In 2010 just as he was preparing to run for President for a third and unsuccessful time, then General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) addressed a group of interviewers from Newswatch magazine. He disclosed his reasoning for believing the key weapon for the battle against corruption is discipline.
“Indiscipline is worse than corruption,” he told the editors. “If you may recall, Italy from the end of World War 2, to the last but one of their presidents, was having as many governments as the number of years between the end of the war and then; almost every nine months.
“But at the same time their economy was doing well…Because there were strong established institutions, they allowed politicians to go on changing themselves. Every month if they want. But the institutions were holding the country. So, they are progressing.
“Let me tell you about Japan from the mid-70s up to early-90s. Every government that was sacked in Japan was because the prime minister was caught taking a cheque somewhere or the leader of the party messed up his position. But Japan remained the biggest economy, only second to the United States. This is because the society is disciplined and the institutions are working. When the prime minister takes a cheque, they will find out.
“And the quickest thing for him will be for him to resign and a new government formed…But in Nigeria, unfortunately for us, we had leaders that ruined institutions. If you end up being the local government chairman or governor or president in Nigeria, the government treasury ends up in your pocket…We must change all that.”
Buhari’s view then on corruption and indiscipline while appearing simple, made a lot of sense. There is a great price to pay for corruption. But he was also partly emphasising that if a person is imbued with discipline and moral fibre, he or she would know right from wrong and come to the realisation that corruption is bad.
By extension, President Buhari believes that if he the leader is clean and incorruptible, then somehow those attributes would rub off on those he surrounds himself with. As the logic goes, a clean leader would be an example to emulate by his country folks.
As the president starts his second term, he needs to reflect on how his strong passion for discipline and abhorrence of corruption have worked out so far. Have we become a disciplined nation? It is quite easy to see that despite the president’s pretensions, his party and his government haven’t really shown enough discipline in the past four years. Indeed, they have stumbled from one self-inflicted disaster to the other.
One only needs to remember the chaos that characterised the primaries of the ruling party in many of the states during the most recent polls. The situation was so bad in Zamfara that the All Progressive Congress, APC, though won the ballot but lost at the Supreme Court. It said the party didn’t conduct credible primaries to elect its candidates.
In Ogun State, the president himself threw caution to the wind when he asked his party men and women to vote for him during the presidential election but vote their conscience during the gubernatorial election. And that was simply because the president’s good friend and protégé was fielding his own governorship candidate in direct opposition to the APC candidate. How this action would have engendered political discipline isn’t clear.
In fact, rather than show some discipline on which the president wanted to anchor governance, it is fair to say that both the government and the party have been fairly naïve. Right from the off in 2015, the party lost control of the process of electing the National Assembly officers.
With the president looking lost and indecisive, a very smart Bukola Saraki outsmarted the party and the presidency to become senate president. Same thing in the House of Representatives where the party’s choice also didn’t become speaker.
It was apparent from the word go that all would not be well between the president and the legislators. Many times during the past four years, it seemed as if the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. It was chaos and confusion.
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Or how do you explain the fact that the Buhari government couldn’t get the appointment of Ibrahim Magu of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission confirmed by the Senate? Apparently, Buhari’s Department of State Services, DSS, wrote a scathing report on Magu which the president had no knowledge of before sending Magu’s name to the senate. Yet the presidency wanted to force the confirmation through. And when it couldn’t, it looked up to the constitution to find a clause it could use to keep Magu acting. So, would Magu now be presented again to a more compliant senate for confirmation?
If the president believes that discipline underpins his actions, then his government would have to show Nigerians that its officials are all singing from the same hymnbook. It is obvious to all of us that Nigeria is not in a good place with so much chaos everywhere. If it is not Boko Haram, it is ISIS West Africa. Or bandits and even kidnappers. There is so much fear sweeping the nation.
This government needs to show courage and discipline to change course and find new ways of tackling Nigeria’s problems. It is not enough for the president to continue to mouth what he would do or to commiserate with Nigerians over rampant tragedies. Government and the president feel distant from the people.
Nigerians need to see their president more. They need to know he feels and shares their pains. Elections should not be the only connection that we have with our president.
His disdain for the media still subsists. It is incredible that this presidency hardly organises press conferences. Of course, there are no presidential briefings that I know of.
No one, particularly those in the media is surprised by this. When he was asked by Newswatch in that 2010 interview if he was a friend of the media now? There was no disguising his feelings. He answered: “Yes. At least I need them to report what I say.”
Hardly a ringing endorsement.
The president needs a rethink of his approach to governance to move the nation forward. He needs to show some discipline to stop rehashing the stale story of how he contested four times before he won the presidency. Nigerians are no longer interested in that. He has won twice now and he’s the president. Let’s move on Mr President. We are tired of same old story.