Chances are that each time you hear the name of Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano, what comes to mind is the 2018 video of a man pocketing bribes. In that infamous video, the man receiving wads of dollars from a supposed contractor was oblivious to the secret camera planted in the room to record the transaction. When the video was made public, it shamed Ganduje and his public image has not quite recovered. Even though virtually every Nigerian knows their leaders to be irredeemably corrupt, that video was still an unflattering picture of how the bribes they collect for a living are handled. There was no finesse to the exchange, just a greedy old man bowing before the lordship of the almighty dollar.
Ganduje claimed the video was doctored, filed a suit (which he later withdrew) against the newspaper publisher that released it and continues to promise that one fine tomorrow when fowls begin to grow gold teeth, his innocence would eventually be proven to all.
His denials notwithstanding, Ganduje has been on a manic quest to find redemption from the shame. Ideally, redemption from one’s sins requires confession and atonement but Ganduje wants to subvert those aspects. He wants to buy himself back but not by paying his debt to society. Instead, he has turned to some greedy and self-serving intellectuals, politicians, academics and traditional elders. He has been on that mission for some years but that is not how he will find redemption.
Just 100 days into his office during his second term, an otherwise shady group called African Democracy Assessment Network selected him as Best Governor. According to this group’s West African regional coordinator, Samson Theodore, they came up with the award after assessing all governors’ achievements within the period. Any association with an unknown award-giver that claims the improbability of properly assessing 36 governors within their 100 days in office should embarrass any self-respecting leader, but poor Ganduje desperately needed some redemption. He accepted and actively promoted his supposed award. More visible organisations like The Sun have joined in draping him with corny awards such as Most Media Friendly. It is typical for some Nigerian media organisations to cook up inane awards to adorn visionless politicians but one would have also expected them to refrain from garlanding a man with moral baggage like Ganduje until at least when he has been proven innocent.
The deodorisation of an odorous character like Ganduje extended to the universities, the so-called bastions of Nigerian enlightenment and intellectualism. In March, Lagos State University conferred him with an honorary doctorate. Also, Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan, awarded him the Most Distinguished Alumni. The occasion of his Ibadan award was also the launch of the N250 million Abdullahi Ganduje Lecture Theatre. As the guest speaker, the man even read—wait for it—a speech where he blamed Nigeria’s problems on the legacies of colonialism. Yes, you read that right. Who could have thought that the person who accepts bribes in dollars—not even naira—would lay the charge of our perennial national problems on the colonial miscreation of the Nigerian entity?
True, we can rightly attribute some of Africa’s damage to our colonial experiences but that critique is not for Ganduje’s mouth. If, 62 years after independence, Nigeria cannot undo the faults of colonialism, it is because we have been plagued with uninspiring leaders like Ganduje. The fault is in us, not in some abstract forces of colonialism or whatnot. Meanwhile, let us also not forget that in 2020, the same Ganduje claimed that an American tertiary institution, the East Carolina University, appointed him a “visiting full professor of e-governance and international affairs.” As it turned out, it was a fake award—no university is likely to appoint a sitting governor, unaffiliated to any academic institution, a visiting professorship—but that incident also fits into the pattern of Ganduje using institutions of merit to shore up his shamed self.
On Saturday, the same Ganduje (and his wife) was awarded a chieftaincy title in Ibadan by the recently inaugurated Olubadan, Lekan Balogun. Of all the possible titles they could give him, the Olubadan awarded him Fiwajoye (the one who ascends to nobility through moral character). How the group of elders in the Olubadan’s council came up with the idea of conferring Ganduje with such a title beats all logic. Why Fiwajoye and not even something like Aare Gbewiri? What happened to shame, decency integrity and our so-called “traditional” values people argue for when they claim that the traditional rule stools still have some relevance in our modern society? One wonders how all the Babas on the council even met to come up with this treachery. Did anyone of them, at any point in the whole process of their deliberation, even ponder the moral implications of their choice? How much could Ganduje have paid them for the title that they would have died if they had rejected it? Do not be surprised that these same old men will wake up tomorrow and complain about youths turning to Yahoo Yahoo.
On the same Saturday when a group of Yahoo elders in Ibadan thought they were ennobling Ganduje with a title, a religious group added theirs too. Not to be outdone, the Chief Imam of Ibadanland, AbdulGaniyu Abubakar, also quickly conferred Ganduje with Alaudeen of Yorubawa. Their desperation looks driven by the forthcoming general election.
When in 2019, Mr Integrity aka Nigerian President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), was asked how he could associate with Ganduje; how his moral puritanism squares with the filth the man now represents, Buhari offered cheap excuses. Each time he was asked, Buhari rambled responses that deflected his taking a definite stand on the issue. Although, in a grand act of issuing empty declarations (something that now typifies his presidency), Buhari also proclaimed that if Ganduje was found guilty, “action will be taken.” The use of passive voice in that assertion was telling. He seemed to be saying, “this is a sacred cow; nothing will happen to him.”
Recall that Ganduje was running for re-election when the video was published but he still won his gubernatorial bid because no one could act against him. Elections in Nigeria typically culminate all kinds of ill-logic, and Ganduje’s gubernatorial triumph was no different. His political party, the APC claimed the law did not provide any means for them to withdraw his candidature. The electoral body, Independent National Electoral Commission, too could not act. Kano anti-corruption agencies said they could not trigger an investigation because the video was not accompanied by a petition.
When you sit down to compute all of these, you must wonder how society can survive this treachery from each of its corners. In any society, institutions such as the media, the academy and the traditional and religious authorities are supposed to be the collective enablers of our democracy but they themselves are too morally deficient. When the leaders of a society’s politics, religion, tradition, intellectualism and the media are all found wanting, what is left for the people? This issue is about Ganduje, no doubt, but take him away from the picture and replace him with another Nigerian and the story will still be the same: our society suffers a serious shortage of moral values. There is simply no way we can progress like this.
As for Ganduje, he might—or not—realise that seeking to refurbish himself is a wasted effort. All the perfumes of Arabia cannot sweeten him and that is partly because those whose moral influence he is using are known grifters. They cannot wash the soil of what happened in that video off his image.
But that does not mean Ganduje’s efforts will not pay off. Their association with him will lower moral standards and a day might even come when the video of a politician pocketing bribes will become an election self-promotion material. Until then, the best Ganduje will get is to keep buying off the section of the society that likes to shout “integrity” when it snugly fits the politics of cynical manipulation they want to play at any time. As long as Ganduje services their agenda and pays handsomely, they will offer him dubious rehabilitation. The day his politics no longer serves them, they will re-discover his video and crucify him again.