Between Pharaoh And The Red Sea: As Nigerians Go To The Polls By Ibitoye Philip Eniola
An ancient King of Egypt, Pharaoh had enslaved the Israelites before God sent Moses to liberate them from the vicious monarch. Moses told Pharaoh God has commanded he let the people of Israel go but the king refused until God plagued the land of Egypt with very bitter woes. After Pharaoh had agreed to let the Israelites go, he changed his mind and chased them into the Red Sea to recapture them as slaves.
The choices Nigerians face on Saturday, February 16, 2019, is reminiscent of the dilemma that confronted the Israelites while they were leaving Egypt. They were stuck between Pharaoh and the Red Sea, same way Nigerians are now stuck with the choice of the two most popular presidential candidates, Muhammadu Buhari, and Atiku Abubakar; the two old guns whose precedents don’t exude much promise.
In the next paragraphs, I will lay into the antecedents of the leading candidates.
Candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari, rode to power on the back of his perceived ‘integrity’ and readiness to execute the anti-graft war. Since he got sworn in as president in May 2015, his integrity has often been put to test and he has most of the time been found wanting. Allegations against him range from one-sided anti-corruption fight against opposition figures, lopsided appointments (where many felt majority of his appointments are from the northern part of the country where he hails from), disregard for rule of law, and many other ineptitudes.
In the president’s defence, it’s reasonable if more opposition figures are charged with graft than those from the ruling party since most opposition figures today were part of the last administration marred by wanton corruption and desecration of our commonwealth.
However, situations where the president has shielded his own appointees and members of the ruling party from prosecution makes his intentions suspect and raises concerns over the president’s desire to walk his own talk: “I belong to everybody, I belong to nobody”. He had made the now popular quote during his inaugural speech as president. Frankly, the president hasn’t always been a man of his words – raising doubts over his supposed integrity. His infamous “97% against 5%” argument doesn’t in anyway reflect those words, the argument rather mocks them.
Prominent among those appointees that have been shielded from prosecution by the president are erstwhile Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal (who was arraigned by the EFCC earlier this week, over two years after his indictment by a Senate committee), Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, Chairman, Special Presidential Investigative Panel for the Recovery of Property, Okoi Obono-Obla, among others.
An investigation carried out by online medium, Premium Times, in July 2018, revealed Mrs. Kemi Adeosun to have submitted a forged National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate as parts of requirements for her job as Federal Minister of Finance. The Federal Government in its usual aloofness failed to make public comments on the issue or show signs of investigating the then minister despite wide outcry by Nigerians who demanded her resignation and prosecution. Several months later, after reported pressure from the presidency, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun admitted wrongdoing, resigned and fled the country, escaping prosecution. The former minister’s excuses of ignorance are not tenable since our laws do not recognize ignorance as an excuse. You would expect an administration who vowed to punish everyone found wanting of corruption (without discrimination) to do better in making a strong statement by making an example of Adeosun through prosecution. Sadly, she was left off the hook.
Also, Okoi Obono-Obla, another appointee of President Muhammadu Buhari, in September 2018, was alleged to be in possession of an “invalid” O’level result, according to findings by the House of Representatives Ad-hoc panel investigating the Special Presidential Investigative Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP). The panel had said in the course of its primary assignment that it discovered the presidential aide might have forged his way into the University of Jos where he studied and subsequently, the Nigerian Law School. In the light of the startling allegations, the committee had swung into action, digging deeper into the issue and seeking clarification from all parties concerned. Deputy WAEC Registrar, Femi Ola, testifying before the House of Representatives panel, had told the committee that “available evidence indicate that the results were altered and therefore makes them invalid.” The committee made several attempts to invite the presidential aide to its hearing but was not successful, leading to request for his arrest. The panel, however, indicted him. Till today, Obono-Obla has neither been investigated nor prosecuted by the Buhari-led Federal Government.
