In the past few days, a couple of my friends have drawn my attention to what they consider a demystification of President Muhammadu Buhari by a so-called Mail-on-Line medium in the United Kingdom. Upon reading the story, I got thoroughly disappointed, not at the story, but the fact that some well educated Nigerians could be taken in by what is no more than a red herring masquerading as the smoking gun that it pretended to have unearthed.
What is the story? What are the facts leading to President Buhari’s unwarranted vilification by the Mail-On-Line newspaper? There appears to be a four-count charge against the President of Nigeria by a newspaper that ought to be more preoccupied with the Panama Papers and the uncertain fate of Britain in the European Union, aka Brexit.
Count 1: That he sends his daughter to a 26, 000 pounds a year school and, perhaps without the approval of Mail-on-Line, had allegedly spent one hundred and fifty thousand pounds on the education of his daughter Zahra, a University of Surrey student.
Count 2: Without recourse to Her Majesty’s media, Buhari had allegedly allowed his 16-year old daughter, Hanan, to indulge in the royal privilege of flying first class from London to Abuja when her father had banned ‘public officials’ from the same privilege. Perhaps, she should have travelled by sea or better still, through the Sahara desert escorted by some Bedouin Arabs.
Count three: Buhari’s anti-corruption claim is spurious and sectional unlike what obtains in Britain where the election of Saqid Khan, a Muslim, as the new mayor of London, is being ‘applauded’ by all Britons.
Count Four: The Mail-on-Line describes Buhari, the popularly elected President of Nigeria as “the self-styled people’s President”. By implication, he is an impostor.
What is my take on this? First, as a Nigerian, I am conscious of the public image of our leader, whomsoever that person may be; in this instance, it is President Buhari. I concede that not every Nigerian agrees with his policies, his style or his actions. The same applies to David Cameron, prime minister of Britain. I will also be the first to admit that there is no consensus among Nigerians on these matters, including Buhari’s achievements. But that does not warrant this spurious attack on his person to the extent that he is being described as a “self-styled people’s president”.
Pray, was he not elected by the people? Yes, he flew the flag of a political party. But once elected, had he not become the president of Nigeria and its peoples? To the best of my knowledge, at no time has Buhari ever arrogated to himself the title of the ‘people’s president’, if, by that, the Mail-on-Line was referring to a long disused epithet by maximum rulers of old. The paper can conveniently spew its pejorative gibberish because Nigerians choose to be gullible and refuse to draw the line between partisan disagreement and patriotic consensus on matters of national pride and survival. If that had not been the case, for a medium in a country that taught Nigerians the ignoble art of corruption (read Professor Peter Ekeh’s Colonialism and the Two Publics), for a newspaper in a county that, for long has provided safe haven for funds stolen from Nigeria, the newspaper would have adopted greater circumspection in talking about Nigeria or President Buhari whose anti-corruption credentials date back to over three decades.
My take on the story is that it was timed as a distraction from the unprecedented anti-graft war taking place in Nigeria; the fact that in the past few weeks, millions of dollars have been traced to shoddy processes and transactions. Coming on the eve of the London conference on corruption, one is tempted to suspect that the Mail-on-Line’s poorly executed diatribe could have been timed to take the sail from whatever presentation the Nigerian leader planned to make at the conference. In that case, we are bound to ask: whose interest is the newspaper serving?
I do not necessarily subscribe to the style of the Buhari Administration. But it will amount to sheer perfidy for any Nigerian or friend of Nigeria, to ignore the uncontroverted revelations of misuse of public funds by public officers of all political colouration. If the Mail-on-Line speaks for Nigerians, it must be the tiny cabal that turned our collective patrimony into personal wealth and turned all of us beggars either as individuals or as a country. Had that not been so, the medium wouldn’t have had the temerity to talk about the British government giving 250 million pounds to Nigeria over a period of one year because, under Buhari, there wouldn’t have been need for that.
The Mail-on-Line should be told that the anti-graft war is achieving results, one step at a time. Nigerians are not under any illusion that this is just one event, no, it is not. It is not a sprint; not even a marathon. It is a process, a long term engagement with the future of the country; a process that Nigerians of every persuasion must not just buy into but take complete ownership of, if the future promised by the change agenda is to be guaranteed.
The good news is that the anti-graft war has started in earnest, with all its imperfections. Back home in Nigeria, over one trillion naira has been recovered, discovered or saved. That is far in excess of 250 million pounds. For any medium that is worth any credibility not to see this as a step, in the right direction, and to mock the effort as the Mail-on-Line has done smacks of outright mischief, professional amnesia or culpable duplicity.
I am tempted to take the view that the Mail-on-Line is being misinformed by those Nigerians who shamelessly plundered the national till for selfish reasons. It is convenient today for people to pander to ethnic, political or every other perceptible subterfuge for their woes. But how many of them obtained the permission of their restricted groups before dipping their itchy and insatiable fingers into the public purse? How many of them deployed such proceeds of official malfeasance towards satisfying the legitimate needs of their primordial groups rather than oppressing them?
I do not think we should waste our time on the little matter of Buhari’s children as the Mail-on-Line provided us with no evidence of any wrong doing on the part of the President. The newspaper did not claim that Buhari, a former head of state, a former governor, a former minister of petroleum resources, a very successful farmer and a pensioner, dipped his hands into the public till to pay the fees of his children or fund their travels. If I read the medium correctly, it is simply saying that for Buhari’s anti-corruption war to receive its endorsement, he must first commit class suicide and subject his family to the same level of penury as the poorest Nigerians. That is utter hogwash. It sound’s completely illogical and uncharitable.
If the Mail-on-Line is honest in its love for Nigeria, if it is not singing the tune being dictated by some unseen malevolent sponsors from Nigeria, the newspaper should back Buhari’s effort to repatriate all of Nigeria’s money stashed away in Britain and other Western countries. When that is done, I can assure the paper that Nigerians are prepared to swallow any home brewed bitter pills to take us out of the present situation.
There are times I begin to wonder if the media in the western world is not bothered that some of their financial institutions look and act like receivers of stolen goods. In Nigeria, receivers of stolen goods are treated as suspected accessories to the crime. But Buhari has not threatened to take the British financial institutions to the dreaded Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Nigeria. All he is asking is for the looted funds to be repatriated to Nigeria to prosecute the agenda of his government. Therefore, Buhari should walk tall to the London conference and, with the support of the Mail-on-Line newspaper, boldly announce to those holding our money and our relatives to release them to us now!