When A Rogue Challenges A Thief
In what can only be described as a theater of the absurd, President Muhammadu Buhari is now challenging former President Ibrahim Babangida.
One cannot help but chuckle at Buhari’s temerity for demanding accountability from President Babangida. I had always suspected that the two were not exactly the best of friends, but I have to say I was more than a little amused at the cheekiness of it all. You know, maybe Buhari is actually beginning to believe his anti-corruption charade. Perhaps, he imagines that Nigerians are really impressed by the barefaced spin, the selective prosecutions and his largely incompetent leadership as far as the economy is concerned.
But pray tell, why does Buhari―an illiterate, incompetent soldier cum religious zealot―who overthrew the democratically elected government of Shehu Shagari, expect the ire or at least, the righteous indignation of the average Nigerian for Babangida who subsequently overthrew his illegal and anti-democratic regime? Are we supposed to ignore his anti-democratic precedent because he claims he was fighting corruption at the time? This would be laughable coming 31 years after the fact, if not for the painful fact that Nigeria has continued to regress since Buhari’s coup d’état.
Nigerians do not particularly care about his disaffection for the equally corrupt thief called Babangida. As far as many Nigerians are concerned, they are both guilty of the sort of malfeasance, ineptitude, nepotism, and clannish mindset that has hindered Nigeria. Yes, Babangida might have been the bigger thief, but no one, who is not rabidly pro-Buhari, assumes for one second that Buhari is squeaky clean in Nigeria’s messy corrupt politics. He was deposed, I suspect, not just because he was an authoritarian blowhard who visited inhuman and extrajudicial cruelty upon the populace in the name of fighting indiscipline. It was partly because his administration was ridiculously inept and squandered resources.
Before you think that Buhari is some kind of suffering saint, consider this: In March 1976, the Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, appointed Buhari as the Federal Commissioner (position now called Minister) for Petroleum and Natural Resources. When the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation was created in 1977, Buhari was also appointed as its Chairman, a position he held until 1978. During his tenure as Commissioner, 2.8 billion Naira allegedly went missing from the accounts of the NNPC in Midlands Bank in the United Kingdom. Former President Ibrahim Babangida allegedly accused Buhari of being responsible for this fraud.
Sure, a panel set up under Shehu Shagari’s administration would later clear Buhari of the charges (wink wink), but this astronomical sum of money that disappeared from the NNPC coffers (2.8 billion naira in the late seventies was an insanely huge amount of money) was never recovered till date. Maybe if you were simple-minded enough, you may sheepishly agree that Buhari, the Minister of Petroleum at the time, had absolutely no knowledge of or complicity in the matter. I will not even begin to dig into his numerous human rights abuses when he eventually overthrew Shagari’s government and took over. At any rate, you just have to marvel at the man’s guts for wanting to put another kleptocrat (IBB) from a bygone era on blast as though he was a paragon of virtue. What will this trip down our collective memory lane, filled with painful reminders of their sordid past history, do for present day Nigerians in the midst of this pressing depressing economic downturn?
Buhari disappeared for a brief period, and came back again during Abacha’s tenure. Somehow, he wangled an invitation by Abacha to come and head up the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). The PTF was a coveted prize as you can probably imagine because Petroleum was and still remains Nigeria’s main export. With PTF coffers filled to the tune of billions of dollars, Buhari was supposed to oversee a modernization or a developmental project which would at the very least provide electricity, potable water and macadamized roads throughout the federation. This again was a failure in my opinion despite the fact that some have widely touted it a success on the strength of some paved roads that the PTF engineered. The fact is, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that it was like all other ambitious projects embarked by clueless leaders in the past: some tokenistic measures are taken and then eventually abandoned as precious millions of dollars slowly and mysteriously make their way into the pockets, the foreign private accounts or the tax-free havens of a thieving elite. For an uneducated soldier in 80’s Nigeria who deposed a legitimate president and lorded over the country and its treasury for less than 2 years, he has done exceedingly well for himself financially and otherwise. This fact is often overlooked.
Buhari should knuckle down and tackle the problems facing the country NOW. That should be his priority. The nation is groaning under a severe economic strain right now. The exchange rate is well over N330 for $1; there is a scarcity of fuel/petrol and worse, the price for a liter has shot up; the health care sector is in ruins; businesses are closing down; the educational sector is a joke; crumbling infrastructure and amenities are staring everyone in the face; there is rising insecurity as Boko Haram threatens peace and security with apparently little to fear of from Buhari’s government; and on and on and on. Instead of pressing forward on those issues, Buhari is junketing around the world or worse, inviting us to look back 31 years ago to demand from Babangida the truthful answer for his ouster―as though, to use a local expression, that makes a difference in the price of a cup of beans today.
He eventually realized his lifelong dream of becoming Nigeria’s president, with the sort of powers that comes with that office. If he is really serious about Babangida’s actions in those days, and he really wants to be seen battling and crushing corruption, this is his opportunity to take decisive actions to bring Babangida to justice. Surely, he should do this, right? Or are we to assume that Buhari doesn’t know that Babangida is corrupt? He surely knows, but more importantly, Babangida also knows where Buhari’s skeletons are buried, literally and figuratively. This is, in the final analysis, a minor spat between two scoundrels.