Another of the president’s appointees who has been fingered in corrupt practices is the Chief of Staff to the president, Abba Kyari, who online medium, Sahara reporters, on 20 September, 2016, reported officials of MTN gave a bribe of N500million, to intervene and use his closeness to President Buhari, to influence the federal government to give MTN a safe landing, helping reduce a fine from N1.04 trillion to N330 billion. The fine was placed on the Telecommunication giant by NCC for failing to disconnect unregistered subscribers. There were reports he was being investigated by a security agency but there was never a feedback from the supposed investigation – on whether he is guilty or innocent.
Also among the list is Babachir Lawal, who was allegedly involved in the misappropriation of funds allocated to take care of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North East. The Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Humanitarian Crises in the North East, in December 2016, in an interim report indicted Babachir for allegedly contravening the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, 2007, and the Federal Government Financial Rules and Regulations in a N200million contract scandal over cutting of grass in the North East. The Senate therefore called for his removal and prosecution by President Muhammadu Buhari. Babachir was first suspended by the president and later removed from office but never prosecuted for his actions until this week.
There has also been rumours the president might not be in control of his government with the most credible coming from President Buhari’s own wife, Aisha Buhari. While attending a National Women Leadership Summit organised by a political group, Project 4+4 for Buhari & Osinbajo 2019, Mrs Buhari accused Nigerian men of allowing two or three unnamed persons to “cage” her husband, thereby limiting his ability to perform to the expectation of millions who voted him into office.
In her words: “Our votes were over 15 million in the last election, and after that only for us to be dominated by two people that hinders collective team work that we started, which is totally unacceptable.
“If 15.4 million people can bring in a government, and only for the government to be dominated by two people; where are the men of Nigeria? Where are the Nigerian men? What are you doing? Instead of them to come together and fight them, they kept visiting them one after the other, licking their shoes. I am sorry to use that word.”
It was not the first time the president’s wife had been critical of her husband. In October 2016, she told the BBC that she may not back her husband’s reelection in 2019 except he shakes up his cabinet. In an interview with the BBC, Mrs. Buhari said the president “does not know” most of the top officials he appointed to office. President Buhari dismissed his wife’s claim at the time during a visit to Germany while answering a reporter’s question, he said, “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen, my living room and the other room.”
If anyone would know the president more than any other person alive, the first guess would be his wife, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, who lives together with him under the same roof and assumingly shares the same bedroom with him. Hearing those comments from her then makes the prospects of her husband getting a second term scary and raises questions over the president’s ability to govern the country effectively and be in charge.
Candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, is President Buhari’s major opponent in the presidential race. Atiku has at various times been alleged of corrupt practices and he’s never really been able to douse the presumptions that trail his character.
His former boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, was his fiercest political enemy/critic until they reconciled recently. The former president at various times launched attacks on Atiku’s character. In Obasanjo’s famous memoir, “My Watch”, he laid into Atiku’s brazen corruption antecedents.
Obasanjo wrote of Atiku: “What I did not know, which came out glaringly later, was his parental background which was somewhat shadowy, his propensity to corruption, his tendency to disloyalty, his inability to say and stick to the truth all the time, a propensity for poor judgment, his belief and reliance on marabouts, his lack of transparency, his trust in money to buy his way out of all issues and his readiness to sacrifice morality, integrity, propriety truth and national interest for self and selfish interest.”
In 2013, Obasanjo, bared his mind on why he’s never been at peace with his former vice president in an interview with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) magazine, Zero Tolerance, saying he could not understand why the anti-graft agency has not taken Atiku to court. The former president told the story of how Atiku was fingered by the United States for corruption. He said Atiku had refused to travel to the United States since he left office because of alleged corruption.
Obasanjo’s words: “We got a letter from America in June 2006, listing a number of people to be investigated; Atiku was one of them and that letter went straight to the EFCC. It was just shown to me because they will not be able to investigate my number two without my saying ‘Okay’. So, I said if we got this letter from America, so be it. If we have agreement with FBI, Metropolitan Police and they are helping us and we are helping them and they write to us and say these are the people we want you to help us investigate, what do you think we should do? You as EFCC, what will you do, coincidence or no coincidence?”
