Bucky… 'In Retrospect': Buhari – Political Saint?

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Should Buhari run in 2015? Will Buhari run in 2015? Is he a better choice than GEJ? Will the APC doom themselves to failure if he is their presidential candidate? These and many other questions surround the man Major-General Mohammed Buhari.

Mohammed Buhari – a man whose name evokes almost saint-like adulation in some, while others think of him as a demon. Soldier, Military governor, Head Of State, prisoner, PTF chairman, politician, presidential candidate – a CV of dazzling achievements. Blunt, forthright, tactiurn, never seemingly at ease when interviewed by the press, he inspires an almost unheard of devotion and love in his followers who are mostly the teeming millions of the poor and underprivileged in the North. There are also many men and women in the South who are fascinated by his reputation for honesty and clean hands in a country where ex-leaders routinely loot the treasury dry.

Why is it that those who hate Buhari froth at the mouth and describe him as a military dictator without necessarily describing all Nigeria’s other Military leaders in the same way? Ironsi, Gowon, Muritala, Obasanjo, Buhari, Babaginda, Abacha, Abubakar, are other Military leaders who have ruled Nigeria at one time or the other. Taking out Ironsi and Muritala (their tenures were too short to judge them effectively), most impartial Nigerians will agree that the only one for whom the terms ‘honest’ and ‘non-corrupt’ might spring to mind is Buhari. Buhari also has a temperament that has enabled him to serve under many different Nigerian government’s since Muritala. Working willingly for others is not really one of the attributes of a dictator.

His detractors say scornfully that he overthrew a democratic government. However, if the Government of Shehu Shagari’s 2nd republic NPN in 1983 was truly democratic, I will renounce my citizenship and relocate to the Moon! Under the NPN, the election of 1983 was so flawed and rigged, that it was said to be one of the worst Nigeria has ever had. The South-West went up in flames after the results. In Ondo state, citizens were being arrested and tortured, opposition politicians were shot in their homes and a whole host of illegal extra-judicial activities were being carried out by the Police and Security forces.

Nigerians virtually danced in the streets when they heard the news of the coup. For ordinary Nigerians, the 1983 coup was not a coup but deliverance and rescue from a power-drunk, corrupt ruling political elite class who had looted the treasury dry and turned Nigerians into paupers. 

Many believe that Buhari did more in his 18 months as leader of Nigeria to impact the nation than others have done in years of leading Nigeria. Inheriting a virtually bankrupt nation, Buhari’s government put Nigeria on a severe economic diet after the greedy excesses and reckless spending that had begun under Gowon. He rejected the IMF loan and the IMF’s severe conditions to devalue the Naira. Frivolous imports were curbed, travel allowances which needlessly gobbled up scarce foreign exchange was slashed, and local industry was encouraged. His government curtailed illegal oil-bunkering and wrested an increase in Nigeria’s OPEC quota. 

Nigeria and Nigerians were changing. The cancer of corruption eating away at the nation was becoming a byword no-one wanted to be associated with. Contracts were being awarded on merit and not nepotism (and were being carried out), the government and civil servants began working for the Nigerian people again, WAI (War Against Indiscipline) became a noun AND a verb, as Nigerians began to relearn the values of good citizenship.

However there are horrible stains on his legacy that will always severely taint it. Decree 2 and Decree 4 were needless and draconian. During his regime, strikes were banned and Nigeria’s first ever secret police service, the NSO was created. Fela was jailed for 10 years on trumped up charges. Many politicians under the old regime were tried and jailed.

Those opposed to Buhari will often claim that the positives of the regime were solely the work of Tunde Idiagbon, Buhari’s 2nd in Command. However it is hard for anyone to argue in one breath that Buhari was a cruel evil dictator who stifled everyone around him, and to then to try to assert that he however was kind enough to give his deputy the authority to do everything the deputy wanted.

Some try to paint Buhari as an Islamic fundamentalist. As Head of State however, there is no evidence that his government had any special Islamic zeal or tried to impose Islam on the rest of Nigeria. It is further claimed that Buhari’s alleged comments during the 2011 elections, incited his followers to violence and blood-letting after his election loss. However, the elections of 2011 were not the first in Nigeria where violence took place after the release of election results. Previous elections had seen violence in the East, in the South West, and in the North. It is a matter of public record that Buhari went on BBC Hausa Service within the first 24 hours of the rampage beginning and asked his supporters to stop the rioting, while appealing for calm and an end to the bloodshed. 

Others talk about his now infamous ‘baboons and dogs’ comment. Many Nigerians do not have a working understanding of the Hausa language, but those who do, have explained that it is a metaphor often used to signify a battle would be fierce; it is particularly used for sporting events. The British say ‘it is raining cats and dogs’ to signify a heavy downpour of rain, but don’t mean cats and dogs actually drop out of the sky. It is a stretch of the imagination to believe that when Buhari used a well-known sporting metaphor, it was an incitement to violence. Would any politician also be stupid enough to call Nigerians, dogs and baboons?

There are those who say that anyone who overthrows a civilian government is evil; but was Obasanjo who handed over to a civilian govt in 1979 before then later becoming a civilian president in 1999, a better ruler and influence on Nigeria, than Buhari? 

I did not support Buhari’s candidacy in the last election (and neither did I support President Jonathan’s). I believe there are many other qualified candidates the APC can choose as their presidential candidate for the 2015 elections. However, I would hope that any future Nigerian president shares Buhari’s anti-corruption zeal, his service to the nation, and honesty. Such attributes are worthy of emulation by all our political leaders and politicians.

**This article is a reworking of one originally written by me in 2012

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