Muhammadu Buhari

I am amazed that Buhari in hindsight did not anticipate or envisage that his initial appointments as president would be trailed and greeted by controversy that are bound to suck some oxygen out of his change agenda  for Nigeria. I fault him not so much his lethargy, but for his insensitivity given his track record as a former military dictator.

I went back to read his Chatham House speech in London where he assured the International community he has learnt his lessons and he is not going to repeat the same things he did as a military dictator, when he deliberately tilted the balance in favor of the North with some of his actions and some of the choices made in his name by few of his overzealous aides who wanted to be more Roman Catholic than the Pope.

I am amazed that a man who gave those assurances in London could return back home to start making appointments that clearly remind a cross section of Nigerians about some of the things he did wrong for the 20 months he and Tunde Idiagbon ruled Nigeria with an iron fist.

I caution all of you reading this not to get me wrong. Buhari and his regime did a few things right in 1985, but he also made a few serious mistakes, which Nigerians believed he was going to correct if he was given a second chance 30 years later. But we all forget what clinical psychologists like Professor Ozodi Osuji know and understand: human beings don’t change that easily. Human beings in that context are pretty much like a leopard. The observation is even more pertinent when that human being is over 70 and already fixed in his ways, as an old soldier who never dies but simply fades away.

I recall trying to persuade a professor friend of mine in New York and a chieftain of NADECO whose name I would not divulge in this confession. I was trying to persuade him to support Buhari for president at a time he was running low at the polls for failing to produce his school certificate.

The professor told me no: he did not trust Buhari because of his track record. I pressed him further on why he felt that way about the only man I thought could save Nigeria. The professor gave me three good reasons that left me scratching my head, as I had no ready-made answers to each of the reasons he gave. The professor told me that human beings don’t change that easily. If Buhari did something bad before, he well might do it again.

I left the professor feeling a bit disappointed and disillusioned about Buhari, but I felt convinced in my heart he was a better candidate than Jonathan, and I was going to stick with him. I kept repeating to myself as I drove away that Buhari is going to change, because he would be a fool not to.

The day I saw Femi Fani-Kayode’s analysis of the implication of the first 37 appointments Buhari made, I could not help but remember what my learned friend had told me. To add insult to an injury, the same day somebody sent me video of a young Yoruba man who spoke a mixture of English and Yoruba in a 30 minutes video sent to me on WhatsApp. The young man eloquently spoke about his own views about what is going on in Nigeria without appearing to take any particular side.

I watched the video 3 times to make some sense out of it and I realized the same video must have been sent to millions of Nigerians like me. I became very restless after hearing the stuff because the young man did not strike me as a rabble rouser or a politician trying to cut corners like Fani Kayode. I picked up my phone and I called my professor friend to tell him I wanted to share the video with him.

The professor, a Yoruba man like me, repeated the same predictions he had given me in our previous conversation as follows: When Buhari took over power in 1985 from Shehu Shagari, a fellow Fulani man, he decided to detain Shagari in the comfort of his own house in Sokoto, while he put his Deputy or spare-tire Vice President Alex Ekwueme into a maximum security prison for close to 5 years on spurious charges.

Buhari, according to him, then pounced on frontline politicians from the South, including individuals like Governor Bisi Onabanjo, Governor Lateef Kayode Jakande, Ebenezer Babatope, Governor Adekunle Ajasin and Chief Reuben Faseide Fashoranti—even Joshua Oladimeji Tuki, my favorite uncle. He also detained many of their colleagues from the Southeast and the South/South.

He tried some of them in some kangaroo courts, and he put some of them in jail or detention without trial. He let most of their colleagues from the North walk away scot-free. That, according to him, was how Buhari gave Babangida and his cohorts a reason to dethrone the Buhari regime in 1985. One of the first things Babangida regime did so was to release those detainees and grant clemency to those already in jail.

The professor added that Buhari issued a decree against drug-dealing and money-laundering that targeted more southerners than the northerners. The aide-de-camp Major Jokolo, son of the then-Emir of Gwandu, presumably using his authority and influence, went to the Murtala Aiport to clear 52 boxes filled with foreign currency from the Nigerian Customs and Immigration without anyone lifting a finger.

The professor repeated to me he would never trust Buhari for those reasons. I knew from that point I must leave the professor alone and go talk to some other people who did not have as much grouse against Buhari. I told my new recruits that Buhari might have made a few mistakes in the past without going into specifics and I got all of them persuaded to support Buhari. I cited Buhari’s war against corruption and indiscipline in Nigeria and his pronouncement to kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria.

