Buharists And Their Stockholm Syndrome By Kennedy Emetulu. (First published in November 2014)
First, let me quickly make an apology. I apologize for using the term “Buharists” to describe those invested in voting for General Muhammadu Buhari in the forthcoming presidential election if he is presented as the flag-bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC). I make the apology duly noting that those who are opposed to the reelection of President Goodluck Jonathan and a lot of who are Buhari supporters have taken to describing those in support of Jonathan’s reelection derogatorily as “Jonathanians”, especially in social network exchanges.
I mean, it is not in doubt that if you open a Buhari supporter’s dictionary, a Jonathanian is that specie of homo sapiens who is so stupid as to not see the virtues of voting for General Buhari, the anti-corruption demigod who is ready to return us to some Eldorado that the Otueke man supposedly yanked us from. The revolutionary fervor of these people cannot be challenged. You just have to shut up when they are talking and cursing Jonathan and you, the Jonathanian. Yeah, that’s just the way it is. So, if I must call them “Buharists”, I must apologize, because I don’t want to rouse their anger against me. I’m not worthy.
Seriously, this article is an adaptation of a response I made to someone with whom I was having an exchange on the social network. While it is partly a response to the fellow’s posts in the course of our exchange, I have adapted it into an article that is a broader response to Buharists in the form of a case against the Muhammadu Buhari candidacy for President based on his antecedents. In dealing with the latter, I have opted to be detailed. To that extent, I’ll plead that if anybody interested in reading it finds it too long, they should please forgive me and exercise some patience. I humbly suggest such persons don’t read it all at once. They can take their time to gently, gently read it for days and respond whenever they like or not respond if they choose not to. But, please, please, I urge everyone to just accept it as part of my continuing contribution to the political discussions surrounding Buhari’s candidacy.
Now, before I continue, let me make a caveat. I am not supporting President Goodluck Jonathan because he’s from the South-South just as I know that some Northerners supporting Muhammadu Buhari are not doing so, because he’s from the North. Jonathan contested four years ago and even though I supported and took part in the campaign for him to replace Umaru Yar’Adua as President I did so only because that was what the Constitution required, not because he’s from the South-South. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, as an Ezon, he is as close to me culturally as a Yoruba, Fulani, Bachama or an Idoma or Hausa. The truth is candidates and voters are entitled to come from different or the same section of the country, but what determines if they are being sectional or sentimental is the quality and nature of their arguments in support of their candidacy or candidate. I don’t play that kind of politics and I encourage those who want to engage me not to play that kind of politics too, because once I notice that ethnic politics is your game, I’ll ignore you and move on.
Also, I have refrained from making this article into a candidates’ achievement itemization piece. This is deliberate. I’ve had a running debate with some friends who were insisting that I list the achievements of Jonathan or make a case for him to be President all because they felt I have had a lot to say about Buhari and why he isn’t fit to be President, but I have consistently explained to them that I will indeed make a comprehensive case for Jonathan’s reelection at a latter date when he has formally declared and when the APC has finally chosen their own flag-bearer. It might just be that all the attention on Buhari is precipitate, even though most expect him to clinch the APC ticket. The reason I’m doing this now is because Buhari has declared his candidacy and bought his party’s presidential form, so we can at this point take a closer look at him. Those who are keen on taking a closer look at Jonathan now that he has also collected his own party form are free to do so. We will judge each candidate on the basis of the facts we present and opinions we share therefrom.
In any case, no matter how discussants have framed the debate in the past and how they hope to frame it between now and the general election, my point was and still is that people have different ideas about how to sell Jonathan or Buhari as a candidate. For instance, I keep telling people that the election would not be a referendum on performance, but a referendum on the soul of the nation and the future of the country. By this I mean voters would not be judging Jonathan mainly on one or more of his achievements in office, but more on whether he or the other candidate is the one more trusted to keep Nigeria one and relatively peaceful and prosperous. In this regard, while some people are not happy with some aspects of Jonathan and his government’s response to the Boko Haram menace, not many people are blaming him for it. In fact, most Nigerians actually blame the opposition for it. Indeed, despite the opposition’s attempt to talk and act with selective amnesia over Boko Haram by giving the impression it all started with Jonathan, Nigerians know that it came to a head under President Umaru Yar’Adua when he attempted to put them down by humiliating them with extrajudicial killings, including the extrajudicial killing of their leader, Mohammed Yusuf. For some of us more informed, we know that it was this episode which was transmitted live around the world that later gave Boko Haram its international ‘credibility’ with Global Jihad, the platform under which it operates today.
But ordinary Nigerians, most of who would comprise the voting public, are not very good with seemingly complex analytics. There are those who look at the political situation now and think amongst the opposition are the sponsors of Boko Haram; there are those who think that Boko Haram is the military wing of the opposition and there are those who believe its present campaign is aimed at ensuring a Northern candidate emerges President in 2015 based on some medieval feudalist agenda that does not serve the interest of the ordinary Northerner or Nigerian, but an agenda that only serves the selfish interest of the same cast of characters that have been ruining the North and Nigeria with bad leadership since the beginning of time! Unfortunately, this is the nature of Nigerian politics where people routinely use their ethnic background and/or professed religion as some form of advantage and selling point in certain constituencies. Buhari has used his Hausa-Fulani ethnic card, his Northern origin and professed religion so effectively that he is today regarded as the biggest defender of Northern political interest as opposed to national interest. Being clearly the biggest beast in the opposition, his mentality is massively reflected in their response to national issues. For instance, in trying to cash in on the Boko Haram menace, the opposition has acted as though this national security issue is a Jonathan problem, rather than a national problem. Amongst them, Buhari has been most vocal in his anti-Jonathan and anti-government stance, which some people are interpreting, rightly or wrongly, as a pro-Boko Haram stance. His antecedents do not help. His loss during the last presidential election led to killings and disturbances up North that claimed over a thousand lives, including the lives of many young members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and people haven’t forgotten that this is something he’s yet to condemn till this day.
He has since continued to make inciting statements unbecoming of a statesman over the forthcoming election, quite apart from being one of the loudest voices against government’s approach to the Boko Haram crisis when he says things like government should stop killing Boko Haram members and when he criticizes the army and so on. Unfortunately for him, this is going to be the overall focus of electoral choice. It is my contention that Buhari will lose, because not many Nigerians trust him as a statesman, not many Nigerians think he would do enough to keep Nigeria secular, democratic and united. He’s been contesting for over a decade yet you can’t get anything by way of policy from him or ideas on national security or the economy. It’s just not there! For me, listening to him talk and articulate his ‘vision’ is a painful exercise. He does not have it and there’s no surprise there. He knew very little when he came in as head of state and he’s done nothing since then to show he’s educated or improved himself.
Now, some are lapping up the fable that if Buhari comes in as President, corruption and embezzlement in high places would come to an end. But I think this is like the story of the child and Santa Clause. That reality does not exist now or in the future, because the reality of who Buhari is has been shown to us through his real actions, not by the pictures and images being put out there by his spin-doctors and uncritical supporters. Should I start with the scandal of the N2.8 billion NNPC money that got stolen under his watch as Petroleum Minister and head of NNPC in 1978? Let’s bear in mind that the value of that money in hard currency at the time was more than $3 billion. Under intense public pressure, the Shehu Shagari government, which shortly took over thereafter from the military, set up a Senate probe which traced the money to a London Midland Bank account belonging to Buhari from where the money again got missing. No less than a person of the then Senate Majority Leader and Chairman of the Senate probe panel, Dr Olusola Saraki revealed this in an interview with Vera Ifudu of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). When Ifudu reported this, she was clandestinely sacked by the NTA, but the lady went to court and presented all the evidence and won in a case of wrongful dismissal. Saraki till his death never denied what he told the lady. In the end, they settled Ifudu with a big payout to buy her silence.
But the public pressure for the government to release the report of the probe never ceased during the Second Republic. Indeed, the Shagari government had made all arrangements to release the probe report (which reportedly indicted Buhari over the missing money) after the Christmas and New Year holiday of December 1983 and January 1984, but on December 31st 1983, Buhari conveniently struck in a coup that ousted the civilian government. I know that it’s common to hear Buhari supporters claim he was never part of the coup that brought him to power, but they can tell that to the marines. No one risks their lives planning a coup only to hand over to others who are not part of it. No, the coup planners always have it worked out before execution those going to occupy what position, not least the position of head of state. Anyone who chooses to believe anything otherwise is free to continue to believe whatever it is they want to believe.
