Morality, integrity and honesty

KASSIM AFEGBUA

 

 

T

he world we live in conveys so many sides to a coin, depending on what side of the divide you belong. In Nigeria, where hero-worship has become a flourishing business, people use words in such a way that their true meaning is lost when subjected to further interrogation. When General Muhammadu Buhari was running for the 2015 Presidential election, I was one of those who campaigned vigorously for his election against the backdrop of what we were made to believe of him. The party – the All Progressives Congress (APC) – told some of us that General Buhari was a man of integrity, who possessed a large dose of morality and honesty when dealing with issues. We went to town with these credentials believing that when he becomes president, he would have a platform to exhibit these traits to the benefit of Nigerians in particular, and mankind in general.

 

Knowing the full import of these words; integrity, morality and honesty, I was hopeful that Nigeria would attain a paradigm shift in the way and manner that his leadership would be rendered. Having finished his first term and now on his second journey, I have seen a lot of missing links that hurt the whole essence of his persona on account of touted credentials that never existed in the first place.

 

 

Before President Buhari got into the cozy conclave of Aso Villa rostrum, he was vehemently averse to the issue of subsidy payment and had wondered aloud why so much was being wasted on the subsidy regime. He declared unequivocally that anyone who was bent on running the subsidy regime was in the least a fraud. When President Buhari assumed office, I had thought he would immediately put a stop to the subsidy payments which were running into several billions of taxpayers’ money. Alas! President Buhari did not only sustain this fraudulent practice, he has graduated the claims to trillions of naira being paid for subsidy. The last figure I heard was about N1.4 trillion paid for mere sharp practices and over-inflated claims in the name of subsidy. What a sham?

President Buhari has since forgotten about the fraud he complained about in the subsidy payment. He has graduated the claims from billions to trillions. When a president complained of an issue as being fraudulent and vague, one would expect him to take the appropriate action to nip it in the bud, but celebrating it with pomp and pageantry to the extent of increasing the claims in multiple folds is the height of insensitivity. A president must be ready to take bold decisions no matter whose ox is gored.

 

 

As if that was not enough, the issue of presidential fleet was one that we used to campaign for the president. He had wondered why on earth Nigeria would parade 11 airplanes in its fleet when the country agonises over poor revenue and gloomy economy. He had promised to sell off part of the planes in the fleet and or convert them to national carrier as a way of letting off huge maintenance costs on the neck of government. After his first tenure, President Buhari is yet to fulfil this promise even at a time that Nigeria’s income and revenue profile is showing visible signs of underperformance. Only last week, his youngest daughter, Hannan, ferried one of the presidential planes to Bauchi for just a photo show. What a waste! How ridiculous can it get? Imagine the cost of just ferrying the president’s daughter to Bauchi, the plane would have to wait for her to finish her sightseeing, and photo event, then she would walk majestically to the airport, burn our fuel, landing fees, and just walked home as if nothing has happened.

Presidential spokesmen have been upbeat, rationalising this distasteful incidence, which also contradicted what he had earlier said. None of the planes has been sold. The president still cruises about in those numbers and his children too have been feasting on them.

 

 

In February 2015 when the presidential election was just a spoon tall, General Buhari, as the candidate of the APC visited Chatham House to shore up his global profile. He delivered a speech wherein he spoke vehemently against medical tourism and the fact of the overbloated presidential fleet. The world heard his austerity measure of a speech and looked forward to seeing a president that would be frugal with our hard-earned resources. When he spoke, he was applauded and took jibes at the then government of Goodluck Jonathan. He was praised for thinking about how to cut down on wastes and needless expenditures that were eating deep into our national savings. Nigerians looked forward to his victory. After his victory at the election, he was the first to break the verdict he had given. He made travelling to London for medical attention almost a habit. The number of days and months he stayed overseas seeking for medical attention took the shine off his first four years. While he stayed in London, one would have thought he would give a directive to fix our ailing health sector as a direct response to this unhealthy situation. I had thought the health sector would receive a boost under his presidency. I waited to see his intervention, but the decay in the health sector is gaining additional traction, and health clinics are now death clinics.

