A former ardent supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari and Associate Professor at the Kennesaw State University, Georgia, United States, Farooq Kperogi, tells BAYO AKINLOYE of the Punch that Buhari has failed many who had high hopes of him
With your criticisms of President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration, it appears you’re against him. Is it that you hate the President?
I am neither against him nor do I hate him. On the contrary, my criticism of the (President Muhammadu) Buhari administration’s tragic missteps and rank incompetence is animated by love – tough love. If you were familiar with my work, especially my ‘Notes from Atlanta’ weekly column in the Daily Trust, you wouldn’t ask this. I was one of Buhari’s advocates in the run-up to the 2015 (presidential) election – and even before then. You can check the records. For instance, in 2012, when pundits – and (ex-President Goodluck) Jonathan’s media team – tore him to shreds for saying kare jini, biri jini (Hausa for ‘the dog and the baboon will be soaked in blood’), I vigorously defended him.
In 2015, when he was ridiculed for saying ‘President Michelle of West Germany’, I also defended him with all the resources of logic and erudition I had. I explained to Nigerians that Buhari wasn’t ‘clueless’ but was suffering from age-induced memory lapses colloquially called ‘senior moments’ in (United States of) America. Even when he visited the US in July 2015 and made his infamously unwise comment that he didn’t give a hang about people from the deep south who didn’t vote for him, I defended him because I thought he realised his error and retracted what he said in the same speech. As recently as November 19, 2016, I defended him against false charges that he contributed millions of dollars to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. I can go on, but that’s irrelevant now.
But even in my support for him, I’ve also been critical and cautious. I called him out when he refused to declare his assets. I criticised what I called the embarrassing ‘Arewacentricity’ of his appointments, and so on. Now, it is obvious to me that Buhari doesn’t have the preparation, the competence, and the moral strength to govern any country. It’s a sobering epiphany.
Are you former President Goodluck Jonathan’s apologist then?
Me, a Goodluck Jonathan apologist? That has to be the funniest thing I’ve heard all my life! In case you didn’t know, I am the first person to call Jonathan ‘unfathomably clueless’ in my April 16, 2010 article titled, ‘Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, that was embarrassing’. It was my recapitulation of his visit to the US when he was acting president. ‘Clueless’ became his middle name (thereafter). I am also the first person to call for an ‘Occupy Nigeria’ protest with my October 22, 2011 article titled, ‘Fuel Subsidy Removal: Time to Occupy Nigeria!’ which went viral in Nigerian cyberspace. Everyone knows that the ‘Occupy Nigeria’ protests were a major, decisive turning point in Jonathan’s administration. And, as records of my columns show, I never relented in my criticisms of Jonathan until he was voted out of power – and even after. I am doing to Buhari now what I did to Jonathan then.
What do you think about Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade?
Is there any anti-corruption crusade? As I said many times, Buhari’s so-called anti-corruption fight is the most invidiously selective, the least transparent, the most brazenly unjust, and the silliest joke in Nigeria’s entire history. Here is a man who doesn’t give his corrupt political opponents the benefit of the doubt. He orders their arrest, jails them, and uses the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to smear them in the media on the basis of allegations, but tells astonishingly bald-faced and easily falsifiable lies to defend, deflect, minimise, and excuse the corruption of his close aides and political associates. You call that anti-corruption crusade? Please!
What do you make of Senator Shehu Sani’s ‘insecticide and deodorant’ statement to describe Buhari’s fight against corruption?
It’s a perfect, poignant metaphor to encapsulate the scorn-worthy lies, deceit, double standard, and crying unjustness of the Buhari administration’s so-called anti-corruption fight. In Buhari’s Nigeria, there are two judicial standards for fighting corruption. The first standard is that the president’s opponents are always guilty until proven innocent – and they can never be proven innocent. They are always already condemned by the mere fact of being the president’s opponents. The second standard is that the president’s corrupt aides and associates are always innocent –until they are ‘cleared’ by the president who has now reduced himself to the pathetic position of the ‘Clearer-in-Chief of Executhief Corruption.’
Isn’t that a serious indictment against a man considered as ‘Mr. Integrity’? Has Buhari lost his integrity?
Perhaps Buhari never had any integrity to start with. It was our desperation for a hero that caused us to dress him in borrowed robes. What man of integrity would lie that he took a bank loan to buy his presidential nomination form while two of his children were enrolled in a United Kingdom university? What man of integrity would have a multimillion-naira house in Abuja but lied that he had modest houses only in Daura, Kaduna, and Kano? What man of integrity would be afraid to publicly and transparently declare his assets after promising to do so? What man of integrity chooses to be the sole signatory to his presidential campaign’s bank account to which millions of poor, struggling Nigerians donated tens of millions of naira and not give an account of how he spent the money? What man of integrity perpetually surrounds himself with corrupt people and, worse still, defends their corruption?
