By Devaan Mom
As the countdown to the February 16 general presidential and national assembly elections begin in earnest, the Presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, President Muhammadu Buhari has naturally found himself the cynosure of all eyes. An extremely divisive figure, the man Buhari is as passionately loved by many as is despised by others. This is not a situation peculiar to President Buhari as many eminent figures through the course of global history have found themselves in similarly paradoxical situations.
A retired Major General who hails from Daura in Katsina state, President Buhari once served Nigeria as Governor of the North Eastern state which today comprises, Yobe, Borno, Adamawa, Taraba, Bauchi and Gombe states. They must still have fond memories of his tenure as evidenced by his enormous popularity in the axis.
He then went on to serve as the Federal Commissioner for Petroleum Resources, easily the most salacious industry to be affiliated to in Nigeria and still left that office allegedly untainted by ill-amassed wealth. President Buhari is acknowledged as one of the few top elites who is not known to own off-shore real estate or bank accounts nor any oil blocs in the country. Known to live a minimalist lifestyle, he owns only a handful of properties in Nigeria and is also a farmer.
The various appointments he held were during military regimes and he took a back seat when power was returned to the civilians in 1979, only to intervene in a coup d’etat in 1983.
Though a short-lived tenure, the December 31, 1983 coup which saw him installed as Nigeria’s head of state, remains one of the few blights on his person but there are Nigerians who still don’t see it that way viewing it instead as a much-needed intervention to set Nigeria back on the right path.
Thus began a rather stringent process of reform, which led to the incarceration of about 500 politicians, officials and businessmen for corruption. They were only released if cleared of charges or after returning illegally acquired funds to the state and agreeing to certain conditions.
But no account of Buhari’s first tenure as Head of State would be complete without mentioning the rather comical but botched bid to have Alh. Umaru Dikko forcibly returned to Nigeria from the United Kingdom to face charges of graft. Alh. Umaru Dikko was the then Minister for Transport and an in law to President Shehu Shagari.
It was a watershed moment in Buhari’s personal history consolidating the west’s perception of him as a dictator and tyrant. It’s a reputation he has been unable to shake off till date. Ironically, to many Nigerians, that singular act turned him into a hero in the eyes of some.
A disciplinarian, Buhari’s term earned him enemies but also yielded benefits like public discipline (the War Against Indiscipline reintroduced the queue culture in Nigeria and helped curb tardiness in public officials who risked losing their jobs for showing up to work late), curbed corruption, lowered inflation, enhanced the workforce and improved productivity. Nigerians were gradually developing a grudging admiration for the man when his 1 year, 239-day stint was suddenly truncated.
General Ibrahim Babangida took over and the people’s hero also got a feel of jail as he was confined for almost 3 years.
Muhammadu Buhari regained public relevance with the coming to power of Gen. Sani Abacha, in 1993. A mutual acquaintance of Babangida and Buhari and unarguably Babangida’s long-term right-hand man, Gen. Abacha made Maj.Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd) Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, an organization established by his administration to utilize the increase in funds accruing from the petroleum sector to institute developmental projects nationwide. It was a task Buhari executed, though this time, in close consonance with an administration thought to itself be stained by corruption.
Abacha’s death in 1998 ushered in civil rule and gave the retired Maj. Gen. another shot at his much-desired aim to lead the country again. But it turned out to be an uphill challenge as he found himself contesting and losing at the polls and in the courts three times before finally edging out an incumbent in the 2015 elections.
Hate him or love him, the septuagenarian has proven himself a patriot, a man of discipline, a man known to live within his means, a man of unbending will and tenacity, and a man determined to change the lot of the extremely poor.
This is self-evident in his 4-year tenure.
Working through an economic slump occasioned by a dramatic fall in crude oil prices while dealing with insurgency across the country, President Muhammadu Buhari has no less achieved a lot in infrastructure development, by some estimates.
Pensioners who had been owed for years as well students on government scholarships who had been abandoned to their fate by successive governments have also finally been granted relief, courtesy of the current administration’s efforts to tie up loose ends left by previous governments.
Despite all these and much more, the Buhari administration is accused of “causing the recession.” It is worthy to note that the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy in the immediate past administration, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, had warned that the nation’s economy was in danger urged the Jonathan administration to save. Her warning is corroborated by Mr. Peter Obi, then Governor of Anambra state who indicated that not only were the finance Minister’s pleas roundly ignored, governors insisted the funds be shared across the states.
We might also recall the treatment meted out to yet another CBN Governor, HRH Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who warned, “Over $20 billion unremitted to the Federation Account, and if nothing is done by 2015 upward, Nigeria will know what Economic crisis is!” He got suspended by the Jonathan administration for his trouble.
Another falsehood suggests that the delay in appointing ministers also contributed to the “recession.” This is also a fallacy. Globally, fully staffed governments slide into recession. Besides, Permanent Secretaries acted in that capacity and gave the President regular briefings about the status of their ministries till substantive Ministers were appointed.
This hydra headed monster keeps morphing into such different shapes and forms that doing enough justice to it would require an article of its own. Suffice it to say, globally, Boko Haram which rose to be the number 1 terrorist organization globally, has since dropped to number 3 with a drastic reduction in the number of civilian casualties and bombings.
While this is certainly a major win, a sudden sharp increase in the number of herdsmen and farmers clashes equally became cause for concern with theories ranging from orchestrated attacks from other African countries; BH insurgents in a different guise and the most alarming being the notion that President Muhammadu Buhari, himself a Fulani man and a Muslim (traditionally Nomadic cattle herders in Nigeria are of Fulani/Muslim extraction) had unleashed “his people” on the nation in an ethnic cleansing exercise.
Undoubtedly these issues have been cause for great concern but the fact remains that the Buhari administration has remained resilient in tackling insurgencies as they arise with varying levels of success.
Ironically many of the states currently under attack are APC led states, giving lie to the notion that the FG somehow has a hand in these tragic incidents.
Most people are no longer in top form once they hit middle age. Buhari in his 70s is certainly no spring chicken however, his bout of ill health shrouded in silence left many Nigerians wondering if he is fit enough to govern. Rumours making the rounds in this regard include talks that Buhari died and has since been replaced by a body double or clone.
Others believe that he is going senile owing to occasional slip-ups at public engagements. So far, no debate has been raised about his sanity. Perhaps, his public admission of pain in his ears which was immediately welcomed with loud heckling and mockery led to the extreme silence that followed subsequent health challenges. Perhaps.
Will it be a resounding “yes”, a reluctant “ok”, or a definite “no” from Nigerians come February 16? Only time will tell.
▪ Mom, a journalist and politician is currently the Director Public Affairs of the Jime/Ode Campaign Organization, Benue State. She writes from Utange in Ushongo LGA.