by Peregrino Brimah
“I ask you to be citizens: citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible citizens building your communities and our nation…Though our challenges are fearsome, so are our strengths. Ghanaians have ever been a restless, questing, hopeful people. And we must bring to our task today the vision and will of those who came before us.” Ghana’s new 72-year old president Nana Akufo-Addo said in his inauguration speech, plagiarizing the words of Bill Clinton, verbatim. It was the second time recently that an African president would fail to be honest and ingenious, and get caught plagiarizing words in his inaugural speech. Nigeria’s 74-year old Buhari, then 72 did the same during his inauguration speech. “We must resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship, pettiness and immaturity that have poisoned our country for so long. Let us summon a new spirit of responsibility, spirit of service, of patriotism and sacrifice, Let us all resolve to pitch in and work hard and look after, not only ourselves but one another…” Buhari went, dubbing the words of Obama in his 2008 victory speech. “I am a man who belongs to no-one and who belongs to everyone,” Buhari went on, dubbing the words of one-time French leader Charles de Gaulle.
Presidents plagiarizing their victory speech portrays an important problem and portends a sad governance promise. A victory speech is a highlight of the character and governance style of an administrator. It is his chance to thank those who got him elected and tell them and future generations what he plans and hopes for the country. It is a sneak preview into the promise his administration holds. Speeches of great leaders like Kwame Nkrumah and Thomas Sankara are played and replayed today as inspiration for young generations. The inauguration speech is the first act of governance and perhaps one of the most important. Committing an illegality in this first step is thus seriously troubling to say the least.
Leaders Who Outsource Their Thinking
What is more determining from the identical plagiarism of Buhari and Akufo-Ado is the fact that it shows who they surround themselves with. While the full details of who and how Ghana’s presidential speech was plagiarized is yet to be known, the Buhari case was one where the speech was allegedly outsourced to Buhari’s friends and family who decided to cheat and steal without care. Buhari has yet concealed and failed to punish the perpetrator(s), years later. I do not wish to blame the common problem Ghana and Nigeria have, on the age of the presidents, but this must be considered. Is it that they are too old to think and write down their own ideas? If so, then it is sad that while many try to reject the issue of age, these two leaders were also too old or unfortunate to surround themselves by disciplined, honest, innovative and intelligent people who could do tasks as simple as writing inspiring speeches.
Plagiarism is a crime. It is intellectual property theft. A thief is a thief. They that steal words can steal money and the future of a nation.
Peculiarly, in my earlier article, I foresaw and warned Ghana’s aged president to not follow the path of Nigeria. It was remarkable to note that the two countries ran through identical successive administrations and elections to get to where they are today. The good, the bad and the old, I called it. But today with their joint records of plagiarism, I think we can officially call it “the good, the bad and the ugly.” Permit me to re-present that article which sadly seems to have proven a high prediction capacity:
Caption: “Like Nigeria, corrupt inheritor after President’s death replaced by aged opponent.“
In an eerie form of coincident destiny, the electoral stories of Nigeria and Ghana have followed quite identical paths for the last series of transitions.
Both nations had quite popular presidents who died in office. In Nigeria late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died in office in 2010 at age 58 years and was replaced by his Vice, Goodluck Jonathan. Umaru Yar’Adua had spent 3 years in office. Late Yar’Adua fought terrorists north and south and the corrupt cabal at the same time, overturning sales of state assets to the vultures by his predecessor and quelling MEND terror on the south and Boko Haram in the north within a few years. A God-fearing unifier, Nigerians across ethnic lines were quite happy with him and his performance across board. Late Yar’Adua was and remains the only Nigerian president to fully declare his assets.
For Ghana, former President John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills died in July of 2012 about three and a half years after being elected to office in 2009. He was 68. He was also replaced by his Vice, John Dramani Mahama. Atta Mills was well loved and respected. He is remembered for being God-fearing and his legacy of ethical leadership. Nicknamed “Asomdwee Hen” or “Prince of Peace,” Professor Atta Mills was also sound in economic policies, leading Ghana to unprecedented economic growth with single-digit inflation and a stable exchange rate.
