In biblical English, the expression “How art the mighty fallen” means nothing more than “How have the mighty fallen!” This thought occurs to me when I think of Muhammadu Buhari as a civilian president of a country of Nigeria’s calibre. Since his inception as president in 2015, a lot has happened in his presidency that ranges from the fascinating through the bewildering down to the demoralising. He has thrilled his admirers on occasions with decisive and targeted actions. He has also given them cause to scratch their heads sore in search of answers to pressing questions. More devastating though is that he has given many of his supporters, genuine reasons to jump ship and disavow the day they swore allegiance to him.
Just what happened within the pace of 24 months? Did millions of Nigerians err so badly? Those who admired him and those who feared him: Could they all have gotten it so tragically wrong?
The man who was cheered into the leadership of Nigeria with the hope of transforming the nation with the fearlessness of a natural revolutionary was a former military General. He showed no mercy in executing deviants and his ideological cause, as his antecedents show. The man, who was feared by looters and sinners, was the same military General who never shied away from hanging on fanatically to his beliefs and ideals – be they religious or political. Even though pundits knew that he had a deputy at the peak of his ruthless acclaim that gave the doggedness and resilience of his first coming a massive boost, his past was yet enough to confront the exigencies of the year 2015.
In other words, while there are presently a lot of head-shakings and head-scratching as we will further elaborate in the course of this discourse, there is consensus amongst pundits of substance that the ascension of Muhammadu Buhari to the presidency in 2015, was the saving grace for a country that was running headlong into perdition. His antecedents principally inspired hope in the birthing of a ruthless fight against corruption, in which his predecessor and the crew that sailed the ship of state, swam in reckless abandon. In the first meaningful fight against corruption in the dispensation that Muhammadu Buhari continued, one unblemished fighter had already coined the phrase that “Corruption fights back when you fight it so hard”. Nuhu Ribadu did not mince words in this message. Muhammadu Buhari was amply warned.
Muhammdu Buhari inspired hope in his resolve to brutalise corruption when he vehemently resisted the overture of fearful looters, who sought audience with him before his inauguration. He sent the message that he knew what he would be up against.
By failing to read the riot act in his inauguration, however, he left a few of his admirers scratching their heads very early, at the message of belonging to everyone and belonging to no one. His bonus had not being spent and many tried to rationalise his message in the emptiness. For three good months, he had no cabinet to govern with and shocked his most faithful supporters who thought he was going to usher in an era of speedy governance embodying efficiency and near-perfection. He did not hit the ground running. This quickly paled into insignificance, however, when he struck Dasuki and ensured the public knew precisely why. He cornered childish and amateur agitators and wannabe nationalists to send the message of a man who knew his onions. Today, the pubescent chatterbox of brainless agitation only barks within the confines of his isolated dungeon. Most importantly, the world bore witness to the head-on confrontation with the ragtag army of illiterate and hopeless young men, who took up arms to pursue the goals of a caliphate and were strategically used to compromise the unity of the Nigerian state by the government of his misguided predecessor.
Yet, the warning shots came to President Muhammadu Buhari very early enough. When erstwhile beneficiaries of corruption appeared in their deceptive cloak of priesthood as Archbishops and Saints to decry the commitment to the eradication of corruption and clamoured for concentration on the serious issue of governance – whatever that meant – everyone thought the president knew the ruggedness of the course he had chosen to chart. Alas, he handled them with kid’s gloves rather than professing the sterner warning of a man who meant business. A commonsense tweeting mix of intelligence and bravado also went on the rampage, tormenting the new president all in a bid to test the limits until his own filth saw the light of day. Then slowly and steadily, the noose tightened around the president’s neck. He was invaded by conflicting counsels and signals from close aids, pundits, the establishment forces and vested interests. All with one agenda or the other! It soon became obvious that the president lacked the serious gift of political intelligence the way he demonstrated military and battle intelligence.