Predictably, the first act of Buhari and his cohorts upon seizing power was to ransack the Senate and destroy all the papers relating to the N2.8 billion probe and then they followed that up with indiscriminate arrest of politicians on the ostensible excuse of corruption, considering there was indeed serious corruption at the time and the national mood was against the excesses of the politicians. The Buhari government jailed the politicians and persons they consider threats to their government without due process. It was precisely because there was no due process that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) of the time boycotted the Buhari military tribunals meant to try the politicians. It was a sad period in our national history as many innocent people were simply put in the gulag and wasted. People like Professor Ambrose Alli and Bisi Onabanjo, the former governors of the old Bendel State and Ogun State respectively didn’t last long after they were released before they died. People like Adekunle Ajasin, the former governor of Ondo State, Sam Mbakwe, former governor of Imo State and Olu Awotesu who was the Minister of State for Agriculture lived with life-long health effects from their incarceration until they passed on. People have written plenty on the unfairness of the treatment of the time in terms of how politicians from the North and South were treated by Buhari, something that was exemplified with Shagari being under house arrest and the squeaky clean Alex Ekwueme banged up in Kirikiri Maximum Prison.
Really, this is not the place to get into the detail of how he unfairly treated Southern opposition politicians of those days as opposed to NPN politicians from the North, but suffice it to say when the Buhari regime was overthrown and the gates of the NSO dungeon was flung open, Nigerians were shocked when they saw over a hundred people come out, a lot of them mere skeletal remains of their former selves, like something from the Japanese World War II prison camp. That is why when sometimes I listen to some young people today eulogizing Buhari, I just wish they knew how the Nigerian people spontaneously celebrated the overthrow of his government, because of how much hell they saw under his yoke! Indeed, it was his unpopularity that General Ibrahim Babangida inversely converted to the huge popularity that initially greeted him and the coup that brought him in.
What the Nigerian people must know is that the whole events surrounding the N2.8 billion were part of a high-level conspiracy of corruption by the Nigerian establishment of the day against the Nigerian people. The reason everyone at the top was interested in covering it up was because it was money that was stolen by the military hierarchy as their own ransom payment for allowing the General Olusegun Obasanjo civil rule programme of the Second Republic to commence. There were countless reports that not everyone was happy they were handing over to civilians, but because of the commitment they had made upon the overthrow of the General Yakubu Gowon government and intense international pressure to return to civil rule, they knew they had no choice but to go. But the N2.8 billion was their last hurray! Obasanjo, Buhari, Theophilus Danjuma, Shehu Yar’Adua, Ibrahim Babangida, Aliyu Gusau and all the military top brass at the time were in on it. It was their own ‘settlement’ money; this was their goodbye handshake and the incoming civilians knew this, except Obafemi Awolowo who was dreaded for his uncompromising stance. This was the reason Buhari raided Awolowo’s home at the time, because the military boys wanted to be sure he didn’t have anything to indict them. The only reason the civilian government set up the probe was because of the public pressure, but the military boys under Buhari saw this as a breach of their agreement to look the other way and with a wink and nod from Obasanjo and Shehu Yar’Adua, Buhari and his cohorts struck and declared their government “an offshoot of the Murtala-Obasanjo administration”.
While it is true that the December 31st 1983 coup that brought Buhari to power was a conspiracy between serving and retired military officers who wanted to return to power under the guise of cleansing the Aegean Stables, there was one powerful civilian group that comprised the third power bloc in this coalition. This is the Kaduna Mafia. Those conversant with old Nigerian politics would recall that the Kaduna Mafia originally developed as a collection of young civil servants, businessmen, military officers of Northern extraction vehemently opposed to the Major General Ironsi regime in reaction to the January 1966 coup. They were mostly based in Kaduna, the capital of the Old Northern Region and at the time, their thinking was that the 1966 January coup was an attempt by the South, especially the Igbo to lord it over the North. They never trusted Ironsi and always considered him part of the January 1966 coup. To them, the killings and all that happened were aimed at using the army that was dominated at the officers level by Igbo and Southerners as the new power base in response to what the South considered the Northern political domination being entrenched through electoral rigging and divide and rule tactics in the South, for instance, as witnessed in the Western Region. The Kaduna Mafia first began as the North’s intellectual response to the National Question after that coup, but soon they became the inciters of Northern army officers who planned the July 1966 countercoup as revenge for the January 1966 coup.
After the bloody July 1966 countercoup that saw the murders of Ironsi, Adekunle Fajuyi and several Igbo and Southern officers, the North under the intellectual direction of the Kaduna Mafia originally wanted a secession (Araba) from the rest of the country, but on the advice of their British and Western sponsors and supporters in and out of the country, they took over the central government. But considering the poisoned ethnic and religious atmosphere of the time, it was obvious that a government under the coup leader, then Major Murtala Muhammed was nigh impossible; so, they put forward a Northern Christian army officer by the name of Lt Col Yakubu Gowon. Events that surrounded the Gowon takeover and the continued pogrom against Igbo and Southerners in the North eventually led to the Civil War.
But under the Gowon regime, the Kaduna Mafia couldn’t wield the overwhelming power they had hoped for, because Gowon, conscious of the effects of the Civil War and desirous of rebuilding trust in the national project, brought in heavy hitters from all sections of the country to run what was essentially a national government under the economic leadership of Obafemi Awolowo, who was considered the most serious-minded politician of his day. Between then and when he resigned from the Gowon cabinet in 1971 in protest against continued military rule, the Kaduna Mafia elements within the Gowon cabinet couldn’t match the coalition of national intellectual forces that Awolowo put together. It is an irony that today, many political neophytes easily fall for the lazy categorization of Awolowo as a Yoruba ethnic leader when in fact, no one has done more to keep Nigeria one and no one has done more to give the minorities North and South the opportunity to stake their claim within the Nigerian nation. But all that is another story. For now, what we need to know is that Awolowo was one of those that checkmated the Kaduna Mafia in the postwar era.
However, the Kaduna Mafia gained prominence under the General Olusegun Obasanjo military administration through the events that surrounded the February 13 1976 coup that saw the killing of General Murtala Muhammed and Obasanjo’s dependence on the Kaduna Mafia to win the trust of the North and consolidate power. Two members of the Obasanjo military administration were the Kaduna Mafia’s links within the administration. They were Major General Shehu Yar’Adua, Obasanjo’s second-in-command and Major General Buhari, the Petroleum Minister. Both were introduced to the Kaduna Mafia by the secretive Mamman Daura who was Buhari’s nephew and son of Buhari’s brother, Alhaji Dauda Buhari. Alhaji Dauda Buhari was the influential head of the Kaduna Pilgrim’s Board whose removal by the Balarabe Musa administration was to earn Balarabe Musa special ill-treatment from Buhari when he took over government. When on October 18, 1975, General Murtala Muhammed appointed Mamman Daura and Dr Tam David West who was a Commissioner of Education in Rivers State to the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), both struck up a friendship that led to Daura introducing David West to Buhari and later his recommendation for the post of Buhari’s Minister of Petroleum.
During the Second Republic, the Kaduna Mafia lost some of the influence it had under the Obasanjo regime when its candidates, Adamu Ciroma and Maitama Sule lost the presidential ticket of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, an old-style Ahmadu Bello acolyte who though was sympathetic to the Kaduna Mafia also dreaded their influence. In fact, the corrupt politics of the Kaduna Mafia had created opposition to them in the North amongst young radical elements under the influence of people like Aminu Kano, Abubakar Rimi, Balarabe Musa and so on and some of them even within the ruling party at the states and national levels opposed the old guard Kaduna Mafia in various political turf wars in the North. Also, the intellectual coalition originally harbingered by Obafemi Awolowo in Tivland, the Niger-Delta, Efik and Ibibioland and in the Midwest and in Borno, all have grown in influence too and were pulling their weight through their various leaders, even as members of the ruling party. Awolowo himself remained fully engaged politically and was the de facto strongest opposition to the influence of the Kaduna Mafia in politics and national affairs.
Today, many commentators point to Awolowo’s choice of Muhammadu Kura as his Vice Presidential candidate under the banner of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the 1983 election as a sign that Awolowo finally compromised with the Kaduna Mafia as a means of gaining the presidency from Shehu Shagari after it was reported that Shagari’s relationship with Kaduna Mafia had soured, especially with Svengalis like Umaru Dikko and Ibrahim Tahir acquiring more powers. They say the man who brokered the Awolowo-Kaduna Mafia rapprochement was the former No 2 man to Obasanjo, Major General Shehu Yar’Adua. But this account is suspect as it was a latter-day story that gained currency at a time Major General Shehu Yar’adua was himself seeking the presidency under the convoluted Ibrahim Babangida transition programme and as a means of winning the vote of the Yoruba. Kura was not a known member of the Kaduna Mafia and in fact, his politics was diametrically opposed to them. Before coming to the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), he was a member of the Ibrahim Waziri Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP) under whose banner he contested for the Bauchi governorship in 1979, coming second behind Alhaji Tatari Ali of the NPN. At any rate, what was not in doubt within the establishment was that the coup that brought Buhari to power was secretly supported by Obasanjo and Yar’Adua who represented retired military officers and also by the Kaduna Mafia who had lost a lot of influence under the Shagari administration due to political infighting with other power blocs within the ruling NPN and who now saw Buhari’s emergence as their triumphant return to the epicenter of national power.
