MORE than any other aspirant to Nigeria’s presidency in recent times, General Muhammadu Buhari has received the most criticism for his brand of politics, his undignified utterances and what many view as desperation. Buhari does not come across as an overly ambitious Nigerian politician but that posturing is just on the surface. Behind that façade that he is in politics for altruistic reasons lies a deep-seated craving for power which has been obvious since his much criticized overthrow of the Shagari presidency in 1983. Not only did his coup plot set the country backwards by several decades, the way he went about exercising his power gave the first revelation of his character as a man whose decision can be biased by extraneous considerations.
Since his foray into politics, Buhari has built the essence of his aspiration for the presidency of this country solely on the high ground of moral rectitude. The much you can say of Muhammadu Buhari – indeed the only thing he flaunts – is that he is not corrupt. It is a claim that is quite contentious. When added to the widely-held criticism that he holds bigoted views on religion and ethnicity, it becomes even more unlikely he will ever again lead this country in dire need of visionary leadership? In spite of all these baggage, Buhari continues to harbor the belief that his personal charisma among a few Northerners and his usual appeal to undue fundamentalism, are enough to drive his presidential aspiration. I doubt if he is right. In spite of Buhari’s pretentions to democratic ideals, the fear persists that if given the opportunity, his government would jettison liberal norms in favour of draconian rules. The fear is a throw-back to the past.
Buhari: Our situation must change!
The thoughtless execution of three young men, Lawal Ojuolape, Bernard Ogedengbe and Bartholomew Owoh on drug trafficking offences, is one instance that Nigerians would rather not remember. In spite of calls from public-spirited individuals, well-meaning Nigerians and the international community, Buhari had ordered the killing for which he refuses to offer any apologies till today. Rather he rationalizes the retroactive law with which he carried out the judicial or state murder: it was not an error but a deliberate action by his government to discourage drug trafficking. It was nothing short of premeditated murder.
Out of government for nearly 30 years, Buhari has done little to prepare himself to lead Africa’s largest economy. While former leaders like Jerry Rawlings of Ghana took to the podiums, delivering public lectures that have furthered the cause of democracy, peace and development in Africa, his predecessor in office, General Olusegun Obasanjo retired into a similar statesmanship, traversing the globe to further issues that help elevate humanity. Even General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who had one of the shortest military reigns in Nigeria, still finds dignity in causes that advance democracy, good governance and peace. Standing aloof, Buhari is of a different hue, neither improving himself like Obasanjo who still shuttles between classrooms, nor adding value to people around him. So how does a man who can hardly manipulate a laptop inspire the millions of upwardly mobile youths in Nigeria?
I recall only two times when he was brought out from retirement to engage in ‘worthy causes’. The first was when the late General Abacha saddled him with the duty of managing the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF, while the second was when he was appointed by his state government in the early nineties as head of Gidaunniyar Jihar Katsina, a government-funded Trust for the state’s development. It is debatable if taking up such positions can be regarded as sacrifices. So, why would a man who is so desirous of public office do practically nothing that would inconvenience him personally and/or financially in furthering the cause of other people?
Many say the former Nigerian leader is not financially buoyant, but this raises questions of their own. How did ‘poor man’ Buhari fund three presidential contests in a row, and has entered the fray for the fourth? Buhari presents himself as a poor man but he did not flinch at his party’s decision to impose a N27.5 million fee for the purchase of a nomination form that should sell for N1 million at most. His decision to acquiesce with that daylight robbery is very curious indeed: his crusade for moral rectitude should have started from his own backyard. The issue about how Buhari cornered a bank loan to fund the purchase of his nomination form, will ring all through this presidential campaign.
At the NN24 presidential debate towards the 2011 elections, he gave an indication that if elected he would institute an inquiry into how money was spent by previous governments. Good, but the people’s fears are still not misplaced, mainly because Buhari has a long history of discrimination when applying the big stick. The discriminatory manner in which he handled events after the 1983 coup is a case in point. Hoisting himself on the totem pole of moral rectitude and discipline, Buhari had proclaimed the Shagari civilian administration corrupt and had commenced an anti-corruption crusade that first received accolades until it became obvious he was sectional in applying it. A section of Nigerians will never forget how Vice President Ekwueme was roasted, literally, at Ikoyi prison by Buhari, at a time his kinsman and head of the ‘corrupt’ regime, Shagari, was treated with kid gloves on house arrest in another part of Ikoyi.
At 72, Buhari should have left the stage with whatever is left of his reputation. The man who, in the run-up to the 2011 presidential election, told his supporters to go on a lynching spree if the result did not favor him, eventually lost in a contest adjudged free and fair, but it did not stop the post-election violence that arose from that careless pronouncement. He still carries the stigma of indictment by the Sheikh Ahmed Lemu presidential panel that investigated those outbreaks of violence.
Innocent Nigerians are now reaping the whirlwind from that -and similar — irresponsible utterances.
Does Buhari need to demystify himself any further? No. He needs to take some of the advice Nigerians are freely giving to his friend Olusegun Obasanjo: the days of playing God are over; and it is only Nigerians, freely expressing their electoral choices, who can determine who will be their president. His ambition -legitimate as it is – is disturbingly desperate, a perception that makes his aspiration increasingly difficult to realize.
*Mr. Galadima, a political analyst, wrote from Kano, Kano State.