By Ogaga Ifowodo
AMIDST the many thoughts and emotions that crowded my mind when it became apparent that Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari was well on his way to defeating President Goodluck Jonathan, the word “character” kept asserting itself. Puzzling this little conundrum, I soon discovered why. Character had been the organising concept for my endorsement and advocacy for Buhari.
I had said as much without elaboration in three columns: “Buhari: Beyond Tribal, Religious and Ideological Fallacies” (14 January); “A FeBuhari Wind of Change in March” (11 February); and “For a Second War Against Indiscipline—After Voting for Change on the 28th” (25 March). In private conversations, however, I had articulated this framing idea, which, I must add, goes beyond the fact of my membership, and futile bid to be a Representative under the platform, of the All Progressives Congress.
Sometime in late February, I visited a friend of mine in Abuja who heads a major federal department in the power sector. There were about three others in his commodious office and before long, the conversation turned to the rescheduled presidential election. My friend’s sympathies, naturally, were with his boss. He was surprised that despite Jonathan’s many achievements — the power sector he was appointed to oversee as a case in point — and Buhari’s heavy baggage lugged from his stint as a military dictator, the odds seemed to be against Jonathan.
Just when he was about to blame poor communication for Jonathan’s seemingly dismal prospects, I interjected. Anyone seeking to understand the dynamics of this election, I opined, would be making a mistake by looking to the conventional indices of achievement, though even there the Transformation Ambassadors’ claims far exceeded any objective assessment. The soul of the nation has been mortally wounded by the cumulative assault on it by poor leadership, military or civilian, especially in the last 16 years of impunity, institutionalised corruption and lack of a clear vision to lead the country out of its ethico-political predicament, I said.
My argument was that whenever a society was faced by a serious threat to it score values and dignity, such abstract ideals as freedom, liberty, equality, democracy or self-determination, etc., trump mundane matters of bread and butter as the inspiration for struggle and change. Nigeria, I said, is yearning for a person of character and integrity to take charge of its affairs and restore a modicum of decency.
And Buhari was perceived as a man of character, exemplified by his quasi-ascetic lifestyle. In a country being eaten alive by corruption, you looked at him and were impressed that despite having been at the most lucrative posts for self-enrichment—military governor, federal commissioner of petroleum resources, chairman of the Petroleum Trust and Development Fund, and head of state—he is not a billionaire, not even a multi-millionaire.
Consequently, even the very trait used to paint him as an incorrigible dictator became the shining colour of his character: his stern, no-nonsense demeanour that would lead him to launch his infamous war against indiscipline, his unmitigated aversion to official graft to the extreme of trying to smuggle home from the United Kingdom to face trial for embezzlement a scion of the Northern oligarchy, UmaruDikko.
It was proof that he would chase corruption and the corrupt to the ends of the world. He presented a clear contrast to a president whose only show of mettle is the shocking defiance “I don’t give a damn” when urged to publicly declare his assets so he might earn the moral authority to fight corruption, not to mention the sophistry of distinguishing between stealing and corruption.
I had also touched on an implicit aspect of character byadding that one of Jonathan’s greatest undoings is that he lost the “intellectual class.””Character is destiny,” said the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. A variant translation from the original Greek has it as “One’s bearing shapes one’s fate.”Any intellectual not in the pay of the government or who did not harbour the expectation of being called to “come and chop” couldn’t fail to beprofoundlydisappointment by the bearing of a purported member of the fold. Whether reading from a script or speakingex tempore, what hit you was a palpable lack of rigour, the absence of a mind attuned to the range and complexity of the problems he addressed. It led to the unflattering perception of the leader of the most strategically important black nation on earth as a man of dour, uninspiring personality without enough wattage to light a candle.
Mild-mannered was the euphemism often employed by the foreign media. Ironically enough,it is this insipid attribute that accounts for the unanticipated yet unsurprising glory of Jonathan in defeat. What better illustration of the notion of character as destiny can there be than that in being true to his mild-mannered nature, Jonathan should promptly concede victory, thereby denying his kinsmen who threatened war if he was not elected any opportunity for calamitous mischief? I join in praising him. By one single act of statesmanship, Jonathan has managed to include a brilliant footnote in an otherwise lacklustre six-year record as president.
The great German playwright and moral philosopher, Bertolt Brecht, was right after all: in the contradiction lies the hope—or, as my teacher and older comrade, Professor BiodunJeyifo prefers it, Contradictions are our only hope! This, at any rate, applies equally to the man of the moment, President-elect MuhammaduBuhari.