submission, but felt moved to enrich it with one or two ideas of his own. I wrote back in gratitude, and sought the correspondent’s permission to build this week’s column around his response, which I must quote in full.
Here goes: “The last sentence of your piece points to the major challenges facing Buhari. For all the focus on corruption as a major ill of the Nigerian body politic, it is in fact an outcome of the absence of a proper federal structure, coupled with the shenanigans of those you have described as ‘the same old faces’. They continue to perpetuate the status quo because it facilitates their sole purpose, which is to milk the country dry. Put in place a proper federal structure, and a better environment for building the nation rather than destroying it would have been created. However, to focus on building the nation, these old faces have to be shown the way out. Nigeria has very little to showcase for the years these old faces have held sway.
“Buhari's success is dependent on how he is able to tackle the dangers posed by these old faces who in typical style have begun the process of trying to ‘own’ him. Buhari's assertion, that he belongs to everybody and belongs to nobody, is good talk. But I can assure you that giving effect to this will not be an easy task. It will make or mar his second coming.
“Buhari's situation is not helped by the fact that these ‘most unprincipled and shameless designers’ were the generals of his electoral success. They believe they are entitled to the spoils of victory. The ‘quiet jostling’ for positions at both the executive and legislative branches points to this. For some of these Buhari generals, the old order wherein the ‘philosopher kings’ reigned as ‘ordained from above’ has returned. To them, never again must any unbeliever, bare-footed urchin, even if he is not inept like the recent one [former President Goodluck Jonathan], be allowed near the ‘throne’ that is known as the Villa.
“It is recommended that Buhari should study the battle strategy of the Leopard (Agu). Indeed, as Commander-in-Chief, he is Agu. As you are aware, Agu, upon beholding danger, makes a seeming withdrawal from the battleground. But Agu is in fact sizing up the situation, and developing tactics for annihilating the enemy. Upon returning to the front, Agu goes ferocious, and in the process strikes out all dangers. It will probably take Buhari a year or more to take out these ‘designers of Nigeria's misfortune’ if he adopts the Agu-like strategy.
“As indicated earlier on, it will not be an easy task. He will be up against these ‘formidable’ old faces, who are battle-tested. But Buhari has to win the war for Nigeria to make progress. I pray he understands the dangers ahead and can muster the wherewithal to take these old faces on. It could well mean he has to commit, for want of a better expression, what can be described as interest suicide. May be in belonging above all to the youth of Nigeria, Buhari should make them his own generals in bringing about a new order for our children and grandchildren.”
I was struck by the power, insight and cogency of the reader’s response to my piece titled “Buhari’s Path To History.” In said piece, I had proposed that Mr. Buhari’s moment of inauguration was darkened by the prominence on the podium of some of the familiar old faces whose greed, treachery and lack of vision formed Nigeria’s underdevelopment and bazaar of crises.
Before the 2015 elections, I had in several columns and speeches voiced my doubt that the APC was different from the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party in any significant sense, and that Mr. Buhari fit the bill of “the answer.” I always gave Mr. Buhari credit for his example of self-restraint when he held positions of great power he could have exploited to grab billions of naira. But any country, more so one as complex and plagued as Nigeria, requires more than one person’s virtuousness.
Those who were certain that the new president would jail all corrupt people in Nigeria should consider three facts. First, Mr. Buhari could not have won his party’s presidential nomination and the presidential election without the financial backing of a spectrum of politicians who, even without the benefit of formal prosecution and conviction, are anecdotally corrupt. There are all kinds of ethical predicaments in a beneficiary of illicit funds turning around to hound his benefactors.
Two, even if Mr. Buhari were to put his mind to the task, it is practically impossible to prosecute, convict and punish all corrupt Nigerians in jail. We’re looking at more than fifty years of culprits, at the levels of local government officials all the way to past presidents. Then we must factor in, for example, some military officers, vice chancellors and other academics, special assistants to commissioners, ministers, governors, and presidents, directors of government agencies, police, customs and immigration officials, and many quick-fingered embezzlers in the private sector. There is not enough time on Mr. Buhari’s calendar, nor enough investigators in Nigeria, nor enough prosecutors and judges to handle the volume of cases.
Third, even if President Buhari were to jail every corrupt Nigerian, he could still risk being rated as a mediocre, if not failed, president. Nigerians desire, and deserve, a country where electric power is regular and uninterrupted, healthcare is worthy of the name, the educational system produces truly educated men and women, not certificated pretenders, where the rule of law applies to all citizens, security of lives and property is guaranteed, where there are good jobs and decent wages, and the infrastructure is sound.
For President, indifference to corruption would be a betrayal. Many voted for him precisely because of their faith that he would catalyze a crusade against corruption. In the end, however, the fight to curtail corruption will be waged, not by President Buhari alone, but by a broad cultural reorientation, not by one man but by institutions—the police, EFCC, ICPC, the judiciary—he must help invigorate. And these objectives are best pursued, I suggest, within a truly federal system.
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