By SKC Ogbonnia
Happy New Year, Fellow Nigerians!
Electoral seasons are replete with dramatic revelations, allegations, and rumours. Such news appears more novel, attracts more attention and thus spreads faster and wider. For the Nigeria’s 2019 elections, none seems to have trended more than the rumour that the current occupant of Aso Rock is one Jubril Aminu al-Sudani from Sudan, a body double of the real Nigerian president, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, who allegedly died sometime in 2017 and secretly buried in Saudi Arabia. But the Jubril rumour is shaping to be a child’s play compared to the audacious allegation that the real Buhari diverted “N1.032 trillion” meant for arms and shared among his relatives. The impact of these types of charges depends on several contingencies, but politicians who ignore them do so at their own peril.
The Jubril al-Sudani bunkum, for example, was able to gain global currency due to the actions or inactions of Buhari’s presidency. The most contentious question that greeted my recent visit to the United States of America, after suspending my presidential campaign, centered on the Jubril tale. My take has been simple: The rumour is trumpish—foolish and fiendish. I would add that Nigeria boasts of a bold cocktail of characters who would damn the consequences and alert the world on such a matter of national significance. To think of it, President Buhari has a herd of powerful political adversaries within his cabinet, his party; and the opposition ranks, including Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogora, the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, who meet with the president regularly, and many others capable of discerning the truth from error. Besides, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s glaring sense of humbleness must not be mistaken for cluelessness or cowardice. An unforced vacuum at Aso Rock would have been a Christmas in June for Osinbajo who, of recent, openly implied a dream for the commander-in-chief job, come 2023.
Unfortunately, however, despite the common logic above, many still harbour the thought that the occupant of Nigeria’s seat of power is a mere body double of Buhari. These include many elites at home and abroad. The fact that a legendary pastor like David Oyedepo could use his megaphone pulpit to echo the idiotic idea is profoundly instructive. Needless to mention that Buhari himself was confronted with the hearsay in faraway Poland. Even more, few hours before publishing this piece, I received a call from an influential politician from my area, who is set to join APC, probing: “My brother, this thing we are hearing; tell me the truth, is Buhari dead or alive?” But don’t blame them at all. As the saying goes, every rumour has a basis in fact—no smoke without fire. The case of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua is still fresh in the memory. The point is that the Buhari presidency gave rise to the Jubril rumour. The primitive ploy to shroud his sickness in secrecy paved way to all manners of conspiracy theories which are bound to trail his name to the election booths.
The opposition is doubling with more daunting allegations. The most mind-blowing is that President Buhari plans to fund his reelection through N1.032 trillion diverted from arms money to his relatives and hoarded into Key Stone Bank, Etisalat Nigeria, and Pakistani Islamic Bank. To better situate the magnitude, this claim was made by no other than Atiku Abubakar, a former vice-president and the current presidential candidate of the major opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). And the amount of money being bandied has no historical antecedent. It is an equivalent of 1/8th of the Nigeria’s 2019 budget and, of course, dwarfs the $2bn arms fraud of Dasukigate associated with 2015 polls. Even as the whole story may seem somehow, the Buhari campaign communication team is at it again, peddling pedestrian responses that make the opposition look like a genius.
Be that as it may, Nigerians have grown tired of watching the politicians spewing biased rhetoric, parading fallacy as facts. Yet, unlike the Jubril a-Sudani tale, the N1.032 trillion corruption charge against Buhari is a win-win. It borders on the apparent opacity of campaign finance in Nigeria. This ought to provoke a serious debate—an opportunity for the electorate to know who is fooling who on the fight against corruption between Muhammadu Buhari of All Progressive Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).
On the APC side, it must be reminded that President Buhari’s strong suit remains the myth of his legendary anticorruption pedigree. But the opposition is fighting back, now casting Buhari as nothing but a corrupt ombudsman, determined to use illegal money to fund his re-election. They amplify the claim by deploying a barrage of corruption charges against the president, including the fire and its smoke. They point to the oddity that the ruling party has become a safe haven for a corrupt club of decampees from the opposition. The most alarming, and rightly so, is the case of Godswill Akpabio, who stands indicted by Buhari’s government for looting N108 billions of public money but is today a coordinator of the same Buhari’s presidential campaign. But the billow of the smoke so far is the N1.032 trillion bomshell currently spreading like wildfire with no end in sight. Unlike the Jubril saga, President Buhari should not attempt to dismiss the N1.032 trillion corruption charge with a mere wave of a hand. The terse denial credited to both Key Stone Bank and Etisalat through one investor group is a jive talk. It is incumbent upon the president, therefore, to demonstrate to Nigerians, without further delay, that there is neither smoke nor fire. It calls for his team to employ a combination of the relevant authorities and bonafide independent body—to set the record straight. Failure to do so only goes to further rubbish his storied integrity.
On the PDP side of the debate, a major obstacle standing between Atiku Abubakar and the Nigerian presidency is the perception that the man is virally corrupt. But Abubakar is attempting to prove that, contrary to the storyline in the annals, he does not live in a glass house and thus can throw stones. On party level, the PDP has a level of basis in fact to charge that the “Buhari Presidential Campaign Council is a looters list and a catalogue of ‘who is who’ in corruption”, but Atiku should not forget to explain to Nigerians why he continues to harbour in his own campaign the likes of Ayo Fayose and his national party chairman Uche Secondus, who also have cases with the anticorruption agency. On personal level, Mr. Abubakar must produce counter and compelling evidence to the following: the open confessions of his former boss and current promoter, former President Olusegun Obasanjo who swore—before God and man—that Atiku is the most corrupt Nigerian alive; the infamous Siemens bribery scandal as lodged by the government of the United States; and, more centrally, how he suddenly became stupendously wealthy upon retirement from the Nigerian Customs, supported by yearly income tax returns. Most relatively, Mr. Abubakar must not renege on his open promise to “spare no thoughts in furnishing the public with details”—I mean factual details of the alleged Buhari’s corrupt activities, especially with respect to the N1.032 trillion allegations. The daily dose of hearsays is wearing thin. Anything less than an authentic evidence is an automatic roundabout to the lesser evil principle. But Atiku knows not to go there. Buhari will easily be seen as the lesser, at least, for what remains in the archives of his spartan anti-corruption profile.
Wild allegations and sophistic counter allegations have become the order of the day because the politicians embrace the maxim that a repeated lie, after a while, begins to wear the toga of the truth. But Nigerians deserve the hard truth. The hard truth is that corruption is once again trending as the most dominant issue in the current presidential race, and illegal campaign money is the root cause of corruption in Nigeria. It is also true that the APC government deserves credit for sanitizing the system to the extent that tainted money does not appear to be flowing like in past elections, but there is much more to be done to ensure a semblance of transparency in campaign finance. As a change president, Muhammadu Buhari should lead by example. He should abide, at base, by the section of the Electoral Act that focuses on campaign money; and then influence the relevant authorities to compel the opposition to follow suit. To paraphrase Einstein, positive change does not endure by making the same old mistakes over and over again.
SKC Ogbonnia, a former 2019 APC presidential aspirant, is the author of the Effective Leadership Formula