Victory did not come easy for Nigeria’s President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari. Being the strongest rival to incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the presidential election was keenly contested.
By Chioma Gabriel
From the onset, his acts as a former military dictator appeared to have posed a challenge but it was a challenge he stooped to conquer.
This was his fourth time out after 2003, 2007 and 2011 against a president from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). However, it was the first time that he is heading an almost united opposition, which greatly increased his chances, although his credibility has taken a few knocks.
General Buhari got so many knocks on the campaign fronts on issues that bothered on his first time tenure as a military Head of State. Following a coup against an elected government headed by Shehu Shagari, Buhari led the country from January 1984 until August 1985, during which he proclaimed a war against indiscipline at which time almost 500 people were jailed for corruption and wasting taxpayers’ money.
The dark side of his days as dictator came up against him during his campaigns but Buhari played down his controversial past, making the best instead from his image as a hardliner, especially at a time when increasing number of Nigerians have the impression that the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan was just sitting out the country’s problems rather than tackling them head on. He said he could not change the past but promised good for the future.
At the wake of his fourth presidential aspiration, rumours came up linking him as one of the sponsors of the dreaded Boko Haram terror group. But that was soon laid to rest when in June 2014, his convoy was attacked in the city of Kaduna, an act that bore all the hallmarks of the terror group. Buhari has repeatedly said he would destroy Boko Haram.
Before his emergence as the presidential standard bearer of the All Progressives Congress, APC, the odds appeared to be against him given the formidable politicians in the contest.
Buhari won at the primaries, thus, paving the way for him to confront the incumbent president Jonathan.
Buhari had to join forces in his All Progressives Congress (APC) with several influential politicians who many Nigerians claimed have different ideas about corruption.
After his rally in Kano, Buhari said he was concerned by the “scandalous level of unemployment” of millions of young Nigerians, the poor security situation in the country, the extent of corruption “and the lack of concern by the government for anything other than the retention of power at all costs.”
But at the time it was expected for him to face his campaign proper, the issue of his qualification surfaced with the allegation that he did not obtain a secondary school certificate. Instead of focusing on the issues of his campaign, the retired General found himself explaining the issues of his certificate instead. At first, the general ignored the issue and it was not until top officials of the party became concerned that he caused his former secondary school to release his statement of result. Not that was even enough to satisfy partisan critics who sought several opportunities to question what was released, but the general ignored them.
The APC candidate had hardly sighed in relief when another scandal over his health started. His opponents alleged, he has a terrible disease condition and might not be fit enough to be president. According to them, Buhari has health issues and may not last more than a year in office before dying. According to such critics, should Buhari win, he may not be able to complete a single four-year tenure due to his health condition as he continues to manage his health secretly.
At a point, some allegations said Obasanjo and Tinubu have conspired to do with Buhari and Osinbajo, what Obasanjo did with Yar’Adua and Jonathan, foisting a sick Yar’Adua on Nigerians knowing his health condition. APC, Obasanjo and Tinubu were accused of plots to make Osinbajo another Jonathan.
In mid January he was reported in the media of plotting to sneak out of the country to the United Kingdom for medical attention, prompting his campaign office to robustly deny the allegation.
Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose was especially on the attack sponsoring several front page advertisement that portrayed Buhari in the negative.
Even when Buhari finally proceeded to London and delivered a lecture at Chatham House that was well received, Fayose alleged that it was a decoy for appointments at a hospital located at Cavendish Street, Cavendish Square, W2 London West End, London.
General Buhari dismissed the report, saying “I am in London with Senator Bukola Saraki, Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State for a short working visit. I just finished talks with the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in his country home. I would be having another meeting with the Awujale of Ijebuland soon. Apart from this, I am also visiting some friends. As you can hear from my voice, I am hale and hearty with some of my friends around me.”
The rumour of his ill-health and trip to London for medical assistance was widespread to the extent that in an attempt to deflate the rumours, his publicists, trusted aides and wife all joined the fray.
In response to questions on her husband being hospitalized, a national newspaper quoted his wife, Aisha Buhari, to have said “He’s home, well and sound. No, he’s just come here to rest. He’s just here to have a rest, at least few days’ rest, before he goes back to the business.”
One of Gen Buhari’s trusted allies who doubles as Governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso also denied the reports, saying Gen Muhammadu Buhari is in a better health condition than President Goodluck Jonathan and is therefore, fit to rule Nigeria.
His campaign office also issued a statement detailing his visit to London, stating that “General Buhari would hopefully give a talk at the prestigious foreign policy hub, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatam House in London, the spokesperson for his campaign.”
The statement added that wide speculation by supporters of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), that Buhari was actually ferried out to receive medical attention because his health was failing was false.
It was under these speculations, allegations and counter-allegations that General Buhari concluded his campaigns, leaving his fate in the hands of Nigerians.
The rest is history as the common place saying goes.
Today, he has finally conquered, making history as the first candidate to defeat a sitting president.