People who are intimate with President Buhari told me several months ago in the heat of my unrestrained enthusiasm over his emergence as president that he was morally and temperamentally unsuited to fight corruption. They said the undue premium the president places on ‘personal loyalty’ causes him to ignore, excuse, and even defend the corruption of his close associates. I was regaled with troubling tales of the mind-boggling corruption against close, loyal aides that he swept under the carpet at the PTF (Petroleum Trust Fund), The Buhari Organisation, and at the defunct CPC (Congress for Progressive Change). They say likes attract. You can’t be a man of integrity and continually surround yourself with corrupt people. I can go on; but it is obvious that Buhari isn’t the man of integrity he has been alleged to be.
In the current situation of things, some people have said there is no difference between Jonathan, alleged to have allowed corruption to fester under his watch, and Buhari – accused of glossing over corruption allegations against his close aides. Do you see any difference between the two?
The only difference between Jonathan and Buhari is that Jonathan made no pretences to being anything other than an everyday Nigerian politician dedicated to mindless hedonism. Everyone knew Jonathan was corrupt and that he found comfort in corruption. He even said stealing was not corruption, and that corruption was inevitable. But Buhari grandstanded about being the scourge of corrupt people. He erected a false moral pedestal and stood on it. But his government is shaping up to be one of the most audaciously corrupt governments in Nigeria’s history. In light of the unravelling of the corruption that pervades the Buhari government, the government now deploys unintelligent lies, annoyingly sterile propaganda, and unimaginative chicanery to deflect people’s attention from the irredeemable disaster that it is.
Does it bother you that Buhari seems bent on having the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, confirmed as the commission’s substantive chair, despite the Department of State Services’ report on him and the Senate’s refusal to confirm him?
It doesn’t matter who the chairman of the EFCC is, so long as Buhari himself isn’t serious about fighting corruption. The EFCC is nothing more than the poodle of the president. He instructs it to go after his opponents but to spare his associates. Even if you bring an angel to head the EFCC, the angel can only be as effective as Buhari wants the angel to be. So it’s actually pointless who the chairman of the EFCC is. Buhari’s war on corruption is already lost before it has even started. If I were him, I would just call off the charade and apologise to Nigerians for taking them for a ride.
It appears that Nigeria’s intelligence outfit, the Nigeria Police and the EFCC, are tied to the government’s apron strings. What do you think can be done to make these security agencies more independent of political control?
I had hoped that Buhari would use his second coming to build enduring institutions that are independent of and unencumbered by loyalty to personalities in power. Because of the extreme personalisation of power in our politics, there is frankly nothing that can be done other than to have a president who really and truly allows the agencies to operate unfettered. People have suggested that the heads of the security agencies should be appointed by independent, professional bodies. While I see the merit in the suggestion, the fact still remains that the president can manipulate the independent, professional bodies to do his or her bidding.
Former US President Barack Obama is famous for saying ‘Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions’. But strong institutions don’t come out of thin air; they are built by strong men through the strength of their personal example. I had hoped that Buhari would be the strong man who would build strong and enduring institutions that are fiercely independent. I was naïve.
Some are expressing fears that what happened to former President Umaru Yar’Adua during his ill health and eventual death may befall Buhari. Do you think those fears are misplaced?
I see eerily uncanny similarities between the public management of Buhari’s health and that of the late Yar’Adua’s. I once wrote an article in June 2016 titled, ‘The Yar’Aduaisation of Buhari’s Health by His Media Adviser’, where I called attention to the unhealthy and unhelpful secrecy around the president’s health. The issues I raised in that article are still relevant today, although I must give the president credit for always handing over to the vice president (Prof. Yemi Osinbajo), as the (Nigerian) Constitution demands, each time he travels abroad for an extended period. Yar’Adua never did that; nor did Obasanjo. I hope the president survives his current indisposition. In spite of my strong disagreements with his policies, I wish him well.
What do you think is the way forward in all this just as some are calling for the resignation of the President?
If Buhari resigns, that would be wonderful. It is obvious by now that he is superintending the most unprepared government in Nigeria’s history. He has absolutely no business being president. The presidency is above his pay grade. Every day in Nigeria is worse than the previous day, and there is no hope in sight. But should Buhari decide to stay on in power in spite of his proven incompetence and cluelessness, we have no option but to wait until his tenure expires. All we can do is put his feet to the fire and hope that he would get a clue and do – or get the right people to help him do – the right thing.