Atiku also featured in a 2010 U.S. Senate report called “KEEPING FOREIGN CORRUPTION OUT OF THE UNITED STATES.” It detailed how he funneled $40 million in “suspect funds” into the U.S. In the report, a whooping 173 – 241 pages discussed Atiku’s corrupt practices. He was also mentioned in a bribery scandal involving Congressman William Jefferson, who is currently serving time in prison.
Earlier in January, Atiku embarked on a widely celebrated trip to the United States which normally shouldn’t have been a big deal. Much was made out of it because of his alleged inability to travel to the United States due to a travel ban that was consequent upon his indictment by the U.S. Senate. For the past 12 years before his January trip, he never stepped foot on American soil and that has been a potent weapon of the opposition to water down his challenge and dismiss him as a corrupt individual. His trip to the U.S. earlier in the year was to prove there’s no travel ban on him.
Despite Obasanjo’s insistence Atiku has turned a new leaf and has learnt from his mistakes, his recent move might have made mockery of the comments. Shortly after getting back from the trip, he was reported to have validated one of Obasanjo’s description of his character. In “My Watch”, Obasanjo wrote, “…his trust in money to buy his way out of all issues…”. It now looks like he bought his way into the United States in January. Atiku, according to reports employed the services of lobbyists, Holland & Knight, and Ballard to get a chance to get to the U.S. again.
Former U.S. President George W. Bush had in 2004 signed the Presidential Proclamation 7750 which ban entry into the United States for current and former corrupt foreign officials which had prevented Atiku from getting a travel visa prior to lobbying his way into the country.
Such character is promising to “Get Nigeria Working Again” and I’m wondering how. Are Nigerians that easy to dupe, Alhaji Atiku? Like his major contender, President Buhari, he doesn’t look like one who has anything to offer Nigerians and that doesn’t bode well for the country going into Saturday’s presidential polls.
Clearly, these two characters (President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar) are not worthy of Nigerians’ mandate. Sadly, ours is a nation that sacrifices excellence and brilliance on the altar of mediocrity and incompetence as Saturday’s presidential election largely revolves around these two crooked individuals. We now find ourselves in a similar dilemma to that of March 2015 and it looks like we haven’t grown past our many mistakes in the past four years.
The journey to save our country from the fangs of the oppressive political class must start now and it is one that all lovers of Nigeria must commit to – to achieve the Nigeria of our dream. The third-force presidential candidates like Sowore, Moghalu, Durotoye and the rest have not enjoyed the same popularity as Atiku and Buhari do. If were to be one of them, as the ‘patriots’ they are, after Saturday’s election, I would forget anything that has to do with running for president at the moment. I would start thinking of 2023, calling for a coalition with other third-force presidential candidates and fire-brand young people who are thirsty for positive change. A movement that would cut across the entire country; the 774 local government areas. We would work tirelessly in tandem to disrupt the present political arrangement – that is run by a selected few to determine the fate of many. We would preach a new gospel: one of hope, to salvage our country from the profiteering few of our political class.
That would represent a paradigm shift, a change from the norm and a new start to a new Nigeria. Mr. Fela Durotoye, isn’t that what you’ve been preaching? Nigeria would be taken back from the cankerworms that have consistently sucked life out of our polity since independence (Heck! These guys’ consistency scares me). Mr. Omoyele Sowore, does that ring a bell? It’s time to send the old rogues packing, isn’t it, Mr. Kingsley Moghalu?
If these great men can make these sacrifices, maybe Nigeria might have some hope to attain her lofty heights. Perhaps, they are Nigeria’s ‘Moses’ sent to drive Nigerians out of the current political wilderness we are enmeshed in. Just maybe they represent some glimmers of hope for a dying country.
Just like every other Nigerian, I’m stuck between going back to Pharaoh and succumbing to the Red Sea. As we go to the polls on Saturday, we have a big task on our hands; one that will either make or mar us and we can only hope that the best man win.
*Ibitoye Philip Eniola writes from Kano State, Nigeria. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org