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BUHARI: It pays to persist

By Ochereome Nnanna Chairman, Editorial Board

vanguardIF the policy of one couple, four children that General Ibrahim Babangida lamely tried to introduce (and became the first to violate) in the late 1980’s to tackle population explosion were operational in Nigeria back in 1942, Muhammadu Buhari, son of Zulaihat and Adamu, would not have been born.

MAN-OF-THE-YEAR-FRONT--buha
MAN-OF-THE-YEAR-FRONT Buhari

He was the 23rd child of his family. It was from the bottom of that heap of siblings that God selected a man who now presides over the 170 million-strong black nation on earth as an elected president.

Buhari is only the second person dead or alive, that has ruled Nigeria as a military officer and later got elected by popular mandate.

Born in Daura on 17th November 1942, Muhammadu’s father died when he was four years old, and the boy had to be raised by his widowed mother.

The young lad with a tall, straight, gangling bearing received his primary education in Daura and Mai’Adua before proceeding to Katsina College.

Struggle for supremacy

It was while he stayed in Katsina that he made contact with Yar’ Adua family and got acquainted with two sons of the family who were later to play front line roles in the evolving history of Nigeria – the late General Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua and late President Umaru Yar’ Adua.

The family’s patriarch, Alhaji Musa Yar’ Adua, was a high ranking chieftain of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) who later became Minister for Lagos Affairs.

Yar’ Adua personally named the Bar Beach ocean front after Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, an event that has deep roots in the struggle for supremacy among the founding fathers of Nigeria.

Reports have it that in the period shortly after Nigeria’s independence, there was a massive drive to recruit and enlist as many young, vibrant and able-bodied senior students in secondary schools across the North in the Army and Police.

Buhari was caught in this scheme, and he was already in the military school in 1962 before his Cambridge West Africa School Certificate was issued.

Beyond the fact that, as a young officer, he fought in the civil war that erupted after the coups and counter-coups of January and July 1966, very little was heard of Buhari until 30th July 1975, when he had become a Lieutenant Colonel.

He participated in the coup that ousted General Yakubu Gowon, the wartime head of state who ruled Nigeria for a record nine straight years.

Buhari was appointed as the Military Governor of Nigeria’s largest state about a fifth of the size of the entire country, the North Eastern State, which today has been split into six states (Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa and Taraba States).

 

Foundation for the oil industry

Buhari obviously put down enduring roots in that section of Nigeria, where he returned to years later to combat cross-border raids, and in 2015, won some of his largest volumes of electoral votes.

The people of that part of the country also occupy prominent positions in his government. These include his National Security Adviser (NSA) retired Major General Babagana Monguno; Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Tukur Buratai and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr David Babachir Lawal.

When General Mohammed was assassinated during the Col Bukar Suka Dimka failed but bloody coup and General Olusegun Obasanjo became the Head of State in 1976, Buhari was appointed as the Federal Commissioner for Petroleum and Natural Resources; a position that enabled him to lay the foundation for the oil industry as we know of it today. It was under Buhari that the nation’s proverbial cash-cow, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was established, along with the Kaduna Refineries.

He also set up the network of pipelines and 21 fuel storage depots that distribute refined products to all parts of the country. The pipelines from Port Harcourt Refinery to the Bonny Terminal was also put in place during this dispensation. It was under this regime that the oil wealth of Nigeria was made a truly national resource, as opposed to being a subject of “resource control” as Niger Delta activists are pushing for.

After the military handed over to civilians on October 1st, 1979, Buhari returned to full military duties and demonstrated his no-nonsense disposition in 1983 when Chadian force strayed into Nigeria and occupied territories in today’s Borno.

Occupied territories

Buhari, then as the General Officer Commanding the Third Armoured Division, Jos, mobilised soldiers to run the invaders out of the country and deep into Chadian territory, defying President Shehu Shagari’s orders to stop. The Chadians lost over 100 troops and Buhari returned with many prisoners of war.

He thus sent a message to neighbouring countries that Nigeria was off-limits for any foreign military adventurists. Unfortunately, Nigeria could not do the same for the Bakasi area in the South, where the Cameroonian armed forces and gendarmes continued to harass our people and forcefully occupy their land until Bakasi was fully conceded to them by President Obasanjo in 2001.

