Sunday, September 24, 2023


Farewell to a president in ether

Farewell to a president in ether
May 30
13:00 2023


As President Muhammadu Buhari returns to his Daura home, he will be leaving Nigeria less secure, poorer, more divided and more in debt than when he came to power in 2015. While his motley crew of officials and aides can argue disingenuously about his record, what is crystal clear to most Nigerians is that the past eight years saw a brutal demystification of the retired general. He will largely be remembered as a leader who was either overwhelmed by the nation’s problems or one who was never sincere about coming to tackle them.

He rode into power with a huge reputation as a frugal leader, tough general, anti-corruption czar, and no-nonsense disciplinarian who would act firmly and swiftly. The scale quickly fell off our eyes, as the denudation of the man, once fondly referred to as “Mai gaskiya”, began with him taking six months to name his cabinet. When eventually the list came out, many were doubly confounded that it contained the same vapid names that failed in previous administrations, including some with corruption allegations. Contrary to what was packaged to Nigerians, cronyism and nepotism as the basis for appointments were quickly irradiated by Buhari.

Even though he continues to cut the mien of a hard man, his eight years in power are replete with instances of a leader who, despite the enormous powers of his office, was, at best, tentative, indolent, slothful – a president only in name. This is why social media trolls are quick to repost a famous picture of Buhari “picking his teeth” each time serious issues of state cry out for presidential intervention or when officials and institutions under him openly defy him or engage one another in public fights.


Take the case of the central bank governor, Godwin Emefiele, and the Department of State Services (DSS). Just before the general elections, a coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) alerted the nation to a plot to oust Emefiele from office. Many thought it was mere propaganda until it turned out that the DSS had, indeed, filed a suit before Justice John Tsoho, the chief judge of the Federal High Court Abuja, seeking to arrest and detain the CBN governor for at least 60 days on allegations of terrorism financing.

Justice Tsoho declined the DSS request on December 9, saying that it did not provide any concrete evidence to substantiate its claims against Emefiele. As grave as the allegations were, the president and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, said nothing.

Up to now, Nigerians do not know if the DSS embarked on the egregious journey without the knowledge of the president. If it did not “carry the president along” before its furtive approach to the courts, should the insubordination not have riled Buhari enough to relieve Bichi Lawal of his position?


If, on the other hand, the president was told, why was the CBN governor left in office? Did the president’s silence mean he was not bothered if Emefiele opened up the nation’s vault to terrorists? If, however, the president did not move against Emefiele because the DSS was unable to substantiate the allegations against him, why was Bichi Lawal allowed to continue heading such a sensitive and otherwise serious organisation after ridiculing it by inventing such weighty but false allegations against Emefiele?

That both the apex bank governor and the head of DSS still occupied their positions up to the end of the Buhari regime underscored what had become characteristic of the retired four-star general – a habit to recline on his sofa and pick his teeth while his appointees engage in an insensate power struggle.

He also saw nothing wrong and so “picked his teeth” while the CBN governor spent more time in 2022 scheming to fly the APC flag in the presidential election than he did attending to the economy. The dreadful currency redesign policy was another matter. Nigerians were needlessly thrown into agony. People could not withdraw their money, families starved, some lost their lives, and adults went naked in banking halls, weeping and wailing. Today, the new currencies are nowhere to be seen. How much the CBN printed and what happened to the notes is anyone’s guess. There were allegations of sabotage by CBN itself, by bank officials and politicians, yet nobody was held accountable.

Even in the early days of his administration when Buhari nominated Mallam Ibrahim Magu as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Lawal Daura, the then DG of DSS, wrote to the senate to counter his choice. What did the president do? Despite heavy corruption allegations against Magu, even by DSS, reports of which were lying on the president’s table for years, Magu served a full five years!


Many Nigerians jeered and sneered at his anti-corruption fight. Buhari declared to the nation a few days to the handover that he did not steal a kobo. That may well be so. But, under his nose, Ahmed Idris, former accountant general stole over N100 billion, according to EFCC. From Babachir Lawal to Tukur Burutai, Abubakar Malami, Godswill Akpabio, and Rotimi Amaechi, indeed the list is endless, service chiefs, ministers and other appointees were retained by the president despite corruption allegations against them.

A vivid episode which showed that even his own appointees did not believe in his anti-corruption crusade was when police officers from the Police IG’s monitoring team besieged the house of Mrs Joi Nunieh, former MD of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), on a day she was to testify before the house of representatives committee probing the massive corruption in the agency. She even accused Godswill Akpabio who was the minister then of being behind the invasion. Akpabio later appeared on national TV denigrating the marital status of the woman instead of addressing the allegations against him. If you thought the affront on corruption, one of the cardinal policies of the president, would incur his fury, you were wrong. Nothing was done.

