The debate rages on whether President Muhammadu Buhari should run for a second term or not. He himself has raised the tempo by keeping the whole country guessing. It all goes to show how politically virile a country we have, much to the admiration of not only fellow Africans but also other parts of the world.
Nigeria seems the only country on the continent with the freedom to dare an incumbent or even scare him from venturing into the race, depending on his firmness. In most other countries, serving leaders exploit their privilege by virtually misappropriating the nation into family estate, with one-man rule for twenty, or even thirty years, under President Yoweri Museveni. A Togolese acquaintance vividly captures the situation in his observation that, “At least in Nigeria, you people can speak.”
Those opposed to Buhari’s bid for a second term, while conceding his right under the Constitution, strangely advise against the bid. Who among his predecessors ever heeded such plea even when, in their own case, they were defiantly breaching agreement or violating the Constitution limiting standard tenure to two terms of four years each? That is the first issue of principle involved in this debate. The second and more fundamental issue of principle and honour at stake is that, on either side of this debate, we are making history and anybody worth his standing as a public figure must go on record for his view. Whether we support or oppose former Presidents Obasanjo and Babangida, history has recorded them on this very hot issue of the moment.
That is why, as a matter of digression, the action of the Nigeria Police in trying to commandeer this debate must be seen as fraught with danger. All over the world, security agencies are a law unto themselves with expertise in magnifying minor issues in any country into near precipice at best and human disaster at the worst. In the process, governments are rendered unpopular while reputation of public figures (in government) is destroyed in the long term. There was, foe example, the Iraq war under Saddam Hussein, while the chief enemy was United States under President George Bush (Jnr.). To demonise Saddam Hussein as a potential Adolf Hitler who must be conquered by the most powerful military in the world and its major ally, Britain, the well-padded security report for President George Bush was that Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, possessed nuclear capability, which could be unleashed within half an hour. With such security report, United States easily convinved allies, especially Britain, to join the war against Iraq.Innocently or foolishly, Prime Minister Tony Blair, with the false security report, misled parliament to obtain approval for Britain to join the war.
The worst victim of the security report was American Secretary of State, an Afro-American and distinguished former Chief of Defence Staff of the United States Armed Forces Colin Powell. Powell, as secretary of state, had to address the United Nations, at a ceremony beamed live on television to the world, that humanity was faced with nuclear risk without the war to depose Saddam Hussein. At the end of the war, it was discovered that Iraq had no nuclear capability at all. Till today, Powell always appears regretful as a discredited (otherwise distinguished) military officer and top diplomat anytime discussions on the Iraq war surface. Blair was years later blamed by a public inquiry for misleading parliament on the Iraq war.
Back in Nigeria and former President Babangida’s stand that President Buhari should not run in 2019, there was no justification for the police (except eye service) to have declared IBB’s spokesman, Kassim Afegbua, a wanted man who must report, presumably, for arrest, to be tried for allegedly spreading false news. What was false? That there are no killings in various parts of the country? Did IBB deny mandating Afegbua to issue the release? Did Afegbua deny issuing the statement? What is false in criticising, underating or disagreeing with the performance of an incumbent administration or even President Buhari? As part of his campaign to be elected in 2015, Buhari, with my support, criticised the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan. We (those of us who criticised Jonathan virtually throughout his tenure) were never arrested since we were simply expressing political views, a right guaranteed under the Constitution. Notably, our argument in favour of Buhari was that Jonathan, from 2011 to 2015, did not deserve to be re-elected. Jonathan won in 2011 but lost in 2015. And if the police, in arresting Afegbua, acted on IBB’s second statement, which described contents of the first letter as the views of its author, that was unnecessarily hasty. The sensible thing was to first of all confirm from IBB if indeed he disowned the first statement. Even then, there was nothing in the views expressed in the first statement, which could be considered false to warrant the infamy of being declared wanted by the police.
Police reputation in matters of false publications? It warrants tight leashing by the Commander-in-Chief. Under Jonathan’s administratio, the Nigeria Police charged Nigerian Tribune and its reporter to court for allegedly publishing false news on Obasanjo. Confronted (by the newspaper) with original documentary proof, police shamefully withdrew the charges. Worse still, the Inspector-General’s office (through the PRO) falsely and maliciously described an ex-police officer/serving senator Isah Hamman Misau as a deserter. The Police Service Commission, under the chairmanship of ex-IGP Okiro, confirmed that the senator/ex-police officer never deserted but satisfied all rules and regulations to retire from the police. Did the police authorities arraign themselves for false accusation? Ideally, those responsible for that false publication should be out of service today, no matter their ranks.
Meanwhile, it is most unlikely that Buhari ordered the arrest of Afegbua. Since assuming office almost three years ago, Buhari has exhibited an uncommon tolerance of criticism, abuse, slander libel, malicious death wish and even reports of his death. In Nigeria’s political history, only former President Shehu Shagari tolerated that much. Even gentleman Tafawa Balewa, upset at the seeming recklessness of the press, enacted the Newspaper (Amendment) Act in 1964. Today, the threat to the press is not even from Buhari but from the National Assembly, specifically, the Senate. Security reports all over the world always project Armageddon, such that leaders can neither disregard nor fail to act, no matter how minimally. Hence public criticisms of events under governments even when government was not involved,
As stated earlier, we are making history with the current debate on whether or not President Buhari should run for second term in 2019. It is, therefore, a matter of principle and honour for any willing Nigerian to take a stand, if only because being Nigeria, a country of irony, double standard and amnesia, similar debates will arise in future. By the Grace of God and under the military regime of former President Babangida, I served in government for eight consecutive years, during which I acquired sound knowledge, straight from the source, of complexities of governance. These include why and wheretofore of seeming popular decisions not taken and unpopular decisions taken after series of minuses and pluses, which keep government in place to maintain stability in society or the country is plunged into anarchy. The system is the same in democracies and dictatorships all over the world.
Ten doctorate degrees from 10 different universities in 10 different disciplines might not provide that experience in governance. That is why equivalents of professors from Oxford, Yale, Cambridge, Imperial College, MIT, UCL, UCLA, Warwick, Princeton, Pensylvania, etc, finding themselves as heads of governments in different parts of the world, still attract critical public demonstrations against their policies. Nigerians are facing hardship and high cost of food items. All past Nigerian civilian and military governments, since 1960, faced similar complaints and criticisms. There is a major difference this time. We must remember the starting point on May 29, 2015. It was the beginning of the end of the looting spree of our national treasury. It was the beginning of the recovery of looted public funds. It was the beginning of contracts for modernising infrastructure, especially in southern parts of the country like the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Ibadan to Ilorin expressway, Enugu-Port Harcourt and Enugu-Onitsha expressways, construction of the Second Niger bridge became a reality rather than the election gimmick of the previous 16 years of a federal government headed by southerners. If only for these infrastructure projects in the South, Buhari must ecercise his right under the Constitution to contest in 2019, or any new administration will render the projects abandoned in line with policies of previous governments. Shine your eyes.
The present hardship in parts of the country is partly due to the Nigerian factor. Why, for example, should home-grown rice, flour, yam and other food items cost more than, or even the same price as, impoted ones? Government has done its part in diversifying to agriculture to make food items cheaper. Above all, whether Buhari has performed well or not, he must contest in 2019 to enable Nigerians pass judgement. That is the fear of his opponents.