By Rotimi Fawole
It is election week finally, and while a vote for any of the numerous candidates on the ballot will be one that has been validly and lawfully cast, it is my earnest wish that when the tally is taken, the incumbent president will not be declared the winner. However that many voters remain enamoured of him and it is a sentiment that completely stumps me. Mostly because many of them cannot articulate their support without either bending logic or discarding laws and convention, but also because the overwhelming evidence of the past four years suggests that his re-election does not portend good news for the country.
The highly vaunted integrity of General Muhammadu Buhari is a bit of an urban legend. Not because he is a thief, because in all likelihood he isn’t one, but because the real meaning of integrity goes beyond the narrow definition that his supporters choose to give the word.Yes, honesty is a part of integrity but so is fidelity to values. In his particular case, it should be fidelity to our constitution, to our laws and to the foundations on which modern democracies, including Nigeria’s, stand. If the past four years are anything to go by, the President is not quite the bastion many imagine him to be.
He is not a believer in the supremacy of the Rule of Law. This is not surprising given his military background on the one hand, but also the reason he gave for his conversion to being a democrat, on the other. According to him in his pre-2015 rebranding, he converted to democracy because he was amazed at how the Soviet Union fell without a single bullet being fired. Of course, he did not elaborate.
However, what we have seen from his Presidency is an egregious disregard for the judiciary. Supported, either tacitly or explicitly, by the Attorney-General, the chairman of his anti-corruption committee and his Vice-President (all Senior Advocates of Nigeria), orders of court have been routinely ignored, it has been canvassed that the constitution be suspended to facilitate the so-called War on Corruption and
Justices of the Supreme Court have been assaulted. In his second term of office, the destruction of the pillars of justice is assured.
This administration’s handling of the economy has led to record job losses and rising unemployment. Of all the drivel that has circulated on devices this election season, the worst is the quote that “if Buhari killed your business, your business must have been killing Nigeria.” Some people genuinely believe that the economy nosedived because “Buhari blocked corruption money”. Government spending as a fraction of GDP between 1999 and 2016 averaged less than 10% (the Federal Government’s is probably only half of that) but somehow, withholding a fraction of this tiny fraction has killed the rest.
Officials are keen to point to the government’s social intervention programmes but if the lessons of Venezuela are anything to go by, a command-and-control economy with huge subsidies and handouts underpinned by income from a single resource is only heading in one direction. Something must change to avert that.
The President wasted 6 months selecting a cabinet of a multitude of square pegs in round holes, champagne-sipping designer apparel wearing pseudo-revolutionaries, a luddite Information technology minister and a propaganda minister more often than not referred to by the unflattering homophone of his name. His party’s manifesto has plagiarised both logo and content.
President Buhari’s utterances and those of his nearest and dearest have also left much to be desired. I will never be able to get over his “dog and baboon” remarks of 2015, or his offhanded dismissal this year of the Almajiri crisis in Northern Nigeria as a problem for local governments to deal with. His most genuflecting ally, the Governor of Kaduna (who once threatened President Goodluck Jonathan with the spectre of repaying on the death of any Fulani man) has threatened foreign observers with body bags. His party chairman has declared their party one in which all your sins are washed away when you join. His exact words.
And as for the war on corruption, the administration is quick to cite the number of ex-officials who have admitted to looting and refunded all or part of their booty. This is a good thing, to be clear. The problem is with the contentious matters, where the accused put the government to the strictest proof of its allegations. The government has shown itself completely hapless at building cases that meet evidentiary thresholds and well-inclined to dispense with rights and constitutional safeguards. In a Buhari second term, these precepts will be tested more audaciously than ever before.
The question for Nigerians this Saturday is what kind of country do we want in four years’ time? History, they say, repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce. We have already had the tragic repetition. Hopefully, we will not have the farce.