2019: Between Atiku and Buhari (I)


The more the scheduled February 2019 date for Nigeria’s presidential election draws closer, the more it seems the meaning attached to government becomes diverse, at least in the context of the key actors, or their supporters. Thus, government and what it stands for has become relative to what meaning attached to it by each speaker at the particular time.
No matter the meanings attached to it, however, one meaning that seems to have been commonly accepted is that governance in Nigeria is synonymous with corruption: whether or not the one is corrupt, and to what extent the corruption runs deep. This has become the crux of what 2019 is all about.
Government is no more the widely held belief that politics has to do with positive activities relating to influencing actions and policies of a government, or getting and keeping power in a government.
While the emphasis laid on discrediting each other with corruption smear may also amount to an activity seeking to influence people against the opponent, whether this could be seen as ability to govern, and the extent to which it actually convinces potential voters does not seem to matter. There doesn’t seem to be any thought as to the consideration that to a reasonable extent the believability of what is sold to the voters will depend on the antecedents of the accuser.
However, since the norm has become focusing all energy on adorning the opponent with as much corruption costume as possible, rather than truly convincing the populace on practical and empirical abilities to better their lot, it has become pertinent to seek to answer two key questions:
First, between Abubakar Atiku, the Presidential flagbearer of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), and incumbent President, Mohammadu Buhari, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, who is truly clean of corruption?
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary, among other meanings, describes corruption as “dishonest or illegal behaviour, especially by powerful people (such as government officials or police officers)”. In other words, while dishonesty can be individualistic and in-house, in this discourse it is as it concerns public interest by a public office holder.
If the afore-stated can be used as a parameter, the question, therefore, is who between the two prominent 2019 presidential aspirants (Atiku and Buhari) can genuinely say he is not one way or the other corrupt in public office?
For Atiku, he had made the headlines in two key public offices: first as Area Comptroller of Customs in charge of the Murtala Muhammed Airport in 1984 with General Mohammadu Buhari as military Head of State. This was when the infamous “53 suitcases” saga occurred.
The 53 suitcases saga arose during the currency change exercise ordered by the Buhari junta when it ordered that every case coming into the country should be inspected irrespective of the status of its owner.
In defiance to this order, as the Vanguard of March 21, 2011 puts it, “the 53 suitcases were ferried through the Murtala Muhammed Airport without Customs check by soldiers allegedly at the behest of Major Mustapha Jokolo, the then Aide-de-Camp, ADC, to General Buhari”.
Several eyebrows were raised over the issue, but as has become the norm in Nigerian politics, the matter died a natural death. Insinuations were made to the point that the 53 suitcases belonged to Atiku, but it did not go further than that. The widely held belief was that it ended the way it did because since the ADC to the Head of State was fingered, the Principal may not be out of the picture at the end of the day. By Nigerian mode of governance, it is apperent that the Commander-in-Chief let the matter go to avoid opening a can of worms.
Atiku’s alleged involvement in corruption again made the news headlines in his reign as Vice President to President Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007. Since then, the Jada, Adamawa State born politician had been severally tagged corrupt at a higher scale, but none of the allegations seem to have gone beyond what many christen as “the rantings of a scared opposition”.
However, the allegation that truly got concerned Nigerians, and indeed close watchers of Nigerian politics at the global level, bothered was the one made by his then principal, President Obasanjo.
Ifeanyi Maduako summarised the Atiku corruption saga under Obasanjo in his piece titled, “How is Atiku Very Corrupt?” published in the Daily Trust of December 14, 2017:
“The allegations of corruption against Atiku solely by Obasanjo have not been substantiated since 2007 when they left office to date. It is instructive to note that Obasanjo has a very big problem of human relationship management. He had issues with the five Senate Presidents, most governors, party leaders etc during his regime. The tag of a “deeply corrupt person” on Atiku by Obasanjo was borne out of the same human relationship management and domineering attitude of Obasanjo.
