PRESENTING A FAKE BUHARI BY SONALA OLUMHENSE

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Sonala Olumhense

The All Progressives Congress has won back the Ekiti governorship.  It is a story that should only have attracted jokes, not big headlines, because there was no reason for former governor Kayode Fayemi not to have regained the job handily.

But he didn’t, not easily and not without controversy.  Election observers reported that APC, like its PDP counterpart, engaged in vote-buying, thuggery and intimidation. “Party agents had huge cash and were close to voting points,” one electoral observer said.  “Security agents were indifferent to cash inducement of voters…”

The government of President Muhammadu Buhari ferried 30,000 policemen into Ekiti for “security,” an election trick to protect the ambition of the power in Abuja.  In 2014, the same manoeuvre served the PDP well on its way to “victory” for Fayose.

It is little surprise then that the Centre for Credible Leadership and Citizens Awareness in Abuja, among others, described disturbing “arrests of political stalwarts by security agents and snatching of electoral materials by political thugs.”

Clearly, given that Nigeria operates no state police system, those arrests were not done by the PDP.  What is equally curious is how to explain political thuggery in the full view of 60,000 police eyes.

But the electoral commission, as is its character in these situations, swiftly served the interest of the ruling party by chalking up one for President Buhari.

Two days later, in an anniversary speech he gave at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the Nigeria leader bragged that his country’s general elections in 2019 would be “free and fair.”

But he did not tell his listeners his party had just won a state election with some dubious methods.

In other words, election-manipulation is alive and well under his watch, and it is anybody’s guess how much of the N242.45bn he requested of the National Assembly for the elections will go into buying votes by the APC.

Of equal importance, it is notable that a sizable new effort is going into selling Buhari, who is running for re-election, the government seizing every opportunity to put him up for polishing.   But if votes needed to be bought in Ekiti where Fayemi was popular, to what extent will Buhari—who is considerably less popular than he was four years ago, dispense with “free and fair”?

Providing eloquent warning in this regard was an effusive “press statement” following Buhari’s performance at The Hague, signed by presidential spokesman Femi Adesina, in which he gushed about “Mr. Integrity” and how much the world adores him.

Adesina described witnessing President Buhari around the world as he spoke to various multilateral bodies.  And then: “I have been on the entourage of President Muhammadu Buhari to scores of countries round the world, I have seen how he is well respected by global leaders, and how that reverence rubs off on Nigeria. I tell you, despite all the challenges our country currently faces, we have a leader the world adulates. His honesty, integrity, transparency, love for his country, personal discipline, and many others, are stuff that fairy tales are made of.”

Mr. Adesina misunderstands, or is mischievous about, two things.  The first is the nature of international engagement.  When a Head of State or Government addresses an international forum, it is normally followed by applause, sometimes even a standing one.  That is normal diplomatic practice, and only arrogance, ignorance or mischief can interpret it as personal approval.  I have sat through thousands of such speeches: both heroes and scoundrels are accorded the same reception.

To be sure, some speeches are less pretentious or perfunctory than others.  Some speakers are potent orators, while others describe genuine accomplishments.

The difference with Nigeria today is that there is a clear ramping-up of applause for Buhari by his team that is not in consonance with the feelings of Nigerians.   Buhari does not speak to Nigerian audiences, and the real measure of a leader is when he speaks to his own people in a democratic setting.  Any leader can pretend and tell lies abroad, and they often do.

Nonetheless, as I have often said in this column, a speech, no matter how elevated the platform on which it is delivered, is not an achievement.  That counts twice if the words are penned by a hired wordsmith.

Of Buhari’ speech at the Hague, Adesina was foaming with joy: “The applause was thunderous, as a man of integrity, Mai Gaskiya (the honest man) concluded his address. It was a day of glory for Nigeria, and all Nigerians of goodwill.  Truly, a prophet often has more honour outside, than in his own country. But then, this prophet undoubtedly has honour everywhere.”

And here is part of a soliloquy on Twitter on Thursday by presidential aide Lauretta Onochie: “Ques: Why is the world fascinated by the man, Buhari? Ans: With the greedy and corrupt leaders we had for nearly 17 years, no one believed a saintly leader could ever emerge from our Nigeria…”

Saintly?

Let us see if the evidence backs the propaganda.  The first problem is Buhari’s narrative, because he defines corruption only as stealing money.   While he may have never stolen one kobo personally, he has no problem surrounding himself with those who have, or in protecting anyone close by whose character is challenged. He has not been tested for accepting gifts.

Integrity?  Two of his closest officials have been exposed in the past two weeks for certificate-forgery, with Buhari eerily silent.  Is pretending to be holy the same thing as being holy?

Buhari runs a system in which, by definition, nobody near him or appointed by him can be probed, or if probed, prosecuted.  “Semi-honest” is not a compliment.

Buhari last week stood in front of the ICC talking about the rule of law, conveniently ignoring the fact, among others, that he has refused to publish the lists of looters ordered by two Nigerian courts, thereby protecting the looters.

Buhari talked incessantly about accountability until Nigerians gave him the presidency.  Is it talking about something or doing it that gets the job done?

How does Buhari derive saintliness from the strange case of Abdulrasheed Maina, a fugitive who, under his superintendence, was recalled to federal service with unprecedented semi-military security protection, given a double promotion, and paid his entitlements?

In 2016, a scandal erupted concerning the illegal hiring by the Central Bank of nearly 100 relatives and candidates of privileged Nigerians, including Buhari.  Similarly, last month, it was revealed that a scholarship scheme for trainee railway engineers being offered by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation has been hijacked by government officials.  Is that not the PDP’s playbook?

Has Buhari read the scandalous 2016 report of the Auditor-General of the Federation, which, like the 2015 report, is loaded with scandal and embarrassment?  And did he hear the Auditor-General say that since Buhari took office more government offices have refused to be reviewed?

Let it be clear: the more Buhari apologists and propagandists insist on his fake narrative, the more important it is to challenge it, because even the PDP did not stoop so low.

And because the Buhari of their imagination is dangerously fake.

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