Sharing my thoughts and putting my message accross
By Frisky Larr
The political career of President Muhammadu Buhari is fast playing out as a tragic political thriller of sort. It is a career that is filled with suspense, perseverance, celebration and also marred by complacency. I will shed more light on this as the discourse proceeds. But first, let us take a look at President Buhari’s antecedents.
Before becoming President, he was a seriously polarizing figure. He was either hated bitterly or loved unconditionally. One section of his haters was disturbed and petrified by his perceived sense of strictness, sternness and savvy stubbornness. Another section based its rejection strictly on the tangible facts extracted from the draconian (but in hindsight, highly missed) days of combined rulership with the late General Tunde Idiagbon.
In his submission that was widely publicized in Nigerian newspapers on January 16, 2007, Professor Wole Soyinka outlined Buhari’s crimes in the following order:
Disregard for constituted authority by treating the Oputa panel with “unconcealed disdain”, execution of a 29-year old chap (Bernard Ogedengbe) on drug-smuggling charges by retroactive legislation even though the crime did not carry a death penalty at the time it was committed, the stifling of civil rights and the indiscriminate imprisonment of activists such as Tai Solarin, extreme tribal leanings in locking up Vice President Alex Ekwueme in the maximum security prison of Kirikiri, while his boss, the head of the regime that was overthrown on charges of corruption – Shehu Shagari – was kept in the comfort of a house arrest in Ikoyi, the long detention of the septuagenarian, Governor Adekunle Ajasin, even though he was acquitted in repeated trials and finally, “the story of the thirty-something suitcases” that Buhari allowed a northern traditional ruler to bring into the country in spite of strict laws prohibiting the inflow and outflow of goods through the country’s borders, while Fela Kuti had to languish in jail for having currencies that he legitimately needed for an overseas performance.
In other words, Professor Wole Soyinka was strongly representative of the voices that saw in Muhammadu Buhari, a bigoted tribalist and religious fanatic, who felt comfortable, creating privileges for people of his tribal and religious extraction, to put it mildly. Even though this formulation may not be perfectly accurate as it relates to Wole Soyinka, the accusation nevertheless, sums up the sentiments of the anti-Buhari camp over several years. It, however, took a few years of one Goodluck Jonathan from a minority tribe to run down the entire fabric of political correctness and threaten the unity of the nation to make Nigerians, including myself, forget the serious dangers that were hitherto associated with the name Muhammadu Buhari. He was given a second chance with his “War Against Indiscipline” (WAI) conveniently called to mind in a nation that had simply taken to the celebration of crafty larceny and idolization of talents in transgression. The prominent role that the late Tunde Idiagbon played in the instilment of discipline under WAI, was conveniently relegated to the background while the background role of Muhammadu Buhari under that dispensation was raised to the forefront by a country that was in desperate need of redemption and the resetting of the values button.
Archenemies like Wole Soyinka and Olusegun Obasanjo suddenly became converts and Buhari-sympathizers against Goodluck Jonathan, to save Nigeria from imminent collapse.
All through the years, though, the man Buhari, had witnessed transformations in the aftermath of serial failures in political adventures. There was suspense in his molding of political alliances and perseverance in his resilience. Yet, when celebration finally came with the involuntary help of Jonathan’s obnoxious designs and incompetence, age had already taken its toll on Muhammadu Buhari. His health had taken a hit, but above all else, he had learned some crucial lessons.
Those, who felt passionate about dissolving the union that they called a contraption, which a continued Jonathan’s Presidency, would probably, have done little to stop, remain bitterly angry till the present moment, over the disruptive victory of the secretly ailing Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. On the contrary, those who remembered the War Against Indiscipline and the good-looking Major General of the youthful days, yearned for the General to pick up the pieces, tidy up the stall and reset the values button.
Since his victory was facilitated by forces from within and without the shores of the country, Muhammadu Buhari learned the art and craft of political compromises through the days of electioneering in an almost effortless manner. His minders and tutors in the deal of civilian leadership were sure that they had formed in him, the perfect mix of dictatorship and compassion to retake Nigeria from the wolves. The voters were convinced that Nigeria will witness the dawn of a new era in General Muhammadu Buhari. The phrase General versus President was coined with the latter representing the weaker option caged by a mindset of political compromises in the spirit of constitutionality. The new President, who assured the important forces behind his success that he will strive to be more democratic and be guided by the constitution, was, however, also aware of the expectations of the masses and the schadenfreude of his adversaries.
President Muhammadu Buhari started failing surprisingly, when he negated the need to carry the folks along and deliver a fiery and reassuring inaugural speech to keep the momentum alive, while pilferers and kleptomaniacs still had the fear of the General in mind. Instead, he came up with a very uninspiring and ‘unspinnable’ slogan of belonging to everyone and belonging to no one. The new President did not stop at that. He kept everyone guessing if he was overreaching the need for commitment as a newborn democrat.
In a third world country that is demonstrably more in need of discipline than democracy, the new President played seemingly feeble and indifferent to shocking manipulations in the installment of a Senate President. He turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the thuggish disengagement of a state assembly by a Governor in Oyo State. All these developments fresh into his Presidency were yet forgivable and were forgiven too, because he was assumed to have opted for a concentration of efforts on battling the menace of the Islamic ragtag army in the north that his predecessor allowed to blossom and grow in an apparent attempt to weaken the union. Yet, many could not understand, why the President’s pushback against a rogue party member, who stole the Senate Presidency and consistently undermined his authority against in-house consensus, was not done in a decisive and terse counterattack.