The Buhari regime lasted from December 31st 1983 to August 27, 1985. It was a government essentially run by six men. The first two of these six men were Major General Muhammadu Buhari, the Head of State and Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon, the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters and Buhari’s deputy. The next four were all representatives of the Kaduna Mafia – Ambassador Mohammed Lawal Rafindadi, Buhari’s kinsman and the notorious head of the Nigerian Security Organization (NSO), which Buhari converted to his secret police; Mahmud Tukur, the Minister of Industry and Commerce and the man who took over the import licence honeypot previously controlled by Umaru Dikko; Mamman Daura, Buhari’s nephew who was the de facto czar of the oil sector under Buhari (while Professor Tam David West was a figurehead Petroleum Minister) and Major General Mohammed Magoro (now Senator) who was the Internal Affairs Minister then, but a close Buhari associate. Major General Shehu Yar’Adua represented the interest of Obasanjo and the retired generals who supported the coup. Obasanjo at the time could not openly come out to support the regime, because he had to keep up the pretense with the international community that having handed over to a democratically elected civilian government, he was now a convert to democracy. But he secretly nominated his cousin, Onaolapo Soleye who was a lecturer at the University of Ibadan as the regime’s Minister of Finance.
The regime’s political programme consisted entirely of suspension of vast sections of the 1979 Constitution and a brutal clamp down on civil society organizations and the civil populace via the suspension of human rights and civil liberties. It proscribed the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). It promulgated all sorts of draconian and retroactive decrees, for instance Decree 2, Decree 4 and Decree 20. Decree 2 gave the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters the power to detain anyone without trial for up to six months and Decree 4 banned journalists from reporting or publishing any information that is considered embarrassing to any government official. Decree 20 was a retroactive law that imposed death sentence on drug peddlers who were tried in military tribunals, rather than regular courts. Promptly, Buhari’s tribunal condemned three young men – Lawal Ojuolape(30), Bernard Ogedengbe (29) and Bartholomew Owoh (26) to death and had them executed despite a deluge of pleas nationally and internationally to spare them. To make matters worse, Bernard Ogedengbe’s offence did not carry the death sentence at the time of the commission, yet he was executed.
Obviously, the political programme did not include any plan to return to civil rule and considering the notoriety Nigerians associated with politicians and how much military propaganda had succeeded in doing damage to anything civilian, the Buhari government played that to the hilt. Politicians became endangered species as they were hounded from pillar to post. The regime’s social programme consisted of what it called War Against Indiscipline (WAI), which was a programme the regime said was aimed at returning the country to the virtues of discipline, cleanliness and anti corruption. True, following from the debauchery that defined the public space in Nigeria from the moment of the excesses of the Udoji Salary Award through to the corruption and social demoralization of civil rule, Nigeria needed some kind of jolt and the regime provided that in the form of WAI. But like everything it proposed, it was not about getting the essence of it, it was about force. Nigeria became one huge prison with military personnel as warders, publicly dishing out degrading punishments to Nigerians of all classes on the highways, in offices, even in their own homes! The programme was simply fear and more fear.
In foreign affairs, the manner of the overthrow of the civilian regime, the suspension of human rights, the indiscriminate arrests, beatings and imprisonment all made Nigeria a pariah within the international community. Then the regime’s secret attempt to smuggle Umaru Dikko (a former Minister of Transport in the ousted Shagari government) back from London in a crate sealed the regime’s fate internationally and embarrassed Nigeria greatly in the comity of nations. This affair, which I shall discuss in more detail later, further exposed the vacuousness and viciousness of the regime. The leadership was thereafter seen as thuggish and tyrannical and not many people were dealing with them outside Africa.
Economically, the regime exposed itself as totally inept. Clearly, it was unprepared for government and therefore unprepared for the challenges posed by the Nigerian economy. Unlike the Gowon regime, which recognized its limitations by getting some of the most brilliant Nigerian politicians and administrators of the time to set policies and run affairs (which was one of the reasons we prosecuted a civil war without borrowing a dime and also one of the reasons we did not fall into the trap of Cold War superpowers play), the Buhari regime acted as though it knew it all. Now, we are not only talking ignorance in the rudiments of political economy, but an attitude that is revanchist and anti-national in terms of Buhari’s understanding of how to rejuvenate the national economy. For instance, Buhari was and still is of the belief that the South would need to be ‘slowed down’ so that the North could catch up economically and also in terms of infrastructural development. Of course, he never said this directly publicly, but his policies while in public service point to this. For instance, this was the reason he engineered the scrapping of one of the most foresighted policy of the Lateef Jakande civilian government when he took over, which was the desire to improve transportation in Lagos and regenerate the city, which was the federal capital at the time. In 1982, the Jakande government signed a N700 million contract for the metroline project with a French consortium comprising about 19 firms. The Lagos State government was required to pay only 10 percent of this money, while the balance was to be paid by the consortium. After the overthrow of the civilian government, the Air Commodore Gbolahan Mudasiru government in Lagos State set up three committees to look at the viability of the project and all of them recommended it highly. But the next thing the nation heard was that it had been scrapped and no reason whatsoever was given! Years later, the late Mudasiru spoke publicly about the matter revealing that he had all the intention to continue with it, but that he was specifically directed by General Buhari to cancel it without giving a reason at the time and without consultation with other members of the Supreme Military Council or his cabinet.
When Buhari was questioned about this during his last presidential campaign, his spokesperson, Yinka Odumakin initially said Buhari knew nothing about the cancellation of the rail project, as it was entirely the decision of the Madisiru government in Lagos State. But later, Buhari himself contradicted his spokesperson when he addressed his associates thereafter, claiming he indeed cancelled the project, but only did so, because his government did not want to take more loans or devalue the naira. At some other time, he said he cancelled it, because the contract was over-inflated. He presented no evidence whatsoever for this claim and could not explain why the cancellation of this project ultimately cost the government about $100 million comprising money already paid by the Lagos State Government as part of its commitment to the deal and also monies paid in damages and compensation to the French firms as a result of legal wrangles over the cancelation. That tells us the extent Buhari would go to pursue an agenda to deprive Lagos or the South what he thinks would give it economic advantage, even where the value can be clearly seen by all. Today, 30 years after, we are still discussing the metroline for Lagos.
Ultimately, when the Buhari government could not come up with any viable economic programme, it resorted to the politicization of its economic ignorance by selling the notion that the government was a bulwark against the imperialist Bretton Woods institutions. But that can only take you so far, because while fighting the international community and international financial institutions over differences in policies that could have been resolved with a better and more intelligent engagement with all national and international stakeholders, the austerity measures the regime introduced made it quite impossible for the manufacturing sector to procure raw materials in the face of the international capital market being closed against Nigeria. Industries were closing, left, right and centre and capacity utilization was below 18 percent and at every point, the government was seeking scapegoats for its woes in the form of politicians, illegal aliens, smugglers and currency traffickers, etc. But the reality was there for all to see in workers being retrenched in every sector and even in the public sector. I remember at the time how drastically our lives changed as university students as we dramatically witnessed the rise in the prices of fees, feeding, accommodation and procurement of books, even as the lack of these books became the norm. Inflation hit the roof and essential commodities became scarce. The regime’s key economic policy in response to all this was to resort to the medieval counter-trade economic policy. But this became the new corruption point for the regime presided over by the new import licence czar, Mahmud Tukur. Attempts by some bold journalists to report on the corruption in the counter-trade deals were met with unprecedented brutality. They were picked up and threatened with charges of economic sabotage as a warning to their other colleagues.
For those who keep talking of the Buhari regime as being anti-corruption, why don’t they ask themselves what the Buhari government had to hide by promulgation of Decree 4, which required that journalists simply don’t publish anything that would embarrass public officials and against which truth is no defence? Note that there was no Decree banning public officials from doing things that would embarrass Nigeria and Nigerians, but there was one punishing members of the Fourth Estate for reporting anything that would embarrass them. The truth is elements of his government routinely breached most of the Decrees his government made. Was it not Buhari that made a law against anyone below the age of 18 going on hajj only for the nation to see Idiagbon’s 14-year old son return with him from Mecca at the time of the coup that toppled them?
