All things considered (2) By Segun Gbadegesin

Buhari

My objective in this two-part series has been to review the balance-sheet of the two leading presidential candidates on the basis of their past records and present credentials. While some distinguished Nigerians have expressed their concerns with the two, the election has come down to a choice between them. The sensible approach then is to place their “problematic” credentials on a scale to determine which is the negatively or positively weightier. In other words, we must make a rational choice based on the balance of relevant factors. Last week, I focused on President Jonathan. Today I take on General Muhammadu Buhari.

One of the negatives critics identify with General Buhari is his military background versus the need of the nation for a president that would respect democratic norms. The question is whether Buhari is able to move from the command and control orientation of the military to the consensus building requirement of democracy. His critics are quick to make reference to Buhari’s “high-handedness” as military Head of State for twenty months from December 1983 to July 1985 when he was toppled in a bloodless coup. For them, those are scary times which they don’t want to relive and they are not convinced that the General has changed with the times.

Interestingly, this charge has been addressed by Buhari on a number of occasions, most recently at his Chatham House address. While acknowledging the concern about his military background and record as military Head of State, Buhari assured his audience of his conversion to the tenets of democracy. He has to; otherwise he will not succeed because the institutions of democracy require consensus building qualities in a president.

It is important to also note, however, as one of the retired Generals observed a while ago that civilians have no good reason to blame the military for intervening in politics in those days because military intervention would not have been necessary if civilians had not lost their sense of good governance. Many would recall the prelude to December 1983 and the near-anarchy that prevailed. The police was in professionally irresponsible cahoots with the ruling party and the economy was in doldrums. The sense of helplessness on the part of the people was the reason for the wild jubilation over the announcement of military intervention just as it was in January 1966.

Second, as far as his critics are concerned, at 72, General Buhari is too old for the rigors of the presidency. The uncultured and uncouth among them, including Governor Fayose of Ekiti, have made this the foundation of their opposition. Fayose has sponsored several advertisements playing God and cautioning Nigerians of the impending demise of Buhari. When this backfired in the midst of a boisterous denouncement of the adverts, he backed down only to resurface with a press conference to announce that Buhari’s London visit was not to visit Blair or give a talk at Chatham House, but rather to see a doctor. He even gave the location of the hospital which Buhari checked into.

Tony Blair’s confirmation that he met Buhari and the announcement of the General’s scheduled talk at Chatham House did not persuade Fayose. For him and his fellow ageists, it was all a hoax. The PDP Publicity Secretary joined in to question the integrity of his APC counterparts: why are they doctoring pictures? suggesting, without a compunction of conscience, that the picture Buhari took with former Prime Minister Blair and Governors Amosun and Saraki was dated or fake. The question this scenario raises is the following: If health is not compromised, is age really a negative?

Perhaps the most serious “negative” that critics have dwelled on the most is the allegation of religious and ethnic bigotry against Buhari. This is not something coming from the poor and lower classes of the society. This charge has been brought directly and circulated far and wide by intellectuals including professors, high profile clerics, and industry giants. They are afraid that Buhari will Islamize Nigeria in a jihadist war against the south.

In a country with religious and ethnic diversity, this is a weighty charge. But what is the evidence? That is not important as long as the perception is alive and is nourished with fear. Does Buhari’s background in the matter of religious devotion lend any credence to this charge of an islamization agenda? Have Buhari’s presidential campaigns since 2003 pointed in this direction of an Islamic aggression?

While there is no doubt that religion has featured prominently in this election, it is true that this has not come from the camp of Buhari who has been pilloried by the ruling party as a religious bigot. We are yet to see a video of Buhari kneeling before an Imam or hopping from mosque to mosque for the blessings of the congregants. If Buhari is so much into islamization, why is he not mobilizing the Muslim Umah in these elections? Buhari has also addressed this matter in a thoughtful presentation to the Catholic Bishops.

On their part, Buhari’s supporters have identified three areas of the candidate’s strength as the positives that really matter for the leadership of the country in the present stage of its democratic and economic development.

First they point to his endowment of leadership discipline, a trait that even his staunchest opponents can attest to and which supporters attribute to his military background. Thus, while opponents are wary of that background in a democratic setting, supporters taunt the discipline that he has acquired from it as what the country needs now to clear the rot and mess of sixteen years.  There are indications as well that it is the matter of his discipline that scares his opponents. They know that a Buhari presidency will close all the loopholes that fertilize the lust for greed and unmerited acquisition as well as the tendency towards impunity in government which has characterized the camp of the ruling party since 1999.

Next there is Buhari’s widely acknowledged incorruptibility and disarming honesty. He headed the Ministry of Petroleum as Minister under the first regime of General Obasanjo and he discharged the responsibilities of the office creditably. Under Abacha, Buhari was head of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) and despite the allegation of lost funds Buhari was cleared by the investigative panel. President Obasanjo who ordered the investigation confirmed this recently. And there was no reason Obasanjo would cover up for Buhari, knowing their political differences as rival presidential candidates in 2003.

Finally, according to his supporters, Buhari’s track record in dealing with religious insurgencies in the North since his days as GOC is well known. It was Buhari that dealt decisively with the Maitatsine sect in Kano in the 80s. It was he that sent back the invading Chad insurgents. If Buhari was at the helm when Boko Haram first reared its violent head, supporters insist that he would have effectively led the charge against it. He would certainly not have underestimated the strength and senseless determination of the sect to wreck havoc in the polity.

Incidentally, the moment that President Jonathan confessed his underestimation of the Boko Haram many Nigerian commentators on social media placed the responsibility for the death and displacement of fellow citizens squarely on him. How does a president underestimate the strength of an enemy of the state who from the beginning did not hide its disdain for the country? You can only give what you have, and in the matter of discharging himself creditably in his oath to protect the territorial integrity of the nation, Buhari surely has it.

In sum, then, of all the concerns of Buhari’s critics about his past record, the most relevant and weighty is his record as military Head of State. But it wasn’t an unmixed record of negativity. He accomplished a lot, especially in the matter of dealing with religious fundamentalism, corruption, and instilling discipline across the board. For his supporters, this is exactly what the country needs now. And to his critics, Buhari has declared himself a “converted democrat.” We will know soon if the nation believes him.

NATION