Last Sunday, I commented on the attitude of the government of Muhammadu Buhari which seems to regard all Nigerians as unworthy of recognition.
By coincidence-coincidence it must be-only three days later, the government announced it would honour three, two of them dead, and make June 12 the nation’s new Democracy Day in honour of that day, in 1993, that Moshood Abiola practically won the presidential election.
The government announced it would confer on Mr. Abiola Nigeria’s highest honour, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR). His running mate in that historic election, Babagana Kingibe, a powerful shadow player in the current Aso Rock setup, will receive the Grand Commander of the Niger (GCON), as will the revered lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi.
The government described June 12 1993 as the occasion of “undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful elections since Nigeria’s Independence,” and that the outcome not being upheld by the military government of the time did not invalidate “the democratic credentials of that process.”
I commend President Buhari for the decision, particularly in view of his government being embarrassingly long and loud on words and sound, but desperately short of courage and commitment.
Because it is evidently a self-serving move aimed at winning some 2019 ballots, however, this decision will not have the impact it might have had were it made two or three years ago. It didn’t require the thin edge of another election in which the protagonist is the beneficiary, to do the right thing.
In any event, if Mr. Kingibe is being compensated for having been denied his vice-presidency, the balance sheet suggests that Abiola is being recognized only for not receiving a presidency he won, but not for the loss of his life in affirming that legitimate mandate.
Abiola’s death destroyed not only his business empire but disrupted his family and his vast philanthropic network immeasurably. It is therefore not justice of equal or related value, that the current government sets itself up to enjoy the benefits of this decision at the polls on the back of a posthumous plaque for Abiola.
To that end, I agree with the Senate that the electoral commission should make a formal announcement of the 1993 presidential election result and declare Abiola president.
Of the Fawehinmi award, one thing is clear: were he alive today, he would have rejected it without a second thought. Like Chinua Achebe who rejected the same overture twice, first from President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2004 and then President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, he would have been among those in the past three years fearlessly upbraiding Buhari’s ineptitude and complicity from the rooftops.
Rebuffing the first offer in 2004, Achebe described the situation in Nigeria as “too dangerous for silence,” alluding to widespread corruption, impunity, patronage, injustice and irresponsible governance in the country. And shaking his head again vigorously in 2011, he lamented that the situation had not changed.
As, with Buhari, it has also sadly not.
Knowing this, Buhari would not have offered to a living, fire-breathing Fawehinmi, knowing the consequences. Just as there are Nigerians not considered worthy of recognition today because they are critical of the mess of porridge by which Buhari has repaid voters for the heavy support he enjoyed in 2015.
Having said, that, it is significant to observe that last week, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo blamed Time for the awful performance of his government.
Four years, Mr. Osinbajo said at the Financial Times Summit in Lagos, is insufficient in office “because obviously, you have all manner of plans and things to deliver.”
And then he seemed to realize he had tumbled into an open drain. Because he then said, “My take is that the moment you have the right people and you put the right structures in place, you can do a lot, and I think we have been blessed with an incredibly good team.”
These remarks summarize the very tragedy of the Buhari administration. There is no question that there are a few strong and productive people, but they are limited by the pompousness and presumptuousness at the top.
To begin with, Buhari seems to think it takes 10 minutes to count to 10. Remember, it took him nearly one year to have a cabinet in place. One year because you must count not from when he took the oath of office, but from the date of his election.
Serious leaders claiming the kind of venom and antidote Buhari claimed since he was ousted in 1985 would have had his cabinet ready days after his election. In our case, Buhari traveled the world to assemble his team only to return to the bowels of the APC: a task he could have completed on the afternoon of his inauguration.
The truth is that people got carried away by power rather than by the mission. In “Buhari Does Not Need More Than Four Years” in February 2016, I cautioned against mistaking longevity for promise… the temptation to see the mission as being “all manner of plans and things to deliver.”
I stressed that Nigeria could not change overnight and that Buhari should not give the impression he alone could accomplish that.
“All Buhari can really achieve is to set the table: moving the pieces, knocking down political glass ceilings, and shifting the assumptions so that even when he is gone, Nigeria will continue forward,” I said, urging him to work towards enticing more patriotic and responsible Nigerians to seek public office.
Of course, that was before it became clear there was a clear dissonance between Buhari’s proclamations and his proclivities, and between his boasts and his abilities.
Into that sewer has now been emptied his first three years; the current one being dedicated to claiming another term. All this in a political terrain made increasingly insecure, violent and intolerant by the APC itself, which is shedding blood even before seeing an opponent but declaring it would rule Nigeria forever.
Last week, the president himself claimed that Nigeria is now very secure. For that, I call him a liar, for the first time. Nigeria is so secure the president needs to hold meetings with the security chiefs every day, people are afraid to travel, and there are travel advisories warning foreigners to avoid coming to Nigeria?
Finally, what has Buhari “changed” in three years? What did not work in 2015 that now does? What funds or assets have his top officials returned? Does Buhari obey court orders? Has he inspired the country by personal or official example? In what ways has he combated the scorched-earth greed for money and possessions that is eating Nigeria alive, or sought to nurture the value of character?
And if Buhari died today, was he really here?