RTD GENERAL MUHAMMADU BUHARI: GREAT SOLDIER BAD POLITICIAN
On the 31, December, the New Year Eve of 1983, Nigeria was thrown into another Military logjam that was later christened Buhari/Idiagbon regime. That day, I woke up a busy young man because my senior brother was wedding in Benin City and I was mandated to travel to the village very early in the morning. My village was a distance of about 130kms and I needed pick my parents and some guests for the occasion. I arrived the village at about 7.00am to the shock of my parents who were both alive then. Disappointed at their unpreparedness for the trip/occasion which they had been pre-informed, so as to make my burden light, I asked what went amiss. On their part, they were in utter bewilderment as they could not understand how I managed to arrive the village in one piece given that there was a coup d'état and that the military men had taken over government from Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the then National Party of Nigeria (NPN) but the name of the new head of state had not been announced and sworn in. Later next few days, Rtd General Buhari was announced the Head of State. That was how Buhari's ascendance to international recognition was heralded to me.
Muhammadu Buhari's military leadership was highly welcomed by the Nigerian populace as before it, the polity had been riddled with corruption and all forms of election malpractice as promoted by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). In fact, in the face of utter disagreement with announced election result, one news caster resigned her appointment with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) right in front of over 30 million viewing Nigerians in protest. The general acceptance of Buhari and his then hench man late Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon became popular as they, in a short time, cleared the sea ports with long overdue vessels incurring demurrages which had also caused the increased the price of commodities like Cement, Milk, Rice, and most back log of maladministration of the previous Alhaji Shehu Shagari's government. They introduced the War against Indiscipline (WAI), which in a short space of time, made Nigerians obey simple traffic and sanitation laws, queuing to make payments at counters in super markets and other business places. Their Environmental Sanitation Law was novel as every first Saturday of the month in the whole country; everywhere went green such that people were almost sure that they would be arrested if they threw paper on the street. The government popularity however began to wane due to their rigid position on the various political issues in the country some of which included putting to prison most political office holders irrespective of whether they were wrong or right; killing of the first three drug barons; Jailing of journalist with their obnoxious decree 4, the issue of fifty-three suit cases which passed the international airport without search etc. That was the rigid Buhari who was presented to Nigerians in 1983 through to 1985 as head of state before their ouster by the now retired General Ibrahim Babangida.
As a great military officer, Buhari excelled at all his duty posts prior to being the Head of State. As a Brigade Commander, discipline was his second nature. Leading as Petroleum Minister, his level of involvement in corrupt practice remained as slim as needle. Then as the Military Governor of North Eastern state from where he became head of state, he showed the virtues of a leader. He ensured that there was leadership by example in all he set out to do. Refused to increase fuel price, punished law breakers and made popular War Against Discipline (WAI). It is on record that while Nigeria was drawn to her knees financially, Buhari opted for internal reform instead of accepting interest free loan from late Col. Mummar Gaddafi of Libya. Even as a retired soldier, I remember him giving one of his daughter's money for one of her lecturers at ABU Zaria. The lecturer had asked the young girl to bring him money since her father was a former Nigerian leader. Buhari sent the girl back with small cash instructing the she told her lecturer that he was not corrupt. The lecturer didn't bulge because the cash was small. The General himself went to the school and ensured that the teacher was sacked. That was the real Buhari. But he made every effort to transfer these qualities into the murky political water of Nigeria without considering man and his environment. That is part of his undoing.
