On April 22nd 2014, General Muhammadu Buhari wrote an article: “NYANYA BOMB BLAST AND THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM IN NIGERIA!” which was published in DAILY TRUST newspaper. The write-up was an illuminating piece of history. It was honest: “No matter our religion or place of birth, we all bleed and are wounded in the same way by injustice” It was objective: “A small minority seeks to bring the nation to its knees through terror” and it was patriotic: “We seek no political advantage from this calamity and wish the present administration success in fighting it!” The substance of Buhari’s article made me realize that three words “honest, objective and patriotic” can be apt in describing the personality of General Muhammadu Buhari.
I studied filmmaking and film has been referred to as “the place where a nation thinks in public!” If that be the case, then it makes sense to conclude that the life story of General Muhammadu Buhari epitomizes the travails of a film’s archetypal hero who encounters great suffering as he travels on the rugged path he has chosen for himself. For Buhari, his mission in politics is simple: he wants to halt the mismanagement of Nigeria’s economy which has led to a spiralling rise in corruption that has widened the gap between the super-rich and 70% of Nigeria’s population that can best be described in the words of Frantz Fanon, as “wretched of the earth!” This is the reason why Buhari continues to run against time and against our basic instincts towards what he believes is a better Nigeria. But will Buhari’s great suffering be followed by redemption? Only time can tell.
In this season of political campaigns, Buhari has been referred to as being brain-dead and uneducated; and that his supporters who chant “change” should be stoned. Buhari’s first daughter Zulai passed away on November 29, 2012 after delivering a baby. She was a simple and decent person who had been battling sickle cell anaemia for all of her 40 years on earth. This is what those who oppose Buhari’s Presidency have turned into political campaign theme, mocking the death of Buhari’s daughter in a vitriolic and divisive Anti-Buhari documentary film and also talking about Buhari’s wife who died in 2006. During a recent interactive session of Mr. President with Nollywood Stars, comedians made a jest of how a person’s life in four bars like a cell phone and that “this man” contesting (alluding to Buhari) is in the fourth bar of his life and his election victory means bringing death to Nigeria. Despite this low gutter tactics, Buhari has not insulted the personality or character of any of his political opponents, especially the President. Buhari epitomizes decency in political campaigns.
In the book AYATOLLAH KHOMEINI by Matthew Gordon, it is written: “The idea of leadership affirms the capacity of individuals to move, inspire, and mobilize masses of people so that they can act together in pursuit of an end!” Today Nigerians live in a world of representation and our political leaders like Buhari face a constant challenge posed by the social construction and distortion of their identity, but through all the attacks on his personality, the image of Muhammadu Buhari continues to endure like a kind of fairy tale. In the north, Buhari is seen by many as the last honest politician still standing while nationwide, if you strip off the gravy of spurious propaganda; Nigerians collectively regard Buhari as a disciplined leader with an unblemished record of integrity. The term ‘corruption’, is derived from the Latin verb “corruptus”, which is translated as ‘to break’ and refers to dishonest or illegal behaviour, especially of people in authority. The UN Convention against Corruption explains corrupt kinds of behaviour to include: “bribery, embezzlement (stealing), abuse of office, trading in Influence and illicit enrichment (another form of stealing)!” What is being referred to by Nigeria’s current political leadership as “common stealing” is defined with clarity in the book: (Corruption and Human Rights Law in Africa) as “the deliberate, intentional mass stealing of public wealth and resources by senior officials entrusted with its fair and honest management for the common good and achievement of human rights, whether carried out individually or collectively, but with the support and encouragement…of the state, combined with refusal to genuinely, thoroughly and transparently investigate and/or prosecute the mass stealing and recover stolen assets, which violates the human rights of the economically and socially vulnerable!”.
