By Ochereome Nnanna
WE all have our faults and virtues. General Muhammadu Buhari is a man whose virtues and vices are well known.
Most Nigerians know him as a man of integrity. He is one of the few former leaders not widely associated with corruption and self-enrichment even though he has held juicy portfolios such as Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources, Executive Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) and Head of State. Nigerians also know him as a disciplined leader.
In addition, most Nigerians believe that Buhari can easily arrest the security challenges plaguing the nation, including the Islamic insurgency in northern Nigeria. His devotees believe Nigeria needs a man like that at this period to rein in a country set adrift by ineffective leadership.
Buhari’s greatest vice or drawback is his extreme provincialism. His worldview is heavily coloured – even circumscribed – by his Fulani, Muslim Arewa roots. His best effort towards growing out of this cocoon has been to extend a hand of fellowship to Western Nigeria. In his calculations, Arewa/Muslim + O’odua = Nigeria. And Arewa/Muslim must be the Head with O’odua (preferably also a Muslim) the Deputy. He was the first to create a Muslim/Muslim ticket at the Presidency when he paired with General Tunde Idiagbon who was a Yoruba/Fulani from Ilorin, to run Nigeria between January 1984 and August 1985. For him, the South East, South/South, Middle Belt and Christians do not count, if indeed they actually exist.
Some people often say it does not matter. Yes indeed, it should not matter, so long as Nigerians will also accept it with the same equanimity if a Christian from the South pairs with another Christian from the Middle Belt or North to rule Nigeria. We all know that will be a recipe for disaster. The Jihadists will simply go berserk, and this time, they will have a credible reason. The constitution and conventional wisdom in Nigeria envisage accommodation and balancing of the ethno-religious and geopolitical scales to ensure that no part is dominant over the others.
Buhari’s provincialism, therefore, is a major obstacle in his quest to be elected as president of Nigeria. The problem is compounded by the fact that he makes very little effort to overcome it. Those who say it does not matter should check Buhari’s tenure as Head of State and PTF Chairman, and how posts and public amenities were distributed. The south, particularly the former Eastern Region, was practically shut out. Even during his campaigns in 2011, he only made tame forays there, opting to campaign heavily in the North and pay regular visits to the West.
His latest utterance about President Goodluck Jonathan’s handling of Boko Haram insurgents baffled even his ardent apologists. In an interview he granted Daily Trust on Wednesday, May 22nd 2013, he was quoted as saying:
“When the Niger Delta militants started their activities in the South-South, they were invited by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. An aircraft was sent to them and their leaders met with the late President in Aso Rock and discussed issues. They were given money and a training scheme was introduced for their members. But when the Boko Haram emerged in the north members of the sect were killed”.
And for that he called on the president to resign and “give way to (a) competent hand to govern the country”.
Buhari not only twisted the facts of recent history (unlike the man of integrity or Mai gaskiya that his followers in Arewa call him), he also engaged in a rare romance with hypocrisy. It is not true that when the Niger Delta militants started their armed agitation, President Yar’ Adua sent an aircraft to bring them to Aso Villa and they were granted amnesty and given money. The nation battled them and the communities where they operated, with heavy arms and there were large-scale civilian casualties. Villages were sacked and people forced to flee. They fought back and caused the nation great distress mainly by disrupting the flow of oil. The economy was suffering.
The amnesty offer was a final warning; the last carrot before and all-out onslaught. If they had rejected the amnesty as Boko Haram did, your guess is as good as mine what would have happened to the Niger Delta. My guess is that it would not be far from what is happening in the North East. But because they surrendered and accepted amnesty it became possible for them to be invited to Aso Villa.
Secondly, this Buhari who has turned himself into a human rights campaigner for Boko Haram was once appointed by the terrorists to represent them to negotiate terms with the Federal Government and he turned down the appointment. If he loved them so much why did he not accept a dialogue that could have prevented this onslaught?
Secondly, we remember very clearly, that Buhari, as the General Officer Commanding the 3rd Armoured Brigade, Jos, played a leading role when President Shehu Shagari crushed the Maitatsine riots of 1980 in the Bulumkutu area of Maiduguri. When he became the Head of State, a rump of the Maitatsine group that escaped to Jimeta in Yola, in 1984, exploded in another orgy of attacks on Christians and moderate Muslims. Their agenda was exactly the same as that of Boko Haram. Buhari sent a military expedition and defeated the uprising, with heavy toll on civilian targets.
Musa Makaniki, the leader of the Jihadists, fled to his hometown in Gombe and Buhari pursued him there, eliminated him and stamped out the insurgency.
It is hypocritical and unpatriotic for Buhari, after this track record, to blame the Federal Government for finally taking the right steps to secure the North. Buhari has joined those using Boko Haram as a tool of blackmail against the federal government; something most Nigerians had felt was below his contempt.
Perhaps, the frustration of failing three times to win the presidential election, coupled with age, is exerting a heavy toll on him. Condition is forcing the crawfish to bend. Buhari has handed his opponents another weapon to use against him should he file again to contest for president in 2015.