Inheritors of the throne, Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and John Dramani Mahama did not lead the best of regimes. Suffering and corruption were the hallmark of both’s administrations. Right from his days as Vice president, scandals were Mahama’s brand. One of the worst being a phone-call placed to his phone by a lady, Phaedra on a live recording set of the “Real Housewives of Atlanta” show where she had bragged of her escapades and direct contact with Ghana’s #2 man. Outgoing President Mahama was bogged with numerous corruption allegations also involving his flamboyant, burning-hot rides brother. Gifts given and received by him including vehicles from foreign businessmen and allegedly buying homes for election officials overseas were part of his long list.
Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan did not fare much better. His days as President began with a name brand as the most “clueless president in the world.” A title he embraced. But like Mahama, allegations of corruption were established ever before he became President and included his family members. As governor of Bayelsa, the corruption tales begun with his wife investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Committee, EFCC for several cases including the alleged laundering of $13 million. The Jonathan 5 years in office were filled with torrential series and hapless cries of massive corruption to the point of calamity to the nation. Obstinately declaring that “stealing is not corruption,” Goodluck Jonathan embraced his labels again and preached alternate scales that Nigerians should use to rate and appreciate his administration. Torrents of blame and monetary seizures have trailed the Jonathan family since being voted out of office.
Interestingly the people gave both men a chance, electing them into office as president for their go, even after both men had already been tainted. But one chance only it was.
And The Old
In 2015 Nigeria held elections with then president Goodluck Jonathan contesting for a second term as president and third term in the presidency. Former military leader Muhammadu Buhari under the APC party contested against him and won, defeating Goodluck Jonathan soundly with 2.5 million more votes. Buhari was 72 according to his official age when he became president in May of 2015. Buhari won with about 54.5% of the vote with Jonathan at 45%.
With a similar margin of 54% to 44%, Mr Akufo-Addo, of the New Patriotic Party soundly defeated the incumbent, president John Mahama to become Ghana’s president-elect. A human rights lawyer, astonishingly President-elect Mr Nana Akufo-Addo is also 72 years old!
Like Nigeria’s Buhari who had contested three times previously and lost, “Try me” Nana was a veteran presidential race runner, he ran unsuccessfully for President of Ghana in the 2008 and 2012 before the people finally decided to give him the shot. Buhari ran unsuccessfully in 2003, 2007 and 2011. Sometimes really wanting something is not enough of a validation and does not translate to the capacity and suitableness for that role.
It would be wise for Ghana to learn from its “big brother” and partner in fate, Nigeria and its ongoing trials. Like Nigeria, the recent discovery of oil in Ghana has not quite helped as the country is battling with continuous inflation and increasing prices of utilities like power, which are no longer half as stable as they used to be. In Nigeria, old Buhari who came into power with a lot of support and goodwill is having a hard time. Nigeria quickly fell into a recession with loss of millions of jobs as the new elder-led Buhari administration slowly and clumsily looked for the steps. Dwindling currency power which has tanked the Naira and Cedis an identical 400% over the past few years discombobulated the new administration. Elders expect savings and a tidy house. Summarising Nigeria under Papa Buhari, the president appears stuck in an old pattern of doing things and challenged by an advanced technological and complex world, thereby becoming at the complete mercy of whoever he is related to and hopes knows what should be done. Many of whom do not share the pain, vision and desperation of the nation. The president is at the mercy of a list that includes family, the very same corrupt cabal, the same politicians who drained and damaged the nation, the World bank and IMF…just whoever.
Also importantly, the elections in Ghana and Nigeria were both quite polarising with divisions along religious and ethnic lines. Mr Akufo-Addo would do well uniting the country and not following Nigeria’s example where divisions appear to have become more plentiful, deeper and deadlier since Buhari’s swearing in.
Challenging times are bringing “change” candidates not just in Nigeria and Ghana but across the world. But sometimes the more things change the more they remain the same and sometimes get worse. Ghanaians must not wait. Victory does not end with the declaration of the winner but begins with it. Ghanaians must track every step their new president takes and make sure he is fast, smart, strong and able to take them to the promised land.
The modern world is intensely collaborative, with many amazing tools that enhance this. Exploring “Direct democracy,” it will be good for the new president to listen to and carry the real people along. That way he can’t go wrong and he can’t lose favour.
Africa will be great again!
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Dr Peregrino Brimah; @EveryNigerian