Buhari and the moral burden of leadership
It is difficult to live in our country without being confused. Things are getting messier when they should be getting clearer. President Muhammadu Buhari captured our imagination in 2015 as a man totally intolerant of corruption or at least practices that give the country a bad name at home and abroad. So, we flocked to him and we gave him the vote and he became our president.
On his assumption of office his aides served notice to those of our country and women who have problems with resisting soiling their fingers with palm oil that a new sheriff was in town. A sheriff is a strong-minded law man, a thief-catcher, no less. Buhari has kept his promise to wage the anti-corruption war with the passion and the courage befitting a sheriff until this pathetic nation rises from the ashes of its failures and begins to live the hope of our founding fathers.
You see, like most Nigerians I invested my hope on a man many of us believed had the courage to do things differently and that post his time on top of the political totem pole, Nigeria would be set on a path of moral regeneration and the recovery of its humanity. I expected to see fundamental changes in one critical area: the nature of our party politics and the conduct of the processes that lead to our elections because anyone who is serious about fighting corruption must begin here.
I expected at least three critical changes here. One, an end to the monetization of political power so that the poor but intelligent young people have a chance to prove their mettle in politics. Two, the full recovery of our political parties from the party moguls. The right of the people to own the political parties is a given by virtue of the fact that the defining nature of our democracy resides in the word, participatory. Three, that our electoral process would make fair and free elections possible.
I expected the president’s party, APC, being the ruling party, to champion these changes and lead us to the mountain top of inclusive politics, safe from impunity and arrogance. After all, Buhari promised us change.I am afraid, APC is not the agent of change. It prefers things to remain the same. Consider the chaos attending its decision on party primaries. This week the political parties released the prices of their nomination forms for elective offices. I chose to compare the two biggest parties, APC and PDP. An APC presidential aspirant pays N45 million. In 2015, it cost N27.5 million. For the same aspiration, PDP charges N12 million. In 2015, the party charged N22 million.
An APC governorship aspirant pays N22.5 million for his nomination form; in 2015, it was N10 million. His counterpart in PDP is required to pay N6 million. The cost of the nomination forms for the other elective offices are as follows: Senate: APC: N7 million; PDP: N3.5 million. House of Reps: APC: N3.8 million; PDP, N1.5 million. State house of assembly: APC, N850,000; PDP, N600,000.
Why are APC charges so outrageous and the PDP so reasonable? Perhaps APC believes that under Buhari the economy is booming. I cannot hear the boom. Its leaders must be living some place else. Politics is an expensive business but should it be this expensive in a country with more than half of its 198 million people living below the poverty line?
Funny, the man who signed the Not Too Young to Run bill into law to encourage young people to go into politics watches as his own party marginalizes the same people. That Buhari would allow wealth to determine a man’s suitability for an elective office makes me tremble.
Many things are wrong with these charges. One, APC appears to be setting itself up as a party for the rich. This must come as a rude shock to the talakawa who, believing that Buhari had a soft spot for them, contributed their last kobo to his election in 2015. He was the first politician in this country to receive from the people instead of the people receiving from him. Buhari cannot be unaware of the implications of this turn of events for him and those who believe in him as a man who puts service above wealth.
Two, politics, by its nature, is the breeding ground of corruption. It all begins with the electoral process. All the manipulations take place here. The monetization of politics is the single largest source of corruption in the system. When power is expensive it becomes a source of investments by individuals and groups. All the men and women chatting unfriendly with EFCC are former movers and shakers and their business compradors who invested in power and proceeded to recoup their investments with handsome profits.
So, here is what blew my mind and deepened my confusion this week On August 11, Buhari, at a public function in Abuja received his presidential nomination form paid for by a group that goes by the strange name of Nigerian Ambassadors Network. I am sure the president must be flattered that there are people who love him so dearly and want him to remain in power for a second term and are willing to shell out N45 million to smoothen his path. Gratis. Ha!
I thought Buhari was sufficiently sensitive to his image as a leader and as an anti-corruption sheriff and could see the danger and the trap here. Why would he accept publicly a gift that is tainted by its very suspicious nature? Who are these people? What do they do for a living? Should Buhari be seen trucking with these unknown quantities who might even be a front for someone who wants to be in the good books of the president? It is not right for Buhari to act this way at this time.
Some his aides say that there was nothing wrong with what he has done; and that it was not illegal. It may not be illegal but it is profoundly immoral. Morality in public office has a greater weight than legality. We know our leaders by their moral rather than by their legal conduct. All of them break the law any way to suit their purposes. Morality undergirds the rule of law. I am sure Buhari would have frowned at a governor who accepted the same gift from some do-gooders and made a public display of it as he did. Generosity to politicians from strange quarters is a Trojan horse. It comes with and exacts a price. Perhaps the president has forgotten that as a military ruler, he jailed state governors who accepted contributions to their parties from contractors.
I find it painful that the president would allow his aides to mislead him and rubbish his anti-corruption credentials as he looks on, seemingly unaware of the damage they are doing to him as a leader who wants to be seen as being in a class of his own among our leaders, past and present. In his high office, he is the change agent in a nation hungry and thirsty for change. He carries the moral burden of leading and living by example. Integrity is the acceptable face of moral conduct.This is a forgivable faux pas. Buhari should return the form to the do-gooders and buy his own just like everyone else. If the cost is beyond him, let his party lower it for everyone. My wish for him is to keep up the front as the Buhari we thought we knew.
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