Wednesday, November 23, 2016

When Will Nigeria Start Getting Better?

By Kanayo Esinulo
Those who are familiar with how the machine of government works will easily tell you that leaders, most leaders, are somehow prisoners of ‘Security Reports’, but what these ‘knowledgeable top functionaries’ of government will never disclose to anyone, including the leader himself and the inquisitive thinking community, is that a good percentage of these ‘Security Reports’ are often hugely inaccurate, sometimes exaggerated and a few times overtaken by unexpected sudden events. They hardly provide the leader the necessary insights and all sides of the actual situation upon which proper policy decisions can be based for the general good.

What is often submitted as security reports contain, largely, what would make the leader happy, stampede him or her into making silly mistakes or even frighten him into becoming a prisoner in Government Lodge. And because our leaders are often caged and over protected from interfacing with us, the ordinary citizens, and knowing how we really feel and how government policies affect our lives positively or negatively, the sweet-heart security reports are taken seriously by them, and policy decisions are then taken, based on the contents and conclusions of the reports. But a good and experienced leader reaches out to the people as much as possible and as much as security considerations would permit.

Let me table a quick coda: Muhammadu Buhari first struck our national consciousness during the bloody Maitesine uprisings in some parts of Northern Nigeria in 1982. He was in-charge of a command in Jos, the capital of Plateau State. Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Shagari was the President and Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces. When Maitesine, the militant Islamic group, was fully contained in Kano, they ran into neighbouring Cameroun and still constituted a menace to our national security from that flank, it was this man, Muhammadu Buhari, who mobilised troops under his command and engaged the rascals, decimated their strength, killed and captured many of them and drove them deep into the Republic of Cameroun beyond the orders of Shagari, the Commander-in-Chief. Instantly, Buhari became a national celebrity. He mesmerised and defeated the ill-trained and ill-equipped Maitesine invaders. I was with NTA News, Victoria Island at the time. We tried to secure elaborate interview with Buhari for our national audience, but he shied away from the national media. But all the same, his gallantry and patriotism became an instant hit.

So, when he surfaced after the events of December 31, 1983 as the popular choice of the coup makers against the Shagari government, he was not totally unknown to most Nigerians. His Second-in-Command in the new government, Tunde Idiagbon, was, then, relatively unknown but soon became a star in the new government, and in his own right too. The character of the regime began to manifest clearly soon after it settled down to business. There were side talks about the sectional and ethnic inclinations of the regime as exposed by the arrests and detention of our erstwhile political leaders: Shagari was kept under ‘house arrest’, while his Second-in-Command, Alex Ekwueme was securely put away in prison.

Governors whose cases were strictly under investigation, Lateef Jakande, Sam Mbakwe, Ambrose Alli, Adekunle Ajasin, Abubakar Rimi, Jim Nwobodo, etc., were scattered in various prisons in the country. Alli virtually lost his sight while in prison and upon his release by the Babangida regime eventually died a blind man. Mbakwe never really fully recovered from the illnesses he contacted while under that rigourous solitary confinement, Pa Ajasin lost form and his usual robust good health withered away while under Buhari’s gulag. Lateef Jakande barely survived the trauma of that prolonged detention in prison.

Alli, Mbakwe, Ajasin and Jakande, as Nigerians later knew, were not rich after all and by any standards. Yet, they were paraded as criminals who looted our public treasuries. Then, the big one: the unprecedented attempt to bring back to Nigeria, by force, and in a crate, Shagari’s Minister of Transport, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, for trial. The exercise failed and the world was outraged. The Israeli abduction technicians who packaged and executed the failed project for the Buhari military regime pocketed their huge price and quietly disappeared into thin air.