You all can then imagine my joy or euphoria when Buhari won convincingly on March 28 and when his APC won again on April 11. I was glued to my television in New York as I watched him take his oath of office at the Eagle Plaza in Abuja on May 29.

I had expected him to make a few announcements with his inaugural address, just like Nasir El Rufai and his Deputy of Kaduna State had done. I was not expecting him to solve all Nigerian problems in one fell swoop, but I was expecting him to do some of the things he had the power to do without any confirmation hearing from the legislature.

His inaugural address was low key, as far as I am concerned. The only memorable thing he said was, “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” I waited for another 4 to 6 weeks expecting him to do something dramatic to actually prove himself as an agent of change. When I did not see him do that, I was among the first columnists in the social media to call him “President Go Slow” in one of my articles carried by Chatafrik, SaharaReporters, and Facebook. I was also among the first to predict that when Nigerians get to know the details of what President Jonathan and his ministers stole, they would be less forgiving of the man because the guy was just terrible.

If the truth must be told, I believe that President Buhari has done a lot that deserve our commendation. Massive theft at the NNPC has been radically reduced because most Nigerians now know that the fear of Buhari, like the fear of God, has now become the beginning of wisdom. Nigerians instinctively know that the new sheriff in town is quite different from the Ali Baba and his 40 thieves he has replaced.

If Buhari’s predecessors in that office had done half the things Buhari has done, Nigeria would not be in the kind of mess she has now found herself. I would be the first to admit that, and I am proud of him for that. I, nonetheless, still have my reservation on some of what Buhari has not done, and some of what he has done.

The most egregious of all is his apparent lack of sensitivity to the need to reflect federal character in his first 40 appointments. Morning shows the day as boyhood shows manhood. We live in a country where tribal rivalry runs deep and rightly so, because of pervasive poverty and our lopsided level of development in terms of education and civilization between the North and the Southern states.

Many Nigerians forget that if it were left to Ogbuefi Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo alone, the East and the Western regions had wanted Nigeria to be the first country in the West African sub-region to get independence from Britain on January 31, 1957, clearly a few months before Ghana got her independence with Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah as the foremost pan-Africanist.

The Constitutional Conference at Lancaster House in London changed that calculus because the least educated among the three premiers did not go along with the arguments put forward by his learned colleagues. He simply told the British, as a wise and courageous leader, that the North was not ready and won’t be ready for another 3 years or more.

That Nigeria got her independence on October 1st 1960 was the brainchild of Sardauna Bello. He led the northern delegation to that conference and he made a big difference in that conference.

Ahmadu Bello returned home to engage on a massive and draconian policy of the “northernization” of the Public Service of the North because he did not want a Nigeria in which the northerners were going to be enslaved by the Igbos and the Yorubas of the South. He knew there were minorities in both the North and the South who needed to be reckoned with and catered for but Sardauna focused like a laser beam on making the North competitive with the South and he clearly won that debate arms down. He told the British and anybody who listened that when he became the leader of Government Business around 1948 there were only 23 northerners in the senior cadre of the Northern Nigeria Public Service.

The rest of the positions were taken by the Igbos and a few Yorubas from Ogbomosho area only because the Yorubas as a rule do not like to leave home if they can help it. The Igbos, on the other hand, were traders by occupation and like the Jews, they have more of their people living outside than those living at home. Up till tomorrow and despite a very costly and painful civil war, there are more Igbos living in the urban towns of the North, and the West and the South/South. The Igbos left Rivers Port Harcourt, Ikwere, Ogoni, and Okrika in droves during the Biafran war. Today they are back in full force. Akure, the Ondo State capita,l which happens to be my hometown, is as good an Igbo city like Onitsha, Ifite Oraifite, and Umuahia Ubeku to mention a few.

Sardauna Bello was therefore right to pursue his “Northernization” policy, which preferred to give jobs on contract to Indians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, and Lebanese, while turning down Igbos and Yorubas who applied to do the same jobs. Sardauna refused to budge. He started an aggressive policy of having more northerners trained and educated in overseas institutions.  As the northerners return home after their studies, they all began to take over all of the positions offered on contract to foreigners. The fallout from that policy saw the College of Arts and Science in Zaria becoming a full-fledged university, which now bears the name of Ahmadu Bello and rightly so.

