By Femi Aribisala
ON Friday, 23rd August, 1985, the military government of Major-General Mohammadu Buhari decided to place me under arrest. My crime was that I wrote, among others, an article entitled: “Counter-trading Nigeria’s Future” in the National Concord, exposing the government’s scam of diverting public funds into private coffers through barter-trade with Brazil. A man by the name of Benson Norman was sent from the State Security Services (SSS) to my office to get me. Not finding me, he left a note that I must present myself unfailingly at the SSS office at 15 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi Lagos the next Monday morning.
However, on Sunday, 25th August, 1985, Lateef Aminu came first thing in the morning to my house to inform me that the government of Buhari/Idiagbon had been overthrown. For this reason, I am fond of telling people that God brought about a change of government in Nigeria just because of me.
Under the Buhari/Idiagbon regime, once you ended up at 15 Awolowo Road, you may never be heard of again. Decree Number 2 of 1984 empowered Tunde Idiagbon to arrest and detain anybody indefinitely without trial and without legal reprieve. After Buhari was overthrown, Mohammadu Gambo opened the prison doors of 15 Awolowo Road on public television, revealing people in various stages of undress and malnutrition that had been kept in the dungeons without trial by Buhari’s hound-dogs.
As self-imposed Head of State, Buhari had no regard for human rights. Immediately he seized power, he announced that he would “tamper with” the press. Soon, the infamous Decree Number 4 was promulgated which made even the publication of the truth a punishable offence. Under this cover, Buhari jailed innocent journalists, including Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabo. He abolished civil liberties, promulgated retroactive decrees enabling him to kill Nigerians through jungle justice, proscribed civil society organizations and professional groups and exercised “absolute” power.
This same Buhari would now have us believe that he has gone through some metamorphosis and has become a democrat. I am sure you will forgive me if people like me don’t believe him. Buhari is not, has never been, and will never be, a democrat. Only in Nigeria would a man with his track record, who came to power through a military coup that illegally overthrew a democratic government, now be acclaimed as a democrat. It is on record that Buhari’s military regime is the only one in Nigeria’s history that failed to promulgate a programme for return to civilian rule.
Facts and fiction
So what exactly qualifies Buhari as a democrat today? Precious little! There is nothing democratic about forming and joining political parties just in order to be the presidential candidate. Little wonder then that Buhari’s parties have a short shelf-life. Buhari would like to be Nigeria’s head of state once again. He can no longer achieve this through the barrel of a gun. The only route now open to him is through the democratic process. That is the reason he now conveniently fashions himself as a democrat. It is merely a means to an end; no more, no less.
Buhari’s reputation as an anti-corruption crusader is also a myth. As head of state, he did not make any dent in Nigerian corruption. All we got was a cosmetic “war against indiscipline.” The counter-trade scam happened under his watch. Rather than deal with it, he sent his hound-dogs after nonentities like me who dared to expose it. That scam was no different, in scope and scale, from the petroleum subsidy and other corruption scandals that have since plagued Nigeria. The Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) that Buhari headed under Abacha was also a citadel of corruption. While Buhari himself might not have enriched himself, his cronies and those who worked under him did so handsomely.
On three different occasions, Buhari has run for the presidency. On three different occasions he has failed. That should really be enough. If, as seems likely, he were to run for the presidency a fourth time in 2015, there is no question that he would fail yet again. Try as he might again and again, Mohammadu Buhari can never be President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
There is a fundamental reason behind this. Buhari is a bad politician. He is an unbending former military dictator and not a democratic consensus-builder. Like his new ally, Bola Tinubu, Buhari is a regional, sectional politician. Such politicians are practically impossible to package and market nationally in the ethnically-delicate Nigeria of today.
Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Malam Nasir El’Rufai, one of those Northerners who deserve to be serious contenders for the presidency of Nigeria, observed that Buhari remains “perpetually unelectable” as a result of his “insensitivity to Nigeria’s diversity and his parochial focus.” This is an elegant way of saying that politically, Buhari has an uncanny tendency to put his foot in his mouth. He talks before thinking of the political implications of his words. He shoots from the hip.
