By Banji Ojewale
A new race of men is springing up to govern the nation; they are the hunters after popularity, men ambitious…the demagogues, whose principles hang laxly upon them, who follow not so much what is right as what leads to a temporary vulgar applause. Joseph Story (1779-1845), American Judge Let’s be guided by the former president’s own measuring rod to assess him and other public officers. We don’t need to go into any arcane research or some tongue-twisting grammatical constructions to determine whether our outgone leaders served themselves or served us. All we should do is to consider the body optics: has the office holder lost weight or gained extra flesh? A little bit of extrapolation: is the ex-public officer poorer or richer? If he is still in office, do his airs suggest he is on the route to earning a mention in the club reserved for the likes of Aliko Dangote? What’s his sartorial disposition? Is his now a knack for Savile Row, London, the confluence of tailors and billionaires.
Back to Muhammadu Buhari. In 2019, he offered the ‘ideal’ approach to identify the servant-leader. He took a non-forensic look at Mohammed Adamu, then Nigeria’s Inspector-General of Police. Our president concluded that the gaunt security chief had been working hard in the light of his diminishing weight. Buhari spoke when he was taken up on the frightening reports of insecurity here and there. We weren’t to worry, he assured us; the man he charged to deal with those giving us sleepless nights was himself suffering insomnia, leading, naturally, to loss of weight. The Police boss, in the estimation of the old military chief, had also emaciated because he wasn’t a glutton. It’s a contradiction to say of a gourmand that he was simultaneously slenderizing. So the IGP had been so busy battling the antisocial elements in our midst he’d had no time to be a gobbler. There was nothing he had amassed from the golden trough of the tax payers; therefore there was nothing to consume to make Adamu grow out and burst his uniform. After all, you’d prey on what you had. You’d would eat sparsely as you acquired sparingly. That should necessarily give you a lean figure, unfatty bank account, and above all, ascetic nights so that like Obafemi Awolowo, the illustrious premier of old pace-setting Western Nigeria, ‘’when most people in public office and in the position of leadership and rulership are spending whole days and nights carousing in clubs or in the company of men of shady character and women of easy virtue, (you) like a few others, (are) always at (your) post working hard at the country’s problems and trying to find solutions for them’’.
I believe these are neat and reasonable deductions we arrive at from the ex-president’s pronouncements on the police boss as we judge him and others in their asset status at their exit. The Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, had asked Buhari, his vice, Yemi Osinbajo and a train of others to drop their asset scorecard with the Bureau before assumption of office and before receding from the scene.
When Buhari was moving in as president in 2015, he told CCB through Garba Shehu, one of his media aides, that he had N30m in the only bank account he had. There were five homes and two mud houses in Daura, his hometown in Katsina state, along with two undeveloped plots of land in Kano and Port Harcourt. Still more: farms, an orchard, a ranch, all harboring 270 heads of cattle, 25 sheep, five horses, a variety of birds and a number of economic trees. More: cars, two bought from his savings, with others supplied by government as ex-head of state and some donated by well-wishers after Boko Haram savaged his jeep in 2014. The record with CCB also says the Daura soldier-turned politician had shares in Berger Paints, Union Bank and Skye Bank. Osinbajo, according to Garba Shehu, came in with N94m and US$900000. He had property in Victoria Garden City, Ikoyi, both in Lagos, and a flat at Redemption Camp, along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. There was also a mortgaged property in Bedford, England. Our vice-president, apart from his law firm, had shareholding in six private companies including MTN Nigeria.
Now, by the law applied by Buhari to rate Adamu, we should expect diminished, not enlarged, assets by our public office holders after their tenure. Have they added to what they had? Have they worked so hard and selflessly that they had willy-nilly shed weight? Have they become anorexics, with their apparel, hitherto full-bodied on them, now hanging to give them the prized Mohammed Adamu-like shape? In March, 2019, Osinbajo told Nigerians that he had evaluated Buhari ahead of meeting CCB’s requirements at the close of his boss’s first term. His findings: ‘’When I looked at his assets declaration form, I was checking it in 2015, I said to him, ‘Mr President, I am so much richer than you, it is an embarrassment…’I can tell you that he is perhaps, even poorer than he was in 2015 when I saw his declaration of assets.’’
That should be the goal of every true leader. You don’t go into office to embark on a hunting or expedition for unbridled riches. You don’t go in and return boasting you’ve put on weight. You don’t become a public officer and all your mission is to abandon your Ajegunle tailor and Aba shoemakers for Italian designer and customized products. You don’t go into office flying abroad for medicare and sending your children to private and foreign schools and hospitals, leaving the people you serve at the hands of the deadly system you refuse to tend to.
The leader posterity recognizes is the one who pauperizes himself while serving his people. He dies for them, if duty to the people demands it. But we’ve had leaders who want it the other way: the society must be castrated at the altar of their gargantuan greed; the people must go under for them to milk us dry. The leaders history hails are those who, as they lose themselves in serving the people, exit exhausted externally, but inwardly, are enraptured and enriched. He must be like Uruguay’s much loved former leftist President, Jose Mujica, who not only turned down his pension as a senator, but also refused to live in the presidential mansion, preferring to stay ‘’at his wife’s farmhouse, off a dirt road outside the capital, Montevide,’’ where he gives off most of his pay to his people, not taking from them.
So, after eight years, where do Buhari and the others who just gave way belong: in the class of those whose weight dropped while serving the fatherland or in that other group where the spirit of the sybaritic was at work?
Ojewale is a writer in Ota, Ogun State
(Above is a revised version of a piece I wrote in 2019)