When you see individual northerners like Lamido Sanusi, late Abubakar Rimi. Jerry Gana, Professor Yadudu, Nasir El Rufai, Ahmed Joda, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, Gambo Gubio, and so many of them speak English with eloquence and authority, you will understand that the North has come a long way due in large part to the great vision and leadership of Ahmadu Bello. The South did not fold up its arms waiting for the North to catch up, so Buhari cannot tell us he cannot find educated and qualified southerners to take some of the jobs he has now filled with northerners.  I traveled quite a bit around Nigeria in my role as Secretary to the National Council of Education of Nigeria and as Secretary Staff Development   of the Manpower Department of Nigeria so I know what I am talking about.

When the history of this Republic is written, the name of Ahmadu Bello shall be written in gold for what he did to make the North competitive with the South. He did a lot more than that. He made sure that all the military bases in Nigeria were all located in the North and he made the Military the Civil Service of the northerners. That was how the northerners at one point in our history and even up till now still dominate the officer rank of our Military and the rank and file as we speak.

Ahmadu Bello did not stop at that. He made the  Hausa language the “lingua franca” of the military. Who says that Sarduana Bello has not made a difference in Nigeria? Today the ragtag army of Boko Haram has managed to take the battle to the heavily-armed Nigerian troops for more than 6 years, in close to half of the country in land mass. The whole of the Northeast, including Sambisa Forest, is almost taken over by Boko Haram. Now Boko Haram has moved the headquarters of the military back to the North so they could be closer to the Northeast. So Nigeria is back again to the status quo of the northern domination of the Nigerian Armed Forces, as speculated in some quarters in the South. Buhari ordered the movement for a perfectly legit reason but people can read different meaning to what he has done and if their concerns are not addressed in the nick of time, the perception could lead to future problems.

I go into all of these details to show how tribal rivalry runs deep in Nigeria  and how each of the three dominant tribes jealously guard whatever edge they already have and can kill to have any tribe take away that advantage for whatever reason.

If you are still wondering why Nigeria for all the efforts she has made cannot yet conduct a realistic census or afford to let Nigerians have a social security or identity card like they do in America, you can take this point as one of the drawbacks to that move. Some are scared that such a move might let the Nigerian Government know how many mouths it is feeding.

It is not in the interest of the North to let Nigeria have a realistic Census because if it does, the creation of 19 states in the North and 17 in the South might become indefensible and unjustified. The creation of 776 Local Governments with the lion share of them going to the North might become absurd and totally indefensible. That is why it is wrong to compare Nigeria with Singapore under Lee Kuan Yu, like Buhari said he wanted to do. Singapore does not have the same kinds of problems, like mutual suspicion, that Nigeria has to grapple with.

Buhari tilting the balance of his initial appointments to the North is therefore viewed in the South as an abomination, if not a security threat, because it is going to further put the South at a clear disadvantage when compared to the North. When Obasanjo decided to decentralize the military bases from the North to the South, he by that single stroke had made it impossible for northerners to easily stage a coup in Kaduna or any part of the North and to get their colleagues elsewhere across the country to challenge them because they do not have the wherewithal to resist such a coup, so they go along to get along. End of story.

If Obasanjo had consulted with the northerners before making the move they probably would have shot it down.  Say what you want about Obasanjo, the man was a tough cookie, like Sardauna Bello who passionately loved Nigeria and took some steps to do what he considered to be the best interest of Nigeria and its stability.

I recall Major Okah when he announced his failed coup on radio and television, and Lt. General Alani Akinrinade announced that his command was not going to obey. If Buhari now reverses the Obasanjo’s decentralization of the military bases in Nigeria to send all of the military bases back again to the North, you can be sure that the Southerners are not going to view such a decision favorably because such a move is going to tilt the balance of power back again to the “status quo ante bellum.” It is that simple.

Buhari picked 75 percent of his initial appointments from the North and only 25 percent from the South. That is something to be viewed with some suspicion. That is why there has been a groundswell of resistance against what Buhari has done. Yes, we know that the less than 50 appointments constitute a tip of the iceberg because there are many more appointments left to be made. The South knows that for a fact, but it also knows the 50 appointments are among the most strategic appointments that can easily upset the apple if push comes to shove.