Essentially even to the blind, there is wholesale corruption in our country and our government’s effort in fighting corruption is feeble. That is why Nigeria was ranked 144 of the 177 countries on Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption perception index (CPI) and the US state Department Country Report for 2012 illustrates that the integrated problems of corruption, money laundering poverty and lack of respect for human rights is what has pinned Nigeria to the ground. This is what Buhari is offering to come and CHANGE. We may run or blatantly deny the truth, but the election before Nigerians in 2015 is not an election about religion, tribe or age. It is not also about the garbled sentiments of zoning or who owns the Presidency by birth-right. This election is about integrity of leadership, political will and proven capacity. It is about national character and the planting of leadership that can have the simple decency to respect Nigeria’s electoral laws. Time and again at every stage and in very chapter of his life that Buhari is synonymous to integrity.
Buhari is a man whose life is enveloped by a lot of myth and to separate fact from fiction, I sought and secured the support of Good Governance Group in November 2013 to produce a biographical documentary film on the stoic life of General Muhammadu Buhari. I traced how Muhammadu Buhari was born into poverty and how his father died when he was 4 years old. I discovered how Buhari imbibed the discipline to live within his means from his mother who saved money to cater for her 13 children, of whom Buhari was the youngest. I conducted an interview with a respected man who is also a big voice that has earned the right to speak big truths about life and politics, Pastor Matthew Adegboye (General Overseer of Redeemed Christian Church), who said of Buhari: “I have said it before and I do not mind saying it again, I wish Muhammadu Buhari had ruled Nigeria a little longer because he brought discipline into governance”.
Unknown to many Nigerians, Buhari neither led the coup of 1983 nor did he ask to be made Head of State. In fact according to General Olusegun Obasanjo, it was Generals Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) and Aliyu Gusau who came to his farm in 1983 to offer Obasanjo the position to “go back and clean-up the mess which politicians led by deposed President Shehu Shagari had put Nigeria into”, but Obasanjo declined saying: “In Yoruba-land, when a man says goodnight, he does not return in the same night to say good morning!”, so Obasanjo suggested that General T Y Danjuma should be given position of Head of State, but unfortunately Danjuma had by then retired from the military! It was at this point that Obasanjo mentioned the name of Muhammadu Buhari, since the architects of the coup were searching for a “strong and honest” officer who had the capacity to halt the drift of Nigeria. Buhari was approached and offered the position of Head of State, but because of his fair-minded character and personal integrity, Buhari declined and instead suggested General Domkat Bali, a more senior ranking Christian officer from Langtang in Plateau State, but somehow the core of the Military at that time preferred Buhari.
Muhammadu Buhari had always been a remarkably disciplined Army officer who was a leader in thought as well as in action. General T Y Danjuma described him as “a simple, likeable and forthright professional Army Officer!” Events in later years would prove that Muhammadu Buhari also understood leadership to be “a public transaction with history” because it was during his one year stint as Head of State that Buhari articulated one of the most fervent clarion calls for love of country when he charged: “This generation of Nigerians and indeed future generations have no other country but Nigeria. We shall remain here and salvage it together!”
In the Buhari-Idiagbon era, Buhari wielded authority with iron clad discipline but as a person, he did not desire raw power for the purpose of self-aggrandizement. Buhari refused to promote himself and when asked why, he said: “I went in as a Major General and was removed as a Major General. I refused to promote myself. This is my personal choice. I did not accept to become the Head of State so that I can make myself a General or a Field Marshall!” After Buhari was ousted from office through the palace coup orchestrated by IBB, he was detained for 30 months and probed but was never found guilty of dipping his hand into the national purse. His mother died while he was in detention and like any other prisoner, he was not given a day out of prison to go and see his mother’s corpse or mourn with his family. Being the youngest of 13 children, Buhari’s heart was shattered by the death of his mother, especially as he was never allowed to see her corpse.
