Friday, 12 December 2014

Buhari: The General in the ring again

Fomer Head of State, Maj-Gen. Mohammadu Buhari (retd.)
SHORTLY before the 2011 presidential election, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) burst into tears and swore: it would be the last time he would take a shot at the ever controversial Nigerian Presidency.

Ordinarily, shedding tears was an action least expected from a soldier, especially one in the calibre of a General. The act provoked different interpretations, but many, who share the General’s ideals, felt something crucial must have touched his slender soul.

The question such people wanted psychologists to probably ponder was: “how profound and definite are the vision and passion that Buhari professes to have for Nigeria? “While it seems it is only the gods that can best handle the poser, it (the question) has again hit the national psyche with Thursday’s emergence of Buhari as the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress.

The 72-year-old Daura, Katsina State-born General-turned politician, clearly beat four other aspirants – former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, Kano State Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha and newspaper publisher, Sam Nda-Isaiah – thus finally settling the question of who will face the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate and incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 general elections.

Pundits believe that Buhari’s status and obvious drive will make the presidential election a very robust and unpredictable competition. Unlike 2011, the opposition is stronger than either the defunct All Nigeria People’s Party or the Congress for Progressive Change that paraded Buhari in 2003, 2007 and 2011.

Besides, he is perceived to have the sympathy and support of much part of the North, although the PDP, too, has a dependable base in the region, especially when one considers the fact that the middle belt is part of what constitutes the orthodox ‘North’.

But if there is any factor that may work best in Buhari’s favour, it is the belief that he hates corruption. Many believe that he is not only prudent, he is also the least-rich (since one can hardly use poverty to describe a club of presidents, especially in the African context) of most of the heads-of-state or presidents Nigeria has had.

Of course, the General too has, one time or the other, been accused of corruption – like the case of the money-filled suit cases said to have surfaced and disappeared when he was the head of state. But apart from the fact that there was the counter theory that government duly knew about the cash, the austere life he lives home and abroad helps this anti-corruption theory. And he has always promised to tackle corruption head-on if voted into power.

In terms of performance, Buhari’s admirers have also noted that the short time the military administration he led between 1984 and 1985 existed was positively eventful. They recall it was a season when discipline was forced on the consciousness of many Nigerians, at a time the War Against Indiscipline campaign almost became the second National Anthem. During the era, the government, whose face was the late never-smiling General Tunde Idiagbon, also tackled foreign debts while shutting the door against indiscriminate importation.

Rather than dancing to the music of the International Monetary Fund, the regime refused to take its loan and advice to devalue the naira. Instead, it used seized illegally bunkered oil as barter for goods and machinery. And, like the proverbial lizard that jumps down from the tall Iroko tree, saying it will praise itself even when others fail to do so, Buhari has also reminded Nigerians that he built two refineries when he was the petroleum minister.

But the General has his baggage to contend with as far as the election is concerned. First, many have argued that some of his past actions and utterances indicate that he is a tribal bigot and religious fundamentalist. His opponents are quick to note that he could be anti-Christian in policy and programmes if he becomes the President.

They try to justify this by noting that during the Buhari/Idiagbon junta, many of the civilian governors booted out, who were of the northern descent, were treated with a kid’s glove while their southern counterparts were dehumanised. Also, they note that when Buhari was the chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund during the Abacha regime, many of the projects it executed were tilted to the North.

In terms of human rights, a lot of people also remember how the Buhari regime killed three drug pushers, Bernard Ogedengbe, Lawal Ojuolape and Bartholomew Owoh, based on a decree promulgated after they had committed the offence. For haters of gerontocracy too, they cannot imagine why a country bedevilled with many problems would be rooting for an old man in the mould of the Katsina ex-General. They would prefer a younger and vibrant person who, they believe, would be more at home in applying the 21st century wisdom to get the country out of the woods.

When the election thus comes, the electorate may be confronted with either to go ahead with the bird at hand or voting for change even at the risk of any backlash. Buhari, no doubt, has a strong character, which, analysts have observed, is needed at this critical time, when insurgency is really threatening to swallow the country. But does ‘strong character’ always mean a positive character?

Since many believe that corruption is the main scourge killing the country, a candidate that manages to speak against it may have some advantage, especially if his opponent is not that assertive on this. Yet, is Buhari what he claims to be? How much change can he inspire in a complex democratic system as Nigeria’s? Will voters dance to his music of change? February may just be too far away to answer these and other questions.

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