Junaid’s jeremiads, Buhari’s burden, by Okey Ndibe

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Okey_ndibe_newJunaid Mohammed may be the closest thing Nigerians have to a bipartisan gadfly, an equal opportunity traducer of the country’s rulers. A legislator in the Second Republic, Junaid was a frequent thorn on the side of former President Goodluck Jonathan. He once declared that, even if Mr. Jonathan’s father were given the task of evaluating his son’s presidency, the verdict would still come back as a failure.

Junaid was such an effective irritant that Ahmed Gulak, one of Jonathan’s key political advisers, characterised him as a man afflicted with “diarrhea of the mouth.”

I for one believe Junaid called it right on Jonathan. And that’s why Nigerians would do well to pay attention to what the man is saying about President Muhammadu Buhari.

Many of the most inveterate champions of Buhari the Candidate are now willing to own that Buhari the President has been underwhelming on every crucial index and nothing short of disastrous on many indices. The word “change,” which Buhari parlayed into political fuel that propelled him into office, has since become a joke, in many Nigerian quarters as unappealing as a four-letter word.

Mr. Buhari’s vaunted credentials as a foe of corruption have been dealt savage blows by his administration’s clear signal that not all corrupt suspects are created equal. Less than two years into the current presidency, the promised total war against the corrupt has morphed into a war against opposition party henchmen as well as military generals deemed close or sympathetic to former President Jonathan.

Double standards and hypocrisy have become the rules of the anti-corruption game. Erstwhile PDP grubbers, who had the instincts to dash across the line to the APC aisle appear wholly sanctified, cleansed of their stench of graft and now wafting the perfume of ethical wholesomeness. And even those indicted for corruption must be bewildered that different standards are applied to different people. In one category are those, unnamed, who reportedly surrendered their loot to the government. There are others, named in media reports, who reportedly returned their lucre. And then there are those who are facing prosecution, denied the option of refunding their loot.

As strategies go, the Buhari administration’s war against corruption is a mess, riddled with contradictions. The only people fooled by the government’s claim that it is operating a policy of zero-tolerance of corruption are those who volunteer themselves to be fooled.

And that’s where Junaid’s jeremiads come to play. In an interview last week with The Punch, the man x-rayed President Buhari’s unimpressive response to allegations that his top military officer, Tukur Buratai, and Interior Minister, Dambazau, owned astonishingly pricey real estate abroad. And Junaid made the right call when he concluded that President Buhari had displayed “a disastrous sense of judgment.”

I allow that neither Buratai nor Dambazau has been found guilty of corruption. But that’s besides the fact. The two men are high-level members of the president’s team. It is incumbent on Buhari to assure Nigerians that he takes corruption, even the appearance of the malady, seriously. It’s a clear misstep when the government either ignores grave allegations against its officials – or steps forward to make excuses for the accused.

President Buhari cannot persist in doing this “corruption” business as former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Jonathan did it, and yet expect to be hailed as a more serious, more focused warrior against one of Nigeria’s most debilitating scourges. All these former presidents had a penchant for ignoring major – and often credible – allegations of corruption made against some of their aides. Junaid was right to point out that Buhari should have asked Dambazau “to step aside.” Nothing would stop the president from restoring Dambazau to his post if the minister got cleared after a transparent investigation. Instead, the president chose to toe the line of his predecessors.

So: What’s new? For Junaid, little or nothing: “I will put it this way, we have exchanged one thoroughly corrupt government for one that pretends to be honest and is doing an honest job while in reality, it is business as usual.”

On the much-discussed Buratai affair, Junaid raised pertinent questions that – unless addressed – will continue to haunt the Buhari administration. It may well be the case that the Chief of Army Staff is a genius at saving every kobo that came his way. It’s also possible that his wives are gurus of investment, who earned the funds that enabled the general to own two real estate properties in Dubai. Whatever the case, President Buhari owes a duty to Nigerians to demonstrate, a., that he won’t shield anybody from investigation and, b., that he is willing to scrutinise his appointees’ finances whenever the need arises. In fact, in the event that General Buratai has nothing to hide, the administration would be doing him a disservice by letting linger the impression that he fiddled with public funds.

Here’s part of what Junaid told The Punch about Buratai: “Nigerians deserve an answer and the answer must come quick because Nigerians cannot be taken for a ride by either Buhari or any army officer. The days when Nigerian Army officers can tell lies and get away with it or pretend to be messiahs in Nigeria is now gone. Every soldier must prove himself to be clean before we take them to be clean. We do not take anybody from Buhari to be clean simply because he says he is clean or his public relations men, who are paid to say so, say he is clean, that day is gone and gone forever.” I say, Amen to that!

I recently counseled President Buhari to look beyond his parochial precincts in making appointments and designing policies. I made that intervention after examining the man’s extremely lop-sided recourse to ethnic and sectarian jingoism in appointments in the country’s security sector. In his interview, Junaid was more unsparing, accusing the president of running Nigeria as a more or less family operation, with an unmatched and shocking degree of nepotism.

“Let me say straight away that whether one calls it a cabal or a mafia or some kind of cult or whatever, there is a group of people who are wielding power within the Presidency under Buhari. Whatever you say it is, it is and a lot worse. First, the most influential person in the Presidency today is one Mamman Daura who, as you know, is a nephew of the President. His father was Buhari’s elder brother. In addition, Mamman Daura was the one who singlehandedly brought up Abba Kyari, the current Chief of Staff to the President…Next, the Personal Assistant to Buhari himself is the son of Mamman Daura, next is what they call SCOP, State Chief of Protocol, and is also a son-in-law to Mamman Daura because he is married to Mamman Daura’s daughter,” said Junaid. And he went on, reeling name after name of critical political appointees and stating their familial connection to the president.

If – and I put a big if here – if Junaid’s allegations are true (as I write, there had been no refutation from the Presidency), then President Buhari is guilty of the basest privatisation of political power in Nigeria’s history. His defenders may say there’s no explicit law against such an act, but it would represent an egregious moral affront. In fact, if the Junaidian jeremiads hold up, then President Buhari would have reduced Nigeria – a complex, diverse and extremely troubled organism – to the size of his family and circle of friends.

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