As Tinubu, Buhari lie to themselves, by Ikechukwu Amaechi

THERE is nothing as gut-wrenching and nauseating as when two adults decide, wittingly, to play the ostrich by lying to themselves in the belief that they are deceiving the people.

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This is exactly what former President Muhammadu Buhari is doing with his successor, Bola Tinubu.

When Buhari marked his 81st birthday on December 17, 2023, Tinubu sent him a “love letter,” describing him as the “finest paradigm of sacrifice, devotion, patriotism, and fidelity to the national cause.”

Calling Buhari Nigeria’s icon of truth, justice, and patriotism, Tinubu extoled his peerless leadership credentials and feats, recalling his meritorious service to the nation at various times as Head of State and as President.

“President Buhari is from the rarest phylum of virtuous servant-leaders. He has devoted his life to the service of the nation, even earning himself detention for his patriotism and service to our Fatherland. The emergence of leaders like my good friend, Buhari, happens only by divine orchestration. He is a man of absolute and undiluted integrity,” he wrote.

Of course, Tinubu was wallowing in sophistry, trying to wheedle the unwary. And the wily fox that Buhari is, it will be a surprise if the casuistry is lost on him.

But because the deceit is mutual, Buhari reciprocated last week when Tinubu marked his 72nd birthday, wishing him good health and long life in order for the country to benefit from his “excellent leadership,” while commending him for making “sustained efforts to overcome the many problems of the country.”

The truth which Tinubu knows but refuses to acknowledge, at least publicly, is that his predecessor, a putschist and former military head of state, destroyed the country, literally, in the eight years he held sway as civilian president.

And almost all his appointees have acknowledged the fact that it will take eons, if ever, to dig Nigeria out of Buhari’s socio-economic and political hole. So, what is President Tinubu talking about?

But both men know what they are doing. And the joke is on Nigerians. So, while Tinubu and Buhari are busy backslapping themselves, Nigerians must demand, as of right, account of Buhari’s stewardship. The reason why impunity reigns supreme in Nigeria is the lack of accountability in public office.

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In praising Buhari to high heavens, Tinubu is being deliberate. The idea is to ensure that none of the arrows thrown by his subordinates touches his predecessor even as he is making a show of prosecuting lesser mortals like the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele.

In my August 17, 2023 column titled, “Why Buhari must be put on trial”, I stated thus: “As President Bola Tinubu pretends to be providing leadership for our beleaguered country, one question remains unanswered: what to do with his predecessor?”

And my plea was simple: “For the sake of Nigeria, Buhari must not be allowed to get off scot-free” because nothing can possibly be worse than the Buhari tragedy, except, of course, letting the man who sent the economy into a tailspin to continue sneering at Nigerians as he is doing right now from his Daura lair instead of holding him to account, which is the essence of democracy.

But am I optimistic that Buhari will be held to account for his gross misgovernance of the country? Not at all! If anything, I am convinced that he will, most certainly, get away with his perfidious acts in office.

In Nigeria, there seems to be a rule that anyone who occupies the office of the president enjoys Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which provides immunity from trial for the President, Vice-President, Governors and Deputy Governors, not only during the subsistence of their tenure as envisaged by the law, but for life.

The fact that Nigerian presidents are not accountable in and out of office is perhaps the biggest incentive to impunity and corruption. In democracies, the idea that power belongs to the people and they could deploy it maximally in cutting short the jolly ride of a nonperforming president enhances accountability and good governance. And if a leader knows that even out of office, he could be called upon to account for his stewardship, his excesses are reined in.

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In a democracy, everyone should be subject to the rule of law, and failure to prosecute wrongdoings – criminal or civil – not only puts ex-leaders above the law, but encourages their successors to behave likewise. When a leader is assured by precedent that even out of office, he is untouchable, he is bound to misbehave while in office.

Nigerians would have been able to swallow the bitter pills that Tinubu is forcing down their throats without much ado if they are convinced that Buhari, who ran, unarguably, the most corrupt government since 1999, will be held accountable.

Elsewhere, presidents are called upon to give account of their stewardship and those found wanting are punished. In 2022, Argentina’s vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was found guilty of fraud in a case dating back to when she was president from 2007 to 2015. She was sentenced to six years in prison and received a lifetime ban from holding political office.

Former Croatian Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader, was found guilty of corruption in 2020 and sentenced to eight years in prison. He is currently serving out his sentence.

In 2011, former French President, Jacques Chirac, who died in 2019, was convicted of corruption and handed a two-year suspended jail sentence and ten years later, Nicolas Sarkozy became the second former French President to be convicted of corruption and sentenced to three years in jail, two of them suspended.

Former Israeli President, Moshe Katsav, was handed a seven-year prison sentence in 2011 for rape and four years later former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was convicted of fraud, breach of trust and tax evasion. Even incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and corruption, having been indicted in 2019 for receiving gifts from millionaire friends and granting regulatory favours for media tycoons in return for favourable coverage.

Najib Razak, former Malaysian Prime Minister, is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence, which began in 2022 after he lost an appeal in a corruption case. In 2020, he was found guilty of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering.

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Former South Korean President, Park Geun-hye, the first woman to hold the position, was sentenced to 24 years in jail for corruption in 2018 on charges related to bribery and coercion and her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, was jailed 17 years for embezzlement and bribe-taking in 2020. Lee’s predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun, who was president from 2003 to 2008, killed himself a year later amid an investigation by prosecutors into allegations he accepted more than $6 million in bribes from a South Korean businessman while in office.

Former South African President, Jacob Zuma, was jailed for contempt of court.

In an article in The Guardian of London on April 9, 2023 titled, “From Trump to Sarkozy: the political leaders who have been prosecuted,” Jon Henley noted the interesting case of Geir Haarde, former Prime Minister of Iceland, who was tried and convicted for not doing his job well enough.

“Geir Haarde was the only politician in the world to face prosecution over the 2008 financial crisis. He dodged three more serious charges, but ended up being convicted, in essence, of not doing his job well enough,” Henley wrote.

Right now, former U.S. President Donald Trump, who is aspiring to stage a comeback to the White House, is facing criminal charges stemming from criminal indictments filed against him last year by both state and federal authorities.

As at 2023, across the globe, 78 countries have jailed or prosecuted leaders who left office since 2000.

So, why must Nigeria be different? Buhari is not held accountable, like the former Iceland Prime Minister, for not doing his job well enough and bringing Nigeria to the brink of state failure.

And everyone agrees that he willfully did a very poor job in Aso Rock. Unless and until leaders realise that there will always be a day of reckoning, good governance will continue to elude Nigeria.

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