By Paul Onomuakpokpo
It is increasingly becoming obvious that the President Muhammadu Buhari government is chafing under the affliction of a one-week-one-scandal syndrome. Unless they are irrevocably befuddled by their partisanship, Buhari’s loyalists who have been consumed with the notion of his unrivalled integrity would not fail to observe the dark atmosphere of corruption in which the administration is immersed. But of course, while most of these loyalists are apologising for allowing themselves to be used to pave the way for the Buhari presidency, there are some who would counter that those who accuse the government of corruption are the shellacked members of the opposition. After all, the Kachikwu-Baru affair which is the latest scandal in the Buhari government has not been declared by a competent court as an unimpeachable case of corruption.
But the evidence of financial sleaze such unalloyed believers in the integrity of the Buhari government may not be able to dispute is no longer from the members of the opposition and other citizens whose moral sensibilities are daily affronted by corruption cases. Now, the evidence is from an unlikely quarter. It is from Aisha Buhari, the wife of the president. Just a week after the nation was scandalised by the $25 billion heist in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) which has no rival in the alleged financial misdeeds committed by the Goodluck Jonathan government, Mrs. Buhari alerted us to the possible mismanagement of over N4 billion at the Aso Rock Clinic in less than two years. She was shocked that despite this allocation, the clinic did not have a single syringe. Mrs. Buhari’s alarm came shortly after her daughter Zahra was outraged at the lack of syringe and common drugs like paracetamol at the clinic.
Thankfully, Mrs. Buhari was not oblivious of the multi-levelled grave implications of this development. As she told the wives of the 36 governors who were at a programme organised by her pet project Future Assured, if this could happen at Aso Rock which is the central seat of power, then the misappropriation of official funds at the state level that may be outside the radar of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC) could be worse. But the only exception in this regard is Ekiti State where the Buhari’s anti-corruption agencies could perceive the smell of financial recklessness from a long distance and swoop on the officials of the government wherever they are – in the state or Abuja.
The clinic is supposed to cater to the medical needs of the president and his family, his ministers and other close aides and their families. Yet, these people do not use the clinic because they do not have confidence in it. It was because the aides of Mrs. Buhari realised that the clinic was not functional that they advised her not to use it but to rather take the first flight to London. But she was confronted with the lack of direction, wastage and apparent fraud in the Buhari governance when she insisted and went to the clinic. The x-ray machine was not working and there were no drugs. She had to get her treatment in a private medical facility owned by foreigners .Yet, the authorities of the Aso Rock Clinic were busy with a remodelling of the facility. They were more concerned with the contract of construction obviously because that is a more convenient way of stealing the funds meant for the clinic.
The body language of Buhari does not deter the officials from mismanaging his official clinic .If this could happen in Aso Rock, right under Buhari’s nose, it gives a clear picture of what is happening in other government establishments that are far from the president’s focus. And if Aso Rock Clinic is not functional, how do we expect any other government medical facility to be functional and meet the health needs of the citizens who cannot afford private treatment? The fact that there is the misuse of funds in the clinic at a time the government tells the citizens that they should reduce their governance expectations because of recession provokes the suspicion that the president might have liberalised corruption among his cronies . As long as they are his appointees they are at liberty to deviate from their governance responsibilities and misappropriate their official funds. When the aides of this government serenade the citizens with the notion that the Buhari government is the best thing that has ever happened to the nation since independence in 1960, is it not possible that they are excited at the freedom they have to do whatever they like with their public office?
The tragic irony that we must not ignore is that it is Mrs. Buhari and not the president who has become so intolerant of corruption. While it is true that it is only in the post-public office era of Buhari that we can get a clear picture of how much Mrs. Buhari shielded herself from the corruption of the government of her husband, it is safe to presume that she is different from other first ladies that have gone through the state house. She is not like previous first ladies whose apparent complicity led to their husbands emptying the treasury and stashing state funds in numerous private foreign accounts. Mrs. Buhari has been the one prodding her husband to the path of probity. Last year, she was the one who warned her husband against the danger of allowing people who were not actuated by the same vision of governance like him to hijack his government. She underscored her seriousness by declaring that she would never campaign for her husband if he kept on maintaining his bad company. Again, it was Mrs. Buhari who returned this year from London where she had gone to see her sick husband and assured us that Buhari would deal with those who appropriated the reins of power while he was away.
Buhari is failing in his battle against corruption and on other fronts not because he has no home support. He does not have a first lady who looks away as the president is being cheered on to his own doom by his close aides who are in power for their own selfish gain. No, Buhari does not have to contend with an Imelda whose obsession with opulence, underscored by her possession of over 3,000 shoes, blinded her from the danger the abject poverty in the Philippines posed to her husband Ferdinand Marcos until he was forced to flee into exile by the people’s revolt. He is not saddled with an Eva who left no record of checking her husband Adolf Hitler’s delirium of power and Aryan supremacy. He does not have to contend with a Queen Marie-Antoinette who did not appreciate the plight of the people and reportedly declared that they should eat cake until it was too late and her husband Louis XVI was guillotined. He does not have as a wife a Rachele who was so far removed from state affairs that she did not warn her husband Benito Mussolini of the dark consequence of his dictatorship until he was executed by oppressed Italians.
Buhari neither heeded the first warning last year nor the second one when he returned from London this year. Thus, there is no likelihood of Buhari heeding the third warning against the rapacity of his appointees. Fixated on the notion of his wife being consigned to the other room instead of being eligible to offer an opinion on the matters of state and his political party, Buhari would not see the need to put in place a mechanism for making his appointees to do the jobs for which they have been appointed instead of being obsessed with how they would divert their official funds into the awards of contracts that would not benefit the citizens.