Buhari's Many Faces: By Julius Ogunro
No election is complete in the United States without a comprehensive background check on the candidates. Almost everything they had said, every actions they had taken and choices made are scrutinized by the media, and the opposition. Even the clubs, and churches the candidates attend, all is up in the radar. The essence is to dig out the true character of the contestants, their ideological preferences and worldviews, and how these may colour their decisions if they get elected.
Americans don't joke with the antecedent of their politicians, especially those vying for a top position. While a candidate running for an election often say the right things and make the right noises to get elected, an investigation of his background may reveal something entirely different. He may be a closet racist or a religious bigot, or simply incompetent. It was a background check that almost torpedoed the presidential ambition of Barrack Obama in 2008. He was a member of Trinity United Church of Christ pastored by the fiery Jeremiah Wright. Wright had condemned the United States government in several sermons at the Church, blaming it for most of the world's ills, including manufacturing the AIDS virus. The discovery endangered Obama's presidential dream as the suspicion was that he might share his pastor's vociferous anti-American views. Obama eventually had to denounce Wright.
I wonder what a comprehensive background check might reveal about our Presidential candidates. But if there is one presidential candidate I don't need any investigation into his background to know his opinion, worldview and biases, that man should be General Muhammed Buhari.
The Buhari narrative is very well known. He became head-of-state in the early 80's at the age of 41 after bulldozing his way into power through a coup which led to the sack of the NPN government led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Buhari quickly made name for himself as a no-nonsense leader who would not tolerate any dissent and indiscipline. Or so he would have us believe. This public mien as a dispassionate anti-corruption crusader was however undermined by some of the not-so secret actions he took. Firstly after the coup, several political leaders were arrested and detained. But surprisingly, while the former President Shagari was kept in a cozy apartment in Ikoyi, his deputy Alex Ekwueme was jailed at the maximum prison in Kirikiri. The question, I am sure, Buhari still finds difficult to answer almost 30 years after is: what peculiar offence did Ekwueme commit to warrant the rough treatment he got while his boss had a much better deal at Ikoyi? If the public officers were jailed because of their collective responsibility for the actions of their government, Shagari as head of that government should take most of the blame. The only exception would be that that there were peculiar and personal allegations leveled against Ekwueme, the former VP, which his boss was unaware of. Mr Buhari may want to throw more light on this. If not one is likely to believe the allegations on the street that Ekwueme was treated more harshly because he is from the Southeast unlike Shagari who is from the same Northwest zone as Buhari.
Then during the time when old currency was being changed to new ones, Buhari announced the closure of the borders to ensure that there was no smuggling in or out of money. But even that action was dogged by allegations of bias coloured by ethnicity. Nasir El Rufai, the former FCT minister put it better in press statement he sent out earlier this year. 'In 1984, Buhari allowed 53 suitcases belonging to his ADC's father, to enter Nigeria unchecked, at a time the country was exchanging old currency for new ones,' El Rufai said. Buhari reportedly turned a blind eye to that infraction because the person involved was a leading emir from the North.
This charge of ethnic bias has trailed Buhari throughout his public life. But as well noteworthy was his inflexibility and highhandedness. Two evidences will suffice. As head-of-state, Buhari promulgated the infamous decree four. The gist of this decree is that a journalist who reported any issue that embarrassed the military government would be sent to jail, even if the report was true. True to his threat, two journalists - Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor were jailed for reports, which though accurate were deemed to be embarrassing to the government. Another decree prescribed death sentence for drug traffickers, no matter the quantity of drugs trafficked; and to make it more draconian the law was retroactive. It ensnarled several drug peddlers months after they had committed the crime and before the law was passed. They were summarily executed in spite of the public outcry that the decree was against natural justice.
If Nigeria were to be US or a more sane society, the media would have feasted on these breaches by Candidate Buhari. The fact that he sacked a legitimate government would be enough reason to rule him out of national or statewide contest for a political office. The Americans and, to some extent, the Europeans are very particular about the kind of people who offer themselves for an election. This scrutiny is not misplaced. It is to ensure that people with dubious background never hold serious political offices. That was why the candidacy of George McGovern, the Democratic Party Candidate of the 1972 US Presidential election lost traction. It was revealed that his Vice Presidential nominee, Thomas Eagleton, once suffered clinical depression and had visited a psychiatrist. Eagleton wasn't mad, but needed help for emotional issues. That was enough to derail the presidential ambition of McGovern, even though he eventually replaced Eagleton after initially dithering. Americans don't take a chance, even the slightest one, with those they entrust with leadership. Whoever becomes the US President becomes leader of the free world and is ultimately responsible for its nuclear arsenal. So they cannot afford to take such a chance.
But why are many Nigerians willing to take a chance with Buhari? What in his antecedent give them hope that he will be a democrat, a fair and just leader to all? I have looked closely into the man's history and optimism does not well up in me. As for fear, I have it plenty. For example, the 1990s were a tough period for our country. It was the time a lot of human rights and pro democracy activists took on the Sanni Abacha dictatorship. Many were killed, including Kudirat Abiola and Pa Alfred Rewane; while thousand of journalists and pro democracy activists were either sent to jail or forced into exile. Many statesmen, Ekwueme inclusive, took a stand and confronted Abacha at grave risk to their lives. Where was Buhari at this tumultuous period of our national life? Not a word was heard from him. Rather he was serving the dictator as chairman of PTF. None of the events of that time could sufficiently move him to stand up for democracy. Not the death of Kudirat. Not the attempted murder of Alex Ibru. Not the numerous protests by ordinary Nigerians who took to the street to call for the end of Abacha's dictatorship. So how could he reap where he did not sow? How could we 'gift' him with the presidency when, when it mattered most he did not show courage and failed to stand with the Nigerian people?
With the return of democracy it was discovered that Buhari's PTF was run like a northern enclave. The consultants that wound the fund down discovered over 70 percent of the projects executed were done in the north. The southeast was the worst of all the zones with barely a handful of projects executed there. So what offence did the South commit to warrant such neglect? The only reasonable explanation was that Buhari is a man whose worldview and consequently actions are shaped by his ethnicity and religion. That must be reason why he was the favourite spokesperson for Fulani interest. During the early 2000s, there was a conflict between Fulani cattle rearers and farmers in Oyo state. The conflict led to the death of some Fulani herdsmen. An angry Buhari was the spokesperson of the Fulani, and he warned the then Oyo Governor, Lam Adeshina to ensure the safety of his people or…There was nothing wrong with this, but for Buhari to define 'his people' as the Fulani of the north, why should we, the rest of the nation, expect a fair deal from his presidency? It is just like a member of Ku Klux Klan, the extremist white organization, coming to ask for votes from members of the black community in the US, or running for a national election. Buhari has shown biases for members of his ethnic group, what right does he now have to ask the whole nation to vote for him? Has he ever spoken for the interest of the South? The answer is no. Not a word was heard from him during the numerous ethno-religious crises in the north in which southerners and Christians were killed. Not a word from this man who wants my vote, the vote of a southern Christian. The only time he spoke up was to defend Sharia and the right of Muslims to have the religious legal system.
Buhari's actions show that his worldview is narrow and shaped by his ethnicity and religion. There is no reason to believe he has changed. So why should I commit the leadership of my country into the hands of a proven religious bigot and tribalist? Why?