President Muhammadu Buhari threw the Western press a curveball with the lean holding he declared as his material worth. His means was incredibly small; a
counterpoint to the fabulous fortune of the klepotcrats that run the rest of Sub-Sahara Africa. Washington Post called him dirt-poor in an awed, honorific tribute.
But before Buhari declared the particulars of his relative modesty, he had managed to impoverish himself intangibly. He lost a measure of goodwill in the nearly 100 days he spent hesitating to do what was supposed to be the first thing. Candidate Buhari had promised to champion a dawn of transparency by declaring his assets as soon as he resumed office.
While he was dithered, he gave the impression that he found the fairly easy act of directing his aides to publish an inventory of his belongings too herculean a task to accomplish. He appeared to lack the threshold of will and energy he needed to utter the instruction. And this gave rise to questions and conjectures.
What could our Obama-certified man of integrity be hiding? Why is Buhari reluctant to prove his Spartan sainthood? Isn’t he held back by the fear that if he peeled back the curtain, the people would behold the wealth he has always pretended to be content to abhor? Is he not trying to protect his putative kinship with the poor, his vote-catching charm?
When he finally declared his assets, he gained some redemption. Many Nigerians were impressed that his possessions appeared to be reasonably proportionate to honest acquisitions possible in his career trajectory. He had declined to milk his stint in many “juicy positions” for personal aggrandizement.
The groundswell of clamor for Buhari to disclose his material worth was not due to the electorate’s desire to get Buhari to fulfill a campaign covenant. Fidelity was not the primer. The Give-Us-This-Day-Your-Public-Assets-Declaration rallying cry sprang from hope. Hope that Buhari’s assets disclosure would have a trickle-down effect. That it will inspire a stampede of emulation.
This presumption is rooted in the popular notion of the President’s omnipotence.
Many Nigerians tend to believe that a willing President can singlehandedly unleash a new zeitgeist; that an upright leader will shape the nation after his likeness; that a good President makes a good country.
They are not entirely wrong. The Nigerian President radiates enormous influence. What he says or does not say, what he does or does not do, who he likes or does not like constitute the ingredients of state policy.
For example, Buhari’s reputation for strictness has vitalized the anti-corruption agencies that went docile under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. EFCC and ICPC used to maintain a semblance of functionality by chasing petty thieves and internet fraudsters. They averted their eyes from NNPC and other government agencies that were spawning multi-million and multi-billion dollar scandals. Then Speaker of House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, said the anti-graft bodies were restrained by the language of Jonathan.
Today, EFFC and ICPC are evincing the promise of audacity. They are beginning to tackle big cases and deflate big egos. Nobody gave them a pep talk or a performance-enhancing drug. The heads of the agencies simply read Buhari’s disposition and aligned their operations accordingly.
The new regime of seriousness is restoring a sense of fear where there impunity hitherto prevailed. Caution and tentativeness are tempering aggressive looting.
But Buhari’s posture will not suffice to rid the country of debilitating corruption.
Nigeria has 36 federating states and 774 local governments. They are basically hardwired to serve as conduits for the politicians’ enrichment. And they will remain so. They won’t transform into channels of citizen service because of the stern face of an austere Buhari who is hundreds of kilometers away in Abuja.
We are seeing the governors push back public demands to rise to Buhari’s standards. We are seeing them fighting the pressure to mirror his outlook, as strongly as they would resist death. We are seeing them communicate that they resent the challenge Buhari’s shibboleth thrusts on them.
Governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike, dismissed calls to disclose his assets. He explained that he was just too busy to declare. He was laser-focused on providing ‘’dividends of democracy’’. He would not spare any time to indulge a distraction.
Wike referenced ‘’dividends of democracy’’ in his alibi. That’s a catch-all phrase for amenities and infrastructure coined by former Governor of Enugu State, Chimaroke Nnamani. Dr. Nnamani popularized “dividends of democracy” by giving a litany of carnival-like public lectures across the country.