The same impunity was witnessed over the 53 suitcases affair. The story was that in April 1984, against the prevailing law at the time, Buhari sent his aide-de-camp, Major Mustapha Jokolo to go and forcefully clear without Customs’ inspection 53 suitcases belonging to Jokolo’s father, the then Emir of Gwandu, Alhaji Haruna Al-Rasheed who was coming in from Saudi Arabia. The Customs Area Administrator at the time was Abubakar Atiku who alerted the press and the nation to this. Now, over the years, different accounts have been given about what happened, but there are facts not in doubt, basically because these are the things admitted by the principal participants in the affair. I believe no matter what one believes, if we honestly piece the facts or admitted facts together, we would get a reasonable idea of what happened or what likely happened and no matter how we dice it the facts did not exonerate Buhari.
The background to this was one retroactive law that the Buhari regime made at the time – The Exchange Control (Anti-Sabotage) Decree (1984), which was seemingly an update of a former law – The Exchange Control (Anti-Sabotage) Decree (1977) – but, which in this new incarnation was a retroactive law punishing supposed offences as far back as October 1, 1979. But in this instance, it was not the retroactivity in issue, but it’s actual implementation for an offence suspected at that moment. At that time, as part of rigorous implementation of the law, stricter guidelines for inspections of luggage at the airport for departing and incoming passengers were being implemented and no one was to be spared. Coincidentally, on the day of the incidence, an order to close the borders had been issued by the Buhari government, because Nigeria was changing currency supposedly as part of the effort to beat counterfeiters and to force politicians suspected of hiding huge amounts of stolen naira to bring them out to change so they can be nabbed or not change them and lose them and so on. On a flight to Nigeria from Saudi Arabia on the day was the Emir of Gwandu, Alhaji Haruna Al-Rasheed. Buhari’s account was reported in The News of July 5, 1993. He said Jokolo didn’t even want to go and meet his father at the airport originally, but he had to prevail on him to go: “I said, Mustapha, your father is coming back today, would you not go and meet him, he said no sir. I said you have to go and meet your father, he is your father, and he went. Unfortunately there was a misunderstanding between the customs officers and the soldiers there. These people never refused their bags to be checked.”
Mustapha Jokolo’s latter-day account was given in the Sun Newspaper of 17 December 2011. He corroborated General Buhari’s account that he ordered him to go and welcome his father, but with a little more detail:
“I have said several times in the last twenty something years that I was innocent of everything. Now, it has turned round that somebody like Prof. Wole Soyinka wrote a book saying that I was smarter than Vice President Atiku. It was wrong of Wole Soyinka to say it happened in Kano. Look, in 1984, my father traveled to London for medical check up. He had an entourage of about 13 people. After his operation, he moved to Saudi Arabia for Umrah, the lesser hajj. On his way back, he was on the same flight with Ambassador Dahiru Waziri who was the Ambassador to Saudi Arabia for six years.
“He was appointed State Chief of Protocol and so, was moving back with his entire family. So, he decided to come with them on the same aircraft. Around that time, there was currency change because of the poor economy of the country and the naira was all over the place. We had no control over our economy. The government planned a secret operation to change the colour of the currency. All borders were closed and that was the time when this aircraft was landing. When it came in, I remember we were about to play squash with Buhari, Idiagbon and others.
“Then Buhari asked me if my father was not coming back that day. I said ‘Yes sir, we have already sent people to bring him back’. He said ‘Are you not going to receive him?’ I said ‘No sir’ and he said I should go and receive him. He gave me orders to go and receive him.
“So, I asked Captain Maitama who was the Commander of the Brigade of Guard to accompany me. So, two of us drove to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos. While there, I saw some officers who were going on course to the United States. Colonel Walbe was the one who arranged that course.
“While we were there, I was told that the aircraft had landed and was also told that they had some problems at the baggage area. When I went with Captain Maitama, I saw some Customs officers with some of our people and I asked what the problem was. They said that the Customs said that they were not allowed to check the luggage. I asked why, every luggage here should be checked. They said those ones on the ground had been checked, but that there were some that were taken away from the aircraft itself in a truck direct from the State House without coming through the customs area. I said whose luggage were they and they said it belong to State Protocol.
“One ASP Saidu Gella who also was from Adamawa state like the Chief of Protocol was the Luggage officer in the State House. He was the one who went with Maigari to collect the luggage direct from the aircraft without coming through the Customs. I said ‘Is there anyway you can call them?’ Unfortunately, we do not have the mobile telephone at that time. I asked if they had walkie talkie and they said they had none.
“So, I said I was not here for him and asked if they had cleared these ones and he said they had cleared them. ‘Can we go?’ and they said ‘You can go’. I swear to Almighty Allah, if there is anything other than this, may God strike me dead. May he not forgive me my sins. That was all that I knew about all that happened. The following day, we read in the newspapers that there were 35 suitcases that passed through Customs without clearance.
“The Emir did not come with 35 suit cases. It was the Chief of Protocol, Dahiru Waziri, whose luggage were taken away from the aircraft straight to his house without going through customs. The Emir’s baggage were not more than 12. All of them had one piece each because they had landed them there. Whatever shopping they did before, they transported them from London in an aircraft and they received them. So, we had cleared their luggage before. At this time, they were in London when there was this ban. When they finished, before they left, there was this border closure.
“They had nothing to do with the 35 suit cases. When we cleared their luggage, they had not closed the border and so, they came with single baggage of their dresses. We did not allow what was going on. Then, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the present Vice President was Area Administrator at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. He was the one who came on air to say it was an Emir from the North who brought not 35, but 53 suitcases.Onaolapo Soleye was the Finance Minister. To date that I am talking to you, nobody has asked me to answer anything.
“I think there was power play at that time and there were many interest groups. There were people who were trying to bring Buhari down. Buhari’s half brother was on the Emir’s entourage who was father to Alhaji Mamman, same mother with Buhari. People knew about it. So, he was the target. Then, they started mentioning the Emir of Daura, but it was Buhari’s brother who was in the group. Now, Ambassador Dahiru Waziri was colleague to Ambassador Rafindadi who was the Director General of NSO. On their own part, they were trying to cover the Ambassador.
“Another angle to it was that Atiku was aiming to be Director of Customs, while Abubakar Musa was Director of Customs. If he was painted in bad light, if Atiku presented himself as the champion of the discovery, Abubakar Musa being from Sokoto, would be painted black and possibly he would be removed and automatically, Atiku would be made Director of Customs. So, you see, there were three interest groups. One, people who are trying to paint Buhari black by referring to the Emir of Daura in the accusation. There was a mention of the Emir of Daura, but they knew it was Buhari’s brother, but they didn’t have the courage to mention Buhari’s brother, Alhaji Dauda. There are people like Atiku who were out to get the Director of Customs and there was Rafindadi, the Director General of NSO who was trying to protect his own friend, the State Chief of Protocol whom he brought to Buhari.
“He never knew State Chief of Protocol and since I was there, my father was not the victim, but me. To get access to Buhari, they had to get me first. This is all part of power play and the whole thing was like that. It was being sponsored within the military itself. For example, when Chief Awolowo’s house was searched, Buhari never knew about it. He read it on the pages of newspapers. It was carried out by a group of military officers who arranged for Chief Awolowo’s house to be searched. They knew Buhari would not come out to say ‘I didn’t order it’. So, it was power play and I had no opportunity to defend myself because I was not allowed to speak”.
At some other time, he said this when questioned about the incident:
“…I have thrown enough light that the sun itself will be extinguished by the light that has been thrown on this issue. If you believe it, you believe it. If you don’t, you don’t. No matter what I say it will not change anything. But I will like to say just one thing. That thing happened when Buhari was the Head of State and the people who were involved in it were the people close to him. I was his aide-de-camp. The next persons were his Chief of Protocol, Ambassador Dahiru Waziri who is late; the Director General NSO Rafindadi who is also late and Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, the former Vice President. Atiku was the one who fired the salvo. After they said it was 35, he said 53. The man who brought these 53 suitcases was Dahiru Waziri. He was from Adamawa State”.