By 1983 after the general election, the economy took a nosedive, amidst widespread corruption under the Shagari government, and Buhari, now a Major General, returned to the “business” of coup making, by participating in the conspiracy that showed the Shagari government the door in a bloodless coup. (Though he denies being party to it, available evidence flies in the face of this).

On 2nd January, 1984, Buhari was appointed as Head of State, and he picked Brigadier (later Major General) Tunde Idiagbon as his Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, or in a simpler word, second-in-command.

It was also the first Muslim-Muslim, Fulani-Fulani and Northern-Northern presidential pairing in our history which is characterised by delicate geopolitical, ethnic and religious balancing to give every section of the country a sense of belonging.

Repressive regime

Both Buhari and Idiagbon were soul mates of sorts. The defunct legendary Newswatch Magazine aptly referred to them as “the Dour Duo”. They mounted a very austere, repressive regime, detained many politicians and civil servants without trial, jailed politicians after kangaroo military trials.

One politician, Alhaji Sabo Bakin Zuwo, the former civilian Governor of Kano State, received a 300-year jail sentence. No need to worry – the man died in 1989. Goods disappeared from the shelves due to the severe economic measures, and the regime cracked down on the media and civil liberties with draconian military decrees.

Buhari and Idiagbon who shared power like identical twins prosecuted a very effective War Against Indiscipline (WAI) aimed at restoring discipline, shunning corruption and entrenching ethical orientation.

That regime was flushed out, once again, in a coup in which a major protagonist of the December 31st 1983, Major General Ibrahim Babangida, personally directed.

Buhari was humiliated after his downfall in August 1985 after 20 months in power. He was kept in detention in Benin until 1988 before he was allowed to go home by the Babangida regime. When he gained his freedom, he retired into a quiet, reclusive life and never made official public appearances or media statements.

Buhari, however, returned to the public life when General Sani Abacha shoved aside the Chief Ernest Shonekan-led Interim National Government on 17th November, 1993. Abacha never hid his liking and admiration for Buhari, particularly his reputation as a man of integrity and exemplary personal carriage.

When Abacha set up the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) in 1995, he made Buhari the Executive Chairman and gave him the cart blanche to run and use it to change the broken state of the infrastructural and social sectors. Most Nigerians applauded Buhari as discharging his job competently, even though there were complaints that he unduly favoured the North in the appointment of top staff, consultants, award of contracts and distribution of projects.

It was Buhari that “discovered” one of Nigeria’s most outstanding ladies in public service, the late Professor Dora Akunyili, whose track record of competence and integrity as the South East Zonal Secretary of the PTF launched her into former President Obasanjo’s government as Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). When Abacha died and the civilian regime of Obasanjo was about to be sworn-in, Buhari got wind of his planned scrapping of the PTF and resigned on May 28th, 1999. He went back to his quiet life, but not for long.

After the Sharia riots that swept the far North in 2000, Buhari suddenly became politically active. With many predominantly Muslim states in the North adopting a fuller version of Sharia than the old established personal laws, Buhari became increasingly a symbol of the desired leadership the lower classes of the North yearned for. Encouraged by their enthusiastic response, Buhari surprised many by not only joining the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP), he also emerged as its presidential candidate in 2003. Many writers in a section of the media that supported President Obasanjo who was running for a second term in office took on Buhari. Surprisingly, some of them turned around to promote his candidacy in 2015.

 

Section of the media

They mocked him for joining politics after repressing politicians. They teased him for becoming part of the democratic process after truncating democracy.

They dredged up all manners of dirt from his past, including the rumoured $2.8 billion “missing” from the NNPC, as well as the N25 billion “stolen” from the PTF under his watch. Incidentally, Obasanjo himself later on cleared Buhari of any culpability on both issues.

But Buhari soldiered on. He lost the 2003 poll by 12.5 million to the flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Obasanjo’s 24.1 million votes. In 2007, he plunged once again into the quest for presidential power.