Now the very concept of being a hero implies that such an individual can surmount the daunting odds placed before him and make a difference. Buhari reflects that: “In 1984 President Ronald Reagan of America sent his friend, General Walters to ask me to follow the IMF conditionality to save Nigeria; which meant we should remove petroleum subsidy, devalue the naira and remove subsidy on flour! I said to him: “they may as well have sentenced Nigeria to death, so I said I will not do that!”….So Buhari’s regime did not devalue the naira, did not remove petroleum subsidy and they paid salaries in arrears to all workers including those in Plateau State who were owed 9 months’ salary as at the time Buhari ascended power. Buhari ruled Nigeria for only one year and he was able to develop counter-trade, because IMF made credit facilities difficult for Nigeria. And by the time Buhari was removed from office, 1 naira was equivalent to 1.25 dollars!”
The Buhari military government was founded on a nationalist economic ideology which strove to fight corruption and the primitive accumulation of wealth at the expense of national development by parasitic and subservient elite on the one hand; and also against global capital as represented by the unholy trinity of the IMF, the World Bank and multilateral “trade” organizations etc. Buhari rejected the IMF conditionality which IBB implemented during SAP and as empirical evidence and the intervening years will show, it is under the so-called “IMF economists” who chaperoned our economy after the ouster of Buhari that the Nigerian middle class was finally wiped out; indigenous manufacturing destroyed, inflation created, unemployment increased and our collective national wealth undervalued.
In later years, Buhari returned to serve as Executive Chairman of (PTF), Petroleum Trust Fund and during the four and half years of its existence, the total disbursement of funds from the Federation account to PTF was about one hundred and fourteen billion dollars and this is the amount with which Buhari rehabilitated 12,500 kilometers of roads, one hospital per each state in Nigeria, universities, and motor industries. He did all this without building a house for himself in Abuja. The Assistant Director for Health in the defunct PTF, Dr. Ibrahim Dada said of Buhari: “No government agency or parastatal conducted external audit at intervals and presented its audited finances as a public record for all Nigerians to see and verify! This was something which PTF did under the stewardship of General Buhari and whenever he travelled on official assignment as Executive Chairman of PTF, Buhari never took any money as travel allowance.
Muhammadu Buhari is like Aminu Kano; a person who is too squeaky clean and puritanical about fighting corruption and thus a natural misfit for today’s monetized political environment of Nigeria. So while considering the decision to dabble into politics, Buhari was well aware that every single politician whom he had jailed during the Buhari-Idiagbon tempest or those who lost their jobs all of whom were ousted by the 1983 coup, would oppose him and “Yes” they did! Yet against all odds and spurred by his own cast iron will, an undeterred Muhammadu Buhari dived into the shark infested waters of partisan politics, which were particularly unwelcome of him. Former President, General Obasanjo describes politics in the most vivid of terms: “It’s in Nigeria that when you see a man involved in corruption you say that is politics….. Intrigue is politics, lying is politics, stealing is politics, corruption is politics…. and I don’t believe that’s the way politics should go!” On his part, General T.Y Danjuma does not say whether Buhari is suited to Nigerian politics or not, but he makes a clear and unmistakable description: “Buhari is a man of very high integrity. His integrity is un-impeachable and his transparency is beyond question!”