All the encouraging signals of docking a Senate president slowly waned into the antithesis of a leadership highlight. He let the momentum slip by simply not knowing what best to do to strike a deadly blow and send a message unmistakable to anyone, who may attempt to try his guts as time progresses. The reckoning and counseling centred on averting the heated political climate that pervaded the dying days of Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency. The same Obasanjo saw the trap and warned the president. As has become the tradition, though, cautions from Obasanjo are generally viewed with suspicion and the victims always live to regret their choices when the dust and clouds settled from the horizon. Today, the president is the laughing stock of those he unwittingly protected when they hide behind the iron curtains.
Indeed, one of them at the hallowed chamber does not even hide behind the iron curtains any longer, when he seeks to mock and deride the president. He asks the president to do his worst. And I say how art the mighty fallen!
In the midst of all that though, the president still managed to pack a punch like a leopard stalling its prey. He pounced on the judiciary unannounced and signaled the dawn of another chapter in the battle to cripple corruption. Then voices came from vested interests and indeed also from ordinary self-styled pundits who thought they were being intelligent and prudent. They shouted “separation of powers” and seemingly equated this with a separate right to commit crimes. Some queried the highhanded method of arresting corrupt judges, citing the need for civility and respect for judicial designations. No doubt, a neutral observer from outer space would have cried a river, seeing those who contributed their quota in various capacities, to drag down the wheel of progress down, in a society that is struggling to establish itself. They sought to be more papal than the pope and more democratic than theoretical democracy. They forgot one thing. Just one thing! The law is meant for all to obey – judges and lawmakers included. Without immunity, a corrupt judge or a lawmaker must be arrested and prosecuted in the same manner an armed robber would. A criminal judge or legislator must answer to his crimes much like a criminal clerk and criminal minister. It does not require the permission of any chief judge, head of the legislature or the chief clerk of any institution. The only authority vested with the powers of law enforcement is the executive – not the judiciary, not the legislature.
In a society that is struggling to establish its identity in system and sanity, the role of setting examples and sending messages cannot be over-emphasised. The harder they come, the harder they fall! Unfortunately, however, our pundits do not understand the ridicule they expose themselves to in pretending to be living in a society that has reached the democratic development of a United Kingdom, a United States or a Germany, where discipline does not begin with law enforcement but with the general population that is, by and large, its brother’s keeper. When that is done, civility may begin to creep in, in the narrower world of law enforcement. Precisely that is the reason revolutions are brutal and bloody because calm is always preceded by the storm and not vice-versa. It is a funny law of nature.
In the end, the president chickened-in and aborted the clampdown on the judiciary, much like he gave in to persuasions to let Bukola Saraki off the hooks thus missing the biggest opportunity of his presidency and lifetime, to leave an indelible mark on the history of Nigeria.
Today, Muhammadu Buhari has been certified sick and seems to worry too strongly about death, hoping not to make too many enemies when the final day is near. His close confidants and lieutenants are now reported to be indulging in financial self-service before his very nose. Reports of budget-padding go unprobed and Dogara, the suspect-in-chief becomes the president’s closest friend in an unholy alliance, while the whistle-blower is handed to the wolves to devour. Officers of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are now widely rumored (even though without proof), to be helping themselves to loots recovered by them. A Senate is now holding the nation to ransom hoping to bargain away the head of the EFCC and enhance a smooth sail to corrupt padding and illicit enrichment. The wearing of Customs uniform suddenly became top of the legislative agenda, while serious problems becloud the nation. Academically unqualified individuals are exposed to be holding high offices in the legislature. A publisher and activist is attacked in open streets in obvious political vendetta. The same publisher is suddenly held in Nigeria while visiting from a foreign country, by agents of corruption that he had exposed.
In all of these, the president is nowhere to be seen. He is nowhere to be heard. Has it been a serious misunderstanding after all is said and done? President Muhammadu Buhari will ultimately have to choose between his health and the health of Nigeria. Will he give his last breath to salvage Nigeria no matter whose ox is gored? It is not too late to engrave your name in the political book of eternal saints the noble Mr. President.
Frisky Larr, a journalist, is author of Africa’s Diabolical Entrapmentand the more recent Lost in Democracy.