This story is about three ghosts.
Three ghosts that are not only related, but who haunt in the same darkness, none of them appearing to understand the existence of the others.
Last week, the first of these relatives identified the second, but said nothing about the third. That first ghost doesn’t appear to know anything about the third; its presumptions about the second make it impossible to acknowledge a third.
That first ghost is Bukola Saraki, who desperately wishes to be accepted as the President of Nigeria’s 8th Senate. Last Monday, he and the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, were dragged to court in connection with the forged document by which they were elected principal officers of the Upper House one year ago.
In effect, they are accused of a coup: shooting themselves into power by the power of the pen which, a famous man once said, is mightier than any sword.
Senator Ekweremadu has been to court many times, but only in the role of sympathizer or occupational relative of the accused: he repeatedly presented himself in solidarity with Senator Saraki, who has been infamously crisscrossing Abuja courtrooms over his declaration of assets about 10 years ago.
Saraki has yet to taste of life as a convict. But he is resilient, and has so far taken advantage of Nigeria’s fragile political and legal ecosystem to remain on this side of the jailhouse.
But this is not what makes him a ghost. Saraki, who is also a British citizen, is a ghost because he hates his first country, Nigeria, as well as himself.
If Saraki loved Nigeria or possessed any traces of integrity, he would have since quit the Senate to focus on consolidating his considerable financial arsenal to defend himself in court and restore his good name. By the same move, he would also have permitted Nigeria to move on with a considerably brighter chance to succeed as a nation.
But Saraki has remained in office, pretending he can superintend the nation’s legislature despite having become the butt of political, legal, ethical and intellectual jokes worldwide.
And that was before last Monday, when the forgery case was added to his resume, and a new legal challenge to his stash.
But that is not the way he wants the world to see it. He wants the world to see him as a victim, as a man who is simply being persecuted. By Ghost II.
In a press statement he signed after his court appearance last week, he said of his smoke-and-mirrors game. “What has become clear is that there is now a government within the government of President Buhari, who have seized the apparatus of Executive powers to pursue their nefarious agenda.”
He vowed to rise above the “persecution and distraction”, evoking the Rev. Martin Luther King Jnr. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at a time of challenge and controversy,” he quoted.
It was funny to consider that a man who was introduced to so much comfort and convenience so early in life he has known nothing else should juxtapose that imagery with challenge and controversy.
And so, Ghost I suggests it is Ghost II that is responsible for his woes. But it is not Ghost II which drafted his declaration of assets as far back as 2007, somehow knowing that eight years later, Buhari would become President and seek to use that dark and cynical assets declaration against Saraki, who would conveniently have emerged Senate President.
It is also not Ghost II which, knowing that the Senate has its Standing Orders, would opt to use an illegal one so that Saraki could become its President for a “government within the government” of Buhari to seek to malign and molest.
In the interest of a full account, let me quickly state that on the same day, Ekweremadu issued a statement of his own in which he argued that their trial over alleged forgery was the trial of democracy, not of Saraki and he.
He swore that he and the other suspects would be vindicated and the wicked, punished. Ekweremadu was serious about his punishment promise: one week later, weeping like a little boy whose ball has been swept away in a flood, he was addressing invitations to the US, the US, the UK, the European Union, and everyone on the Internet, to quickly come and mount a rescue mission.
Not one letter was addressed to a single African. Not even the African Union. Not to Olusegun Obasanjo (alas!), or to Goodluck Jonathan.
Neither did Saraki and/or Ekweremadu turn one open eye in the direction of the facts.
Which is always where the problem is: interrogating the facts and seeking to resolve them at the level of right and wrong, a challenge we conveniently avoid because the self-professing victims are often unveiled as the perpetrators.
But this applies most to the executive arm of the government. Which brings me to Ghost III.
The crisis Nigeria faces is not Ghost II—Saraki’s clever-by-half “government within the government”—it is that the Buhari government often appears to run in automatic mode rather than in an organized, prompt, deliberate and principled order.
That appears to be different, however, when the government has an inner interest, such as in the case of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, whom it hurriedly and inexplicably cleared of corruption charges last week, providing ammunition for critics who allege that its anti-corruption war is a farce, and rotten eggs on the face for its supporters.
The army chief, who was appointed by Buhari last July, is accused of owning expensive real estate properties in Dubai. Rather than permitting the security agencies to investigate the allegations, the government unilaterally cleared him.
That is neither how a democracy works, nor how an anti-corruption regime works. An individual is not guilty, or subject to investigation, simply because he was appointed by others or belongs to the opposition, neither is an individual blemish-free because he is one of ours.
Since the Buhari administration came to power, it has spoken endlessly about strengthening the anti-corruption agencies. But of what use is strengthening these institutions without allowing them to do their work? Of what use is strengthening them if the government denies them the freedom to go after certain privileged citizens?
This is the danger of the fourth, and most potent, ghost: Buhari’s heart. Buhari appears to believe that corruption relates only to money, perhaps as manipulated by enemies and opponents, and not to behavior. This may be why he appoints, protects and nurtures such a high density of relatives and northerners, to the detriment of our national cause.
That is why the Fourth Ghost is the most dangerous ghost of all. President Buhari can defend himself, and start repairing the damage, by firing General Buratai immediately. If he doesn’t defend himself like his fellow looters in the top echelons of the Nigerian military, it is Buhari who will be defending himself against Nigerians for as long as he lives.