This week must be one of the most humiliating ones for the Muhammadu Buhari Presidency. Here and there, he has had to endure insults and unpleasant observations from leaders of western countries he has spent valuable time trying to impress. First, it was the gratuitous insult from the United States president, Donald Trump, and then the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, piled it on when she used Nigeria as an exemplar of crushing poverty and retarded development. Nothing they have said about either Buhari or Nigeria is new or strange; we already know what ails us.
What no one seems to know yet is how to upend this lousy government and pave the way for a more productive, and forward-looking governance. From the feelers one gets by reading and talking to Nigerians, it seems that many have already done the calculations and resigned to the fate of another four years of Buhari. On this one, I want to remain optimistic that it is not over yet for Nigeria, and that a Buhari-less future is still quite possible.
To get to that future, we will have to go through two sets of people. One is the Buharists, a cult of devout followers of the President whose desire for a perpetual Buhari leadership has little to do with the quality of his governance. I will argue that no Buharist, none whatsoever, boasts of either the President’s intelligence or his deployment of it to confront serious national issues. Instead, they exaggerate every mundane insight he has into simple issues and praise his supposed moral integrity because there is almost nothing else that continues to recommend him for the Presidency. It does not bother them that Buhari does not articulate any vision for the Nigerian state neither has he demonstrated that he is driven by a sense of urgency to push his country beyond its state of poverty and disrepair. When he returned from another medical tour in the UK recently and was interviewed, it was frustrating that he was still stuck on the same old song about corruption and jailing of offenders.
One can, of course, argue that Buhari also clings to corruption as a solo agenda because he has to pander to those whose sole demand on his Presidency has been for him to jail those who denuded the nation’s wealth. Some of those followers, based on the issues that preoccupy their politics, are either blind to the gnawing reality of growing poverty or they have so much swallowed the All Progressives Congress propaganda they live in an alternate reality. I am not sure there is enough time and reason to flip this constituency.
There is another category of people who are not yet resolute about voting for either Buhari, his opponents, or abstaining entirely. This constituency has significant numbers that can sway the nation’s fate come 2019. In the days ahead, they are the ones to be convinced that given Buhari’s antecedents and temperament in handling crucial national issues, he is not the man for Nigeria’s future. While there are no definitive statistics to work with to gauge the feelings of different demographics and their sentiments about the elections, this group of voters is going to be inundated with the only weapon of warfare that the Buhari administration can wield: corruption. We should anticipate and preempt this message before they turn it into a loud party and drown the voices of reason in their din as they did in 2015.
The idea that Nigerians are exceptionally corrupt is a myth, and the belief that if we can get rid of corruption, Nigeria will consequently prosper is unrealistic as no country can be said to have toed such a teleological line. The myth was a dominant character in the 2015 elections, and it fuelled the hysteria that all Nigeria desperately needed was an anti-corruption-oriented leader to set the nation on course permanently. That presumption paved the way for a Buhari Presidency. Even now, it is still a potent weapon to impoverish Nigerians and retain them within a nightmarish cycle of bureaucratic nothingness. Buhari and the APC keep propagating that falsehood for the ends of self-perpetuation while they hold Nigeria down from meaningful progress.
Rather than their conclusive claim that Nigeria or even Africa is the way it is merely because of the economic crimes committed by the political class, an easier diagnosis is that corruption exists as it does because Africa is peopled by leaders like Buhari whose understanding of issues of corruption is one-dimensional. They presume that it is axiomatic that social progress and advancement will follow a corruption-free polity when the reality is that rich and advanced nations too have not succeeded in wiping out corruption from their systems entirely. When you compare the corruption in Nigeria to what goes on in the USA, our Nigerian leaders, for all their thievery, look like mere pickpockets. In fact, larger economies give rooms for wider chances of crimes and abuse of power. What their systems have done differently has been to build systems and reproduce social processes that encourage continuous self-improvement to ameliorate occurrence of corruption. They did not paralyse initiatives by taking corruption as their peculiar cultural habit.
Unlike the practice Vice President Yemi Osinbajo seems to have patented, they did not perpetually distract everyone with stories of who stole what, rather than a narration of ideas of how to build a modern society. The point here is not to downplay the pernicious effects of corruption in our society. I believe corruption – as it exists in our society as both economic crimes and abuses of political power- is a huge problem and it accounts for the complacency of those who should strive towards building systems that will strengthen our democracy. However, the obsession with economic crimes and subsequent punishment of jailing people after taking them through sensational media trials is an approach that leads nowhere in the long run. Nigerians are not exceptionally corrupt; corruption is a universal human culture.
Half of economic corruption in Nigeria, from the mundane interaction where small sums of money are exchanged for favours, to the mid-level ones you experience in government bureaucracies, up to the grand level corruption in larger public systems and private corporation can be eliminated by developing a modern system where transactions pass through technological systems that surveil those processes. Buhari and Buharists, and their mania with jailing people for their infractions have made us pass up opportunities to have intelligent conversations about how to unclog our unwieldy systems using modern intelligence and redirected our focus to gripe over symptoms of deeper malaise.
For 2019, the culprit on which the APC will lay all the failures of Nigeria will once again be corruption, and they will define that corruption as people belonging to other political parties carting away national fortunes in Ghana-Must-Go bags. They will obscure any broader picture that critically interrogates why things are the way they are. If there is an appeal that one can make to the undecided folks, it is that we cannot continue this way, forever taunted by the illusion of a corruption-free polity when what we need now are intelligent and patriotic leaders who are pushed by a goal higher than themselves. We no longer need leaders with a self-righteous fervour who perform poverty to make the attainment of wealth look amoral. The leaders who celebrate their watching a 32-inch television in the age where their counterparts use smart devices to access the world are not an option for the future. They should be allowed to rest their analogue feet in the past where they belong while the nation coasts ahead with a leadership that is enlightened, educated, and innovative enough to create wealth and build sustainable systems that will guarantee a better life for all of us.
Credit – Abimbola Adelakun (The Punch)