On Wednesday, December 17th 2008, Ahmed Rasheed Makarfi wrote “LETTER TO GENERAL BUHARI” in LEADERSHIP newspaper where he urged Buhari not to give up on politics after the supreme court passed a judgment where it upheld the election of Yar’adua citing: “Many contestants combine your picture with theirs just to share credibility…but you should support Yar’adua’s administration for the good of this nation!” Makarfi’s stance was that if Buhari remains in politics, the future will somehow unveil the truth and grant him moral, if not electoral victory. In another piece three years later in DAILY TRUST entitled BUHARI’S QUEST FOR A SECOND TERM in 2011, it was written: “For Buhari, his manifesto has never been more than a populist rhetoric about the need to fight corruption and indiscipline!” and almost four years after the 1st letter by Makarfi, Salihu Mohammed Lukman wrote another letter entitled; “2015 LETTER TO GENERAL BUHARI” which was published in DAILY TRUST of Wednesday April 18th 2012. While Makarfi had urged Buhari to remain in politics, Lukman’s letter urged General Buhari not to contest in the presidential elections of 2015 because in his opinion, “the same altruistic reasons driving (Buhari’s) aspirations will not regulate the structures of (his) campaign and would not be able to fight against the emergence of greedy and corrupt politicians who will be embraced by (Buhari) and supported to win the elections” A month later, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed in his piece: “2015 0R SOMETHING LIKE IT” which was published in Vanguard of Wednesday May 23rd 2012, he wrote: “The way it is now, If General Buhari… decides to re-contest as a candidate in the 2015 presidential elections,…. it is likely that President Jonathan’s active interest will be given substance by an alliance between the South-South and South-East and this will polarize the nation further!” and as the year 2012 wound to a close, on December 18th 2012 Ismail Adebayo wrote the article; “BUHARI AT 69: THE LEADER NIGERIA LACKS” where he vented his emotion: “Here is a country where people are never given the opportunity to vote the candidate of their choice. The cabal who have considered it their duty to choose for the people who to lead them will stop at nothing to impose their puppets on Nigerians. Buhari cannot be used so they will always frustrate his presidential ambition!” Adebayo’s standpoint was that leadership by rigging and imposition is what holds sway in Nigeria and this will make it impossible for Buhari to win elections! This lack of confidence in the electoral system bears credence when one recalls how a year earlier on Tuesday December 6th 2011 as reported in the DAILY TRUST; the Roman Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah had asked the critical question: “What is the leadership selection process in Nigeria? Nobody knows. In Nigeria, leaders arrive by parachute. That is why if you ask who is likely to be the next president or the next governor, no one knows because it is the current president or governor alone who will choose his own successor according to his whims!”
And then two years down the line IDOWU AKINLOTAN in the back-page of The Nation (April 27th 2014) wrote a sensible piece; “APC AND 2015 PRESIDENTIAL TICKET” where he urged APC to ask hard and unsettling questions about how to win the presidency. According to Akinlotan; “One of those questions concerns General Buhari, who in one way or the other is speculated to be on the proposed ticket party leaders might attempt to cajole their members to embrace”. In spite of (Akinlotan’s) “love and admiration for the principled general”, (he says):”I am not as optimistic as the party that given the fast changing dynamics of Nigerian politics, and notwithstanding the fanatical following the general elicits especially from the North, he can guarantee success for the progressives” The summation of Idowu Akinlotan that Buhari should be excluded is based on the premise that “the progressive party (should) remold itself by recognizing that its priority is to win the next polls…..and it can only do so by taking educated, sophisticated and not too-radical risks” While I acknowledge the sense which informed Akinlotan’s turnaround analogy, I differed even then that APC’s priority should strictly be to win the Presidential elections. To my mind what is at stake with regard to putting forward the person of Buhari goes beyond who wins or loses the presidency. What is at stake is that Nigerians deserve to see and believe that a political party within our country can conduct a free, fair, transparent and credible party primary like the one organized by APC in Lagos where delegates were trusted to vote their conscience and at the end, the poorest candidate in terms of material wealth i.e. Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the winner against all odds. This is exemplary and rekindles our collective aspiration and hope as one people united under God that beginning with the emergence of “poor” Buhari, our democracy in Nigeria can continue to thrive on the basis of decency, transparency and the fielding of prudent, competent and unblemished men of integrity like Buhari to lead our country out of the doldrums.
The old argument about Buhari is that the intellectual elite are suspicious of Buhari because of his draconian antecedents, while the corrupt elite are afraid that if Buhari becomes president his administration will arrest all those who cannot account for their wealth and that Buhari will not tolerate even the smallest window for “a little greasing of the palm!” This old argument is redundant and frankly has to do with our inherent collective fear of economic insecurity and financial discipline. Granted there is poverty everywhere you look, but no country can ever hope to grow and prosper from the spoils of corruption. Nigeria has long been surviving on borrowed time and today our existence as a sovereign entity is facing a very clear and present danger of imminent national disintegration. Already the sinister scripted sequence is unfolding before our very eyes. Nigeria has for too long been abducted by an unpatriotic political insurgency. It is time we wake up from our sleep, girdle up and embrace some form of self-discipline so as to halt this haemorrhage caused by the stealing and misapplication of our sovereign wealth and the division of our people along primitive lines. It is time for us to build a nation and not a splintered entity of ethnic and religious fragments.