History is awash with narratives and examples of the incompatibility of democracy with poverty and weak social fabrics. Successful democracies in today’s world are generally rich in material and educational opportunities and often have a healthy groundwork of social stability. Successful poor countries often thrive when leaders stretch the limit of their powers imposing their will, sometimes, in outright dictatorship too, to create affluence and boost the standard of living of their citizens. Citizens often care less about a dictator, when the proper standard of living is put in place. Constitutions do not make countries rich without the requisite educational mindset and compatible social setting that African countries do not have. Details in this regard, are contained in my book “Lost in Democracy”.
When the teeming majority of Nigerians popularly ushered in Muhammadu Buhari, many expected the General. Not the President.
The ‘General’ moved swiftly to confront Boko Haram and launched a clampdown on corrupt judges. The ‘President’, however, retreated from cleansing the Judiciary either in the aftermath of a clandestine blackmail or out of a sheer lack of fortitude to follow through. With the faint-heartedness of a caged President, he has continued to ignore credible and outrageous reports of corruption, arrogance, high-handedness and overreaching authority by members of his inner circle.
As if he had completely forgotten the persistent suspicion of tribalism that trailed him since his days as military Head of State and his travails as a failed candidate, the ‘President’ seemingly chose to display a part of the General’s arrogance and complacency by confining himself to the provisions of the constitution in meeting the demands for the Federal Character and making all other appointments thereafter, a northern Nigerian affair. While I, personally, do not care at all, who the President chooses to work with, since Jonathan also chose his kinsmen and heaven did not fall, commonsense has, nonetheless shown that Goodluck Jonathan could not have been a viable barometer for measuring credibility in this regard. Having lived through the color-blindness of Olusegun Obasanjo in terms of tribes and appointments, it is strongly pathetic that President Buhari still seemed to have nursed this archaic sentiment of promoting northern dominance in his appointments.
The ‘General’ moved swiftly to confront misguided agitators and political pawns, who nursed unrealistic hopes for a disintegrated Nigeria. Now, who was it that simply turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the Fulani Herdsmen? The ‘General’ or the ‘President’?
In the end, in spite of all his major achievements in struggling to diversify the nation’s economic base, to streamline the flow of federal revenue through a Treasury Single Account, to bailout states with funds to pay salaries, wages and pension, to pay government debts owed by his predecessor, to take Nigeria out of recession largely caused by a plunge in revenue intake, to edge towards self-sufficiency in rice production and other agricultural sectors, and in spite of countless ongoing infrastructural projects, the revamping of the foreign reserves that were plundered in times of plenty etc., he played into the hands of his adversaries by simply allowing the Benue massacre and the Boko Haram abduction to happen under his watch. Now, revisionism and denials are compounding his achievements and echoes of his major blunders are overshadowing any narrative that may attempt to be fair on him. Thanks to Buhari, Nigeria now knows that our budgets have been criminally padded through several regimes. Yet, he failed to clamp down on the legislators decisively with the necessary prosecution of perpetrators. On the contrary, he sided openly with the principal officers of the legislature and threw whistleblowers to the wolves.
To make matters worse, the President’s own reaction to charges that he refuses to dialog with Nigerians on matters of political importance, when he is most needed, simply seems to signal to the world that he prefers to take his time in reaching decisions. Taking the time needed to reach decisions can never be equated with ignoring serious charges and refusal to act on offenders that have been made public. After all, it is the same Buhari that did not bulge long to execute criminals on retroactive laws.
This is the tale of willful self-desecration and self-demystification. How history will judge Buhari’s legacy will, in part, strongly depend on how much he continues to leave the narratives to his adversaries to tell and how quickly he makes amends to fix his weaknesses and rebrand his image for the rest of his tenure. I strongly doubt though that he will have a second term in the face of health challenges and a hostile establishment.
One more issue:
I strongly commend the courage of Omoyele Sowore in his bold move to run for the presidency of Nigeria. All talks about a new breed will have to have a starting point. This hardly compares to those unseasoned social media dreamers, who seem to be toying with party politics these days, amid ideological contradictions and a lasting chain of inconsistencies. On the face of it, it sounds very ridiculous because Omoyele Sowore has zero political experience in any political office. But underrate this young man at your own perils. Sahara Reporters started from nowhere and seems to have taught many syndicate journalists in Nigeria, a serious lesson on what investigative journalism and the sophistication of sources should be about. Hardly anyone knows today, who Sowore’s backers are, if there are any. He has, nonetheless, been elevated to an outstanding pedestal in the journalism of exposure reaching from England through the United States and deep into the heart of Nigeria. Who doesn’t remember his adventurous secret travel to Nigeria as an enemy of the Jonathan’s regime during the 2015 elections and his successful utilization of credible sources to unearth accurate election results ahead of any other outlet? I, personally, do not expect him to defeat President Buhari, if the President chooses to recontest. Yet, I expect him to give any mainstream candidate a good run for his/her money. A lot will depend on the kind of friends he chooses down the line. Close association with inconsistent Facebook dreamers can only impact negatively on this laudable project. Underrate Sowore only at your own perils.
Frisky Larr is the author “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism”, assessing the role of the media in the image of Olusegun Obasanjo, “Africa’s Diabolical Entrapment”, assessing Africa’s obsession with Religion and “Lost in Democracy” outlining the futility of democracy in a society with other priorities