Return of Salisu Buhari

Casmir Igbokwe

President Goodluck Jonathan dispenses goodwill and good luck in great abundance. His latest act of magnanimity was to grant pardon and give appointments to ex-convicts. The former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, and the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, are some of the latest beneficiaries of the President’s luck and goodwill. Surely, these two lucky fellows, like Christians, will now be singing, “I can see everything turning around for my good.”

Last Wednesday, Jonathan named chairmen and members of the governing councils of the 21 Federal Government-owned universities. Buhari happens to be among these lucky few. He is a member of the governing council of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Buhari, you will recall, had a spell as the Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1999. His young and handsome face radiated the chambers of the lawmakers with hope, great hope for our democracy. He came with high credentials, part of which was a certificate from Toronto University in Canada. It did not take long before the real man behind the mask was unmasked. Pronto, Toronto became synonymous with anything fake in Nigeria.  Amid tears, Buhari said he was misled in error by zeal to serve the nation. He had pleaded, “I hope the nation will forgive me and give me the opportunity to serve again.”

Of course, the nation has forgiven him; just like the nation has also forgiven Alamieyeseigha. Though many Nigerians had condemned these perfidious pardons, it is pertinent to note that the wisdom of government, sometimes, verges on abracadabra – the more you look, the less you see.

Lest we are misunderstood, nobody can question the right and powers of the Federal Government or the President to pardon ex-convicts. Or even give them appointments. After all, if there is no sin, there will be no forgiveness. As human beings, we commit sins every day. When we show remorse and ask God for forgiveness, we believe He forgives. Catholics go the extra mile of confessing their sins to God before priests who urge them to go and sin no more. But that is in the realm of faith and religion.

In the secular world, there is need to be more careful, else, we will be sending wrong signals. That is why in more serious countries, holding public office is a sacred thing. Hence, any public office-holder who steals or corruptly enriches himself while in office faces severe sanctions.

In China, such people face death penalty. For instance, a former Senior Political Advisor of East China’s Jiangxi Province, Song Chenguan, got a death sentence with two years of probation for bribery last year. Song allegedly took $2m in bribes from 1998 to 2010. He had offered favours to 18 companies and individuals in exchange for the money. Some other company executives had similarly faced death penalty in China for one corrupt act or the other.

In Peru, former President Alberto Fujimori committed some atrocities when he was in power. He ruled his country from 1990 to 2000. He ran away afterwards. But on his return in 2009, the country’s Supreme Court convicted him of human rights abuses and sentenced him to 25 years imprisonment. Fujimori, now 74, is in a special jail in Lima, the capital city. In some of these sane countries, anybody aspiring to public office is thoroughly scrutinised. Any slight dent is enough to put a stop to the aspirant’s ambition.

Our own standards are quite different. Those who are corrupt are the ones we encourage to rule us. Woe betide that person if he comes back after his tenure without much loot. His kinsmen will vilify him.

We may justify giving state pardon to Alamieyeseigha, Buhari and others. But how do we justify giving any of them another appointment? Today, Buhari is a member of the governing council of UNN. Tomorrow, Alams may be in the senate making laws for us and pontificating on the ethos of our public service.  

Ours is a society that thrives on absurdities and contradictions. The motto of the UNN is to restore the dignity of man. How will the appointment of people of questionable character into our revered institutions restore this dignity? And how can the Federal Government convince us that it is fighting corruption with this type of attitude?

This was partly why the late Professor Chinua Achebe twice rejected the national honours awards the Federal Government gave him. The literary icon just died an unhappy Nigerian. As if to heap more insults on his departed soul, Jonathan chose to make this appointment even when he is yet to be buried.

What the government is telling us is to steal as much as we can when we find ourselves in the corridors of power. The worst that can happen is that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission will make some noises and, voila, we go and enjoy our loot in peace. Even if we are convicted, we stay a few months in prison and come out to repossess our possessions.

It is not good enough. It does not speak well of us. The appointees may think they have abundance of luck. But in the fullness of time, we will discover that we are not just living in a fool’s paradise, but will also be seeing everything turning around for the worse.      

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