AHEAD OF INAUGURATION: President-elect takes charge by Levinus Nwabughiogu

Gradually, things changed for General Muhammadu Buhari for good. He is no more the ordinary Nigerian of yesterday. He is now the president-elect.

 President-elect Muhammadu Buhari (L) waves in Abuja on April 1, 2015. Nigeria's new president-elect Muhammadu Buhari hailed polls that will lead to the first democratic change of power in Africa's most populous nation as "historic" hours after he secured a decisive victory. AFP PHOTO

But that is no more news. The news now is that everything about the man has suddenly turned presidential: food, house, clothings, vehicles, name it. Have you seen him of late? Buhari has got swag. In fact, the usual Buhari’s two or three cars convoy has grown serpentine with fortified security presence.

But then, the man has lost his privacy. Ditto for his running-mate. The vice-president-elect, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has transformed from the ordinary preacher to wearing the executive stuff.

When Buhari threw his hat into the political ring in 2003, seeking the presidency, he was seen as the biggest joker of the century. Of course, the people rejected him. In 2007, he gave it another shot but was humiliated by his kinsman, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. In 2011, he reappeared for the presidential contest, the same fate of the previous times befell him. By this time, he was already being dubbed a serial loser.

But as 2015 approached, signs of his coronation became clear. And on March 28, destiny crowned him the president-elect even at 72. Now, the serial loser has become the lucky winner. Once again, the general has been catapulted into a life of affluence and influence.

Nostalgically, the only time Buhari’s life assumed this dimension was during his military days when he was Head of State. But that was 30 years ago. Even at that, there is a difference between being a President and Head of State. It is not just because one is elected by the people but the fact that one would not be afraid of colleagues planning a coup and removing one. The military steals political power irrespective of the public odium it attracts but a President receives the mandate of the people.

Buhari suffered such military fate on August 27, 1985 when his colleagues ent him packing from office. Since then, he had led a private life.

But the man is back at the corridors of power. This time, through the front door. And, gradually, attention is fast shifting from the incumbent president to him.

First official bilateral engagement as president-elect 

Watching Buhari receive the President of Ivory Coast, Allassane Quattara, at the presidential wing of the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja in the evening of Monday, April 20, upon his return from his home country, Daura, Katsina State, put in me the feeling of presidential reality.  As a former Head of State, Buhari may be entitled to use the facility but definitely not with an air of presidential aura he exuded that day.

Quattara may have also met with President Goodluck Jonathan earlier that Monday, but not with the observable euphoria on his face, jolting him to some immediate memorial expeditions where he recalled his own election. Like Buhari, Quattara’s presidency was also tough, an eventual art of providence and destiny.

Said the Ivory Coast leader: “I have come to Nigeria to congratulate my brother the president-elect for his brilliant election and to let him know that the process of this election is a great pride to all of us and the rest of African countries.

“The peaceful process is a lesson for all African countries. You will recall that in my own country in 2010 when we had the presidential election, the former president did not want to leave office and this led to civil war with 3000 people died. So, we are very proud of the Nigerian people.

“I came to congratulate my brother President Buhari and tell him that my country and Nigeria will work hand in hand for stronger integration of the West African region. Nigeria is very important to all of us for its leadership and I think I met President Buhari few years back. We will continue to work together to make sure that the west African region and the people the region can seek more prosperity and better lives.”

While the Ivorian leader shared his ugly experience in the hands of  his predecessor, Buhari recalled Jonathan’s benign stance which has saved Nigeria of a conceivable overt crisis.

“I think more specifically (Quattara’s visit is ) to congratulate president Jonathan for his statesmanship because when president Quattara referred to his own experience where he was under siege for more than four months because his predecessor refused to acknowledge his winning. In Nigeria opposite happened, hence we are enjoying the peace, so specifically congratulate president Jonathan for his statesmanship”, the president-elect said.

Buhari relocates to Defence House 

Buhari’s presidential treatment did not just begin and end at the airport. It continued to Abuja metropolis and would continue over the next four years. Upon his return that Monday from Daura where he had been since the April 11 gubernatorial election, Buhari checked in at the luxurious Defence House in Maitama axis of town.

Understandably, the facility, which may also be called a safe house, was designed by the regime of a military Head of State and has since served as the temporary abode for an incoming president. In fact, only persons of presidential status use the place for official engagements and so, Buhari, being the presidential-elect, is entitled to use the facility which was recently renovated to receive his visitors. And you can bet the horde of security personnel that now surrounds the place.

ECOWAS Chairman’s visit

The first person to visit Buhari at the place was the Chairperson of Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Ghanaian President, Mr. John Mahama, on Tuesday, April 21. He brought two things to Buhari: Congratulations and pledges to work with him on ECOWAS platform. But the contemporary xenophobic madness in South Africa, a sister country, stole the show. And you could trust that Mahama descended heavily on the country especially on its attack on Nigerians.