As we turn the page towards 2015, there is a new argument being filtered around that Buhari is too old to lead Nigeria at 70. Whenever Buhari’s age is mentioned, I recall that South Africa held its first inclusive elections on April 27th 1994 and Nelson Mandela at age 75 cast the very first vote of his life. On May 10th 1994 Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black President and the venerable Desmond Tutu declared South Africa a “rainbow nation!”
Muhammadu Buhari is like Nelson Mandela. They are both remarkably humble leaders who share an aversion for the corrupt acquisition of material wealth. Just as the corporate existence of South Africa was held captive by apartheid, Nigeria is today mired deeply in the tragedy of do or die politics which daily polarizes electorates on the basis of such primordial sentiments as tribe and religion, and assails our collective national psyche with impunity, corruption and misdirection. According to the NEW YORK TIMES in its Editorial; “Nigeria’s deeply troubled government cannot protect its people, attract investment and lead its people to its full potential if it cannot contain a virulent insurgency!” No nation can be built but if the citizens have implicit trust in the capacity of their leaders to protect their lives and secure their property. Mass movements and revolutions the world over begin with interpersonal trust among people. Because “I trust” that when I stand up, there will be another voice and a comrade to my right is what strengthens the resolve of ordinary people to fight for a just cause. The “BRING BACK OUR GIRLS CAMPAIGN” has become a rallying cry for the entire world because the women who started the demand for Boko Haram to return the over 200 girls abducted from Chibok “trusted” that the act of abducting these girls is without doubt a manifestation of evil. General Buhari in his letter on the Nyanya blast affirmed out of implicit “trust” that: “The perpetrators may look like human beings. They may have limbs and faces like the rest of us but they are not like us. In killing innocent people they have become inhuman. They live outside the scope of humanity!”
Nothing has changed from the time Chinua Achebe asserted that “the trouble of Nigeria is the inability of its leaders to rise to the hallmark of personal example!” During an interview on Buhari, General Olusegun Obasanjo said to me: “Nigeria is like an iron rod which you want to bend, and the best way to do it is you put it in fire and bend a little, and put it back into the fire before you bend again. But if you want to bend Nigeria at once, you will either break the iron or break your waist!” Buhari’s fault may have been that he tried to bend Nigeria all at once when he was Head of State in 1983-1984! It has been 30 years since and this time around Buhari is sure to do things differently. Today a lot of water has passed beneath the bridge and no matter how you look at it, the game changer is that APC is now in existence and offers a formidable platform which has broadened the political base of General Buhari. After he died, Nancy GIBBS of TIME MAGAZINE wrote about Mandela saying; “The man is so defined by his courage and resilience!” The same can be said of Buhari because of his discipline and unyielding struggle. Buhari ran in the presidential race of Nigeria three times and his ambition was thrice foiled by a deft recycling of banal propaganda which misrepresents him as a religious extremist who is intolerant. “Deep in the bones of Mandela is a basic sense of fairness” and why the masses believe in Buhari because he cannot abide injustice. According to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu concurs: “Buhari cried for Nigeria and for all our people who wallow in poverty in the midst of plenty!”
