My friend, a civil servant with the Benue state government was very confident of a Buhari win in this year’s election. I was hoping too that Buhari would win but his confidence was just overwhelming.
His confidence was induced by something personal, even selfish. In 1983, the State government owed him three months salary; then Buhari struck at the end of the year and the new state government led by Col Atom Kpera cleared the backlog. As this year’s elections approached, the government of Gabriel Suswam also piled up salaries, refusing to pay workers for months running. “History is going to repeat itself. Buhari will come and my salaries will be paid”, he often prophesied to me.
As much as I wanted Buhari to win, I was restrained in my optimism by the frightening company that the incumbent President (Jonathan) kept. There was the boorish Doyin Okupe who as a Presidential spokesman, told us that even if Buhari won, Jonathan would rather invite the military to take over; there was also the war monger, Mujahadin Asari Dokubo – Jonathan’s collaborator – who promised to wage war against Nigeria if Buhari won; and lastly the half literate and amazing first Lady Patience, who called for the stoning and public lynching of anybody advocating” change.”
The prospects of a Buhari presidency were rather dim to me.
The swearing in of Buhari last Friday was a welcome relief for both of us. My friend is now sure of his salary and my hopes are fulfilled. The man from the hinterland of North East is sure of his security and so is the man from North Central and North West where terrorism was fast creeping in. Same could be said of the man in the South East, South West and South South where kidnappers, armed robbers and ritual killers are on the prowl. In his hour of glory, Buhari’s neat rendition of spontaneous oratory summed it up all. He man said; “I’m for everybody and I’m for nobody.”
Buhari has always been a sub editor’s delight. His public speeches are short, poetic and loaded with wise cracks. It is easy to cast newspaper headlines with his quotable quotes. But Buhari is not a newspaper man and if his record of service in his first coming is to be reviewed, he is even not a newspaper fan.
How can Buhari be for everybody and still not be for anybody? We may have to look at his performance in his first coming to hazard an answer. When his coup was announced, the first political group to celebrate was the Unity Party of Nigeria, the UPN. Stalwarts of the UPN had consistently called on the military to intervene after the elections of 1983. When the coup came, they gladly welcomed it only to discover that the government was at war with party men and top government officials of all political persuasion. The UPN became suspicious; Tai Solarin put pen to paper and in a letter to Buhari, which he personally tried to deliver at Dodan Barracks, urged the military to order a recount of the votes in that year’s election and handover the government to Obafemi Awolowo who he said was the winner. When this was not done, the Nigerian Tribune, the UPN newspaper declared that the military men who took over power belonged to the military wing of the NPN and the coup was aimed at advancing the cause of the NPN. That was how the Buhari military government began to lose the support of Chief Awolowo and the South West.
The government also had another image problem. In announcing the coup, Sani Abacha had advised all political office holders to report to the police. Those who did were immediately locked up. Soon a large number of politicians found themselves in prison, some for inexplicable reasons. For instance, some of us could not understand why a man like Balarabe Musa who gave the NPN a good fight and who campaigned vigorously against graft before and after he became governor of Kaduna State would be imprisoned. Personally, the coup met me as Chief Press Secretary to Bamanga Tukur, Governor of Gongola State. I was sacked with immediate effect. That did not pain me because I came back to the newsroom immediately to resume my duties as a reporter.
What I could not understand with the Buhari government was the detention of Bamanga Tukur. When he came into government (Oct 1983), the coffers of the state government were empty. Gongola was broke. Even if he came into government with the intention to steal, there was no money there to steal. General Buhari himself came to see him in Yola shortly before the coup and I suspect he was briefed on the perilous state of the Gongola economy. But Buhari arrested and kept him at Kirikiri prison until he himself was overthrown by Babangida. What pleasure did that government derive in holding people in jail without charge for prolonged periods?
But the Buhari government had yet another flaw; it was a very fundamental weakness that has dogged Buhari’s political career even after he left office. General Buhari was a Muslim from the North. He was Head of State, number one man. Another Muslim from the North, General Idiagbon was Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters, number two man. Yet another Muslim, General Ibrahim Babangida was Chief of Army Staff, number three man. We should now begin to understand the roots of the accusations that Buhari is an Islamic bigot. Can Buhari say that these accusations did not adversely affect his quest for Presidency in 2003, 2007 and 2011?
I have met the President briefly on a few occasions between 1981 and 2015. I do not believe the accusations of religious bigotry against him, even though our meetings have been brief at each encounter. In fact, I do not believe any military officer of his class – brought up by the British to be an ‘officer and a gentleman’ – ever had the environment to develop religious fundamentalism. They lived in the barracks and the officers mess as if they were a family. What they developed instead was esprit de corps.
Still, Buhari in 1984 was at the head of a government that was insensitive to the religious plurality of Nigeria and that earned him the unpleasant stigma. My greatest fear is that I see history repeating itself in his second coming. He is the head of the executive branch; a Muslim. The Chief Justice of the Federation, head of the Judiciary, Mahmud Mohammed, was there before him, a Muslim. As things stand now, I understand Buhari himself is in support of another Muslim heading the Legislative arm of government. This complete circle will reinforce his image as a religious bigot and place a time bomb on the lap of his government.
It is a mistake that is completely avoidable and those of us who wish Buhari well will not shy away from saying so now that it is not too late. [myad]