Ordinarily, when a leader of any nation mentions his recourse to his conscience as his ultimate guide, he or she should be applauded.
This is because it shows that in a world when “big men and women” dump their consciences when exploiting and maltreating the ordinary people, thus becoming another set of the “downpressor” men/women musicians ever vilified in Reggae music, a conscientious leader follows his moral sense of right and wrong. The question, “does he have a conscience,” is asked about a person that appears to have no qualms or sense of remorse, over evil acts. Well, I had made up my mind to write today about that terrible lie the Obasanjo administration told the nation. It is called Vision 2020-20; that Nigeria would be the world’s 20th strongest economy by this year. By the time that nonsense was being spread all across the nation, the Third Term “March of Folly” (the title of Barbara Tuchman’s remarkable book which I recommend to any person who exercises authority over others) was in full sail, and any lie, no matter how monstrous or outrageous was being bandied about. Also, there was to be a sidekick, the story of one Abuja-based newspaper vendor, who became a lawyer, then registered for his Law Masters degree programme…and died recently, still a vendor who couldn’t find a better employment. But when I saw the newspapers of New Year’s Day, Wednesday, I knew I had to postpone the 2020-20 unpleasantness. Most of the newspapers had front-page special adverts; a letter from the President at the New Year. Having been a Presidency Correspondent for the Newswatch magazine in 1986 (at Dodan Barracks, Lagos) and for The Guardian and Daily Independent at Aso Rock, Abuja, I have learnt to read in between the lines, and to find more meaning in what was left unsaid in a presidential statement that what was actually said. Why really, would the presidency be advertising a message on New Year’s Day? Ordinarily, the President’s traditional New Year national radio and TV address, also published by every newspaper, was imbued with seriousness and caused heightened expectancy across the nation. Hey! I know that in some years, it was the earliest way to know if former Presidents Obasanjo or Goodluck Jonathan would increase the pump price of petrol.
So, why the recourse to the letter form and format? The President must have aimed to grab the reader’s attention. But why this desperate measure? Was the President afraid that he was no longer connecting outright with the public? Some serious reason would have informed that “letter to my countrymen” (apologies to Prince Tony Momoh). Was there a need to reposition the President? Why would that be so when it was only recently that a Buhari’s mouthpiece, Femi Adesina wrote on December 17th: “Buhari at 77: ‘Please tell Baba we are with him all the way’… . But then, since that time, a lot has happened; suddenly, nationally and internationally, the discussion is on how much of a democrat as opposed to an autocrat, Buhari is. Does he obey court orders, has suddenly become part of the daily discussion.
On reading President Buhari
letter, the second paragraph left me devastated. He wrote: “Elections are the cornerstone of our democracy. I salute the commitment of the millions who voted in peace last February and of those leaders who contested for office vigorously but fairly, submitting to the authority of the electorate, the Independent National Election Commission and the judicial process. I understand very well the frustrations our system has in the past triggered. I will be standing down in 2023 and will not be available in any future elections. But I am determined to help strengthen the electoral process both in Nigeria and across the region, where several ECOWAS members go to the polls this year.” My comment: if Buhari knew that “Elections are the cornerstone of our democracy,” what efforts did he really make to ensure that electronic voting, collating and transmission of results, governed the 2019 polls? And did the National Assembly frustrate those his genuinely patriotic efforts? I really wonder. How much did he engage the last national assembly to make electronic voting a reality then? If he didn’t, why not? And what about the latest governorship elections? Buhari rightly praised “the commitment of the millions who voted in peace last February and of those leaders who contested for office vigorously but fairly, submitting to the authority of the electorate”, but when he failed to bemoan the terribly violent polls across the nation, he left unsaid something that should have been out rightly said, not implied. Buhari emphatically stated in that letter that he would not be contesting the 2023 elections. He has said this same thing severally in the past, but doubts continued to linger, even though the Nigerian constitution allows him and anybody just two terms. By now, Buhari must have understood that some people just no longer trust him. I wonder why this is so; I wrote about the Third Term bid during Obasanjo’s time in Sunday Independent of 30th May 2004, the last offering in a two-page a day All The President’s Men series that ran for a week. Trust? Yes, I’m sure trust matters to Buhari, if not, he would not have said to the US on December 24, 2019: “Human rights abuse: My Conscience is Clear.” But what governs a nation is the constitution and not an individual’s conscience, and if that was not obvious to Buhari, then there is a serious cause for concern. Apart from a nation’s constitution, there is internationally accepted norms of behaviour and governance concerning rule of law, elections, Human Rights, separation of power, religious freedom, security of life and property, forced labour, etc. In fact, “There is nothing more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity” according to Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. And he was right; he said this to condemn the rationalization of the enslavement, mistreatment, and vilification of African-Americans by the white community who used to argue that as slavery had existed from pre-historic times, their consciences were totally at peace. Hey, which are Buhari’s favourite books? To them, he should add “HOW DICTATORSHIPS WORK” by Barbara Geddes, Joseph Wright and Erica Frantz. They say that an autocratic regime is in place once elections do not determine who leads, and a weak legislature is in place and they add that a regime is either an autocracy or not—no middle way. Please, does Nigeria have sound elections? Strong national legislature? Reviewing this 2018 book in the Jan–Feb 2020, Foreign Affairs magazine, Anna Grzymala-Busse further agitated me, saying, “But a wide range of actors can undermine democracy gradually under the cover of law, prompting international concern and domestic protest but few real challenges”. That is why today’s dictators do not rely on “censorship, repression, and patronage” but “go after the courts, intimidate the press, hamper civil society, and use parliamentary majorities to push through new laws and constitution. If one squints, things look normal… but underneath the surface, checks and balances that had once prevented dictatorship are falling away” (quoted on page 75 of FF).
This last paragraph is frightening. It would be nice for Buhari to check if the signs are already here in our shores. Happy New Year, Mr. President!