January 15, 2011

Buhari’s burden of public perception

After spending 50 months in thecourt room to seek redress over previous elections, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari is back on campaign on the platform of Congress for Progressive Change as the presidential candidate in the April general elections. It would have been breaking news if he did not get the nod of a political party his singularly brought into relevance.

The 68 year old former military head of state expectedly got the nod of CPC, to fly the flag of the party in the presidential election by popular affirmation. The process of his emergence was an encore of how he emerged as the presidential candidate of ANPP on two occasions, it was admixture of democracy and despotic fiat as no other candidate emerged as a contender for the office. While some of his associates like Buba Galadima saw it as a mark of popular acceptance, others like Titus Agboargues that it raises question on Buhari’s brand of democracy.

Born in Daura in 1942, young Buhari had his early education in Daura and Katsina before moving to Kaduna for his Military training It was a decision that has shaped the man and his career and life. Buhari is seen as stern, austere, honest and principled, and almost too rigid. While these principles have worked in a regimented military career, how to civilianise Buhari in a democratic dispensation is be one of the burdens he has to bear as a politician because a leopard’s spot is indelible.

The Burden of Military leadership.

As a politician, the political class is distrustful of Gen. Buhari primarily because of the rough path he took them through when he was appointed to head a military government in 1983. The bastardisation of the politics and the economy by the second republic politicians that some young and middle ranked military officers had to roll out tanks on December 31, 1983, following the overthrow of the Second Republic.

The agenda of the coup plotters was to clean up the system and restore the country’s dignity. While it lacked a composite ideology, the military regime was filled with anger and frustration which informed their perception of the political class and this reflected in the jail term handed to politicians who were tried by the Military tribunals for corrupt practices. The likes of Chief Jim Nwobodo, Chief Solomon Lar, late Professor Ambrose Alli, late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi,  late Chief Bisi Onabanjo got jail terms ranging from 20 to 100 years.

Mr. Afam Osemeke, a lawyer, argues that the level of corruption in the polity may have given rise to the stern approach employed by Gen. Buhari in the 1800s, but corruption today makes mockery of what Gen. Buhari was set out to correct then. Consequently, Buba Galadima, avers that “politicians are fearful of Gen. Buhari and generally hold the view that their misdeeds will not escape the scrutiny of a Buhari presidency.

According to him, “this is the reason why they are determined to stop him at all cost”. He went on to say that “ordinary Nigerians have shown and given wide spread support to Buhari because they see him as an upright man who has not stolen their money in the past as the Federal Commissioner for Petroleum, then governor of the old Borno State. Buhari did not line his pocket as a head of state”.

Even when Gen. Buhari has repeatedly assured Nigerians that he will not waste time and resources probing past leaders of corruption because “the country has enough resources to develop itself instead of embarking on counterproductive measures”, the political class as still distrustful of him.

As the Chairman of PTF, Buhari lived above board. Till date, no nobody has accused of Buhari of any corrupt act. This has endeared him to the poor in the North who have total commitment to Buhari. Buhari’s joining CPC has galvanised grass root support base for the party in the North.

Buhari and Effective Communication

Gen. Buhari not neither an orator or an eloquent communicator. This means that those who manage his public communication ought to find an effective communication strategy that can be employed to sell his candidature. So far, this has not been the case. It is not only Nigerians that want to hear Buhari and assess him; he is going to address the global audience as well as Nigerians in the Diaspora.

The Media phobia

It is a known fact that Buhari is very distrustful of the media and this is responsible for the perception problems that he is suffering.  Gen. Buhari scotched the snake   when he promulgated the Protection of Public Officers against False Accusation Decree No 4 of 1984 which made it a criminal offence to publish any article that brings into a public officer into public disrepute.

Expectedly, two journalists from the stable of The Guardian newspapers Mr. Tunde Thompson and  Mr. Nduka Irabor, were tried and jailed in what many people saw as  high handedness of the regime.

The Chairman of the Party, Prince Tony Momoh who enjoys tremendous respect in the media community, as one of their own, has not been able to devise a strategy to deal with this problem, as a veteran journalist, he must know that the media shapes public opinion and perception, it is dangerous to take the media for granted, Gen. Obasanjo did with his third term project and he failed, because the media was not carried along, even though the media would not have accepted the scheme.

Gen Buhari has boldly gone to meet the leadership of the Christian community to dispel allegations that he asked Muslims not to vote for Christians or that he is a religious bigot because he did reflect ethno-religious balance during his time as the head of state. One of his campaign managers asked loudly, why is Babangida not being criticised for taking Nigeria to OIC? What has been the implication of that decision in terms of the inter faith relations in Nigeria, Gen. Buhari is not among those politicians who are sponsoring divisive religious sentiments. Let’s face the serious issues of rescuing Nigeria from the destructive politics of PDP”, he said.

Penetrating the South

The National Secretary of CPC Alhaji Buba Galadima who is a close associate of Gen. Buhari   says while CPC has done well in penetrating the northern states, “it has done little to attract commensurate attention in the South”. The party seems to be working on a theory of allowing the ACN to control the South-West while it relies on a working alliance with ACN to overcome its short comings. This is informed by the experience of the PDP which wanted to use garrison approach to drag the region to the centre.

In the South East, CPC may run into storm with the treatment given to Chief Mike Ahamba, who has stood with Gen. Buhari all through the legal battles. The Ahamba experience may rekindle a similar treatment given to Owelle Rochas Okorocha and other candidates from the South east who contested in 2003 when Buhari emerged in 2003 as the presidential candidate of All Nigerian Peoples’ Party and by extension reinforce the argument of those who say that Buhari is distrustful of the South.

The CPC strategists may discover that pinning their hopes on the ongoing discussion with the Action Congress of Nigeria to have a working arrangement could prove abortive. While Nigerians may welcome such arrangement, the truth remains that Nigerian politicians are driven by greed rather than an altruistic values that will produce the best for the popular. It is true that Nigerians desire a change, the issue is what type of change?

What is the difference between six and half a dozen? Those who are packing Gen. Buhari should condense his message to Nigerians, the problems of the country are so much that only God can solve all, it is important that concentrate of few areas where he can make impact, at 67 age is not on his side.