 

 

The primary healthcare initiative which ought to bring health services nearest to the people at the grassroots has been jettisoned. The rate at which Nigerians now travel overseas to seek further medical attention in Ghana, Benin Republic, South Africa, Egypt, Dubai, India, USA and London, defeats the very rationale for Buhari’s speech at the Chatham House in 2015. Seeing that the president has become a regular patron of overseas hospitals, Nigerians have gotten additional stimulant to follow suit. Even if we are to sympathise with their situation, can’t the president find a solution to this and take the attraction away by simply investing heavily in this sector? This also is a contradiction of what President Buhari’s handlers want us to believe. A man of integrity would stand by his principles even if it will cost him death. He will stick to his cherished principles and moral values. He will resist the temptation of being dragged into the realm of contradiction. He will follow through his words and promises with action. He will preach and practice what he preaches. He will set exemplary footprints for those who are his supporters and lovers, so that the full import of his persona would be well ingrained. But the reality is the opposite. This is why it will be difficult to locate President Buhari in a room where integrity resides.

 

 

Yet again, I have read the statement credited to Femi Adesina, the President’s spokesman, defending the rationale behind the refusal of his boss to publicly declare his assets. He anchored it on the issue of law of the land. According to him, President Buhari was not compelled by any law in Nigeria or elsewhere to publicly declare his assets. Reading that from Femi Adesina, I knew the supposed anti-corruption initiative was dead on arrival. It has become a mere sloganeering campaign, meant to please the ears of those avid supporters of the Buhari persona. Asset declaration is more of a moral issue than law. And morality is the ingredients of a life of integrity. And integrity simplifies the requirement of law. When a society is governed by integrity, the tendency to see fewer law breaches becomes apposite. Men, who are driven and governed by morality, strike at the ideal in every situation. The ideal helps the society to maintain certain equilibrium in public conduct and orderliness. President Buhari would have gained huge mileage if he were to publicly declare his assets. Was he not aware of the existence of the Code of Conduct law ab initio when he promised to publicly declare his assets during his election campaigns?

 

 

Or what difference would his public declaration of assets make to him if he has nothing to hide? By this action, he has taken away the shine off the anti-corruption crusade and put a moral question on his integrity quotient. Late Umaru Yar’dua made real his promise by publicly declaring his assets. He set the tone for public accountability and rule of law. During his short tenure, there was respect for rule of law and sanity in the anti-corruption fight. He matched his words with action. Seyi Makinde, the Oyo State Governor also publicly declared his assets and heaven did not fall.

 

 

 

He motivated the younger political elements by setting a huge standard that other governors have not been able to emulate. How can a man of supposed integrity be afraid glaringly to publicly tell us his worth if he doesn’t have skeleton in his cupboard? How can we say the government is concerned about fighting corruption when the head of the government refuses to make public his assets. How do we accuse him of illicit enrichment or lack of it, when we are not made to have details of his initial worth before he became president?

 

 

What I had expected from President Buhari was to direct all his ministers, aides and political appointees to publicly declare their assets for scrutiny before they attract the first salary. That way, the governors of his party and others would be put under pressure to so do. But using law to deny the public the opportunity of knowing the worth of our president, has advertently given impetus to other political office holders to ignore, when pressurised to declare their assets. What you often hear is; “has your Mr. Integrity president declared his own assets?” A situation as this coming from a president that touts himself as a man of integrity, removes the icing on the cake of anti-corruption fight. If the Code of Conduct Bureau were to have bite, it would have been able to look eyeball-to-eyeball with the president and make public all declared assets. The CCB only derives joy in looking for scapegoats whenever a predetermined position is to be taken to subject certain persons to public disgrace. They did it to Senator Bukola Saraki and Walter Onoghen, the former Chief Justice of Nigeria. Whenever morality, integrity and honesty are being discussed, President Buhari’s supporters should save us the orgy of trying to locate him in such environment. He doesn’t belong there, certainly not.

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