By Obi Nwakanma
Yesterday, Nigerians went to the polls to elect their president. The polls’ results will become clearer today and a new president would have emerged. Judging from last week’s showing at the polls, General Muhammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate for the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) is unlikely to garner enough votes to be the new president, unless a great shift of grounds happens at the last minutes to change the last tallies at the polls. But Buhari has run a good campaign. He has appealed, cajoled, and he has presented himself forcefully on the platform of progressive change.
At the world news conference on Wednesday called to round-off his campaign, the General made it clear that win or lose, this was it. This was his last shot at the presidency. As he was making his last minute appeals Gen. Buhari choked with tears. He wept for Nigeria.
In his passionate appeal to Nigerians for the mandate to restore Nigeria, the General was unable to contain himself. He wept for what Nigeria could have been and for what it has become; for the bad turns it took. In his tears, he spoke of the desperate need to re-direct this nation towards its great potential and towards a more prosperous and peaceful destination.
Buhari’s tears revealed to many the more emotional and human side of this tough General with a famous dead-pan expression. The campaigns against Buhari was none-the-less vicious; staged on a criticism of his years as a military Head of State of Nigeria from 1983-1985.
His critics painted Buhari in all kinds of colours. He was a tyrant they said; a coup plotter who did not deserve to be elected to manage a democratic government; he was a brutal dictator who had put three young men – traffickers in drugs none-the-less – to untimely and undeserved death; he was contradictory; a closet religious fanatic and ethnic bigot whose tenure as both Head of government and Head of the Petroleum Trust Fund, showed partial regard to his northern constituency and who would impose the Sharia on a secular nation.
Much of the campaign against Gen. Buhari ranged on clear fear-mongering. No president has the power to impose Sharia on Nigeria. Newspapers even reported the former military colleague of Buhari and ex-this and that, Olusegun Obasanjo, as saying: “Buhari is a wicked man, he’ll jail us all.” It may have been mere politics but there was, it seems, real fear within Nigeria’s rentier circles that the return of Muhammadu Buhari as president would lead to some inquisition.
Buhari himself did not deny his desire to clean-up government even to the extent of possibly putting former heads of state to trial. It was clear that big funds and big spenders, beneficiaries of Nigeria’s corrupt system at various levels helped to fund campaigns against Buhari. It was “stop Buhari at all costs.” It seems indeed, as the results come in nationwide, that Buhari’s opponents may go home satisfied that they have done their job. But it would seem that the greatest losers would be Nigerians who themselves deserve a real change from the way business of government has always been done.
I think we ought, at this stage to do a real analysis of Gen. Buhari’s candidacy and campaign. First, it was perceived in many circles below the Niger, as driven by a northern interest – particularly by an agitated middle-class of the upper North and by its mass of the working class who are Buhari’s true supporters.
Buhari was not popular and was indeed, opposed by the elite of the North, particularly the Emiracy which continues to constitute the real power-brokers in much of Northern Nigeria. They are great beneficiaries of Nigeria’s corrupt patronage system and oligopoly. A Buhari presidency seemed not so much a real and present threat to its system of privileges but more a danger to its coherence.
The General had basically sidelined this group of the northern elite in his quest, and often took a lone-wolf stance in many of the questions that stirred the region, like the discussion on zoning and Jonathan’s right to contest.
The northern elite was basically divided with old political horses like former president Shagari and his old cronies and operators like Umaru Dikko and Ciroma whom Buhari had displaced in 1983 on one side basically issuing a sort of “fatwa” on Buhari’s political ambition.
Until the last push last week when a group meeting was called in the North as a last minute, half-hearted effort to mobilise a northern front and close the flanks, Buhari remained an outsider to the core-northern elite political interests. President Jonathan’s serial deal-making on the other hand had ensured that the oligarchies of the North and South would get enough pork in their barrel under his presidency. Buhari was a cog in the wheel.
The other factor was in his choice of his Vice-President. In an attempt to fob-off the claims by his critics, and haunted by the image of a religious bigot, Buhari went so far as choosing a real Christian Pastor to balance out the CPC ticket as a practical way of reassuring Nigerian Christians about his religious toleration.
Bakare might have brought in quite a few supporters from the Pentecostal fringe, it is not certain what impact his choice had on the more orthodox and traditional faithful who may frankly have been whingeing in the cloisters of their Cathedrals. There was in the entire construct of imagery retailed by anti-Buhari campaigners a constant resorting to Buhari’s military past as a dictator and a brutal enforcer of the power of his dictatorship.
His attempts to present himself in alternative and truer light as a democrat; a tested campaigner and a true patriot, could not displace this image constantly retailed by his opponents, as an intolerant, though extremely disciplined, hard- worn soldier nor could it displace the severity of his mien in many political eyes. As we know, Buhari is like Cassius, “of a lean and hungry look…he thinks too much… such men are dangerous.” The Image of the Roman General and senator and defender of the Republic who led the plot against Caesar is the image of Buhari in the public imagination.
If he is Cassius, his late compadre, Tunde Idiagbon, became his Brutus – honourable, driven to his action far more by nobler purpose in the public mind. For Buhari, at any rate, the allusion to Cassius may not be too far- fetched. Like Cassius, Buhari is an intellectual soldier-statesman, driven to the honorable and principled defence of the Republic. True Nigerians cannot hold that against him, for indeed, the NPN government which he displaced was a corrupt oligarchy. Buhari’s political ambition is none-the-less haunted by a mood in the country that sees a need to move away from the past.
Many perceive the General as part of that past.
But, it is important to pay due honour to Buhari. Last week when he wept publicly for Nigeria, he reminded me of another remarkable and passionate man, the late Governor Sam Mbakwe of Imo State, who wept publicly too for the neglect of his people.
He was called the “weeping governor.” Buhari is now our “weeping president” and there is honour in that. If the votes finally tally against him, Nigerians should raise a 21-gun salute to an honourable and passionate man; a great patriot.