Chapter one of the integrity story is easy to remember. We had become a society of zero consequences for actions injurious to the body politic. Nothing happened if Nigerians died on your watch; nothing happened to Abba Moro. Absolutely nothing happened if you stole. In fact, the man who was supposed to set the course of national ethics and morality instituted a national debate on the finer distinctions between stealing and corruption and unleashed his supporters all over social media to split hairs between the two. That was just before he blamed yams for not doing enough to avoid the mouth of goats.
If you want to gauge just how low we sunk, just how dirty we became, you need not look further than Ibrahim Lamorde, the difficult-to-decipher fellow running the EFCC. During the Jonathan era, Lamorde’s idea of fighting corruption was to roam around Nigeria, looking for anybody who stole five thousand naira or less. The best way to escape his purview was to steal millions. That conferred immunity and untouchability on you. When Lamorde got tired of running after kindergarten pickpockets, he started to harass fishermen for fishing without authorization in violation of the constitution.
I am not joking o. In case you have forgotten, on 24 September 2014, the EFCC arraigned six fishermen - Adekunle Oshingbosi, Momodu Ibrahim, Idowu Tuesday, Togbosi Christian, Benjamin Eyinle, and Anthony Medoho before a Federal High Court in Lagos for allegedly fishing in unauthorized waters. According to the EFCC, the men were arrested on March 27th 2014 for fishing in Nigerian territorial waters without getting authorized approval, thereby violating Sections 1(1) (2) of the Seas Fishery Act Cap S4, 2004.
It is easy to surmise from the foregoing that had Nigerians not awarded a red card to President Jonathan, Lamorde would by now be harassing roadside mechanics and “forganaizers” all over the country for practicing without a license, contrary to some sections of the Constitution. As for the ICPC, the least said the better. She completely disappeared. I must confess there were times during the Jonathan era when I would have been unable to tell you the full meaning of ICPC because she was so dormant, inert, and invisible: totally useless and redundant.
Now, Lamorde is back in the big league, barking and threatening to bite; ICPC too is staking a serious claim to national attention as a player in the emergent anti-corruption atmosphere. NNPC and other institutions of state are feeling a shake-up. The other day in Ogun state, a civil servant who’d been stealing millions from secondary schools was apprehended. Something’s in the air and people have been hard put to name it beyond abstraction.
Actually, what is happening to the Nigerian body politic, albeit with considerable room for improvement, is not too difficult to name: it is the stirrings of a possible return to the fear of consequences. It is what we said would happen if only there was a modicum of integrity at the very top. We were coming from a place in the darkest pit of hell where the notion of consequence, the notion that punishment is the logical, natural, juridical, moral, and ethical outcome of stealing, had completely disappeared from our lives. That notion is returning – ever so gradually, ever so imperfectly - and that is what is responsible for noticeable changes in the system. And for the perceptible difference in the air you are breathing right now in Nigeria.
This auspicious first chapter of Buhari’s integrity narrative presents two problems. First is the fact that people are mistaking the start of the journey for the end of the journey. People are behaving like we are at the mountain top already. The point must be made and repeated: we are still in the darkest pit of hell and have only just begun the arduous crawl out of it. We are not even at the bottom of the mountain yet, let alone start the hard climb to the mountain top. What Buhari’s integrity narrative has done is to jumpstart the first step out of the pit by reintroducing the elementary fear of consequence into our badly battered national psyche. It is only when we get out of the pit that we can approach the bottom of the mountain to start climbing.
The second problem is that the incipient positive results of the integrity narrative has become a sufficient excuse for heightened intolerance of any scrutiny of President Buhari’s pace. Some will even hound and harass people with genuine and legitimate concerns about aspects of Buhari’s leadership style because “it is still too early to start criticizing and distracting the President.” Well, the very day a man becomes my President is the day he starts to owe me explanations. This school of thought will destroy Buhari if he gets carried away by their theory that he is omnipresent and omnipotent, his integrity narrative the be-all, singular open sesame to paradise for Nigeria. I will not dwell on this beyond repeating what I have already stated in multiple fora: those looking for a President who must not be vigorously engaged, scrutinized, and criticized must crossover to the ranks of the career Jonathanians who brooked no criticism of the former President and destroyed him with the most disgusting halleluiah followership I have ever seen in Africa. President Buhari will not – and must not – be rewarded with this sort of followership.
This brings me to the second chapter of the integrity story. The first chapter is about the aura and personal capital of President Buhari which we sold as capable of bringing back the fear and notion of consequence into the system. That side of things is working – albeit in a sole administratorship format that is worrisome. We have been told to wait till September. We are waiting. The second chapter has to do with the word of a man of integrity. I am still studying the outlines of this second chapter. I don’t know where President Buhari intends to go with the idea of his word as his bond so I am just going to point out two early disquieting things he needs to bear in mind as we all struggle to help him return credibility to our system and country.
A leader’s word is a key part of the business of integrity. It is pretty straightforward. Nothing complicated about it at all. Where a leader tells the people that they will find osaka, they must not get there and find osoko; where a leader tells the people that they will find osoko, they must not get there and find osaka. President Buhari’s word must remain an integral part of the narrative of integrity. Something as simple as a promise made openly and nationally to publicly declare his assets is becoming something of an osaka-osoko story and I don’t like it at all. One had been prepared to even overlook this asset declaration matter in the context of the bigger gains we are witnessing on the anti-corruption front only for Femi Adesina to return it to national discourse in an arrogant and dishonest manner.
In a recent interview with Kayode Ogundamisi, Femi Adesina claims that President Buhari did not promise to declare his assets publicly; it was the APC that made the promise! This is a lie. Like Nuhu Ribadu, who abused Goodluck Jonathan and Patience Jonathan, and later ridiculed himself by struggling to claim that he never said any such thing, Femi Adesina appears to have forgotten Google! Candidate Buhari did not only pledge to “publicly declare my assets and liabilities”, he did so in a document he entitled, “My Covenant with Nigerians”. I advise every Nigerian to Google and keep a copy of President Buhari’s covenant if this is the way his media team intends to play the game. A covenant is an even more serious business than a promise or a pledge. Neither the APC nor the Nigerian people forced President Buhari to make this covenant. He did it of his own volition. But it is now his word. It must be his bond.
President Buhari may also want to look into a curious office that is not recognized by the Constitution but is however functioning – and gaining visibility – in the Villa under his watch. It is called “the Office of the Wife of the President.” In other words, Patience Jonathan had six eggs. Nigerians screamed and condemned her for having six eggs. We condemned Goodluck Jonathan for allowing his wife to have six eggs where the Constitution makes provision for none. Our own Professor Soyinka saw and castigated a sheppopotamus with six illegal eggs. President Buhari was part of this culture of national revulsion for Patience Jonathan’s six eggs. He granted an interview to Daily Trust and promised to abolish the six eggs not recognized by the Constitution. However, it does seem to me that Patience Jonathan’s illegal six eggs have been replaced by half a dozen eggs for Aisha Buhari. President Buhari must endeavour to return us to his word in this matter.
In essence, President Buhari’s word is just as important as the aura with which he is scaring the heck out of the goats who ate our yams. The yam eaters are all over the place, pissing in their pants, sending peace committees on nonsensical, poorly-disguised soft landing errands, forming malaria, eczema, dysentery and all kinds of illnesses in foreign hospitals. All because of the aura and body language of one man. This personal capital must be parlayed into institutions to rebuild and strengthen them, especially our mechanisms of discipline and punish, of crime and punishment.
But, above all, this personal capital must sit on the foundation of the President’s word.