The first day of the rest of our lives

*Buhari displaying his ballot paper at a polling station in Daura, Katsinaa State, before dropping it in the box.

Sonala Olumhense

This is a difficult column to write.  Yesterday, February 25, was Nigeria’s much-awaited federal elections. I write this one day before, but you are reading it the day after, and ahead of the result.  I write as the pregnant one is wheeled into the labour ward but before the crying of the new life is heard, and its gender ascertained. I write while it is difficult to inhale, but before one can exhale.  I have a name for this one: ‘The first day of the rest of our lives.’

First, it is the first day of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), as a lame duck president.  In real terms, for a portion of his All Progressives Congress, his lame duck status appears to date from much earlier, when unhappy youths stoned his officials in his home state.

In January, the Kano State Government advised him to postpone a planned visit, saying it could not guarantee his safety following his refusal to extend the January 31 deadline for submitting the old naira notes.  When he went, his helicopter was reportedly stoned.

Since then, and in the past two weeks, he has been insulted by APC presidential candidate Bola Tinubu-supporting governors, who have since transferred Buhari to their rear-view mirror.  They include Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State and Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano. Last week, former party chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, was far more brutal, affirming that Buhari would “expire” on this day.

What this means is that should Mr Tinubu lose, as he most likely will, the APC sub-structure, filled with malice and accusations, will start to crumble.  APC’s Tinubu will have no reason to support Buhari.  His even more bitter and desperate high-profile supporters will have less reason for politeness or to support the concept of a party that will face national opprobrium for at least four years.

Already, Ganduje has denounced Buhari as lacking achievements.  In the president’s lame-duck 93 days, more of his supporters will become former supporters, as they try to use these three months to establish a narrative that diminishes Buhari as much as their beloved APC.

It is not completely true that Buhari accomplished nothing.  By the natural order of things, one or two things did get done during his tenure.  The problem is that he came to reset the table but either forgot what that task was or became inferior to it.

This is what makes this day the beginning of the rest of Buhari’s life.  Many will remember him for the pain and suffering he imposed on citizens in the final month before the election, allegedly to frustrate buying of votes.

But for seven and a half years, Buhari personally nurtured the monster he pretended he could arrest this month.  How?  He never publicly declared his assets, let alone ask his senior officials to do it, contrary to his promises.  He never systematically approached the interrogation of the fleecing of the state.  For instance, his personal biographer, John Paden, reportedly wrote in “Muhammadu Buhari: The Challenges of Leadership in Nigeria” that Buhari was in possession of some letters concerning the use of “off-budget funds” that implicated former President Goodluck Jonathan.  Buhari covered that up.

Make no mistake about it: he “fought corruption” every day, but only with the tongue; if any officials were “disciplined,” it was with a wink and a nod; they could go on to own vast swathes of the economy, including estates in Abuja itself.

If Buhari set up a probe panel, that panel disappeared, particularly if it wrote a report, as that report would never be read let alone implemented.

Remember The Global Fund?  Its first report on Nigeria in 2010 revealed that Nigerian officials and organisations embezzled nearly $500m meant for fighting HIV & AIDS.  President Jonathan never prosecuted those who were implicated, despite various promises, leading to The Fund scaling down its commitments to Nigeria.

That helped Buhari to win the presidency in 2015, but in The Fund’s 2016 report of May 2016, it reported that the abuses continued.  Among others, there were wide discrepancies between drugs ordered and delivered; $20m had been paid to suppliers without confirmation of delivery; and there were $7.65m in unsupported expenditures.

Buhari set up three probes, including directing the EFCC to probe the misappropriation of grants received from The Fund between 2010 and 2014.

Seven years later, as Buhari today begins preparations for his inevitable return to Katsina, none of the perpetrators has been identified by his government, let alone punished.  Seven years!

What about the 2017 investigation by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo of two suspended officials of the Buhari administration, one of them following the discovery of over N13bn in cash in a Lagos apartment?

Where is the $8.5m the Buhari government one year ago approved for the evacuation of 5,000 Nigerians from Ukraine, and other war-affected European countries?  Only 1,100 — about one-fifth — of Nigerians were evacuated, each of whom got $100. Did Nigeria spend $8.5m on 1,100 persons?

Where is the report of the presidency’s trial of former EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu?

Where is former National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (retd), who went on trial under Buhari in 2015 after being indicted by a presidential panel which investigated arms procurement?

The point is that contrary to Buhari’s avowed mission, Nigeria has remained even more “fantastically corrupt,” as former British Prime Minister David Cameron declared in 2016. In response, Buhari had said he was “shocked” to hear those words, but under him, the country grew worse and less transparent.  Not once has he found the courage to name the kleptocrats he promised to name, and throughout his tenure, he has ignored every court which ordered him to publish the names of high-ranking public officials from whom public funds were recovered.

In other words, Buhari took Nigerians to school not about how much better they could be, but about how hypocritical he is. As well-intended as the new naira policy may be, its implementation shows that his government is a farce. There is not one aspect of the Nigerian condition that Buhari’s leadership has not made worse in his eight years.

These same binoculars make our perch on the precipice of a real future very exciting, for it is also the edge of dawn for Nigerians.  I am confident that the result of yesterday’s election will change Nigeria’s story. Why? Nigerians do not always vote foolishly, driven by religion, ethnicity or hunger.  The elections are sometimes, but not always, rigged.  Yet, they always end up with the same bad leader, fortified by impunity and characterised by the inability to see beyond himself.

By yesterday, and because of successive leaderships that shortchanged Nigerians since 1999, that has changed. People have woken up.  Most Nigerians voted yesterday with a sense of vision and responsibility.  They voted with the awareness that they could change things for themselves, that for as long as we are one people, the problem is not the leader, but the citizens.

It is the first day.


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