Now, a truly honest review of the facts would show that it’s not a case of whether or not we believe Buhari and Jokolo; it’s the fact of what they admit. There is no argument that in the same flight with the Emir of Gwandu were Buhari’s brother, Alhaji Dauda Buhari (who was father to Alhaji Mamman Daura, the chap I had mentioned as one of Buhari’s links to the ‘Kaduna Mafia’), Buhari’s newly appointed Chief of Protocol, Alhaji Dahiru Waziri and right there at the airport was Alhaji Lawal Rafindadi. Now, why was everyone so quick to point the accusing finger at Alhaji Dahiru Waziri? Why was the head of the nation’s secret service, a man who would have been privy to the government’s order, be quick to tell the world that he was the one trying to cover up for a friend while at the same time, Mustapha Jokolo sent there by the head of state and a supposed witness of everything ordered not to speak? Why did Rafindadi take this rap on behalf of Alhaji Dahiru Waziri and why was he not sacked for this, but instead rewarded with more powers? Why would people be scared of mentioning Buhari’s brother as claimed by Jokolo? Does it now matter if it was 35 bags as indirectly claimed by Jokolo or 53 as claimed by Atiku who was the official on the spot and the man more likely to know? Atiku has insisted ever since that they were 53 bags and that they belonged to the Emir of Gwandu. But whether Jokolo and the pro-Buhari people contest this or not is irrelevant, what is relevant is that the Buhari’s Chief of Protocol was admitted by the Buhari people as the chap who took the bags (35 or 53) uninspected through Customs and at a time when the media was filled with stories that the bags contained foreign currencies. As the Chief of Protocol in State House, he had no immunity and as a Nigerian ambassador at that moment on Nigerian soil, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) does not grant him immunity, so if this was the case as it was, why was this man not questioned? Why did Buhari just allow him to resume as his Chief of Protocol without giving Nigerians any reason for his action? Why were the bags not searched even after? And more crucially, why would the head of the NSO be involved in such a shady business? Why would he admit to such a thing and still get no query? The answer is obvious, whether the bags were 35 or 53 or whether they belonged to the Emir of Gwandu or Alhaji Dahiru Waziri, the Buhari administration’s handling of the affair and the dramatis personae involved shows the government fully had a hand in it.
Indeed, Jokolo’s attempt at an analysis and his conjectures merely confirms, even if inadvertently, that the Buhari government had a hand in it. First, his conjectures about Abubakar Atiku couldn’t have been true, because the man was not that near the top of the Customs hierarchy at the time. He was only the Customs Area Administrator based at the Lagos Airport Customs Command. At that place, he was not a threat to Abubakar Musa, the then Customs boss. True, he did rise to the position of one of six Deputy Directors in 1987 and was said to have left in April 1989 when he was overlooked for the headship of the organization, but that timeframe is totally out of our consideration. The point is in April 1984 when the incident in question happened he was not in a position to aspire to head the Customs. In his account by his biographer, Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, Atiku maintained his position and claimed he was under tremendous pressure to deny the incidence after, but he refused. What saved Atiku at the time was that one of the regime’s godfathers, the late Major General Shehu Yar’Adua (ret), was also his own godfather. At any rate, the Abubakar Musa angle has no bearing on the issue, except if Jokolo isn’t telling us the whole truth. I mean, he was the Custom’s boss quite alright, but there was no mention of him in the saga. He was not at the airport and was not on the scene on the day neither is anyone saying he had been told before hand what was to transpire. So, why would Atiku doing anything as part of his duty as a Customs officer affect his own position in any way?
The Buhari regime’s penchant for selective justice and hypocrisy was soon in full glare five months after the 53 suitcases affair when they arrested, tried and jailed the popular musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who was on his way to the United States on a music tour with his band. He was arrested on spurious charges of illegally exporting foreign currency, which was money meant for the upkeep of his band while on tour. He was tried and jailed for ten years, but this was largely seen as an attempt to silence a critical and popular opposition voice against the regime. This was so when viewed against the fact that Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, the then Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Finance was exposed as having foreign bank accounts against the law. This happened when he lost thousands of pounds to Austrian thieves while on official trip abroad. Rather than apply the law, Buhari reposted Alhaji, a fellow Fulani to the Ministry of National Planning and rewarded him with membership of the Board of NNPC.
All the above apart, one incidence that actually revealed the depth of Buhari’s vacuousness and viciousness was one that I said earlier I would discuss later. This incident at the time almost painted the regime in heroic light when in fact it represented the worst excesses of its corruption and tyranny. It was, as I said, that incidence involving the attempt to kidnap Umaru Dikko in London and bring him back to Nigeria. Those politically conscious at the time knew that Umaru Dikko in popular imagination represented the worst excesses of the Second Republic. He was vain, haughty, corrupt and generally unconcerned about the plight of the common people. He it was who was reported to have said Nigerians weren’t suffering, because they weren’t eating from rubbish dumps yet. When the Shagari government was overthrown, Umaru Dikko escaped to London where he joined others such as Adisa Akinloye, the Chairman of the NPN, Joseph Wayas, the Senate President and Richard Akinjide, Shagari’s Justice Minister. Of all of them, Umaru Dikko was presented as the poster child of the corruption of Shagari regime and rightly so. As Minister of Transport and the man in charge of the distribution of import licences, he was at the centre of so many scandals. Dikko exploited his position as the Minister responsible for the ports and shipping to control most of Nigeria’s imports. From this position, he had access to many foreign businessmen and companies. One of those businessmen with close ties to Dikko was Nissim Gaon, a Swiss-Jewish tycoon that Dikko gave the right to import all sorts of goods into Nigeria from rice to cement, construction materials and so on.
But while Buhari’s anti-corruption rhetoric and the stigmatization of Dikko was generally welcome by Nigerians weary of the corruption of the Second Republic, no one expected that the government would engage in clearly criminal behavior to bring Dikko to justice, especially as the government’s selectiveness was becoming quite glaring. For instance, Nigeria and the United Kingdom had excellent relationship before then and the British government was very much aware of the excesses of the Second Republic. They did not condemn the coup and that could have been a good opening for the Buhari regime. Nigeria could have applied under the Fugitive Offenders Act to get anybody they wanted extradited from the United Kingdom, but instead, Buhari decided to go thuggish.
Now, it’s true that today, so many fairy tales have been woven around the story of the attempted abduction of Umaru Dikko. One of the more prevalent ones is the one linking the Israeli secret service, Mossad to the abduction. You get accounts of Mossad’s Director at the time, Nahum Admoni coming to Lagos and secretly meeting with Buhari where the deal to abduct Dikko was arranged. The story is usually presented as an attempt by the Israeli government of the day to curry favour from the new military government in order to protect its oil supplies from Nigeria. At a time Nigeria was a pariah, it was good propaganda to associate another state or state entity with the act, which was why, even in denying the involvement of the Nigerian government in the act, Major General Haladu Hananiya, the Nigeria High Commissioner to Britain at the time still claimed the incident was the handiwork of “some patriotic friends of Nigeria”. This was a veiled reference to the Israelis involved in the saga and an indirect way of giving the impression that the Israeli government or secret service was involved. But the truth is less glamorous. There was no Israeli secret service or Mossad involvement at any level and the Israeli government or their agents were never questioned about it by the British authorities, even though there were conjectures in the House of Commons and in court, because the facts do not in any way lead to them.
What happened was the exhibition of the same impunity ad authoritarianism by Buhari who thought this dramatic kidnap was important for two reasons. One, Umaru Dikko had become the fiercest and most effective critic of the Buhari government internationally where he was getting great attention from international press and other governments and two, because he was one official of the Shagari government that knew the underbelly of the new military government, having dealt with a lot of the elements of that government as Minister. As Minister, Umaru Dikko had used his position to enrich a lot of those military officers, including Buhari, through the grant of import licences to them, which they sell to local and foreign businessmen to make money. It was one of the ways the Shagari government was keeping the soldier boys happy and out of coup plotting. In fact, at the time, trouble was already brewing within the ruling junta over how the import licences were now being handled under the direction of the new Minister of Industries and Commerce, Mahmud Tukur. Mustapha Jokolo recounted an intense conversation he had with Buhari over the attempt by Mahmud Tukur to use the import licence power to sow seeds of discord between Buhari who was the head of state and Babangida, the Chief of Army Staff. The story was that Babangida who had had an easy time getting import licences from Umaru Dikko for his friends and associates now had to deal with a scheming Tukur who used every opportunity of Babangida asking for import licence to engage in a whispering campaign against him with Buhari. It got to a situation that when Jokolo suggested that certain sections of the army be given import licences so as to ease things for the civil populace, Buhari suspected that it must be Babangida that put the idea into his head. What these stories tell us is that the underlying reason for the overthrow of the Buhari regime later has more to do with disagreements over how the military boys were to share the spoils of office.
But back to the kidnap story, as I said, it was based on the whims and caprices of Buhari who wanted to play hero by bringing back Dikko in such a dramatic way. Yet, the motive was not patriotic. Buhari had been under pressure from the public for his selective treatment of members of the overthrown civilian government, especially with the harsh treatment he meted out to Southern opposition politicians while leaving a lot of the members of the NPN, especially Northerners associated with corruption free. For instance, Buhari’s friend, Awwal Ibrahim, the former Niger State Governor and a member of the Kaduna Mafia was caught with more than £14 million in London, including other currencies of various amounts and he was simply put under house arrest. Buhari needed to pick Northern scapegoats to seemingly balance the score and Balarabe Musa and Umaru Dikko were perfect for different reasons. Balarabe Musa was jailed, because he removed Buhari’s brother, Alhaji Dauda Buhari as head of the lucrative Kaduna Pilgrims Board and Umaru Dikko was wanted to coat the new regime in heroic film.
