There were several reactions to my last week’s column entitled ‘Buhari’s Quest for Economic Emergency Powers’. One of the points that attracted the most commentaries was the poser: “… apart from questions of whether the President really needs sweeping emergency powers to resolve the country’s economic problems, there is even a more fundamental question of whether the current economic challenges are not merely economic manifestations of the President’s politics – or at least amplified by the President’s politics. For instance, to what extent has the government’s unintended de-marketing of the country through its probe rhetoric contributed to the drying up of foreign capital inflows in the country? To what extent has the regime’s mode of fighting corruption – which is gra-gra driven rather than institution- driven, discouraged those with the money from coming out to invest?”
Some of the reactions were critical of my criticisms of the regime’s mode of fighting corruption. I was reminded that the President’s anti-corruption fights have won kudos from world leaders and from a recent Buharimeter from the Centre for Democracy and Development. There were the usual accusations that I was driven by “sentiments” and of “hating the President, and consequently have chosen not to see anything good in his government”.
I have always believed that every opinion expressed by any columnist or opinion writer is merely a modest contribution to the vibrancy of our marketplace of political ideas, which is the infrastructure on which our democracy project rests. Consequently I do not expect that ideas I express will not be aggressively interrogated. If I can take the liberty to interrogate the government and its policies who am I that people should not use various modes of expressions, including unorthodox modes such as name- calling and plain insult, to express their displeasure at my ideas? Anyone who throws his hat into the public square should not complain if people match or kick it.
I will however like to address today the persistent allegations by a certain group of ‘Buharimaniacs’ that my writings are animated by a supposed hatred for President Buhari. It is true that I have been a persistent critic of Buhari’s fight against corruption. But so was I a critic of both Jonathan and Obasanjo’s ways of fighting corruption as a simple search of some of my articles on corruption will show. In fact the titles of some of these articles are not pretentious about my cynicism for such ‘wars’. Good examples of such articles include “War on Corruption: Why EFCC Will Fail” (2009). “Corruption: Time for General Amnesty?” (2010), “Is Corruption Really the Problem”? (2013). Under Jonathan, I consistently dismissed the war against corruption as a charade and called for conditional amnesty for all accused of corrupt practices so that the nation could reset the button on the fight against the malaise. The three articles cited above (and there are more) will vividly show that those who revel in accusing me of hating President Buhari because I criticise his system of fighting corruption are either being ahistorical or grossly unfair in their criticisms. That every regime has made the fight against corruption its key policy plank and yet the vice seems to continue unabated vindicates my position that we have been fighting the symptom of a more fundamental malaise using inappropriate tools (which I call gra-gra method).
Another area I have been critical of the Buhari government is on the general thrust of his government. This again derives from my own belief on what constitutes the fundamental problem of our country. I have always taken the position that the fundamental problem facing the country is the crisis in our nation-building process – not corruption or even poverty. In fact in 2012, at the height of the Boko Haram crisis, I gave a well- received public lecture at the Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria, South Africa entitled: “Boko Haram as Symptom of the Crisis in Nigeria’s Nation-Building’. In that paper I wrote:
“My position is that a more comprehensive explanation of the Boko Haram phenomenon is the crisis in our nation-building project. While the bombings and other unsavoury acts that are linked to the sect are very condemnable, it is germane to underline that Boko Haram is only one of several groups in the country that purvey terror and death. This is not an apology for their actions, but there is increasing tendency to discuss the spate of insecurity in the country as if it all began and ended with Boko Haram – or as if without Boko Haram Nigeria would be a tranquil place to live in…..
“Virtually every part of Nigeria claims it is ‘marginalised’ and there are concomitant groups calling for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (a euphemism for a meeting to discuss whether Nigerians want to continue to live together as one country or not). This is a clear indication that something nasty has happened to the effort to create Nigerians to populate the geographical expression called Nigeria…
“My personal opinion is that the number of Nigerians being alienated from the Nigeria project and therefore regarding the state as a legitimate target is increasing by leaps and bounds. If this trend continues, we risk having Nigeria without Nigerians as everyone seems to carry out an attack on the Nigerian state using whatever means at the person’s disposal”.
Essentially, I was as critical of nation-building under Jonathan as I am under Buhari. I was never called a Jonathan hater. Can it therefore be that those accusing me of hating President Buhari are either intolerant of criticisms or suffering from group-think?
Many of us who believe that the fundamental problem of the country is how to unite a fractious nation expected Buhari to be Nigeria’s version of Mandela or Julius Nyerere. We were looking for a unifier, a father figure, not a new sheriff in town. We wanted to see conscious and sensitive efforts at re-uniting Nigerians after an acrimonious election. But rather than this happening, it seemed that President Buhari was quickly captured by hawks who wasted no time in demonizing the former President and saturating the public space with probe rhetoric. I am not against probing anyone but I do not believe that using the razzmatazz of media trial either helps the cause of reconciling Nigerians, fighting corruption or even promoting justice. The only thing it does, in my opinion, is to satisfy those haying for the blood of their supposed class, regional and ethnic enemies. I have been critical of the Buhari government on this as I was critical of Jonathan, including on the radicalization of Boko Haram as my quote from my article above shows.
Many of us who gave several public lectures or wrote commissioned papers on the 2015 elections warned that if Jonathan lost the election, it could trigger renewed militancy in the Niger Delta while post election violence would likely happen in many parts of the North if Buhari lost. Most of the recommendations on the way out was for whoever won the election to treat the other as a co-winner. I believe the Buhari government could have done things differently in this regard. In our highly polarized environment, identities that are perceived to be under threat are often the ones most vociferously defended. Perhaps if things were handled a little differently, there could probably be no Avengers and other neo militants in the Niger Delta today and our crude oil production could not have been crippled the way it is. The same could also be said about the President’s statement about “97/5%” support and the unfortunate decision to virtually exclude some groups from his kitchen cabinet. That decision created certain sentiments which opportunistic groups gladly tapped into. In essence therefore, I believe there is a nexus between the president politics and the current economic crisis – or at least its perception. Nexus however does not necessarily mean causation.
Having said the above, I also believe that a leader can be radicalized or de-radicalized by system dynamics. The current economic crisis therefore presents an opportunity for introspection. Though there is evidence that the President’s politics is gradually changing and the blame game and probe rhetoric are losing their initial allure, I am still optimistic that the President will eventually find his mojo, re-align with some political forces and surprise his critics. But he can only do so if we continue to hold him accountable and keep him on his toes – irrespective of the blackmail from those who want to create imaginary enemies for him. As I wrote in the same column last week, loyalty does not have to mean fear of the leader or subscription to groupthink. Enduring loyalty “should mean above anything else subordinates being encouraged to respectfully tell the leader the truth or to contribute their honest conviction to the vibrancy of the leader’s think-tank.”