“I think it is an issue that we are all worried about because of the specific circumstances of South Africa and its most regrettable and most unfortunate. I think that the young people of South Africa do not know what happened before they gained their freedom. The whole of this continent stood behind South Africa. The whole of Africa stood behind South Africa to fight against apartheid. I remember all of us who growing up as secondary school children went on marches and where part of the African Youth command boycotted classes and all that all in the fight against apartheid”, Mahama said.

“Indeed for several of the countries where their citizens were brutalised in South Africa, these are countries called front line states and harboured the freedom fighters of South Africa and gave them safe haven, gave them passports to be able to avoid the clutches of the apartheid regime and even Nigeria. Nigeria even though not a neighbour of South Africa was considered a frontline state  because of their economic contribution that Nigeria did to be able to liberate South Africa from apartheid and so, it is regrettable that the same people who fought against apartheid are being attacked.

“The pictures we have seen are horrible. As ECOWAS, we have issued a statement condemning what is happening, the unfortunate thing is this is not first time, it keeps flaring up and so while we are condemning this incidence we must work with South African government to ensure that it won’t happen again. We are trying to create an integrated continent where our people can move freely amongst our countries, this has not set a very good example for integration and especially for South Africa   that has investments all over countries”.

On Nigeria’s elections, the ECOWAS leader said: “Earlier this morning I called on President Jonathan and also commended him for his maturity and statesmanship that he has shown in terms of conceding before the tally was done and calling President elect  Buhari to congratulate him. I think that Nigeria has shown a good example for self regime that democracy and good governance have found a firm root in the ECOWAS.

The ECOWAS has a protocol on democracy, good governance and elections and I believe that has been properly followed here in Nigeria.

“We have five elections this year and Nigeria has set the pace and we still have Togo that is coming on Saturday 25th and in October we have Burkina Faso. We have cote d ivoire. We have Guinea, so I think that with what has happened in Nigeria, it is an example for other countries in terms of the standard electioneering. In my second heart as the president of Ghana as you know Ghana and Nigeria have very close relationship and we will continue to work closely with Nigeria, we share the same values our cultures are similar.

“Nigeria is the biggest economy in West Africa and is the most populous and also the biggest economy in Africa. So, it is a very valued member of ECOWAS and we will continue to expect that Nigeria would show a certain leadership and carry her responsibility in terms of the work of west African states”.

Ambassadorial visits 

One of the campaign promises of Buhari was to restore Nigeria’s self respect in the international community and signs of that glowed on Wednesday, April 22 when, in one fell swoop, China, Israel, Equatorial Guinea, Iran and Morocco promised their cooperation with the incoming administration.

The assurances of those countries were conveyed through their ambassadors in Nigeria who visited to Buhari at the Defence House.

For China, Buhari’s regime would mark a new dawn of investments in agriculture and infrastructure.

“China and Nigeria are going to further our cooperation. As part of our desire for collaboration with Nigeria I discussed with the President- elect on some of the potential areas of investment. We plan to invest in such areas like Agriculture, infrastructure and other projects that is tailored to impact positively on the lives of the people of Nigeria. We came to present the best wishes and regards from our President and people of China to the president- elect”, the Chinese envoy, Mr. Gu Viaojie, said..

In the case of Morocco, the diplomatic row between it and Nigeria that resulted to the recalling of its ambassador to Nigeria was now a thing of the past.

“The new relations is for the good of both Morocco and Nigeria. I am here to give the President- elect a message from the King of Morocco. The message is  for greetings and best wishes from Moroccan people. I believe that ( the ugly incident that led to the withdrawal of Moroccan Head of Mission) is in the past now. We are looking forward to the future now”, the Morrocoan ambassador, Mr. Mostafa Bouh, said.

Similarly, the Equatorial Guinea ambassador said Nigeria has shown exemplary leadership in Africa with the conduct of the peaceful elections just as the Israeli ambassador, Uriel Palti, expressed the readiness of his country to continue with the good relationship with Nigeria.

Last line

For sure, there is a season for everything. Like President Goodluck Jonathan, who had no shoes at a time, Buhari, in the last 30 years when he exited office, may not have played host to officials of other countries in the manner last Tuesday and Wednesday afforded him. Osibanjo also may have occupied the office of Commissioner for Justice somewhere but not as noticeably as the office of the number two citizen of a country.

These new titles with their inherent euphorias intoxicate. But no matter, the mistake both men cannot afford to do is to let the excitement get into their heads.

There is enormous task ahead. The job of fixing Nigeria and get it back onto the path of glory with a happy citizenry is paramount and non-negotiable. A repeat of the past mistakes of successive leaders who got carried away by office exuberance and paraphernalia must not happen. 30 years out of military or civilian power should have taught someone a big lesson. The world is watching.

VANGUARD