He lost woefully to his fellow Katsina kinsman, late President Umaru Yar’ Adua of the PDP, garnering 6.6 million votes compared to Yar’ Adua’s 24.8 million, though the latter admitted in his inaugural speech that the election was “compromised” and vowed to institute electoral reforms.

Undaunted, Buhari, who later fell out with some leaders of the ANPP (especially some of the governors) formed his own Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and mounted on it to challenge PDP’s flag bearer, President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 polls.

By now, several elements in the North had become desperate to have power come back to the region, and despite their best efforts, Buhari still lost, scoring 12.2 million compared to President Jonathan’s 22.5 million.

A dogged fighter, Buhari went to court on each occasion he lost, believing he was unfairly rigged out, but on each occasion, he also lost at the Supreme Court.

He was so embittered that he vowed not to contest elections again. In fact, when a group of his supporters paid him a visit in his Kaduna, he broke down and wept, but later succumbed to their pleas to come out again in 2015. He, however, warned that this time, if the election was rigged “both the monkey and baboon will soak in blood”.

The auguries worked well towards Buhari’s eventual victory. Many people had become disenchanted with the Jonathan regime due to his perceived loose attitude to corruption, the spread of Boko Haram insurgency and the general state of insecurity in the country.

 

Rancorous campaigns

Secondly, the ruling PDP had in its ranks a large number of disenchanted leaders who deplored internal processes that threw up candidates for powerful offices. Encouraged by the internal ferment in the PDP, the opposition parties embarked on another attempt to create a merger to try and upstage the PDP.

Buhari brought his CPC into merger with Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu’s Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the ANPP. In February 2013, these three parties and smaller splinter groups from other parties formed the All Progressives Congress (APC).

In November 2013, the fate of the PDP as a ruling party was sealed and consigned to history when five of its governors – Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers, Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano, Magatakarda Wamakko of Sokoto, Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara and Murtala Nyako of Adamawa, who constituted the Abubakar Baraje faction known as the “new” PDP, joined the APC.

Months later, a large section of federal legislators from the PDP, including the Speaker of the House of Representatives, decamped to the APC. Majority sections of the North and South West were in the APC, while a minority section the South West and the vast majority of South East and South-South remained in the PDP.

At the March 28th 2015 presidential election, Buhari finally triumphed with 15.4 million to President Jonathan’s 12.8 million votes.

Even before the final results were announced on April 1, 2015, Jonathan called Buhari, conceded victory to him and congratulated him. Thus was peacefully concluded a democratic process which was characterised by rancorous campaigns that led many to believe in the imminence of violence outbreak. The nation was given a new chance to continue to exist as a united entity unlike the prognosis from several quarters that foresaw a possible breakup after the polls of 2015.

Both President Buhari and ex-President Goodluck Jonathan contributed in a very large measure in the successful conduct of the 2015 elections that witnessed the first transfer of power from one regime to another across political parties in the history of Nigeria, a great African example for which Jonathan is being honoured all over the world.

Buhari’s contributions to it were obvious. He wholeheartedly participated in the two peace pacts signed between the two leading candidates brokered by the National Peace Committee led by retired General Abdulsalami Abubakar.

Though Buhari’s supporters frequently harassed Jonathan’s campaign in the North, he chided them and dissociated himself from the dastardly acts.

Even when the Federal government suddenly postponed the presidential election earlier on fixed for 14th February to the end of March, Buhari and the APC complied though they complained it was a ploy for PDP to perfect its act.

Political struggles

Buhari’s political struggles were reminiscent of a similar unrelenting pursuit by former American President, Abraham Lincoln who never gave up after losing so many elections until he was elected president of the USA.

It is uncommon for a former military dictator to invest so much hope in the democratic process in spite of the feeling that he was not fairly treated. For a man who was rumoured to live only on his military pension to be able to contest presidential elections four times is also something that intrigues many about this man.

Certainly, Buhari is a man about whom lots of stories are waiting to be told even long after he has had his time on earth: from his humble backgrounds through his travails to his ascent of the presidential seat (twice).

And 2015, being the year he declared to the media: “I am fulfilled”, will go down as the year he helped make, for the better, for Nigeria.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.