Nnamani, an American-trained fetal surgeon, later proved to be a scam: A cerebral robber. He earned conviction for raping the state treasury and cornering the resources covenanted to the provision of “dividends of democracy” to Enugu people. He had made a good job of ambidextrously collecting multi-million dollar assets and pointing to us the way of efficient public stewardship.
Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti state did more than reject the calls for him to declare his assets publicly. He ridiculed Buhari for showing off antiquated mud houses.
Fayose has a 1.2 billion naira fraud case around his neck. He is alleged to have diverted funds earmarked for poultry projects during his first tenure. The case is now stalled because Fayose’s return to governorship entitles him to immunity.
Fayose has a brazen hatred for Buhari. He was so vexed by the possibility of Buhari’s victory that he placed an advance Buhari obituary alert as adverts in major Nigerian newspapers. Fayose feared for what may befall him under a stringent Buhari presidency. He is still wrestling with the dread of his assumed enemy.
Even governors of Buhari’s All Progressive Congress, including those who rode on his wave of popular appeal to victory, vehemently oppose calls to follow their leader’s example and declare their assets. They argue that the law doesn’t mandate them to disseminate their privacy.
This illustrates how united the governors are and how lonely Buhari is.
To be fair, though, the governors have a right to refuse to disclose their assets. They have a right to insist that they would not be measured against Buhari’s moral touchstone. In the first place, they did not purport to woo voters with the credential of integrity. They never claimed a profile that can withstand public x-ray.
They baited voters with money, branded bags of rice, vegetable oil and salt. And having done that, they eliminated the need to make such romantic campaign promise as ‘’I Will Declare My Assets Publicly When Sworn In’’.
On the basis of foreseeable consequence, too, the then governorship candidates could not have undertaken to declare their assets publicly upon assuming office. That would mean they have virtually foreclosed their chance of garnering more than the governor’s basic salary. And they weren’t casting their savings into the campaigns as an act of charity. They were investing in a viable venture.
Now in office, the governors can’t declare their assets publicly. They dare not publicize personal wealth their work history cannot explain. A flood of outrage will drown them.
Nigerian governors, more often than, make looting of the treasury their foremost preoccupation and the routines of their high office aside chores. But a certain indulgent clause in the constitution guarantees them freedom to steal without fear of any interruption till their last day in office!
And by the time their tenure expires, they have amassed enough money to procure a shield of Senior Advocates of Nigeria. The senior lawyers would then make the corruption case filed against their “clients” drag by asking for punctuations of adjournment after adjournment just to bite more appearance fees out of the loot.
At the end of the day, it could end in an Ibori acquittal. Or an Igbinedion plea bargain. Or an Alams pardon.
But the governors don’t rob alone. They are aided and abetted by public servants that are as avaricious. In point of fact, it’s the everyday clerk and accountant, the procurement officer and auditor that induct the newly sworn-in governor into the corruption culture. They help Their Excellencies thwart the financial protocols for the reward of some respectable share of the illicit lucre.
Of course, the evil civil servants underestimate their role. They don’t reckon their dishonest stoke of a pen or shuffling of tenders promotes a plague. They don’t figure their consent or collaboration counts.
Leadership is a fraction of the trouble with Nigeria. The paradox of a wealthy country teeming with a pauperized humanity is basically a mosaic of about 170 million culpabilities.
The clergy who dedicates churches and mosques built by thieves in government. The columnist who cries witch-hunt when a probe touches a sacred cow from their tribe. The youths who crowd the court premises to give solidarity to a benevolent crook. The Senators who hire themselves out as escorts of a fraud suspect.
Buhari’s integrity is a great asset to Nigeria. But his sole integrity will not suffice to change Nigeria. To change Nigeria will require a massive integrity transplant on all Nigerians.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu; @emmaugwutheman, emmaugwu.com