Columnist: Nigeria: A personal encounter (6) — Daily Times Nigeria

Columnist: Nigeria: A personal encounter (6)


By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

The man Muhammadu Buhari, you may recall had been Head of State and Commanderin-Chief of the Armed Forces after a coup d’etat that kicked out the miserably inept but democratically elected government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983.

Hmmmm! You see, Nigerians had become disenchanted with the corruption of the ruling party, the NPN. Services were poor.

We heard of big sums of money disappearing into private pockets. There were inflated contracts. NPN was a party of exploiters.

There was great indiscipline in the land. Governance was practically dead. So, when Buhari and Idiagbon shot their way into power, the nation went agog and welcomed the duo as redeemers.

They started a slogan ‘War Against Indiscipline! As we had observed in the early part of this narrative, the love soon turned into intense hate and the government was kicked out on August 27, 1985. Buhari went into the cooler for many years and resurfaced again from 1999 and started the long journey into becoming a democratically elected president!

After three attempts, he succeeded in 2015 when a coalition of forces made up of unlikely bedfellows helped him to get a national consensus.

His mantra was fight against corruption. That resonated very well with Nigerians.

The Jonathan administration had been presented as the very epitome of corruption.

The international community supported Buhari. Civil liberty organisations formed a huge coalition to hound the Jonathan administration.

Campaigning under the banner of APC Buhari made some promises about fighting official corruption, remove oil subsidy and guarantee a free supply of petroleum products, handle the NNPC behemoth, restructure the country, stabilize the naira, and guarantee a steady generation and supply of energy.

The most spectacular of all the promises was that of ending the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast.

His credentials as a retired army officer made the people believe him.

That was Nigeria! As people who have been in power know, it is easier to talk than to act. After five years in power, no one can confidently beat their chest to say that Buhari has achieved 50% of his promises.

It is true that Buhari used the EFCC to deal with law breakers.

However, the perception is that there are some sacred cows that cannot be touched by the law.

He soon surrounded himself with a cabal that even his wife, First Lady Aisha Buhari, complained openly about some persons who had seized power from her husband.

He had a very powerful Chief of Staff, the late Mallam Abba Kyari, who was presented as the man behind the throne, that Buhari trusted him so much that he left most issues in his hands.

When Kyari died, most public commentators felt that the stranglehold on the president would be reduced. As of the time of this narrative, people are still watching.

That was Nigeria for you! But life became very harsh and hard under the Buhari administration, reminiscent of the 1983 to 1984 era.

After he shut the border with neighbouring countries, everyone thought the price of rice would crash. The opposite became the case.

The price of local rice hit the roof after imported rice became special commodities, somehow still found in shops. What about the pump price of petrol?

As a presidential candidate, Buhari had joined a massive campaign against the government of then President Goodluck Jonathan when his administration raised the pump price of petrol.

But in September, while increasing the tariff for electricity, pump price of petrol went up too. Is this the change we bargained for?

There was no one to answer. That is Nigeria for you! What about the Boko Haram? That matter is pregnant and nursing a baby at the same time.

At a time the president declared that Boko Haram had been technically defeated. Hmmmm! Shortly after that announcement Boko Haram struck as if to tell Nigerians that they were still kicking.

They attacked and killed Nigerian soldiers and sacked villages in the northeast. What about the killings in Kaduna? Buhari turned out not to be the messiah that people thought he would be. Kidnappings. Killings. All over the country.

Christians killed. Muslims killed. The scoundrels did not bother about religion. Yet the politicians in power presented a Christian/Muslim conflict.

No! The scoundrels were abroad killing anyone in sight for money. The government had no solid answer to the problem. That is Nigeria for you! The most serious fear Nigerians had was that Buhari was not in charge of his government.

That he was too ill to coordinate the affairs of the government. Did I say that Buhari spent weeks on end in London treating an ailment the nature of which he refused to disclose to the people?

He would announce that he was going to the UK on a private visit and remain incommunicado for weeks without formally handing over power to the vice president. On one occasion his chief of staff took documents to him to sign even though power was reluctantly handed over to the VP.

As Acting President when Buhari agreed to hand over, Professor Osinbajo took some important steps like ensuring that the Acting Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen’s name was sent for confirmation.

He got it. But it would seem the cabal in government was seriously miffed.

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As soon as they had the opportunity the cabal hounded Onnoghen out of office and appointed a northerner trained in Islamic law as Chief Justice of Nigeria!

That is Nigeria for you! By far the most shocking aspect of Buhari’s administration was his insensitivity to the ethnic diversity in the country in his appointments into federal positions.

Nigerians started asking: is this a northern hegemony ruling over vassal states and peoples? It was not a good sign.

It was not a good feeling. And somehow, the president appeared too distant from everyday realities!

As for restructuring the country, the president apparently did not want to hear that. How he has handled things so far would that not be the subject of the concluding part of this narrative which should come out next week?

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