The strength of Obasanjo, which enabled him to capture the presidency on two different occasions, was that he was perceived as a broadminded politician, not overly partial to his people in the South-West. As a matter of fact, in his first election, his people did not want him. The strength of Goodluck Jonathan, which propelled him to win the presidency, was that he was able to string together a coalition that stretched both north and south of the Niger. The weakness of Buhari is that he is totally unacceptable to people outside his region.
Buhari is a Northern regional champion. As head of state in the 1980s, his government was unapologetically Northern. No attempt was made to balance the ticket at the top. It was the only regime in Nigeria’s history headed by two Northerners. When he seized power, Buhari put Shagari, the Northern head of state he overthrew, under house arrest. But then he jailed Alex Ekwueme, the Southern vice-president. You may well ask what makes Shagari less culpable for the misdeeds of the Second Republic than his number-two man. The simple fact was that Buhari was Fulani as was Shagari; but Ekwueme was Igbo.
At the height of the Sharia debate during the Obasanjo administration, Buhari declared that Muslims should vote only for fellow Muslims. This was politically suicidal for a man seeking national office. He became an advocate for implementation of Sharia all over Nigeria. He protested to the Oyo State governor, in the context of a dispute between Fulani herdsmen and indigenous farmers in the state, that “your people are killing my people.” This turned out to be unfounded and perhaps the reverse.
His threats during the campaign for the 2011 elections incited widespread violence in the North after he lost. His supporters went on a rampage; looting and killing; in spite of the fact that, by all accounts, the elections were adjudged the most free and fair in the history of Nigeria’s current democratic experiment. By the time the mayhem had subsided, over 1000 people had been slaughtered in cold blood and some 65,000 displaced.
Forgetting that a statement made in Hausa would readily be translated into English, Buhari later declared unapologetically in a BBC interview: “If what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.” These are the tokens of an irresponsible politician, whose ambitions for power supersede the national interest. Who then are the dogs and baboons that Buhari has in mind to soak in blood if and when he loses yet again come 2015? Are they his children or are they those of others?
With the Boko Haram insurgency in the north, Buhari played to the Northern gallery yet again, calling the Jonathan government “the biggest Boko Haram.” Wole Olaniyi was a fly in the wall at a meeting in Kano Government House designed to persuade PDP rebel governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, to decamp to the APC. Assuming that only Northerners were present, Buhari declared the Boko Haram was a “strategic plan” by the government of Goodluck Jonathan to “destroy the North.” When Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states, Buhari still saw this with Northern goggles, insinuating that the President is waging war on the North.
President of the North
Without a doubt, Buhari has massive support in the North. Indeed, he is the most popular Northern politician in the North today. But that precisely remains his undoing at the centre. The more he has been identified as a Northern champion, the less attractive he has become as a national choice. Even in the North, his support base is limited to the Muslim population. He does not appeal to Northern Christians. Then there is the added factor of the opposition of his implacable opponents among the Northern elite. Men like Babangida and Atiku would rather die than allow Buhari get to Aso Rock.
One thing is certain, the South-South and the South-East will not vote for Buhari in 2015. Not only that; there are no buyers for Buhari’s sectarian politics in the South-West. No matter what Tinubu might be telling him, the people of the South-West will not vote for Buhari in 2015. We already had the template in 2011, when Buhari tried to sell himself, first by balancing his ticket with a Yoruba man; and then by making sure the Yoruba man is a Christian; a pastor no less. But it just did not wash. It will not work in 2015.
The worst thing that can happen to Northern presidential aspirations in 2015 is for Buhari to be on the APC ballot. That is a sure guarantee that the North will not be providing the next president. Buhari would be a shoo-in in an election for president of Northern Nigeria. But in an election encompassing the entire country, the best he can envisage is to be a kingmaker. He cannot be king. The nearest Buhari will get to Aso Rock in 2015 is by attending the Council of State meetings.