All through his reign, accusations of budget padding between national assembly members, ministers and presidency officials became more frequent without any casualty. Aisha Buhari, his wife, told a bemused nation some years ago that Aso Rock Clinic did not have “a single syringe” despite billions budgeted for it every year. “We need to know how the budget is spent,” she declared, speciously to the chagrin of her husband as nothing was heard from him thereafter.

Buhari, apparently, is oblivious to the putrid smell from the billions of naira spent on so-called cash transfers and palliatives to poor Nigerians and the millions of dollars spent on judgement debts without due process. Neither is he aware of the reported plundering of the gold deposits in Zamfara by powerful forces in and out of government, with private planes said to be operating in the zone.


Even as Buhari leaves office, Lauretta Onochie, who he rewarded with NDDC chairmanship for excelling in hurling invectives than marketing her principal as special assistant on social media, is in a battle with the managing director, Samuel Ogbuku, over who controls the commission, with corruption allegations flung in between. The commission has been embroiled in one corruption scandal after another under Buhari without anybody brought to book.

Buhari also watched helplessly as Chris Ngige, the minister of labour and productivity, and the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) engaged in a public spat, with the minister announcing the sack of the management claiming that he had the president’s approval to do so, while the management rejected it and for a long time continued to carry on with business as usual. Similarly, former power minister, Mr Saleh Mamman, and Zainab Ahmed, the finance minister, openly contradicted each other on the sack of Marilyn Amobi as MD of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company. While Mamman claimed he had Buhari’s approval to ask Amobi to proceed on terminal leave, Ahmed countered him the same day saying she also had the president’s approval to ask Amobi to serve out her tenure!


Isa Ali Pantami, the minister of communications and digital economy, and Abike Dabiri-Erewa, chair of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), shamelessly tore at each other on Twitter over the forceful ejection of NIDCOM staff and property from the building of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). This did not embarrass the president enough to take action.

Then the fight against insurgency! Buhari keeps claiming he degraded Boko Haram and made Nigeria safer. He pretends not to know that bandits, kidnappers and herdsmen are on a rampage with more people killed under him than the previous administration. Media reports put the figure at 63,111 compared to 34,917 killed before he took over. National security adviser, Babagana Monguno, once told the national assembly that the lack of coordination between the security agencies was a major reason the fight against terrorism was not succeeding. He accused two of the service chiefs of consistently refusing to attend security meetings to discuss strategies and tactics to win the war. President Buhari did nothing about the indictment. Instead, he extended the tenures of the service chiefs. When former IGP, Ibrahim Idris, disobeyed the president’s directive to relocate to Benue to stem the killings by herdsmen, Buhari declared feebly, “I am quite surprised”. Idris served out his term!


On a visit to Kuje prison just after insurgents overran the facility and freed hundreds of terrorists, Buhari said: “I am disappointed with the intelligence system. How can terrorists organise, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it?” As soon as he finished his speech, he hopped on his plane to Senegal in the company of the head of the National Intelligence Agency who should have been sent back to go sort out the mess! Nobody was held liable despite reports the DSS had alerted the security agencies to the impending attack. His home state, Katsina, was not spared by bandits. They even attacked the Presidential Guard and kidnapped his in-law and Daura district head and held him for two months!

Even though he was the minister of petroleum, fuel shortages continued unabated often without a word from him about what was going on. Between three and four million barrels of crude oil were reported stolen monthly, while millions of litres of petrol are smuggled across the borders daily with the retired general in charge of the ministry!


In 2022, 170.25 million litres of dirty petrol were imported into the country, with the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority, needing about N201 billion worth of clean petrol to clean the bad fuel. Nobody was punished! Despite knocking previous governments for failing to get the refineries working and promising to do so, he is leaving office without a single one of the four refineries working.

With unemployment at over 40%, inflation rate at over 22%, naira value down from N180 to a dollar in 2015 to over N700 today, external debt from N12.6 trillion to N80 trillion, longest ASUU strike, and education and health sectors in a shambles, Buhari signed off on an unprecedented low.

The Daura general exhibited neither intellect nor brio as head of state. Hearing him repeatedly intone how well he has done for Nigeria shows either a man in self-delusion or one alienated from reality, but certainly a man who was president in ether.

Anapugars, a communications consultant, wrote from Lagos. He can be reached via [email protected]

Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.


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