Based on an unbiased and objective analysis of the Presidential candidates who stand before the electorate, it is clear that Buhari has the greater capacity to tackle security, remain true to his word and rid Nigeria of this insidious plague called corruption that continues to destroy the capacity of successive governments to protect and improve the plight of the people it is constituted to serve. Finally it must be stated that no election campaign in Nigeria since independence has generated such hateful and indecorous language as this one. To all the personal attacks hauled at his person, General Buhari, has stood above the petty electioneering and mudslinging. The fact that none of the APC spokesmen has gone about town deriding the personality of Mr. President or making jest of his age, education, marital affairs, social habits or religious conviction is an irrefutable reflection of the fact that Buhari can put his people in check and insist on decency and respect for his opponents even in the heat of political campaigns. Buhari is not perfect. He his own faults too, but on the basis of his dispassionate commitment to defining the real issues of the elections, millions like me consider Buhari to be a far better candidate who deserves to win the presidential election.
Some naysayers have said of Buhari that his emotional stance is prone to incite violence especially when he once used the Hausa proverb of the fight between the dog and a baboon to describe what will happen if the elections of 2015 were not free and fair. As for Buhari, the sensationalization of the Baboon & Dog metaphor only began to ebb after rational people like the Former Senate President Ken Nnnamani clarified that: “Buhari’s statement is that if (election) is not free and fair, it might spell doom for the country!” Obasanjo had once said Buhari was a bit too thin skinned for Nigerian politics. I believe that just as 27 years in prison remolded Mandela, 14 years in the “boiling waters” of Nigerian politics has also given Buhari a new depth and serenity at the core of his being, and made him tolerant and more ready to correct rather than punish or whip in line. This is evident in the mature article written by General Muhammadu Buhari himself about the Nyanya bombing. It is sombre and apolitical. People say that it is only the test of fire that makes fine steel. All through the three circles of elections, he has endured bitter political smear campaigns but is still standing with his honour and integrity intact. Politics has given Buhari his baptism of fire and I believe that General Muhammadu Buhari can turn the final chapters of his active participation in politics into a new beginning for Nigeria. Just as he reached out to forge a coalition across party divide that seems poised to carry Nigeria through our current troubled waters, Nigeria needs the strong and steady hands of Buhari to navigate a new course for this nation. Any person can hold the stem and steer a ship but it takes a strong leader to navigate and chart a new course. If prison was the crucible that formed the Mandela we know, then politics has also redefined Buhari. The Mandela who went into prison in 1962 was hot-headed and easily stung. The Mandela who walked out into the sunshine 27 years later was measured, even serene. Buhari who was Head of State was a soldier who was intolerant of indiscipline. Buhari the politician has lost three elections adjudged by the international observers as being flawed. He has been insulted, bashed, and thrown to the wolves as a religious bigot and a sponsor of mass violence. Yet Buhari has survived as a politician, shared the presidential ticket with two Pastors and made new friends across many divides. Buhari has redefined his agenda in the most nationalistic of terms so that he can win the minds of the critical elite who have a poisoned view of him and has raised the hands of governorship candidates in many states who have later turned round to betray him. Despite his status as a former Head of State, the purveyors of do or die politics have denied Buhari the use of bathroom in some states, stadia in others and airport in other states, while on the campaign trail yet the General has learnt to smile more with each new campaign season. And on the final day of presidential campaigns in 2011, the steel gave way and Buhari shed tears for Nigeria and 70% of her people who live under 2 dollars!
As Nelson Mandela puts it; “The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence” Indeed the fate of an entire race depends on the success of Nigeria and for this generation, Nigeria is no longer a mere geographical expression and certainly not a patchwork nation. I believe like Timawus Mathias that: “our nation Nigeria can be redeemed. The answer is in leadership that is purposeful and resolved, God-fearing and full of human compassion!” I believe that at a time of peril and faceless enemies, every country needs a strong and steady hand and without doubt General Muhammadu Buhari can keep his feet to the fire! For me, Buhari has the competence, integrity and unapologetic love of this country and her “entire” people to navigate a new course for APC and the agenda of CHANGE it has for this country.
(Yakubu Lamai is Chief Press Secretary to Governor Umaru Tanko Al-makura of Nasarawa State/Coordinator North Central Zone of Buhari Campaign Team)