The truth today is that possibly Buhari was ill-advised and mis-informed before he approved the very extreme measures that his military government took against the ousted second republic politicians. But so far, he has not openly admitted that some mistakes were made, including the unnecessary ‘invasion’ and rigourous searching of the Apapa residence of the Yoruba political icon, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. I repeat: all the governors of the second republic detained during the military regime of Buhari, only very few came out of the rigourous solitary confinement with their good health intact. Go and check. The story about Ambrose Alli, a professor of pathology, and former governor of old Bendel State [now Edo and Delta]who went blind while in prison is still a story to be fully told. And Alli died a poor man.

The same story goes for Mbakwe and Ajasin. If they stole the kind of money that they were accused of, they couldn’t have died without imposing personal palaces, housing estates and huge sums stacked away in foreign banks. Jakande is, luckily, alive today by His special grace, but his health and Mbakwe’s were severely battered while in prison. Abubakar Rimi, younger in age, fared better in terms of good health, but he came out devastated. The point I make is that our leaders must be more circumspect, more insightful and certainly more humane in dealing and considering the ‘security reports’ they receive almost on a daily basis from the intelligence community.

Many friends of mine who were sympathetic to Buhari’s fourth attempt, since 2003, to occupy Nigeria’s highest political office and demonstrated this sympathy by voting for him are no longer finding the style of his government funny. They no longer find reasons or excuses to continue to stick to him or remain loyal to the man they thought would make things better for all of us. For me, I found it difficult, in spite of Goodluck Jonathan’s indefensible mistakes, to consider casting my vote in favour of a man whose records as a military leader in 1984/I985 was certainly nothing to be proud of, and who once threatened, while the leader of CPC, that except he was elected, ‘the dog and the baboon will be soaked in blood’. Although the CPC spokesman later tried to explain to worried citizens that ‘Buhari was just being idiomatic’, the man’s mindset had been exposed by that singular notorious outing. Many thought he was misquoted, but they were wrong. He never really denied it.

Yes, the government of Goodluck Jonathan was, in many ways, a slight disappointment, but it was not a disaster as the new government wants the Nigerian public to believe. His tolerance of certain excesses by close associates and his curious naiveté disorganised a large number of his supporters. At a point, he was mainly preoccupied with giving the north all his attention and making northerners happy – as if he was there just to put smile on the faces of northern political elite. Good roads, good Alamajiri schools complete with furnished dormitories and modern teaching and recreational facilities, Kaduna/Abuja modern rail line, sensitive political appointments at the expense of the south, especially the South West and his weakness or reluctance to check the excesses of Dame Patience Jonathan and a few of his greedy and loquacious townsmen, made his government vulnerable and easy to criticise. But even in the midst of Jonathan’s countable shortcomings and inadequacies, there was no way I could have preferred Buhari to Jonathan, principally because of what I reasonably suspected would be happening to Nigeria under his watch. My premonition has been largely vindicated. I refused to be impressed by attempts to parade Buhari’s questionable democratic credentials and new outlook.

I have not yet met any Nigerian who is not worried by the disturbing level of corruption that this country has sunk into, and the degree of looting which has been inflicted on her. But many are indeed hugely worried by the style and methods deployed by the Buhari government in its fight against corruption, and by this very narrow definition of ‘corruption’ itself. The concentration is on the political class, and deservedly so, but the policemen at their stations, at police check points are still in business, NEPA top men have continues to supply the few megawatts for distribution only to areas that ‘see them’, the recruitments into Central Bank, Federal Inland Revenue Service that were done secretly and clearly favoured applicants from the north, the selective, ethnic and vindictive character in the prosecution of the ‘war against corruption’ have all combined to put a big question mark on the sincerity of the Buhari government. True, Nigerians have never been as divided as they are today and life has never been this tough and brutish for the ordinary Nigerian as it is today. And that is precisely what would be missing in the security reports that our President would be receiving from those who should be bold enough to tell him: ‘’Mr. President, there is anger and hunger in the land’’. The handlers owe us the patriotic assignment of telling His Excellency that raw truth.

*Kanayo Esinulo is a veteran journalist and eminent commentator on public issues

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