By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
The worthy legacy of General Murtala Muhammed encapsulated during 200 days of his action-packed leadership of the Federal Military Government between 1975 and 1976 still stirs emotions. Thirty-five years after, a foundation, in honour of Muhammed, organised a presidential debate of sorts.
Nigeria, obviously, is still searching for the kind of leadership that would steer the ship of state towards the kind of purposeful direction Muhammed did as head of state. It was as such not surprising the kind of teary emotion that swelled up in many at the main auditorium of the Shehu Musa Yar‘Adua Hall, last Tuesday, during a film narration of the Muhammed years.
Those who spoke about him in the film included Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo who succeeded him as head of state; Malam Lamido Sanusi, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), who had a close family relationship with him and Mr. Patrick Wilmot, the Caribbean-born academic, who was in Nigeria during those memorable days.
The occasion was a two-day policy dialogue with five selected presidential candidates organised by the Murtala Muhammed Foundation (MMF), that took place last Tuesday and Wednesday in the federal capital.
The policy dialogue was itself an opportunity for the major presidential candidates to lay down their policies before a select audience that included civil society, politicians and the media.
The MMF, headed by Mrs. Aishat Oyebode, daughter of the late head of state, had identified President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change, (CPC); Malam Nuhu Ribadu of the Action Congress of Nigeria, (ACN) and Malam Ibrahim Shekarau of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), as the four major candidates in contention for the presidency. Whatever criteria were used in identifying them among the 19 presidential candidates on the ballot were not revealed. A fifth candidate, Prof. Pat Utomi, of the Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP), was also invited.
Utomi was invited, not on the basis of his potentials in the polls, but rather on the quality of his ideas.
Remarkably, of the five invited candidates, only three showed up. Jonathan and Buhari were absent. The president was said to have been at a campaign rally on Wednesday in Sokoto.
“These campaign schedules were planned long ago and it is not just easy for us to interrupt it,” Malam Abba Dabo, the Director of Media at the Jonathan/Sambo Presidential Council told Sunday Vanguard.
Buhari, of the lot, was the closest to the deceased head of state having served in the Supreme Military Council headed by Muhammed.
Buhari’s spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, traced his absence to the campaign’s hectic schedule.
The organisers of the forum, perhaps to douse the anxiety of some of the candidates, had explicitly made it clear that the forum would not be a debate among the candidates.
Rather, the dialogue was shaped in such a way that each of the candidates was made to respond to questions from a panel drawn from the civil society and other allied groups.
Oyebode, who is also the chief executive officer of MMF, in distinguishing the policy dialogue from the routine debate session involving political candidates, had said: ”It will be a high level policy platform made available for each presidential candidate contesting.”
Ribadu was the first to appear on Tuesday and he was grilled by a panel.
Following the discussion with the panel, Ribadu was asked questions by members of the public present.
One particularly touching question was how he, as the ACN candidate, would deal with his supporters who may be corrupt if he were to become president.
Responding, he said : “I want to assure you, I am Nuhu Ribadu and I will remain Nuhu Ribadu forever. It is too late for me to change, I am 50 years old, I have always stood by what is right and just and fair. I can assure you I will do what is right. I will do justice, I will stand by the people of Nigeria. There are areas that I can never compromise.”
Ribadu came to prominence as Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, during which period he investigated a number of those presently supporting his presidential aspiration.
He equally gave a touching blueprint on how he would tackle education. He particularly lamented the fact that no Nigerian university is ranked among the top 1,000 universities in the world.
Saying he would “kill two birds with one stone”, the ACN candidate said he would, if elected, provide a glass of milk or juice to each primary school pupil. That would, in effect, be an inducement to pupils and also help in boosting the health of the children and the health of the businesses that would supply the milk and juice.
Ribadu many times waxed philosophical as he lamented the effect of corruption on the body politic, noting that the ruling class was determined to undermine the lower class with its rapacious greed.
In a tone that was dismissive of the reported moves to bring fresh breadth into the PDP through the mobilisation of youthful elements like the president, Ribadu said that there was presently no young man in PDP with the potential to execute the change urgently needed in the country.
He also described PDP as a failed political party.
Noting how he was able to insulate himself against corruption in EFCC, Ribadu revealed that he received some bribe offers while at the commission, but said he always made sure that there were other people present when the bribes were delivered.
”I ensured that if anyone attempted to bribe me, I made it public. The day somebody gave me $15 million cash, I made sure that my own people were there to witness it and show them that that is how you can run this place (EFCC).”
Utomi was the second candidate that appeared before the panelists on Wednesday.
Utomi’s appearance was itself an adventurous enterprise into what many said could have been a better Nigeria.
The SDMP candidate, in his remarks, gave instances of how he had, in the past, proffered solutions to economic issues that were adapted by other countries to their economic benefits.
Nigeria, in his view, could have been the China of today if the nation leaders had adapted his theory canvassed in the 80s of creating economic zones with specialty for some particular products. China was to adapt that policy after he first propounded it and that country, he noted, is better for it now.