Saturday, June 10, 2023

Farooq Kperogi: Buhari’s last-minute provocations of Bola Tinubu

The president-elect is wise enough not to take the bait.

• May 20, 2023
Bola Tinubu and Buhari in Jos
Bola Tinubu and Buhari [Photo Credit: Vanguard News]

After failing to stop him from emerging as APC’s flag bearer in 2022 and mounting steep hurdles for him in the 2023 election, Muhammadu Buhari increasingly comes across as intentionally charting courses of action designed to provoke pre-inauguration confrontation with Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Or am I missing something?

Take, for example, Buhari’s request to the National Assembly, just days to the end of his term, to approve an $800 million loan for the purpose of distributing “N5,000 per month to 10.2 million, poor and low-income households for a period of six months with a multiplier effect on about 60 million individuals.” This would have been comedic if it weren’t for the tragic, broad daylight official theft that it is.

Even Senate President Ahmed Lawan whose notoriety for pliancy to the presidency is unmatched in Nigeria’s democratic history couldn’t suppress a hearty burst of laughter when he read Buhari’s request in the Senate. Lawan was particularly tickled by Buhari’s assurance that the dispensation of the money to the poor and the vulnerable in the country would be above board.

“In order to guarantee the credibility of the process, digital transfers will be made directly to beneficiaries’ account [sic] and mobile wallets,” Lawan quoted Buhari to have said in the letter, which inspired bouts of scornful laughter not just from Lawan but also from other senators. The disdainful giggles suggest that senators knew this was an audacious, unsophisticated, tragicomic attempt at last-minute pillaging of the public till.

Most Nigerians who are so poor that a monthly N5,000 welfare gift will make a difference in their lives have no bank accounts or digital wallets. That was precisely why Buhari’s politically motivated and ill-conceived naira recolouring policy was harder on the desperately poor, particularly in rural areas, than it was on the middle and upper classes. They couldn’t partake in electronic transfers of funds because they had no bank accounts.

According to the Guardian of January 28, 2022, “Nigeria is one of the top three unbanked countries in the world, with 40 per cent of its population without a bank account and out of the 59 million unbanked adults, 73 per cent do not have the requisite documents to open a tier-three bank account.”

This realisation must have been why Lawan and his colleagues snickered at Buhari’s assurance that “digital transfers will be made directly to beneficiaries’ account [sic] and mobile wallets.” They know the game because they play it, too. They know where the money will end up and wonder why Buhari is gratuitously transparent about his own fraud.

This is unlikely to be funny to Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima, though. If I were them, I would see this as a two-way ambush. The loan compels them to honor a six-month commitment to remit funds to dubious bank accounts and digital wallets, which could stymie their take off. But resistance to it risks touching off a confrontation at a time when they can’t afford to add an extra enemy to an already long list of fierce opponents.

While he is using the instrument of his lame-duck incumbency to legally steal public funds under the pretext of caring for the poor, Buhari is, as usual, shifting the burden of governance and tough decisions to the incoming government. He is throwing a rash of policy booby traps for his successors.

For instance, although he has said he would remove so-called fuel subsidies (which he once said didn’t exist), he never did in the eight years he has been in power. Now that his tenure is ending, he said he had resolved to dispense with fuel subsidies by June 2023, a month after he would have left office. In the aftermath of the confusion and outrage that the decision generated, Yemi Osinbajo stepped in to save face and said the implementation of subsidy removal had been suspended entirely and left to the next government. Duh!

But that wasn’t the end of the matter. Buhari’s finance minister countered Osinbajo a day later and said there was “no change in the overall policy direction regarding the petrol subsidy envisaged by June 2023.” In a press statement, her media aide said the Buhari regime “has not suspended the removal of fuel subsidy, but has rather expanded the subsidy removal committee to include teams from the incoming administration and the state governors.”

I am sincerely curious to see the magic by which Buhari and his team will implement fuel subsidy removal a month after they are out of government—or force their successors to do it on their behalf.

Similarly, Buhari, who never had a real economic adviser, much less an economic blueprint, throughout his presidency, suddenly signed a national development plan on May 3, which he called “the Nigeria Agenda 2050 (NA 2050).” His media aide quoted him as saying that the plan “aims to ensure that the country attains a Per Capita GDP of $33,328 per annum, placing her [sic] among the top middle-income economies in the world by 2050.”

Again, this comes across as a stealthy ground-emplaced mine for his successor to step on and burn. Even previously Buhari-loving Daily Trust columnist Jibrin “Jibo” Ibrahim who once called me a “PDP intellectual” (which I am not and have never been) for consistently calling out Buhari’s incompetence isn’t amused by Buhari’s chutzpah in crafting an economic blueprint for the incoming government, which he himself never had.

“I wonder how deeply insulted the incoming president will feel, that a man who could not implement a plan for himself, offers one to somebody who actually listens to experts and advisers,” Ibrahim wrote in his May 5, 2023, column. “I am more concerned about the reality of someone who has been both a military and civilian president and has no notion of a mandate being tied to the period served in office, and not beyond this.”

It’s truly befuddling why Buhari is engaging in this sort of shameless last-minute looting spree and planting policy landmines for his successor. For one, it’s obvious that if Tinubu and Shettima hope to succeed, they would have no option but to reverse several of the provocations that Buhari has initiated. This would necessarily inaugurate a frosty relationship between the two administrations, and Buhari would be the loser.

For another, Buhari appears gripped by a paralysing fear of being investigated for the unprecedentedly stratospheric corruption his regime has perpetrated and is perpetrating. He obliquely betrayed this fear during his last interview with Channels TV—as he has done many times before and after the interview.

“Nobody should ask me to come and give any evidence in any court,” he said. “Otherwise, whoever it is, he will be in trouble because all important things are on record.” Buhari obviously fears being asked to come back to defend the corruption he is supervising. Pissing off your successor is hardly a smart way to avoid this.

Well, in states, governors-elect are openly fighting lame-duck governors who are getting fresh loans from banks and engaging in last-minute looting of resources. Buhari is doing precisely what several departing state governors are doing. Is he intentionally courting Tinubu’s anger? Or is he merely being manipulated by his much smarter cabal?

Of course, Tinubu and Shettima are wise enough not to take the bait. But it would be interesting to see how Tinubu and Shettima will respond after their inauguration about a week from today.

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