By Ochereome Nnanna
MY regular readers would readily remember my warnings about the presidential candidacy of General Muhammadu Buhari about two and half years ago. My stand then had nothing to do with any support for the then incumbent, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who I only met once in his hometown Otuoke, Bayelsa State, during the presidential election of 2011.
It has been my culture to monitor presidential elections in Nigeria and the United States of America since the past ten years. In 2007, I covered the presidential election in Katsina State because the state was destined to produce the next President of Nigeria. I visited and interviewed the candidate of the All Nigerian People’s Party ANPP, General Muhammadu Buhari, in his Daura hometown in the company of other visiting journalists.
We also went to the Katsina City family home of the then Governor Umaru Yar’Adua, Buhari’s rival and candidate of the (then) ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP. We were unable to meet with the reclusive gentleman who eventually emerged the winner. So, my encounter with President Jonathan was in this context, and we’ve never had the privilege of meeting again ever since.
However, in 2015 when it was Jonathan versus Buhari, my reservations towards the prospect of a Buhari presidency was something I did not hide, and this had nothing to do with ethnicity. Jonathan is Ijaw; I am Igbo. In the context of the 2019 elections, I still believe the North should complete its eight years under a mentally-sound, healthy, patriotic, inclusive-minded and progressive leader. The North has a surfeit of such materials. My prayer is that in 2019, we will be wiser and meticulously search for the leader who will bind Nigeria’s wounds inflicted on her in the past 25 months of the Buhari divisive presidency, and save the nation from disintegration.
As if to deflect attention from the warnings of the likes of me, the All Progressives Congress APC, effectively hired foreign image-laundering experts who literally dressed Buhari “in borrowed robes”, as Shakespeare would put it. In his posters, he was handsome and charming in his black suit, white shirt and black bowtie (though he never wore them in actual life during his campaigns). He wore Yoruba, Igbo, Tiv, Ijaw/South-South and other native attires during his campaign runs. He attended a Redeemed church service (from where he picked his running mate, Professor Yemi Osinbajo) though he stood aloof like a graven image, even when other Muslim visitors like Alhaji Bola Tinubu appeared to flow with the proceedings.
Buhari went to Chatham House in London and promised he was now a “born-again” democrat. I was not fooled because this candidate, as a military dictator, had ruled me when I was a university student. But even as a former Head of State, General Buhari had not only accepted the post of Grand Patron of Minyetti Allah (an interest group of Fulani cattle businessmen) he had actually led a protest delegation of this group to confront the late Governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Lam Adesina and demanded: “why are your people killing my people”. That was after bloody clashes between Fulani cattle herders and Yoruba landowners in Oyo State. Buhari had also, after the Sharia riots that swept the North in 2000/2001, openly declared that he would propagate the Muslim law and lifestyle “throughout Nigeria”, and he has never denied making such a statement.
All these and other issues which space cannot allow me to recall here made me recoil from the prospects of a Buhari presidency. But when he won the election, I was hopeful that, perhaps, he would prove his critics like me wrong. It was important for him to do so because the nation was terribly divided after elections. We had only escaped a major spree of bloodletting because former President Jonathan gamely conceded defeat.
But my hope was dashed as soon as President Buhari took the reins of power. He made it clear that he would favour those who massively voted for him against those who gave him fewer votes (97%/5%). In his two years in power, he has consistently implemented this unconstitutional policy in appointments and distribution of the commonwealth of the nation. While the North has been given more than its fair share, the South East has been virtually left out, and this is the main impetus for the raging Biafra agitation.
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has laboured in the past two weeks to calm frayed nerves across the nation. But out of the blue, President Buhari, over the weekend, issued this year’s Id El Fitri message to Nigerians in HAUSA! English remains Nigeria’s official language. It is the only language all Nigerians share in common. Goodwill messages from presidents during major Christian and Muslim festivals which are accompanied by public holidays are disseminated in the English language, and never in vernacular.
Nigerians feel highly alienated that our leader who has been away for over 50 days on sick leave would choose to speak to them in a language many of them do not understand. Does it mean the President is not aware of (or does not care about) the prevailing atmosphere of unprecedented national discord characterised by separatist agitations and quit notices?
Why should Buhari’s handlers continue to interfere with the job of Acting President Osinbajo, who had also issued his Sallah message when he received Muslim leaders on the usual Sallah courtesy visits? Why doesn’t the President concentrate on his recovery efforts until he can fully resume his duties?
We have endured a lot under this dispensation – murderous herdsmen all over our local communities, lopsided appointments and non-inclusive governance. We have no choice but to bear with the situation. In less than two years, we have a chance to give our votes to a leader who will rekindle our hope in a great future for Nigeria.
Thank God, every political dispensation has an expiry date.