Hanan, the daughter of Nigeria leader Muhammadu Buhari flew the presidential jet on a private trip and some Nigerians are upset?
That means it is time to re-calibrate: This is not about the law, or about right and wrong.
It is not about the constitution or what Buhari proclaimed on the campaign trail five years ago. It is not about what his APC party promised Nigerians or about being a reformed democrat.
This is about power and the unfolding privileges of the First Family.
So what if Hanan, who is said to be back in England as a graduate student of photography, took the jet to help her with a piece of homework?
Remember, there are about 10 of those in the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF), with perhaps two or three specifically assigned to the President and the Vice-President. That means that at any time, there are several glittering machines at the ready for members of the First Family to go shopping, to sleep overs, or to next-level academics.
It is not difficult to understand. How do you tell a child of the president that all these servants—including the National Security Adviser, the Inspector-General of Police and the Commander of the PAF—are one crooked finger away and there are still things they cannot have? How can you tell a child of the First Family that there are all these privileges and toys and rankadedes within coughing distance and they cannot play with them?
In fact, Hanan was helping the nation by using the jet: when she is happy, the president is happy and can focus on fighting corruption and insecurity or boosting the economy. What if she really wanted to show them in class, and demanded a different jet each day for a week so she could have different pictures of herself to show off?
After all, the vice-president flew to Kano on a presidential jet…not to stuff his agbada with bundles of US dollars, but to commission a flyover and an underpass.
Speaking of the vice-president, let us remember that this is really a responsible government. So responsible that after the state had spent over N6bn constructing his official residence, a project dating from 2009, his government refused to spend one kobo more. The nearly-completed 14 buildings in the estate have rotted now for four years. That’s how you save money!
The same government now wants to renovate the National Assembly for N37bn (about $102m).
I am all for maintaining institutions, even upgrading physical structures. But this government is a study in self-contradiction.
This is the same government in whose hands the State House Clinic collapsed after receiving approval of nearly N11bn in three years, leading the presidency to decide to commercialize it, after which—never mind—it decided it would revert to its “original mission.”
The same government last March contracted the design of a new 12-storey head office for the Department of Petroleum Resources in Abuja at a cost of N1.4bn.
The design, not the construction.
The construction? That would cost N35 billion(over$100m): enough money to build a functional small town from scratch.
If you wish to be magnanimous, you would interpret these outrageous decisions as evidence of a nightmare: that the government of Nigeria does not know the value of the naira.
But the truth, as I have written in the past, is far worse: this is a government only in form, and these contract numbers are,in essence, only“opening” bids. Our experience shows that these projects—and hundreds besides—will never be completed as planned. In 10 or 20 years they will still be under construction, with new story lines.
Apart from the initiating government or Minister, no Nigerian infrastructure has real specifications. Not a start date, and certainly not a completion; no cost, no standards, no control.
So: recall a project, any project: when did it begin and when was it completed? How long have we been constructing key road and rail projects? How many Ministers have “supervised” them?
For instance, how long have we built the Second Niger Bridge (SNB) or the Lagos-Kano rail line? How much were they supposed to cost, and how much are they costing? In Onitsha in October 2017, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo declared the SNB would be completed before the end of 2019. But in May 2019, after “winning” re-election, his spokesman said only that the project would be brought “to fruition.”
In 2017, the House of Representatives began to investigate the disappearance of that N11bn budgeted for the State House Clinic—a shouting distance from the bedroom from which Buhari patronizes British hospitals—since 2015. According to Buhari’s own daughter, Zahra, the place lacked…everything.
Where is the East-West Road? In December 2017, Usani Usani, the Niger Delta Minister, disclosed that N300bn had been spent on the decade-old project, and needed 30bn for completion. But rather than fight to obtain those funds, the government announced it would spend N16bn on an office for the Niger Delta Development Commission.
But these are infrastructure concerns, and any lack of progress is easy to identify. What about such things as security or justice?
That Nigeria’s military and security agencies are a mess is clear to the world, and if you are a Nigerian, you know how cheap life is nationwide.
Sadly, it has grown cheaper in the Buhari years, as I learned last year when my older brother was macheted to death in his own home, one of three persons viciously attacked in the area, with two deaths.
In Buhari’s Nigeria, you don’t have to leave your home to lose your life. But if you do, you can die easily and cheaply. Road crashes. Armed robbers. Kidnappers. Drunk soldiers. Aggressive policemen. Herdsmen with AK-47s but no cattle.
You can be cut in half and that is the end of the matter because in Buhari’s Nigeria, the massive police force is for the protection of the powerful and the rich, not the maintenance of law and order. If you seek justice, you pay cash.
Which is why, last week, I was not surprised that states of the southwest announced Amotekun, profiled as a regional paramilitary security outfit. Just as quickly, the indolent government in Abuja declared the outfit to be illegal.
Lacking governance, Nigerian families have been building boreholes for 60 years if they must drink water. They hire private guards, if they want security.
And while the rich and powerful send their children abroad aboard First Class, private jet or PAF travel, ordinary Nigerians must struggle with impossible schools and hospitals.
And yet Nigerian communities cannot unite to protect themselves, knowing their lives mean nothing to a government which has a sense neither of duty, pride or national interest?
Illegal? What constitution is in reference, and to whom? The one under which the presidential jet may be treated like the school bus for one?
Hopefully, Amotekun will not emerge as an excuse for another civil war. But history teaches us that anytime people reach a point where they feel they have nothing to lose, it may be too late.
[This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials].