Bishop Kukah’s challenge -By Sonala Olumhense

People ask me if government officials respond to the rebuttal offer at the bottom of my column. The answer is always ‘No.’

This experience is how I know that neither Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed nor presidential spokesmen Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina will accept the challenge to a debate of national issues offered by Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah.

Once upon another era, at a time that I had imagined that Buhari intended to serve Nigeria and honour his electoral promises, I offered a communication strategy to assist that purpose. By coincidence, it was indexed on these three officials. Under that mechanism, Mohammed, Shehu and Adesina would have emerged as prominent stars in the Nigeria political firmament.

But as the entire world now knows, I was merely the victim of a carefully-choreographed deceit described as a government of change. Within one month of his assuming office, deep doubts about Buhari were emptying into the streets, and I questioned who he really was: the lion or the meat. Because—remember—President Goodluck Jonathan had been ridiculed for appearing to justify corruption by affirming that if someone put a goat and yams together, “the goat will eat the yam.”

Even the Americans were fooled by Buhari, who claimed to be the anti-Jonathan. When Buhari visited the United States in July 2015, just two months after he took power, I joined the celebrations, hopeful that we were at the start of something different.

President Barack Obama, who had hailed Buhari’s election as “a major step forward for Nigerian and African democracy,” welcomed him to the White House applauding his “reputation for integrity” and a clear agenda to restore security and peace to Nigeria.

“And he has a very clear agenda with respect to rooting out the corruption that too often has held back the economic growth and prosperity of his country,” Mr. Obama said. He expressed enthusiasm about the US partnering with Nigeria to become an anchor “of prosperity and stability in Africa and an outstanding role model for developing countries around the world.”

“We’re looking forward to discussing how we can be helpful in addressing some of the corruption issues that have held Nigeria back, and unleashing the incredible talent of the Nigerian people,” he said.

At that White House event, Buhari identified insecurity, the economy, unemployment, and corruption as his principal challenges. He expressed joy that the US had offered ahead of the election its preparedness to help Nigeria to confront those problems.

But Buhari then returned to Nigeria and steadily and doggedly dragged Nigeria down—piece by piece, by his own hand or his heart, by his own words or lack of them, and by his actions and inaction—set about making Nigeria worse with each passing hour until it became the killing fields and the world’s poverty capital, perched on the thin edge of division.

Bishop Hassan Kukah captured the crime scene best last Sunday: “With everything literally broken down, our hearts are broken,” he said in his Easter homily. “Our family dreams are broken. Homes are broken. Churches, mosques, and infrastructure are broken. Our educational system is also broken.

“Our children’s lives and future are broken politics, economy, energy system is also broken. Our security system is broken. Our roads and rails are broken. Only corruption is alive and well…”

The Bishop’s eloquence and brutal truthfulness threw the government into such turmoil that Shehu and Adesina immediately began a personal onslaught on him, with Shehu suggesting that the cleric “put away his clerical garb, join (sic) partisan politics and see how far he can go.”

Such deflections are characteristic of an administration that hates to be called what it is or for the citizens to admit any pain. Mohammed has told the story of his being questioned by his little grandson as to why people call him “Lie” rather than Lai. Grandpa’s response: “No mind dem!”

How is that an answer to such a profound question from a hurting little boy? But “No mind dem” does summarise the philosophy of an administration that is so bad that “only corruption is alive and well.”

Buhari, by the way, obtained very little traction with the Obama government because of his atrocious human rights record. Among others, in January 2017, the Nigerian Air Force ‘mistakenly’ bombed a refugee camp in Rann, Borno State as incompetence, division, death, injury and hunger became the nation in the Buhari Years.

Nonetheless, in 2018, US President Donald Trump, ever uncaring about “sh*thole” countries, was willing to sell military equipment to Buhari, despite dismissing him as “lifeless.”

In Buhari’s state visit that year, Trump announced that he had bought a dozen Super Tucano military aircraft. At least one journalist had been brought along by the Buhari team to ask the American president to please release the jets to Nigeria by 2020.

But let us not forget that in June 2019, that matter became one of significant embarrassment when National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno denied knowledge of the whereabouts of $1 billion approved by the National Economic Council (NEC) in December 2017 to tackle insecurity.

As the nation responded in a collective gasp, presidential spokesman Shehu explained that the government had spent about $490m of the money on the Super Tucano aircraft order from the US. “Various other military procurements have been made. Balance of expenditure stands at about USD 880 million or so.”

No details emerged, nor was the remaining sum explained. Not only was the order without legislative approval, it does not appear in the 2018 federal audit reports, which are available here and here. And while the jets began to arrive in Nigeria nearly one year ago, the terrorist continue to thrive, largely undisturbed.

The point is that while government officials are vociferous in hounding critics rather than governing, they are even less willing to confront the facts. For instance, last week, Buhari swore that nobody would be allowed to destabilise Nigeria?

Really? Did he mean, “allowed,” as in requiring an Aso Rock destabilisation card? Because Nigerians are not aware that kleptocrats and herdsmen and terrorists and duplicitous officials are licensed. But they can see how all the talk about ‘CHANGE’ and ‘Next Level’ and combating corruption and enhancing trust in government were all lies told simply for power.

Boasting and bravado do not a government make. Commitment and selfless effort do, and the unwillingness (not simply failure) of the Buhari government to secure life and property has exposed its hypocrisy and hollowness. Dubious and cheap achievements such as the odd rail line or a bridge do not substitute for human life.

In Buhari’s inaugural speech in 2015, he quoted Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, concerning a tide in the affairs of men, but it was another false alarm. Which is why I end this one with Shakespeare’s Macbeth, concerning a tale full of sound and fury. It is the tragedy Nigerians have endured for seven years.

In any event, the government has now been invited to a public—and I hope, televised—debate. I know for a fact that nobody will accept his challenge. Because this is also an administration of considerable cowardice.

This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials.

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