BY ABIMBOLA ADELAKUN
I first met Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd) at a press conference in 2010; he made quite an impression on me. He was at his charming best that night until moderators called for one last question. Then, I asked why he insisted on the contradiction of using the title of “General” while trying to be a civilian president.
My question was to probe if, by holding up his military title, he was passing a message about the kind of president he would be.
Buhari dropped all affability and responded in a rather offended tone,
“Because I earned it!”
He added he was not one of those who promoted themselves in the army without merit; it was deserved. I felt his response was rather arrogant, although later, I had a rethink. Maybe, his insistence of being a “General” was an honest self-presentation. That Olusegun Obasanjo expunged “General” from his titular achievements does not mean someone else should do it.
The second time I had to ponder Buhari’s “honesty” was while reading his 70th birthday interview in The SUN. It was shocking to read his justification of the decree with which his regime used to execute three young men. After so many years, Buhari still refuses to admit that his method of applying the law was wrong — morally and judicially. I was disturbed by Buhari’s sense of morality and wondered if, again, he was being his honest self, was arrogant, or he is simply a man who doesn’t think about things. By the way, after reading that interview, whatever respect and support I had for him whittled down.
Since then, I have read many articles about Buhari. His admirers talk endlessly about his “unimpeachable integrity” while others argue otherwise. Both sides have merits because, truly, Buhari is a bundle of contradictions. It is a shame that there has not been any engaging scholarship that has studied him –or other past leaders — in depth. What we have dotting our landscape are largely hagiographies written by hungry scribblers in need of quick naira notes. Nigeria is that kind of a place where intellectual jerks sit amidst the ruins of once upon a glorious university to write “bitter truths” about which ethnic professor was the first to climb to the moon with a ladder.
The Buhari personality deserves critical historical analyses. He is consistently sold as an honest man, one austere to the point of martyrdom; that his incorruptibility makes him the perfect candidate to cure the cancer of corruption that has practically eaten up Nigeria. But these promoters consistently fail to answer why Buhari who has never touched public funds has no problems mingling with corruption czars in Nigeria? The man has contested presidential elections thrice; it will be nice to know who his campaign sponsors are and what they do for a living. If he ever becomes president, will he throw the book at them and have them probed for corruption? If he decides to overlook their past, will that not mean he has to do same for the corrupt elements in the PDP too? These are no easy answers, I admit, but they are necessary to challenge the myth that he can solve Nigeria’s corruption problems.
Speaking of honesty, why is Buhari prepping for 2015 presidential race when in 2011 he announced he was contesting the third and final time? If he cannot stand by his own word now, how can he do so if he becomes president and he is faced with very complex situations that will tax his integrity?
I am definitely aware that Buhari has the constitutional right to run as many times as he chooses. He is donning his Messiah toga again even though his candidacy on the APC ticket signifies desperation and opportunism on his part and stagnation on his party’s. He is like an old masquerader who insists on doing the same energetic traditional dances on old trembling legs. His aides say he is above God in the PDP imagination but this is patently delusional. What reason does anyone have to fear Buhari?
If we take away the image of the incorruptible leader from him, what really is left? Does his contribution to national issues –from the questions of corruption to Boko Haram to federalism to electricity to poverty to Niger Delta to all that afflict us — show that the man has a higher grasp of issues more than President Goodluck Jonathan (who, by the way, still remains as clueless as ever)? If we compare the rhetoric of Buhari in 2003 with that of 2007, 2011 and 2013, are we likely to come off with the picture of a leader who has been seasoned by time? One who has –within the span of 10 years — improved on his understanding and articulation of the many problems of Nigeria? Or, all we will see is a man who rides the horse of war-against-corruption to death because he does not have more vibrant ideas? (Personally, I wonder if Nigerian leaders are corrupt because they lack the necessary foresight they need to perform or they fail to perform because their imagination is quenched by corruption?)
Mine is by no means a trivialisation of the endemic nature of corruption but if we analyse issues more carefully, is Nigeria’s problem wholly that of corruption? How come Asian countries manage to make progress despite the corruption in their systems? Is corruption Nigeria’s problem or something actually worse but manifests as such? The underlying sentiment of turning Buhari into a magic bullet is based on isolationist thinking that fails to situate a complex problem in proper context.
If Buhari himself will be honest with himself, he should own up that he is not what Nigeria needs, at least anymore. His 2015 candidature will be more of a distraction from main issues in a way that will allow incumbent forces a leeway back to power. Of course he can play a major role but his talk of if-my-party-fields-me-I will-contest is more of a forked tongue oratory than actual humility. It will not hurt him to admit that what Nigeria needs is not a man with a good image but someone who has a vision, and the energy and charisma to drive it; and that he is just not that person.