Between Jonathan and Buhari

Someone recently placed on the table an impossible proposition. She said to do a comparative analysis of President Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari! Among her interlocutors, the suggested instantly elicited an argument. How does one compare day and night? Is not the former resplendent light and the latter pitch darkness? The conversation should actually be one of contrastive analysis, beginning with how both men appropriated political power. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was elected President of Nigeria in a ballot declared by both local and international observers to be, in every respect, better and more credible than the ones that led Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to Aso Rock, the Nigerian seat of the presidency.

In contradistinction, Major General Muhammadu Buhari toppled the Nigerian Constitution on the last day of 1983 in order to become the Military Head of State. The common denominator here is that both men attained the political leadership of the country, Jonathan by the people’s mandate and Buhari through the barrel of the gun.  This makes Buhari a very lucky man indeed, given what obtains in other countries whose historical circumstances are afflicted by the aberration of military dictatorship. Take the example of the Greek Colonels who seized power on April 21, 1967 and made an elongated mess of the cradle of democracy until July 24, 1974 when, utterly discredited, they were forced from office. Less than a year later, the elected government of Konstantin Karamanlis had the members of the sacked junta arrested, detained and put on trial for high treason and insurrection. Four ring leaders of the Colonels’ Coup – Papadopoulos, Pattakos, Makarezos and Ioannidis were sentenced to death; the sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment. Hundreds of other officers were equally handed long stretches behind bars, to teach them that “the head is bigger than the body!”

 But, what do Nigerians have? The longest streets in the major towns and cities are named after those who toppled the constitution, who went on to enjoy two pensions – one as retired military brass and two, as retired heads of government! That explains why Buhari is today running to be President of Nigeria – for the fourth unprecedented time.

But to return to the contrastive analysis. In March 1976, General Olusegun Obasanjo, as head of the military junta, appointed Buhari the Federal Commissioner (Minister) for Petroleum and Natural Resources. That same year the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was created with Buhari as its Chairman; he held both positions until 1978. During his tenure, however, $2.8 billion allegedly went missing from the accounts of the NNPC. The allegation set off a major national controversy that, in 1980, prompted President Shehu Shagari to inaugurate the Crude Oil Sales Tribunal of Inquiry, headed by Justice Ayo Gabriel Irikefe, to establish the veracity or otherwise of the story. Although the Tribunal could not substantiate the allegation of the missing billions, its limitation lay in the unexplained failure to summon Generals Obasanjo and Buhari, who as Head of State and Oil Minister/NNPC chairman respectively, controlled oil sales during the period in question.

Following that missing billions saga, Buhari had it in for the national media which he held responsible for introducing the story, using it almost to the point of turning the country into something of a tinderbox. He got his pound of flesh back when he seized power in December 1983 and enacted the notorious Decree Number 4 of 1984 which comprehensively circumscribed and emasculated press freedom.

President Jonathan, on the contrary, reacted with enlightenment and vision to negative press. During Buhari’s dictatorship, the social media did not exit. Not even in fictional works. But both the orthodox and social media descended on Jonathan with extreme prejudice, abusing, calumniating, castigating, denigrating, disparaging, lambasting and pillorying him on 24/7 basis. Further, they homed in on the President’s wife, ceaselessly and incessantly ridiculing her, claiming that her English was not only atrocious but also rendered in accents unbecoming of a First Lady. Her traducers didn’t depose any reasons why Dame Patience should speak English with cadencies and tonal inflections of Queen Elizabeth ll. They were wrong on her English because content analysis of the spoken English and grammar of her predecessors did not confirm that any of Mrs. Victoria Aguiyi-Ironsi, Mrs. Ajoke Muhammed, Mrs. Sefinatu Buhari, Mrs. Maryam Babangida, Mrs. Maryam Abacha and Mrs. Stella Obasanjo excelled her in those departments. Yet, not one of these blessed First Ladies was ever subjected to any disrespect or obloquy on account of perceived diffidence in diction and elocution.

How did President Jonathan react to all of the bad faith? Wearing a smile, he carefully skirted around the howls of execration to hand Nigeria its first and only Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

General Buhari told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that “If Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.” How have both men been tackling the cankerworm? Buhari tried politicians in military tribunals and handed then sentences that ran into hundreds of “Calendar Years”! Not one of those afflicted with such Draconian backlash served up to a year in jail. They were all set free. Not a single one of them is perceived to be corrupt on account of their trial by Buhari’s kangaroo courts. All that may be three decades ago. Today, a key Buhari supporter is reported to own the following on account of having served as Governor: two massive hotels, many shopping complexes, an airline, a concession company, an amusement park, numerous estates and countless media organizations. What does Buhari have to say on this score, given that non-tolerance of corruption is a cardinal pillar of his electoral campaign? Nothing!

But President Jonathan has been fighting corruption with institutional reforms. His government introduced the Integrated Payroll System which employs the use of biometrics to check the scourge of ghost workers, 66,000 of whom had been fished out as at the last count, thereby saving the government some N139 billion in annual, phantom paychecks. The Jonathan government ended the 40-year old corruption in the fertilizer sector. Said Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources last November: “Between 1980 and 2010, over N873bn ($5.4bn) was spent on fertilizer subsidies. No more than 11 percent of farmers received these fertilizers. Over N776bn ($4.8bn) was estimated to have been lost to corruption or an average of N26bn ($162.5m) annually. The system displaced the private sector.” The government halted the corruption by resolutely removing government from direct procurement of fertilizers.

In January 2012, President Jonathan also moved to wipe away the corruption tied to oil subsidies. But a very well-known opposition character fuelled daily protests in Lagos, paying and feeding vagrants and professional agitators to mass at the Freedom Square, to engineer instability.

Many opposition voices claimed there was monumental corruption at the NNPC. They mentioned sums ranging from $10 billion to $50 billion as having been plundered. This immediately led to a national uproar. The Senate Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Ahmed Makarfi, investigated the allegation and, despite being people by many APC members, concluded that it was devoid of truth as no money was missing at the NNPC. The Committee described the allegations as “misleading and highly destabilizing.” Heedless, the APC ran with the narrative, generating so much pointless heat. Unlike Buhari who flew off the handle when $2.8 billion allegedly disappeared under his watch at the NNPC in the late 1970s, President Jonathan ordered a forensic auditing of NNPC’s books. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Finance Minister, appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the biggest and most renowned auditing firms in the world, to carry out the forensic audit of the NNPC. Like Makarfi’s Senate Committee, PwC also found that there was no truth whatsoever in the allegations of missing money at the NNPC, lending further credence to the Jonathan administration’s fight against corruption through reforms !

What about the other contrasts – including those in the areas of the economy and national security – between Dr. Jonathan and Alhaji Buhari? They would be discussed in the second half of this effort to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Iloegbunam (iloegbunam@hotmail.com) is the author of Journey to the Throne, the biography of Eze (Professor) Green Nwankwo

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