Nigeria’s political scene is a dance drama with drunk performers and a story that the actors make up as they go. If you were lucky (or unfortunate) enough to be around then, you would most likely have shared a sense of boundless optimism that most Nigerians carried into the civilian era on May 29, 1999.
After a long era of successive military regimes characterised by misrule and oppression, the people had high hopes for a government they could hold accountable, or so they thought.
Barely a month into the new government, the dancers came out again.
Supposedly aged 36 at the time, Salisu Buhari was a young businessman who was deemed one of the young, promising leaders who would usher Nigeria into the new era.
After getting elected into the House of Representatives, Buhari began his ascent, competing for the position of Speaker.
On the 3rd of June 1999, Salisu was elected Speaker.
Nothing is as it seems
Unbeknownst to the politicians of the Democracy era, and the millions of bullish Nigerians, Salisu Buhari was not who he said he was.
Buhari set about snuggling into his new role as the new administration settled into and restructured Nigeria’s mangled government institutions.
The role of Speaker is the 4th highest position in the country and Buhari’s role was important, to put it mildly.
But barely six weeks into his new role, the veil was lifted.
On the 16th of February 1999, Nigerian investigative news publication, THE NEWS Magazine, ran an article attacking Buhari’s credibility.
It claimed that the new speaker was born in 1970, not 1963 as he had claimed. Buhari had also claimed that he graduated from Toronto University.
The article dispelled that; according to its findings, Buhari had not even attended the university, talk less of graduating.
If the findings were proved true, they posed a massive problem for the new speaker. First, Section 65(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria disqualifies anyone below the age of 30 from running for membership of the House of Representatives.
Running at the age of 29 would disqualify Buhari from his membership and his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Buhari responded sharply, vilifying the publication for attacking him and protesting his innocence.
He took it a step further by making efforts to charge the publication to court for libel.
His confidence and assertive nature in addressing the allegations were relatively convincing when one considers the scale of such a fraud.
A complex web of lies
But when the NEWS put out its sources, there was little Buhari or anyone for that matter, could do.
The magazine had written to Toronto University, requesting confirmation that Buhari was an alumnus.
In response, Carlo Villanueva, an official of the Institution wrote, “ Regarding your request for confirmation of degree for Mr Ibrahim Salisu Buhari. We have searched our records and could not find anybody with the name you are inquiring with”.
It didn’t end there.
Buhari had claimed that he completed his National Youth Service at Standard Construction in Kano.
This was also proved untrue as the records as his name could not be found in the list of those who completed the scheme.
Cornered and outed by the very institutions he claimed membership of, Buhari's cobra-like retorts served no purpose.
He had been found guilty in the court of public opinion and among in the halls where policies are made and sentences are meted out, the tension had reached a fever pitch.
On Thursday, July 23rd, 1999, disgraced and cornered, Salisu Buhari faced Nigerians and admitted to falsifying his age and forging certificates as well as other contents of the NEWS report.
“I apologize to you. I apologize to the nation. I apologize to my family and friends for all the distress I have caused them. I was misled in error by zeal to serve the nation, I hope the nation will forgive me and give me the opportunity to serve again.”
He resigned from his membership of the House of Representatives and with his tail between his legs, disappeared into the unknown.
Only the powerless will be punished
For a decade, very little was heard of Buhari. In 2013, he made his return to the news and the public space when he was appointed as a member of the governing council of the University of Nigeria by President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
Naturally, the move drew a lot of criticism.
In a feeble attempt to justify the appointment, Reuben Abati explained that Buhari’s apology had earned him a pardon from the President at the time, Olusegun Obasanjo.
This statement only served to explain the lack of accountability that defines the Nigerian government and the many politicians that continue to live lavish lives with allegations and clear evidence of wrongdoing at various levels hanging over them.
Since the Buhari fiasco, Nigeria’s legislative houses have seen many similar incidents.
One that comes to mind is that of Buruji Kashamu, a senator representing Ogun East Senatorial District, who is also the Chief Executive of Kasmal Group, a conglomerate with interests in oil and gas, property and hospitality.
He is also the subject of trials and investigations in the United States regarding several cases of heroin trafficking.
Little is known about what Buhari is up to these days, but if we had to guess, we’d say he’s going about his business and sitting pretty on the board of one of Nigeria’s few passable tertiary institutions.
So much for a new era.