Buhari turned to an Israeli businessman and conman known as Elisha Cohen. Cohen who had originally come into Nigeria in the sixties as a representative of Reynolds, a subsidiary of the Israeli construction company Solel Boneh, had, while in Nigeria, become friends with a lot of military officers and establishment figures amongst whom was Obasanjo with whom he did business. He left Nigeria in 1974 and returned as the president and head of a company called Johnson Drake and Piper (JDP), which he continued to use to run his rackets with his Nigerian military friends from his base in New York. Cohen’s gimmick was to tell far-fetched stories about his involvement with Israeli intelligence. But for starry-eyed Nigerian army officers, his invented stories about imaginary exploits with Mossad and Shin Bet made great impressions. Buhari gave him $5 million dollars and with Rafindadi, the head of the NSO, Major General Haladu Hananiya, the Nigerian High Commissioner to Britain and Group Captain Bernard Banfa, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Airways, they hatched the plot to get Dikko. A senior retired military officer was also said to be part of this and in latter years, this was suspected to be Lt General Theophilus Danjuma (ret). Cohen who was 54 years old at the time hired a 27-year old small time crook by the name Alex Barak of Natanya, Israel. Barak himself hired a 31 years old Felix Masoud Abutbul, a career criminal he knew at Netanya. Cohen then used a contact to hire Dr Arieh Lev Shapira who at the time was a 43 year old anesthesiologist working at Hasharon Hospital in Petah Tikva, Israel. Shapira was told that his job was to anesthetize the victim and that the operation was for “the good of the country.” To this day the doctor still believes that what he was recruited for was an official Mossad mission and not a private criminal enterprise.
Once Cohen had put together this group, Buhari dispatched Rafindadi to meet up with Cohen and Barak in New York to begin the preparations. As part of the preparation also, Barak and Cohen flew out to meetings in Nigeria to meet with elements of the junta and Nigerian intelligence service. While in Nigeria, Barak was given a Nigerian passport under the name “Kamal Shimon”. Barak was the “field man” who was to work with Dr Shapira and Abutbul. Rafindadi had already stationed Major Mohammed Ahmadu Jarfa Yusufu at the Nigerian High Commission, London. He was to be the linkman between Barak and the junta in Lagos.
Barak’s original plan was to lure Dikko into believing he was coming to a ‘television studio’ for a television interview, but the television studio was actually a rented place for the operation. But all attempts to get Dikko through two “freelance journalists”, a French Jew called Adrian Dramon and a Ghanaian called Camroun Daouda, failed. They even attempted to get an unsuspecting Nissim Gaon to come along for the ‘interview’ with Dikko, because they knew Dikko trusted him, but Gaon didn’t agree to such an interview. When all this failed, Cohen and Barak decided on a new plan, which was to kidnap Dikko, drug him and take him directly to Stansted Airport.
On Thursday 5th of July, 1984, at about midday, they kidnaped Dikko outside his house at Portchester Terrace in the Bayswater area of London, tied and gagged him and drove him to a meeting point at Regents Park where they were to drug him and transfer him into a crate in a white van and then drive to Stansted Airport. While on the way to Regents Park, the conspirators heard a beeper on Dikko’s belt go off. On the device came a message: “Don’t worry, we’ve informed the police and called for help.” Of course, this should have alerted them that someone had seen them and told the police, but Barak insisted on carrying on with the plan, because according to him: “They told us it would take at least two hours from the time we `picked up’ the man until the mechanism that closed down the exit ports in Britain would go into operation. The timetable, which had been precisely calculated over and over again, showed that even if they called for help, we would still have enough time to get away.” The person who sent the message was later revealed to be Dikko’s personal assistant, Miss Elizabeth Hayes, who saw the kidnap happen and quickly called the police.
The kidnappers went on with the plan. Dr Shapira drugged Dikko with the anesthetic and got into one of the crates provided with him along with some emergency medical equipment to monitor him. They then drove to the airport where Barak and Abutbul nailed the crate containing Dikko and Dr Shapira and they both climbed together into a second crate, which was then nailed by Yusufu, who was already waiting at the airport with his aide from the Nigerian High Commission. Meanwhile, by the original plan, Abutbul was not supposed to get to the airport. He was supposed to have left at Regents Park after Dikko had been drugged. Barak was also supposed to have left the UK by other means. But obviously, both of them were keen to go to Lagos in such a dramatic way hoping to be welcomed as heroes and rewarded massively by a grateful junta. Yusufu and his aide stamped the crates with a wax seal to indicate that they had been identified as diplomatic cargo that should not be opened.
But they were in for a shock. The UK Customs were not taken in by the fake diplomatic immunity seal, they called up the Foreign Office to confirm that the cargo had no diplomatic immunity and one particularly vigilant officer, Charles Morrow smelled the anesthetic from the crate and heard unusual noise emanating from within them and insisted on opening them. Despite the best effort of Yusufu to stop the Customs opening the crates, they opened them with a crowbar to discover the four men inside. A drugged up Dikko was taken to hospital in Bishops Stortford and the three Israelis in the crates were arrested. Yusufu was also later arrested along with thirteen others. Cohen who had already flown to Lagos from New York in expectation of a happy ending was extremely disappointed when the BBC announced the failed attempt, but he blamed it all on the Nigerian security services who he accused of ineptitude. Barak put most blame on Group Captain Banfa who he said was supposed to meet Yusufu and Dr Shapira in the morning of the kidnap attempt at an apartment in London to provide them the right documents and to also join them at Stansted Airport to supervise the loading of the diplomatic crates. But Banfa chickened out at the last minute. Of the 17 people questioned, only four were charged and convicted. They were Alex Barak who got 14 years, but who was released after serving eight and half years; Dr Shapira and Felix Abutbul both got 10 years and served six and Major Yusufu got 12 years and served 7 years.
The reason I have detailed the affair here is for people to understand exactly what happened and to analyze the implications today when we look at Buhari and think he’s some democrat prepared to bring glory to Nigeria. This incident clearly questions his mental capacity to understand what leadership is about. I mean, if he had a great case against Umaru Dikko and against corruption in Nigeria, why did he not use international law to make that case? Why did he not ask for Umaru Dikko to be extradited instead of attempting to kidnap him and bring him in a crate? Why expend such huge resources hiring charlatans and pretending they are members of Mossad? Of course, if there were any Mossad collaboration and involvement, it wouldn’t have been that ineptly organized. Would a Mossad operative get a message right there in London indicating that the police are on the matter and still carry on with the plan? Would a Mossad operative talk like Barak? Who has ever heard of a Mossad field operative granting interviews to the press over a successful or botched operation or after serving jail time? Would a Mossad operation leave room for an operative to decide he would go in a crate when he’d clearly been told to vanish at a point before getting to the airport? Would a Mossad operation have taken the decision to crate Dikko directly to Nigeria, knowing he was a wanted man there and that international security attention would be on that route? No, it was not a Mossad operation. It was an operation conceived by Buhari and Rafindadi using Cohen whom they’ve known for sometime and who has deceived them with his tales of being part of Israeli intelligence. It was a silly way to carry out such a mission and no, the mission was unnecessary, because if Buhari and his cohorts had anything on Dikko, it was an opportunity to show it to the world and lawfully ask for his extradition back to Nigeria. Buhari did not take that route, because he knew they had nothing. Buhari himself had had deep hatred for Umaru Dikko when the civilians were in power and when he had to report Dikko directly to President Shagari, because he believed Dikko was monitoring him. Dikko returned to Nigeria during the Abacha era and Buhari, despite his powerful influence at the time, never raised a voice against him. At the Oputa Panel in 2001 Dikko appeared and challenged anyone with a case of corruption against him to prove it, Buhari did not appear. He shunned the Panel’s invite and couldn’t even come to defend charges leveled against him over his time as Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) Chairman.
Another telling thing was what happened after the whole show, which led to a two-year suspension of diplomatic relations between Britain and Nigeria. It meant no extradition requests were ever granted and the so-called war on corruption became a damp squib, because we simply had no international credibility anymore. With the regime equally inept economically, we couldn’t even rely on Britain or any country in the West to help. In fact, when the Buhari government asked for our debt to be rescheduled, British Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher threatened to release the names of prominent Nigerians, civilians and military, whose account balances were enough to pay off all our national debt. That shut up the Buhari government, because they knew that a release of such names would have exposed the sham that was anti-corruption fight on the side of the regime as many elements of the regime and their supporters had these accounts.
In fact, nothing exemplifies the hypocrisy of the Buhari regime better than what happened with Lawal Rafindadi after the regime was overthrown. Contrary to the law that he himself had supposedly been enforcing against others, even without evidence, Rafindadi was exposed as having at least eight foreign accounts in five countries in various fictitious names with fake passports to match. The accounts discovered had a cumulative balance of £1,777,984.36 as at 1985. But because he was a bold establishment thief who knew what they were all involved in was a charade, he refused to go quietly when this was found to be diverted security funds that should be paid back to the state. Up until his death in November 2007, he was still fighting for the money to be returned to him, because he strongly felt he was not the only thief in the Buhari government!
Okay, let’s leave the above and consider the massive embezzlement Buhari superintended as head of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) from 1995 to when Obasanjo disbanded it in 1999. As a background, we know Buhari came out during the June 12 crisis to proclaim his support for the pro-democracy movement, even attending a pro-democracy meeting in Otta. Though he did not condemn the annulment outright, he made sure that his body language gave the impression he was for the people when the national demonstration against General Ibrahim Babangida started. But in truth, it was Buhari seeking vengeance against Babangida, his arch-nemesis who he never forgave and still hasn’t forgiven for leading his overthrow. That was his opportunity to see him off and he pretended to be pro-democratic and befriended a lot of the leaders of the pro-democracy movement, including Gani Fawehinmi.
But as soon as Babangida was forced out by popular revolt in that ‘stepping aside’ speech on August 27 1993, Buhari reverted back to type. He attended no more pro-democracy meetings and was to resurface later with General Sani Abacha when the latter overthrew the Ernest Shonekan-led Interim National Government (ING) on November 17, 1993. Buhari was part of the Abacha kitchen cabinet that cajoled leaders of civil society and made them believe Abacha had only taken over to restore June 12, which was why the meeting with Moshood Abiola was organized, even though they double-crossed him and brought the NTA along when it was not supposed to be public. Buhari was part of the plan to sideline Babangida in Minna where he was placed virtually under house arrest. Once Abacha consolidated with the appointment of some of the politicians and leaders of civil society into his cabinet, he fashioned a scheme to fleece the Nigerian people of money by increasing the pump price of petrol from N3.25k to N11.00 per litre in October 1994. When Nigerians protested this, in March 1995, he wheeled out Buhari as his joker by appointing him Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). Abacha said the PTF was established to use portion of the proceeds of the increase to intervene in critical sectors of the economy. What this meant in practical terms was that this was a super-parastatal bigger than any ministry and answerable to none. In fact, it was severally described as “a parallel government”. With a starting fund of N61 billion, it had more funds than three-quarters of the ministries combined. By the time it was being disbanded by President Obasanjo in 1999, records show it had collected N181, 795, 000, 000 (One hundred and eighty one billion, seven hundred and ninety five million Naira).
Now, what you normally hear from the pro-Buhari crowd about his period as Chairman of the PTF are extremely selective and sanitized accounts of how contracts for roads and other things were executed, how contractors were paid on time and how they patronized Nigerian drugs producers for the hospitals, etc. But, let’s just let that be, the lies and all; let’s look at something else that they never ever discuss. The thing you will never hear from them is how Buhari ran the affairs of the PTF. True, PTF had other board members like Tayo Akpata who was the Secretary and Group Captain Usman Jibrin, a board member who actually accused Buhari of corruption and who resigned in protest at the way Buhari ran the place. In an interview with the Sunday Trust of 18th October 2009, Group Captain Jibrin explained why he left thus: “What happened was that he (Buhari) followed the wrong procedure initially. He brought in the late Ahmad Salihijo without informing us. We just saw these boys in the meeting. We asked him, who are these boys? He said that they were just helping him to take notes. We didn’t know that he engaged them as consultants without our knowledge and consent because we are all members. I told him that it was wrong. As trustees, if something went wrong, we were the people that would be prosecuted, not any other person. I asked them to change the procedure and they were not ready to change it. I said ok, bye, bye….”
The name Ahmad Salihijo is a recurrent one in the corruption at the PTF. He was Buhari’s brother in-law who was his front at the organization. The account of Group Captain Jibrin above is a tip of the iceberg. Before being brought in through the backdoor he had registered a company known as Afri-Projects Consortium (APC), which acted as the sole super-consultant, sole-adviser and super-contractor to the PTF. This was the company that was the gateway to the organization, the only one that acted on behalf of Buhari who was the Czar of this empire. Pro-Buhari people will tell you the PTF released annual reports or statements, but of what value were these under Abacha? Of what value was a report card that only you prepared for yourself? The important fact was that throughout his time as PTF Chairman, there was not one independent audit of such a huge organization handling such massive public funds. Suffice it to say the rapaciousness of the stealing is detailed in a public document, which is the report of the Interim Management Committee set up in 1999 to investigate the affairs of the organization and supported by three independent auditing firms.
The report reads like a manual of how to rip a public institution to pieces. There were six major areas in which the PTF intervened directly during the period. These were in the areas of roads and waterways; supply of educational materials and rehabilitation of educational infrastructure; food supply; health; water supply and what was curiously termed “other projects”. One of such other projects was the building of an estate in Wuse Abuja, something entirely not within its mandate. Afri-Projects Consortium was given the exclusive power to initiate projects, assess their probable cost, approve the costs, execute the projects, and assess the quality of execution, all without oversight from anyone. They reported to no one, but Buhari and there is no official record of any such report in writing. Other PTF board members became toothless as they just watched Buhari and his super-consultants, a lot of whom he appointed personally as ‘Financial Consultants’ to be dealing with contractors and who report directly to Ahmad Salihijo and himself.
Outside its irregular appointment and operations and charges of “managerial incompetence”, the report indicted Afri-Projects Consortium (APC) for overcharging the PTF for its services to the tune of over N25 billion. The firm directly managed the PTF HIV/AIDS Intervention Programme, knowingly importing sub-standard, poorly packaged, poorly stored, expired, or soon to expire treatment kits and drugs which the auditors said cost the government N579 million in waste via the stocking of useless drugs and kits in huge silos, all purchased at inflated prices. The same APC purchased large quantities of spectacle frames for N1,900 a piece at a time it cost only N800 a piece locally. Again, this cost the public treasury over N45 million in inflated charges. They further cost the treasury N900 million in inflated charges when they bought ambulances that cost N3 million each for N13 million each. The report also found that the PTF’s purchase of general drugs through the APC at the cost of N3 billion was overinflated by as much as N1.5 billion. To add salt to injury, most of the drugs in question were expired drugs.
The Interim Management Committee’s consultants also recorded that the PTF residential estate in Wuse, Abuja, which had no government approval and was outside the PTF mandate had cost N703 million where a realistic valuation of the project could not exceed N328 million. Even the PTF’s Headquarters Extension and Renovation Project which cost the Fund N461 million was determined by the auditors to not cost more than N326 million. The Educational Materials Supply Scheme lost N900 million to inflated charges and non-performance of contracts already paid for. Similarly, N1 billion was recorded to have been siphoned through the Rural Water Supply Scheme in the form of inflated costs and non-performance of contracts already paid for.
The Rural Telecommunications Development Scheme was another project from which money was siphoned. This one was so unbelievably cynical that it was beyond belief. There were two parts to the scheme – the Pilot Phase and the Main Phase. The first was a condition precedent. It required that the PTF under General Buhari would under this first scheme first determine if the project was viable. If determined not to be viable, invariably, the Main Phase would not be commenced. But even before the Pilot Phase could be concluded, Buhari awarded the contract for the Main Phase to the tune of N1.6 billion, without any contracts signed, and before any conclusions could be drawn from the Pilot project. The auditors looked at the three main bank accounts of the PTF and concluded that the PTF had been shortchanged by up to N3.6 billion by way of short payment of interest accruals from deposits, or excessive charges on Cost of Turnover by preferred banks.
As anyone can see, I have avoided the more political charges against Buhari, which bordered on the fact that the PTF projects were evidently lopsided in favour of the North. Again, the records are there in public space, but that should not detain us too long here. My core concern here is that people should see truly what Buhari’s record in public service is, rather than believe the fairy tales. Anyone who could preside over such wanton fraud without any regard for accountability and transparency cannot be said to be honest and incorruptible. He’s not only corrupt, but highly incompetent.
Ahmad Salahijo became an overnight billionaire and one of the richest men in the North, deploying his newfound wealth to fight pro-Northern causes like setting up the Arewa Media Forum to fight what he and his friends called the information imbalance between the North and the South. Salahijo was reported dead on the day Obasanjo set up the Interim Management Committee to probe the PTF. It was apparently from heart attack, but there were those who claimed it was suicide.
Of course, the natural question would be why nothing has happened ever since with the report. Well, Obasanjo simply put it away. Yes, it is the way of the Nigerian industrial-military complex. There is esprit de corps over corruption amongst all of them. Buhari can pretend to civilians that he is honest and against corruption, but his soldier friends know the truth, which is why sometime ago, when he tried to criticize Babangida, the latter warned him in strong terms that he would expose him. Buhari did not dare him to do so thereafter. He simply slinked away. They know themselves. Babangida might be anything, but he isn’t a hypocrite and would never do holier-than-thou. This is why each time he tests the political waters he takes the best counsel of just staying away. But Buhari thinks his anti-corruption gimmick can fool Nigerians, which is why he keeps resurfacing like a bad coin every presidential election with the same message since 2003. Talk of a one trick pony! Today, he has the backing of Obasanjo, because the latter is no longer on good terms with President Goodluck Jonathan. In this regard, Obasanjo has been reportedly vouching for Buhari’s honesty. That to me is the equivalence of a wolf vouching for the vegetarianism of his mate.
What is clear is that as much as some people continue to think President Goodluck Jonathan is clueless, he understands what is at stake; he understands the big picture. He knows that the battle today is about whether or not we want to return to the past where coup plotters and ex military leaders want to continue lording it over the Nigerian people in the guise of a democracy that is no more than military rule. They used the gimmick of ‘strong national leader for national unity’ with Obasanjo when they planted him in 1999. The civilian population fell for all his motions of being a convert to democracy who’d suffered in Abacha’s prison because of this. But he came in and ran the country as a civilian president more like a military dictator. He disrespected the National Assembly and the judiciary and destroyed all state institutions of accountability and set up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which he used like his own private Cerberus against opponents and persons he had political differences with. He installed and removed people at will, oversaw countless assassinations and ruled with impunity making lawlessness the norm.
A section of that military-industrial complex is now behind the Buhari candidacy. His own gimmick is ‘strong leader against corruption’ and they think they have it all sown up, because Nigerians are fed up with corruption. But unfortunately for them, they are deluded. Nigerians have watched the military plan coups and take over in the name of fighting corruption only to do worse than those they’ve overthrown. Coming in a babanriga or agbada, rather than khaki won’t change it with Buhari. He is seeking to return us to military rule in the guise of civilian rule. Nigerians are wiser. Listening to him and what he would do if elected, you’ll immediately know that is basically the way he’d go and worse. For someone who says the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 converted him to democracy, I can tell him that at my young age, I’m older than him as a democrat and as a true democrat, I can smell phony ones like him a mile off. For the umpteenth time, let me happily repeat it: Muhammadu Buhari is not a democrat! He cannot bring himself to be a democrat! He’s an ex military leader who has a sense of entitlement to national leadership. What he has done and done very well is to play sectionalist politics by partly using the playbook of Ahmadu Bello. But in 2014, that won’t work. I know this is not something a lot of people will understand, but I will soon make a more detailed analysis of Buhari’s politics, so people can understand what he is playing at. He’s no mug. Nigerians should be vigilant! Jonathan represents a future we want to head towards. He might not be the loud, bulldozing type of leader, but he is not a soldier and he has the right democratic temperament. After his next four years, we would be in a better place democratically, economically, socially and culturally than we would be if we elect a Buhari.
Today, Buhari’s latest anti-corruption gimmick is this whole story of him borrowing money from the bank to buy the APC presidential form. Who believes this crap? Have we become so dumb as a nation as not to see through that cheap lie? Who does that? Who borrows that kind of money to buy party form at his age and after serially failing? What bank borrows out such money without sanction from the financial authorities? Where are the papers detailing this loan transaction? How can a nation trust a man who mortgages the presidency to the banks? Buhari wants all of us to get high on his anti-corruption opium; yet, look around him, look at his associates – all epitome of corruption! I’m sorry, but Buhari’s anti-corruption rhetoric is hollow! He can only sound credible to people who cannot or have refused to see the evidence that is right there under their nose. A man who can openly come out to declare that Sani Abacha is not corrupt is not fit to lead a ward talk less of the nation.
As I explained elsewhere, Buhari is being used as a Trojan horse by a predatory class ready to unleash their super greed on the nation, a group sharpening their claws and talons to attack our commonwealth! Jonathan may not be a saint, but Buhari and his cohorts would do far worse. We have experienced Buhari before and despite this latter-day attempt by revisionists to deodorize that experience, we who had that experience and who knew it wasn’t good are going to vote. Buhari ran a medieval government whose main achievement was the fear it instilled in citizens. No, we are not going back there! Not in the 21st century, not ever! As I have showed earlier, from his utterances and his antecedents, he cannot be the one we have to entrust with national security. He has no idea. With Buhari, the nation would disintegrate faster than you can say Jack Robinson. He is a divider, not a uniter. The only reason Buhari wants to return to power is to institute vengeance against those he regards as his political enemies.
I’m not Jonathan’s campaign manager, so I won’t be listing what he has done and what he has not done. My attitude to the campaign is not to look at the small picture, but the big picture and that is what I try to explain all the time I chat with any Buhari supporter. Those who think he’d solve the refineries problem should just take a good look at Bola Tinubu right there by his side and they will understand why he cannot. I know the power situation is still an issue with Nigerians, but I have visited enough and talked with enough ordinary people to know that the light situation under Jonathan is far better than it was under Buhari, Babangida, Abacha, Abdulsalam, Obasanjo or Yar’Adua. Yes, there’s still some way to go, but ordinary people are recording the progress, even as they impatiently ask for more improvement.
The second Niger Bridge is not a cake to be whipped up in the oven just like that. It’s a bridge, it would take time to construct and they are constructing it! That work was stopped briefly was only for environmental impact assessment. Now, the work is on! Anyone who knows the history of the second Niger Bridge, which was something conceived since after the Civil War and which no government has ever been able to get down to doing, would appreciate what the Jonathan administration has done by getting the bridge construction started under a public-private partnership with Julius Berger and other stakeholders. No matter when it’s completed, history will remember it as a project of the Jonathan administration. Those who accuse Jonathan of doing nothing about the railways must be the only people who do not know that Jonathan is the only Nigerian leader since flag Independence that has actually reinvigorated the railways. These are not fictions; they are real. I’m sure when the election comes, his promoters will give Nigerians a fuller picture of these types of achievements. All I will tell anyone here and now is that if Buhari clinches the APC ticket, he will perform worse than he ever has in a free and fair election and they will understand when they look back at these discussions we are having now.
Let me recommend two further readings to anyone reading this. The first piece is the report of an open letter written to Buhari by Sheikh Ahmad Gumi. Obviously, I don’t buy the Sheikh’s deification of Buhari as some Mai Gaskiya or anti-corruption icon, but people should read his reasons sans his thoughts on corruption for asking Buhari not to contest. If we do that with an open mind, we’ll begin to get the picture. The second piece is an interview conducted by the Vanguard with the same Sheikh Gumi (published on Saturday, 1 November 2014) where he now attempts to defend his letter to Buhari and another to President Jonathan. This interview is a thorough disappointment, because it exposes the hollowness at the heart of some of our religious leaders who do not understand democracy and the steadfastness, resoluteness and courage required to make it succeed and serve the common good. Still locked in the spirit of imposition, the Sheikh thinks asking Jonathan too not to contest is a gateway to peace for the nation.
Sheikh Gumi got it right with Buhari and his followers, but on Jonathan and Boko Haram, he’s dead wrong. Jonathan is the man with legitimacy. He is there now and is entitled to seek a second term or reelection by presenting himself to the Nigerian people. It is not a call for peace to ask him to step down. We are practicing a democracy and we are not going to short-circuit it at any point simply because Buhari and his violent supporters are blackmailing us. No! He can bark all he wants, but Nigerians will tell him through the ballot to take his hateful message elsewhere! As for Jonathan, there is only one thing. Let Nigerians allow him to continue for a second term by vote or reject him by vote if they don’t like him to continue! There are no shortcuts!
Sheikh Gumi wants peace, but he also has an agenda, which is to pass over power supposedly to a section of the country through the back door or via anti-democratic means. Like Buhari, he is an entitlement merchant who believes power must return to the hands of those same Northerners who’ve had it since forever, but who couldn’t use it to benefit their people or anyone but themselves. These are people who look at the presidency as their entitlement, rather than the highest point of service to the nation. Well, they are dead wrong. The presidency will not be handed to them just because they roar loudest and threaten us with violence and death. There is an established and civilized way to win the presidency in a democracy and they’d either follow that way or steer clear of the public space. Jonathan will have the opportunity to present himself to the Nigerian people under the banner of his party, the PDP and if the APC presents Buhari, we would expect him and his supporters to conduct themselves lawfully, peacefully and reasonably, just as we would expect from all others. If he thinks he can achieve anything by violence, he would hear from the larger Nigeria. We are not intimidated. Those who think they can consign democracy to the dunghill because of their own sense of entitlement would be in for a surprise. Nigerians collectively are not dumb!