The Head of State and Commander-in-Chief is from the North. All of the service chiefs are from the North. The individuals come from different political zones in the North, but what unites them all is the Hausa Language, which Sardauna Bello insist had to be included in the curriculum of all the schools in the old North because he knew the value of language as a weapon of indoctrination even better than his counterparts or peers in the South.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria is from the North. The President of the Court of Appeal is from the North. The Director of DSS, which is the equivalent of the director of the CIA in America, and the Security Adviser are all now from the South. The Inspector-General of Police is from the North. The Head of Customs and Immigration are all from the North.  The President of the Senate is from the North, the Speaker of the House is also from the North. The Secretary to the Government and the Accountant-General and the Auditor-General are all from the North. Tell me what is left?

If you have worked in Government or Public Service for as long as I have done, you will understand that Buhari has pretty much pushed the North in charge of everything that matters, just like it used to be for all of the 38 years the military in particular was in charge in Nigeria. That is why some southerners are having some sleepless nights about what Buhari has done with those appointments, and that is why Femi Fani-Kayode, like “Osiun” Ado and “Osiun Oye,” cannot be dismissed as talking garbage or rubbish. The young man has a point.

Yes, you can argue that President Jonathan pretty much did the same thing for the 6 years he was president, but what he did with the military are not half as draconian as what Buhari has just done, and all he could tell the South is to be patient. No, the South is not going to be patient. The South is doing precisely what Sardauna Bello did when he bluntly told Azikiwe and Awolowo that the North was not ready for Nigeria to become independent until the North was ready.

It would have been unthinkable for the South, with all its educational advantage over and above the North, to just keep quiet and let it go. That would be nothing short of suicide. If the North can momentarily put itself in the shoes of the South, it would understand what we are talking about.

The North would never have tolerated or condoned that kind of imbalance against it. That is the blunt truth.

The only consolation the South can take away the inferno of a controversy is the assurance by Buhari that he is going to seriously reflect federal character in making the remaining appointments and will take a second look at the first 50 appointments he has made with a view to assuring the people that he is going to be fair to all and sensitive in the way and manner he conducts himself as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Those who argue that he has a right to choose only the people he can trust are right to say that, but I must also remind them that when you are president, you are supposed to know and find people in the other parts of the country who can best appointed to such positions if needed. The Constitution expects every president to do that, and that is why the Constitution insists the president must win in at least 2/3 of the states and win no less than 25 percent of the votes in all of them to have the spread to be declared a winner.

Buhari would not have become President if he had only won in the 3 political zones of the North. He won because he won in 4 out of the 6 geopolitical zones and because he secured more than the required 25% vote in 2/3 of the states including the Federal territory.

He cannot now argue that he did not know enough people he could easily have tapped for appointment if the push comes to shove. If he could identify with the Igbos during the campaign by wearing their national dress or costume, he should be able to find Igbo supporters of his party or another party that he could appoint into any of the positions, since the Constitution requires the President to give to them as integral parts of Nigeria. That is the bottom line.

I still believe that Buhari despite all his shortcomings articulated in this write-up, is still the best candidate to have won the last election. I understand why he has imposed a litmus test for those he would like to appoint. I support him on that but I also like to remind him that he himself may not pass his own litmus test, if we dig deeper into his past.

There are a few transgressions that can and could be forgiven or overlooked because none of us is perfect. The seriousness of the offenses committed should be a determinant for the punishment given. You cannot simply equate somebody who has stolen 1000.00 naira with someone who has stolen 100 million or a trillion naira.

Yes, the Law would call both of them thieves but the one who stole 1000.00 Naira would receive a lesser punishment than the one who stole several millions and trillions. If both of them are forced to refund back to government the money they have stolen, the one that stole the millions and trillions would feel the pinch more.

I hope Buhari would let Nigerians know the level or degree of the culpability of those he wants to try for looting our Treasury. I hope the court or the process would let us know how much they have stolen. By the same token, Buhari ought to let us know the reasons why he has refused to appoint some of the individuals in his own party like Amaechi, like Fashola, and so many others he may have been forced to drop.

We do know that some of them have sacrificed much to help him win the presidency. Some of them bank-rolled his campaign, potentially from some of their loot. If Buhari receives the stolen good, he is as guilty before the Law as the person who stole the goods to begin with. Nigerians need all of those details because those who seek equity must also come in with clean hands. Let Nigerians make that determination or judgment is all I am saying.

I cannot wait to see Buhari keep his promise to more adequately reflect federal character in all his remaining appointments from now on. Need I say more?

I rest my case.

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