Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Buhari Must Drink His Own Medicine

Elizabeth Ohene

In case it has escaped the General because he has been so busy with affairs of state, being a member of the Nigerian Armed Forces and holding a commission to boot, makes you a public officer; in other words, Gen. Buhari and his colleagues have not only now become holders of public office.
One is hoping that Major-General Muhammadu Buhari's investigators do come up with something - anything at all that will show misconduct on the part of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Otherwise there will be no end to the embarrassing moments that the Head of State is going to encounter. On December 31st, 1983, it sounded very much as though the General had some concrete evidence about the various things that "the corrupt politicians" had done.

Corruption, after all, is not a state of being, it is a specific action, being corrupt is not like being lazy, thus the allegation cannot be made unless one has actually committed a corrupt act. Now it seems, the investigators are now trying to find evidence and in most cases, not even evidence but the search seems to be for any acts at all and then a subsequent search for corruption. That surely sounds very much like giving a dog a bad name and hanging it for it afterwards.

Supposing that as Gen. Buhari has indicated in the Concord newspaper, nothing has been found on Alhaji Shagari yet, and that, at the end of all the searches, nothing is found on him, what then happens - will he be in line for an apology or is he damned anyway?

All these speculations can be computed in various ways until the day Gen. Buhari succeeds in curing Nigeria of the sins of corruption and insensitivity. The problem is that having put himself up as a morally superior being to those he has overthrown, it is unfortunately not good enough that he should want to be measured on the same yardstick that is used for "corrupt politicians". In an interview with West Africa magazine published last week, Gen. Buhari made some astonishing and in some cases, staggering pronouncements.

The Editor of West Africa magazine asked Gen. Buhari if he was going to declare his assets and if such a declaration was going to be made public and I quote his answer as published: "I told the press, I said that just because we find ourselves in public office we don't have to go to the press with whatever we have after working for 20 to 25 years."

Now, if that is not a surprise, I can't imagine anything else and it just goes to show how far reality becomes from "coup speeches" after a few days.

First of all, Gen. Buhari did not "just find himself in public office" in case he is referring to his status of Head of State. He has indeed said that he was put there even though he has not been forthcoming on who did the putting, but he has not indicated that he had the slightest reluctance anyway, and in case he has forgotten, he did not so much as utter a 'by-your-leave' - he and his colleague put themselves in power through the gun, it was a deliberate action, well thought out and executed, they are where they are by choice, they did not just find themselves there one fine morning, by accident.

Secondly, in case it has escaped the General because he has been so busy with affairs of state, being a member of the Nigerian Armed Forces and holding a commission to boot, makes you a public officer; in other words, Gen. Buhari and his colleagues have not only now become holders of public office.

What is more, the good General's entire working life of 20 or 25 years has always been in public office, he has always been a soldier and even as Petroleum Commissioner under the last military regime, he was a soldier.

In his entire working life, he has always been under a salary, even his allowances, per diems; even his special allowances when he was on course in Aldershot, for example, can all be computed. The Nigerian Armed Forces Pay Office, like all Forces pay offices all the world over, must surely keep meticulous records, even of bonuses, the fact that his career has spanned some 20 or 25 years won't deter them in the least.

That is the reason why the officers and gentlemen will have to go public with "whatever they have after working for 20 or 25 years". For, unlike the corrupt politicians" who have not always been in public office and have not always been on salaries and accountable and/or unaccountable allowances, some would admit to the odd deal or two in their time in private business where they netted the odd windfall or two which in some circumstances, is called business acumen.

If the officers and gentlemen have also used parts of their salaries to speculate in the odd deal or two and have thus made a few more nairas than your average salary earner, surely nobody will begrudge them such business acumen or astuteness, for after all, some officers have been known es spend more than half their salaries settling "mess bills" at the end of the month and if there are others who know how to husband their earnings, they will get the respect of their countrymen.

The General will have to come up with a much more convincing explanation about why his declaration won't be made public.

It is interesting to note also that the declaration is also being talked about in terms of the future. How come that some eight weeks after the event, those assets have not been declared or could it be that the General and his friends have been so pre-occupied with affairs of state that they have not had the time?

It will not do at all to try and use the "corrupt politicians" as a measure, and that is why it is sad that Gen. Buhari should be reduced to such desperation as to say that he will declare his assets publicly if Alhaji Umaru Dikko will come home and declare his own. Surely Gen. Buhari cannot be suggesting that he is in the same category as "the likes of Umaru Dikko". Would he not be diluting his credibility somewhat if he were seen to be using that type of "discredited personality" to measure his own assets?

As for ex-Vice President Alex Ekwueme, since, according to the Head of State, the smoking gun has already been discovered in his hands, it is to be hoped that the day will not be too far away when he will be brought before the courts. Surely a man who left such obvious trails all around will not need a tribunal to convict him.

talking drums 1984-03-05 Ghana immature at 27 - why buhari must declare assets publicly