In the mid-1980s, I became friends with a legendary Nigerian soldier known as “Black Scorpion.”
His real name was Benjamin Adekunle, smallish stripe of a man who had acquired the reputation of a killer during the civil war. Tales abound about
how he could reduce opposing military formations—and men twice his size—to dissolution and tears.
When we met, I was the editor of ThisWeek magazine, and our offices were in Surulere where he lived. Encouraged by his endless supplies of adult beverages, we would discuss politics and books in his home for hours.
Books? I was stunned by the man’s love for books. He owned two large libraries, and you could borrow any you wished.
On one condition: you had to sign for it and return it in no later than two weeks. Actually the way he saw it: if you read a book, that deserved a lavish supply of those beverages, to help with a full interrogation of the
ideas in it.
That was a new school to me: that a military man known for brutality would be so dedicated to enriching himself intellectually and culturally.
Black Scorpion’s eloquence spoke volumes. But it was his insights that impressed me the most. Such wealth can arise from interaction with the world through training and travel, of course, but it is in books—the land of the minds of others—that they are most powerful. That is probably because the agricultural processes in the mind of the reader continue to nurture that individual through time in ways others cannot see.
This is what occurred to me last week when I first read the list of the cabinet nominees President Muhammadu Buhari sent to the Senate.
I do not know the last time Buhari read a book. Or a newspaper. Or a magazine. Or whether he has ever read a book. Or a newspaper. Or a magazine.
And given his secretive medical history, I do not know the last time Buhari heard anything. I don’t mean hearing simply in what people are saying on the streets, on radio or on television, but in the basic terms of human hearing: sound waves vibrating through the ear canal into the inner ear. As in the interpretation of sound. Because if Buhari can either read or hear, or both, there is a major disconnect between his physical and intellectual abilities, and his mental output. Just as there has been a major disconnect between his words and his actions for four years.
Take his latest cabinet nominations, for instance. The list contains some people that most Nigerians didn’t know; some that are well-known; and a few that are described as excellent human beings.
But mostly—and I cite contemporary history in evidence—it consists of established thieves, election riggers, failed and/or compromised former Ministers and former Governors, state looters, federal looters, and parallel
Yes, the same Buhari who swore to vanquish corruption, nominated or re-nominated them. The same Buhari who suggested that some of them had failed to perform in his first term only because they had been strangers to
him when he appointed them, and who took five months to find new Ministers, re-nominated them.
This is why, two and a half years ago, I said “Buhari’s much-heralded leadership has become a farce, and his ability to make a positive impact on Nigeria, a hoax.”
In the weeks before he named new nominees, the same Buhari who had sworn he would scour the world for Nigeria’s very best, was telling the world he would only appoint people known to him. Which, for a man who
has become established for nepotism, was unnecessary: if you already enjoy global infamy, why seize the microphone to broadcast history as spoiler?
Under Buhari’s nurturing, corruption has mutated from an Alsatian dog to a lion. Under Buhari, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has become the byword for corruption, incompetence and malice. It is a party
where political godfathers own states and eat their people, as Bola Tinubu’s Lagos and Adams Oshiomhole’s Edo, demonstrate.
The same Oshiomhole, now the APC chairman, explained the party’s real philosophy during a rally in Benin City last January: there is no Nigeria or justice, only politics: “Yes, once you join the APC, your sins are forgiven,” he announced.
Under Buhari, petitions against people known to Buhari simply disappear, as in the case of two (former) Governors/Ministers who allegedly looted Lagos and Rivers States. Oshiomhole himself was dragged to court for fraud and interrogated by the police for taking massive bribes to influence party primaries.
Under Buhari, a governor can be caught on video stuffing millions of dollar bills into his agbada, as in the case of Kano Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, and yet enjoy his confidence rather than suffer his anger or investigation.
Or you can be a former governor, such as Danjuma Goje, who gets your long EFCC trial vacated by the president. Because there is only APC.
Under Buhari, you don’t have to be qualified, or to have a valid certificate: should you need one, you can forge one, or explain that yours was eaten by termites or rats.
Under Buhari, you don’t have to achieve anything to receive a major appointment, or to achieve anything once you are appointed.
Under Buhari, funds in your care do not have to be used to serve the people or to accomplish set objectives. And funds, of course, can be eaten by snakes or gorillas.
Under Buhari, no corruption case initiated by the administration has seen any convictions. Precedent is clear that members of Buhari’s cabinet and party under investigation or trial will either have their cases dropped, or benefit from what I call “Nollywood trials”: the kind that go on year after year after year. Rotimi Amaechi, a returnee-Minister, earlier this month provided a reflection.
“I know politicians who have suddenly become billionaires, and this is the money that should have been used to build roads and provide amenities that could have been used to improve the lives of citizens,” he told a group of young Nigerians.
Note that he specifically said “suddenly.” And “billionaires,” not millionaires.
And consider that there have been only seven Ministers in that portfolio in the past 20 years, some of them serving but briefly. Which of them do you think became billionaires, unknown to Mr. Integrity?
Note also, that Amaechi made the statement just 24 hours after Buhari promised that APC will lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years.
Commented the former governor: “Our politicians have to be clear about how they intend to lift people out of poverty.”
The truth is that with Buhari’s intended cabinet, he has clearly given up every pretense of combating corruption or achieving anything. His nominations are a cynical and arrogant slap on the face of hope.
“If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria,” he used to say.
Well, he didn’t, or ever intended to try. And now, that the hiding is over, it is clear where the Nigeria story is going.
Now we have that out of the way, all that is left is an apology to PDP, no literacy skills needed.