“How is Atiku very corrupt? The only constitutional role assigned to the office of the Vice President is the Chairmanship of the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting made up of the 36 Governors of the Federation, CBN Governor, Minister of Finance, etc.
“The National Economic Council plays an advisory role just like National Council of States forum as its decisions or resolutions are not binding on the President who is the Chief Executive of the country. Except the chairmanship of NEC, every other role the Vice President plays is at the mandate or discretion of the President.
“Atiku also chaired the Council on Privatisation on the express mandate of President Obasanjo with Nasir el-Rufai, who is the present Governor of Kaduna State, as Director General. Vice President and Deputy Governors are at the mercy of the President and the Governors of the country. They do not have much constitutional roles to play unless assigned by their bosses. How then did Atiku control the economy between 1999 and 2007 and made more money corruptly than Obasanjo?
“Can a Deputy Governor make more money than the Governor through corrupt means in any state? It smacks of weakness and incompetence for a President or a Governor to accuse his Deputy of controlling the economy and making more money through corrupt means than him”, Maduako concluded.
For President Buhari, as far as majority of the Nigerian populace (widely called common people) are concerned, another name for him is “hardship”. The first thing they easily recall is what they call his love for increase in fuel price. Some recall that when he came into power in 1983, fuel pump price rose from #45. In fact, many Nigerians see Buhari as the originator extra odinary of fuel racketeering in Nigeria.
“Immediately he came to power in 2015, fuel price rose from #89 per liter to as much as #350 and more in some states, before finally settling at #145. You cannot compare the level of suffering before 2015 and now, most especially in foodstuffs”, some said.
These and other forms of hardship are credited to one form of corruption or the other perpetrated in Buhari’s government, “and he said he is fighting against corruption. Yet they (APC) say PDP brought Nigeria to the hardship we face now. Meanwhile, most of the key people in APC were people at the helm of affairs in the 16 years of PDP leadership in Nigeria, from 1999 to 2015”.
While allegation of corruption against Buhari as a person is easily explained away as a deliberate attempt to tarnish his good image, the President also seem to be complacent when people around him are involved in what he terms corruption, and hence can hardly exonerate himself from Nigeria’s travails since he assumed office in 2015.
A former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Comrade Timi Frank, encapsulated the entire picture in an article he titled “Buhari’s government stinks of corruption”, and published in the Daily Trust of September 11, 2018, in which he described the administration as a stinking can of corruption:
“We know that the allegation of false National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) exemption certificate against the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, has since been swept under the carpet.
“The grass cutting scandal involving the immediate past Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF), Babacheer Lawal, remains a no-go-area. The bribery allegation against the Chief-of-Staff to the President, Abba Kyari does not warrant investigation and prosecution by a government claiming to fight corruption.
“Need I talk about the large-scale corruption being perpetuated by officials of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) who have elected to operate varied exchange rates regime to defraud the country with the active connivance of their collaborators in the presidency.
“The corruption in the NNPC rightly exposed by the Minister of State (Petroleum), Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, does not warrant investigation because the presidency is involved in it.
“Only recently, N100 billion tax evasion scam by Alpha Beta, a tax consulting firm owned by a chieftain of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was exposed. Yet the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) does not deem it fit to commence investigation into the activities of the company simply because an APC chieftain would be put in the eye of the storm.
“The Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, has severally petitioned the EFCC with a call on the anti-graft body to investigate corruption allegations against the immediate past Governor of the State, Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation under the Buhari’s administration, yet apart from acknowledging that it indeed received the said petitions, the EFCC has since turned a blind eye to the allegations,” he lamented. He stated further that “while the government has been on asset-freezing-and-loot-recovery-spree, especially from the members of the opposition political parties or those considered to be anti-Buhari accused of corruption, the real looters in government and politicians with corruption allegations against them within the ranks of the APC are sitting pretty at ease enjoying under served amnesty.
Beyond the above, another issue that has put a huge question mark on the Buhari’s fight against corruption is the issue of his certificate. There had been so many inconsistencies, right from when he contested for the presidency in 2015. But, somehow, it has always been explained away.
To be cont’d.