During his recent trip to London for routine medical checkup, President Muhammadu Buhari had time to meet and greet newly crowned King Charles 111 at Buckingham Palace. The President recounted the encounter thus later:
“He asked me whether I have a house here. I said ‘no’. Even in Nigeria, the only houses I have are those I had before I got into government.
“I’m not very much interested in having assets all over the place. I feel much freer when I have nothing.”
What a man! What a leader! Ascetic. Austere. Abstinent. Where did he come from, in this day and age?
The Scripture that came to mind at the encounter between the two leaders was Luke 12:15, where Jesus said: “Take heed and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
This should not be Muhammadu Buhari, a man who had been military Governor of the then North Eastern State, which was made up of present day Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe states. Six states, which he could have fleeced and stolen blind!
Then he became Minister of Petroleum for over three years, Head of State for 20 months, Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund, where he sat over money in scores of billions, and now elected President for two terms, about concluding his eighth year in office. Yet, he feels freer when he has nothing.
Naturally, such people should not know the number of houses they have in major capitals of the world, the number of accounts they hold in banks, both locally and internationally, women in their harem, and wild oats sown home and abroad. But not Buhari. Where did this man come from, and do they make them like this anymore?
“He asked whether I have a house here. I said ‘no.’ A house? King Charles 111 should have asked of houses. That is what men in Buhari’s position have all over Great Britain, other capitals of the world, and counting.
“Even in Nigeria, the only houses I have are those I had before I got into government.” Holy Moses! Didn’t the contractors give him houses as gifts, after smiling to the banks with hefty profits from jobs done, not even to talk of kickbacks from jobs not done but paid for? Buhari. Buhari. Chai, Buhari, where did you come from?
And then the clincher: “I’m not very much interested in having assets all over the place. I FEEL MUCH FREER WHEN I HAVE NOTHING.”
Buhari ooooo. What manner of man are you? “I feel much freer when I have nothing.” Gbam! You now know why we love the man, why we trust him, and why we serve him. Our treasury is safe in his hands. Our commonwealth is kept, preserved, and used for the good of the people.
Look at great infrastructure projects embarked on by Buhari. Roads. Rail. Bridges. Airports. AKK pipelines. Bodo-Bonny project, which will link Bonny Island by road to the outside world for the first time in human history. Such huge projects are never done by a leader who has come to steal, kill and destroy. That is why those projects had only been imagined, and never done by previous administrations. What would they pocket, if they had spent money on such humongous projects? But trust Buhari, the man who feels freer when he has nothing, to have embarked on such projects, many of which are being concluded now.
“I feel much freer, when I have nothing.” Don’t we see the wisdom in this? You live better when your basic needs are met. You sleep better, without worries. You face eternity much more confidently. And you meet your God better prepared.
Am I advocating poverty? By no means. President Buhari is not poor, he’s just contented. He doesn’t have an Octopus complex that gets you grabbing everything in sight, though he has the opportunity. Group CEO of NNPC Limited , Mele Kolo Kyari had told me one day:
“I’ve never seen a leader like President Buhari. Not once has he sent anybody to me, with an instruction, ‘give this person a contract.’ Or, ‘bring this amount of money.’ Never! Not once. He’s an amazing man. That’s why he is the best person to spearhead all the reforms in the oil and gas industry.”
Of course, we knew how leaders treated the NNPC. Even the Central Bank. Customs. Federal Inland Revenue Service. Nigerian Ports Authority. NIMASA. And all the other revenue generating agencies. Like a gravy train, which they dipped their hands into at will. Those places served as sources of free cash for themselves, their families, political parties, and cronies. But not Buhari. The man simply wants nothing. He feels freer when he has nothing.
I remember myself as a simple Nigerian journalist, just enjoying the job, and not having the slightest ambition to ever serve in government. Because I wanted nothing. A friend, who had read me religiously over the years (his name is Japhet Ogunniyi) had visited me one day at The Sun Newspapers. I don’t know what led him to ask whether I could ever serve in government. Without giving it a thought, I said an emphatic NO. What was I going to do in government, with all the tendencies and predilections for filthy lucre? No, I was not wired that way, neither was I so trained by Pa Adesina, that great educationist and disciplinarian.
But Japhet probed further. “You can’t serve even in a Buhari government? But you admire the man so much, and write so fervently about him?”
I paused. Gave the idea a thought. That was at a time when a Buhari presidency seemed so far-fetched and improbable. So, I told my friend: “Well, I can serve a Buhari. Because he’s an honest man, and he will run a honest government.”
There didn’t seem to be chance of such ever happening at that time, but it eventually did. And diffidently, even reluctantly, I left what I was doing to serve a honest man. The morning I was to turn in my letter of resignation as Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun Newspapers, I woke by 5 am, and started crying. I did to my heart’s content. When I held the last meeting with the management team in the office later that day, it was a festival of tears all round. Men, women, we were not ashamed. We cried. But I left, to serve a honest man, who feels a lot freer when he has nothing. Wouldn’t you rather serve that kind of person? For me, it was a huge sacrifice, but I’ll do it over and over again. For God, for country, and for a honest man.
In 1994, I became a Buharist, when he was military head of state. I supported him in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019, because he’s an honest man. The Mai Gaskiya. And what can a country do without honest leadership? Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people, says the Good Book. When does another Buhari come this way? They don’t make them like that anymore.
Some cynics would definitely say; if Buhari was that clean, why is there still so much corruption in the country? The answer is simple. Corruption is being vigorously fought, and the statistics are clear in terms of comparative number of convictions between what used to be, and what subsists now. But if a single man remains squeaky clean in a forest of corruption, should he then be guilty by association? Nah. “Let him that is righteous be righteous still. Let him that is filthy be filthy still. Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to repay everyone as his work shall be.” That is from the Great Book, the Book of Books. It’s the conclusion of the whole matter.
“I feel much freer when I have nothing.” Very true. When I have nothing, then I have everything. Just like Buhari.
*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity.