By Sonala Olumhense
If you are reading this, you are most likely also a reader who has this month seen in circulation a 39-year old editorial authored by The Guardian (Nigeria).
Entitled “The Arrogance of Power,” it comes from another era when The Guardian inspired journalism through fearless reporting, follow-up, character and judgement. This reproduction is from the Boss newspapers, as The Guardian itself sadly lacks an archive, but I was a member of its Editorial Board at the time and I authenticate it.
“The Arrogance of Power,” is so potent it could pass for one written this year, its re-circulator correctly implies, in its denunciation of the parochialism, inflexibility and meanness of the 1983-1985 military regime of Muhammadu Buhari.
Thirty years later, Buhari returned as Nigeria’s elected leader. But that editorial was published hours after his government was sacked by a group which justified itself by pointing at Buhari’s failure to address “decades of government mismanagement and corruption.”
The following are three paragraphs from the editorial:
“…It did not take long before the Buhari administration, so openly and so warmly received by Nigerians when it came to power, began to show its true and frightful face. Soon enough, it became clear that his administration had a conception of government in which the governed were regarded as a hostile, adversary force, and in which government was virtually an end in itself…
“…Blackmailed into silence, Nigerians watched as the traditional foundations of the state were eroded. Ethnicity became a principle of state policy. The economy sputtered along. Educational policy was in a shambles. Our hospitals became graveyards. And all along we were invited to believe, as an article of patriotic faith, that we lived in the best of all possible worlds.
“Ultimately, it was the arrogance of the Buhari administration that led to its downfall. For arrogance always leads to moral and political blindness. Blindness leads to isolation, and when any government is isolated from the governed, its end is always predictable…”
Again, that was almost 40 years ago. History confirms that The Guardian, which had been critical of the government before the coup, had read the situation correctly.
What is sadder then, is the realisation that Buhari read neither that nor similar comments that were widely available in the local and international media. There is no other explanation for a situation where, receiving another opportunity 30 years later, Buhari chose to inflict as inspired and patriotic governance, the same ramshackle and retrogressive administrative philosophies and practice that collapsed the first time.
Last week, in continuation of the “arrogance (that) always leads to moral and political blindness,” he finally yielded to the questions swirling around him concerning the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, perhaps the most abysmal and ineffective leader of the force since independence, whose term of office had expired.
The transition was an excellent opportunity for Buhari to demonstrate that he is perhaps not as narrow-minded and nepotistic as he had appeared since he took his oath of office, leading to all related offices but one being occupied by northerners and principally Muslims.
Buhari, a 76-year old man who has served in various federal posts in the past 40 years, had justified that appointment profile by claiming that he appoints people he can trust.
To begin with, that cannot be the truth given that on several occasions he has declared that he made those appointments on “merit,” not previously knowing the individuals involved. On what basis do you trust people you do not know to such an extent that the ensuing demographic overwhelmingly tilts towards your village?
The obvious and immediate interpretation of that claim, to the embarrassment of many northerners, is that southerners and non-Muslims are untrustworthy.
But while much of the criticism of this practice took place between 2016 and 2018, it might have been argued that, at least in theory at that point, Buhari was not running for re-election, as any man running for office would try to avoid self-inflicted political wounds.
Not Buhari: last week he had Idris replaced by yet another northerner, Mohammed Abubakar, whom, I believe, he “didn’t know.” It is safe to assume that the moment he heard the name, he saw colours and heard sounds of trustworthiness.
Of equal interest, last weekend was overrun by the news that based upon a petition, the trial for corruption of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, would commence on January 7. I am always delighted whenever a high official is made to face justice, as is the Chief Justice. He certainly has a case to answer because being forgetful, like being ignorant, is no defence in law.
The problem is that Onnoghen’s “trial” by the Code of Conduct Tribunal is deeply suspicious. First, the petition in question was received on January 4, a Friday, and his trial immediately set for the next work day!
Second, the petitioner is an insider of the presidency, revealing a subterranean attempt to remove and replace a man who cannot be “trusted.” It is on record that last June, while Buhari was declaring Nigeria to be secure, Onnoghen publicly described “frightening” and “horrific incidents” of police brutality, inordinate arrests, detention and extortion of innocent people throughout Nigeria.
Onnoghen should face the law, but only according to the established order, not politics, which is something Buhari has frustrated for four years through double standards.
But given his approach, the prosecution of Buhari himself could commence on May 30, one day after he loses immunity unless he wins re-election next month, among others for violating the constitution, the Code of Conduct laws and the Electoral Act through his acceptance in his re-election effort of a N45m campaign gift from the Nigeria Consolidation Ambassadors Network.
But it really doesn’t matter what Buhari says in this campaign because we have his records in 1983-85 and 2015-19 as evidence not simply that Buhari is not going to change, but that he is going to get worse.
This has nothing to do with Abubakar Atiku, but with the menace that Buhari is, which is now worsened by his poor health as demonstrated by his scary performance on the campaign trail. In just one week, the world has been able to see mentally, psychologically and physically fragile, incoherent and discombobulated he is.
Buhari is clearly a sick man: he appeared unable to hear; or hearing, to comprehend; or comprehending, to offer decent, relevant answers. The man did not know when he took office, or often what he was doing or saying. Anyone who advocates Buhari as being capable of leading even a local government insults that council.
Buhari should be in a hospital, not a political campaign, and that—not further power—is what his family should be fighting for if they love him. Upon review, perhaps the two men his wife blames for running her husband’s presidency are more heroes than sinners.
In my estimation, we have reached the end of this road, irrespective of what the options are. Only a suicidal zealot places prescription glasses on a blind pilot and gives him control of an aircraft of 300 people, including his own family.
With no irony suggested, here are wise words from 1985: “Blindness leads to isolation, and (the end) is always predictable…”