As I contemplate the Nigerian condition or non-condition, I continue to marvel at contemporary happenings. The nirvana is certainly not here yet. Still, it is possible to discern new ozone in public life.
Suddenly, public officials are more responsive. The refineries appear to be working. Petrol queues, for now at least, are gone. Electricity supply seems to have improved. And therefore one is tempted to ask: What has happened? Have we really had any novel policy thrusts since Muhammadu Buhari assumed the Presidency of the country? As a student of public affairs, it is possible to answer this question in the negative. Yet, there is a new ozone in public life. It does not take much to appreciate that, what has happened so far is that the President’s reputation and sheer force of personal example have probably struck the fear of God in people who run our institutions. The upshot is that a novel and positive lease of life seems to pervade the land
One striking instance here is President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent public declaration of his assets. As we all know by now, these assets are now in the public space. And if those details are true, then what has been declared should sear the conscience of all past and present public officers, particularly at the highest of levels. Here is a man, who has been in control of vast resources as a military governor, minister of petroleum and a former Head of State. Yet, all that he could claim to own are houses and lands in places like Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Abuja as well as N30n in his bank account. To be sure, by the general Nigerian standards, Buhari is not a poor man. But by the jaded and conscienceless standards of his peers, he certainly comes up short-at least in materialistic terms. Some people with warped values are even likely to snigger and ask: Is this the entire worth of this man? Probably yes. But on the platform of morality, very few of his peers can really hold up the candle to him. And this is partly why, I have dared to state here that, Buhari is not a Nigerian. If he was the typical Nigerian in public life, he would be in possession of trillions, cash wise and non-cash equivalents in other areas like properties and jets ownership.
Even then, the declaration in itself has sparked off implicit and explicit comparisons, which seem to indicate that this man stands out. Indeed, some people with a dark sense of humour or out of sheer wonder and concern have pointed out that the average local government chairman in Nigeria (where else?) is richer than Buhari. And of course and as we all know, this may well be true. But, what is perhaps much more revealing especially in these times is that other public officials are refusing to be drawn into the ring of public asset declaration. Take our elected governors for instance. Either out of ignorance or mischief, they are saying that there are no statutory provisions which require them to do so. Very much the same bankrupt postures can be observed on the part of the senators and members of the House of Representatives who, by the way, are supposed to be distinguished and honourable.
Meanwhile, and as revealed in newspaper reports, Buhari appears to be exasperated by the fact that, despite his attempts to come clean with what he owns, he appears to have opened up another round of controversy on this issue. In a sense, this is only to be expected. Vultures as they are wont, have to feed on something. Which is why, the General’s contentions are very instructive. According to him, in the course of his public life, he has declared his assets four times since 1974. At the risk of being contradicted, I do not think that any Head of State or public official has come forth in this way.
However, for the records, as well as balance, it is relevant to state here that in the recent past, former President Umaru Yar’Adua, and his then deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, respectively declared their assets. But when the latter mounted the saddle as the point-man of our system, and the self-same issue came up, he pointedly and memorably remarked: I do not give a damn! Which is just as well. For in a rather Freudian and self-indicting way, Jonathan was known to declare in another context that some of our leaders behave like motor park touts!
But even then, before I am done, since Buhari has bitten the bullet, it may be useful for other public officials to do the same. I am referring here to governors, ministers, and the invisible army of invincible permanent secretaries. And to President Buhari, he should take heart. After all, my ancestral folk, in their eternal wisdom, have always said that if you indict someone for cooking a bad soup, what will you do to the person who has cooked none?
Last line: I am sure that the hidden dimensions of Buhari’s assets would have been exposed by now if such information was available.
Soremekun is a Professor of Political Science at the National Open University of Nigeria.