Politically, the General did not changed from his rigid stance to date and he is ignorant of the negative influence such position. It is the reason he had a running battle with his party men in All Nigeria Peoples' Party (ANPP) as he refused to recognize that the party could have better candidate for the presidential slot than him. As a none conformist, he remained the ANPP Presidential candidate from formation till he was roundly rejected when the likes of former Zamfara state Governor, Senator Ahmed Sani gave him a head on chase and challenge. Rather than play the statesman which he is, he opted to register the Congress for Positive Change (CPC) and again became its founding Presidential candidate thus becoming the longest living presidential candidate in Nigeria today. In the eyes of his critics, Buhari ought to have been grateful that he performed credibly given his first incursion and the number of seats his party won at all levels of the election, but he blew the chance as he has always done. He forgot that Bola Tunubu's Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN) never had it so good despite his hard fighting spirit. Action Congress of Nigeria started with just one state win – Lagos before their latest successes in the south west of Nigeria due largely to two factors – the set example of Gov. Raji Fashola in Lagos, and the doggedness of Senator Bola Tinubu. Even then, Gen. Buhari also characteristically disagreed with Tinubu on their merger talks which were why Lagosians were neither here nor there at the last presidential election.
Buhari is the longest serving presidential candidate of all time in Nigeria. He has contested in all presidential elections in the country since the new dispensation in 1999. He remains the hardest electoral fighter, and the greatest looser in all his election cases some rightly so, other on tactical ground and yet others in share defects.
General Buhari's greatest undoing is the fact that he has never pulled off his military toga. At every bend, he assumes that having served as military Head of State, certain positions ought to be reserved for him naturally. It is not so in politics. People earn their positions by fraud hook, crook or genuinely since it remains a game of number. This same reason is why Buhari's popularity has tinned in some quarters even in his now CPC.
Watching both presidential candidates on the Election Day, it was easy to see who would be dealt blows if they lost. Hearing their comments revealed that much. Jonathan at his country home Otuoke, when he went for accreditation, he had an entourage of about twenty men including his wife, security and personal aides. When asked how the election was going, said that from reports he was sure the election was going on peacefully everywhere in the country. Asked further who would win when he went to vote finally, he said the best person should win. On the other hand, Buhari in far away Katsina was asked the same question while wriggling into the accreditation boot and voting, not minding the unprecedented crowed announced that he had briefs that an aircraft was carrying voters' card to some unidentified destinations. I wondered why a man with his military background, didn't know that his spoken views on such occasions could cause havoc? The same man, who said that he was contesting for the last time and so would not go to court if defeated, is the same fellow who has had no sleep since April this year contesting the presidential election he never won in the courts! Only few weeks ago the Court of Appeal dealt him another political blow dismissing his case of electoral malpractices levied against the PDP. He still wants to fight on. But hold it. Why couldn't the CPC provide for the tribunal, figures with graphic details for the northern states as it did the south south, south east and south west? Was it not before the very eyes of Buhari that the tribunal reversed the elections in Katsina state giving the daughter of former president Yar'adua the mandate to the senate? Was that not an electoral fraud? In truth, even in death, is Buhari more popular in Katsina than Yar'adua who ruled the state for eight years before becoming the president? If there were no electoral fraud in the CPC, how did Yar'adua's daughter loose
How did Buhari think that given the uncountable loss of human beings in the North for just no reason, and his support for Sharia, the south could still be a safe haven for a core Northern candidate in such election?
Now in comity of leaders in Nigeria, especially the Council of State Meeting, where he rightly belong, he has more enemies than friends. With him, Shagari and Babangida there is no love lost. He took power from the former and the later ousted him. With Obasanjo, it is hatred unlimited. Obasanjo won him in 1999, robbed him in 2003 and ensured that he was rigged out in 2007 and of course with GEJ, the wound is still fresh even when it is self inflicted. Who then are his alleys? Politics is about network of friends, ideal, integrity and grass root popularity.
Finally, we are not going to have a Buhari contest any election come 2015. So we can bid him far well on all fronts politically as I am sure that he may not even accept the Chairmanship of his party without iron fist. It is only regrettable that some of us who admired the through military officer never had the chance to see him transform to a true Nigerian leader. I am sure that other non-conformists in our political environment are learning from the current experience or experiment and develope to be great politicians. after all Alhaji Wazziri Ibrahim of NPP fame had his Motto as Politics without bitterness. The struggle continues as Muhammed Adamu would say.
Mike O. Akpati is a Public Affair Analyst based I Port Harcourt