By Olu Fasan
Nigeria has had two types of leader. One is the accidental type; the other the intentional. The accidental leaders never sought to be president but had it thrust on them. But the intentional leaders desperately wanted the office, pursued it tenaciously, and finally secured it. President Muhammadu Buhari is the only one among Nigeria’scivilian leaders who doggedly sought the office of president; others were accidental leaders who attained the highest office serendipitously.
Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, secured the position at the behest of his leader, Ahmadu Bello, the power behind the throne. Shehu Shagari’s highest ambition, by his own admission, was to be a senator before he was drafted to run for president. Olusegun Obasanjo was in jail from June 1995 until General Abdulsalami Abubakar released him in June 1998. He never dreamt of becoming president. But, as General Ishaya Bamaiyi, the then chief of army staff, wrote in his book, Vindication of a General, the military establishment decided to make Obasanjo president in 1999. And what about Presidents Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan? Well, everyone knows they were handpicked by Obasanjo. They never, in their wildest dreams, sought to be president!
But not Buhari. He ran for president three times before eventually winning on the fourth. From 2003 when he first vied for the presidency to 2015 when he finally won, Buhari had actively sought the office for 12 years. Each time he lost, he went all the way to the Supreme Court to try and overturn the result. So determined was he to become president that, in 2015, he opportunistically formed an alliance with the politicians that, as a military dictator, he would have sent to jail for corruption!
Now, I have a theory. If someone has been trying actively for 12 years to govern his country, it must be that he has clear ideas what he would do to move the country forward, if elected. A dogged seeker of the office of president should be more prepared than an accidental occupier of the office.
Take Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He was also tenacious in seeking to be president, although he only ran twice – in 1979 and 1983. But those who knew Awolowo would confirm that he spent night and day planning to the minutest detail what he would do if elected. Of course, Awolowo never became president; so we will never know what kind of president he would have turned out to be. But judging by his superlative performance as Premier of Western Nigeria, we could say that, as a visionary and competent leader of monumental proportions, he would have assembled the best brains from across Nigeria, and provided outstanding leadership, to transform this country.
ButBuhari is not Awolowo. For a start, Awolowo was an intellectual giant–a voracious reader and prolific writer. His intellectual contributions to the development of Nigeria, captured in several outstanding books, are unparalleled. His book, Path to Nigerian Freedom, was almost as seminal in shaping the debate about Nigeria’s federalism as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison’s The Federalist Papers were in influencing the American Constitution.
The English philosopher Francis Bacon famously said: “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; writing an exact man”.Leaders are indeed readers. But as Junaid Mohammed, a former federal legislator, said in an interview: “Buhari doesn’t read.” So, then, it’s not surprising that, despite seeking power for 12 years, Buhari committed no serious intellectual effort to put together a coherent vision and a credible programme of actions for transforming this country. Yet, Nigeria is too complex to be run by intellectual vacuity. No one should seek to lead this country, let alone pursue that ambition doggedly, without knowing what he would do with the power. Buhari, apparently, didn’t!
I mean, President Buhari is now five years in power, and has only three more before leaving office in 2023. So, what has he achieved to date? Recently, there were calls for his resignation due to his utter inability to tackle the debilitating insecurity in the country. His government is completely dysfunctional: the cabals are fighting each other openly, and the service chiefs, despite their ineptitude, are too powerful to be sacked, even though their tenures have expired. Notwithstanding the recent miniscule GDP growth, the economy remains moribund and poverty is deepening. Even corruption, despite the anti-graft hype, has not gone away, what with the questionable handling of the Abacha loot!
So, back to the question: Why did Buhari doggedly chase the presidency for 12 years? I have another theory. Remember Buhari was overthrown by his military colleagues in 1985. Well, he did not forget or forgive the “betrayal” and saw becoming president as a sweet revenge, the only way to redeem his honour and continue what he saw as his unfinished business. Indeed, in 2016, Buhari gloated about his victory. “I can claim superior knowledge over the opposition because, in the end, I have succeeded”. But where exactly is the “superior knowledge”? Well, it’s in the fact that he “succeeded”in becoming president, a vindication, as he saw it, of his “achievements” as a military head of state.
Truth is, Buhari came to power in 2015, after 12 years of relentlessly trying to be president, with no fresh ideas. As a result, he has been running Nigeria almost exactly as he ran it from 1983 to 1985. His economic dirigisme, antipathy to political reforms and passé approaches to tackling corruption and insecurity have left Nigeria adrift and chaotic.
A word of advice. President Buhari should leave the economy to his vice president, in a de facto prime-ministerial capacity, and focus on restructuring Nigeria. Time is short. Helping Nigeria to create an enduring political and constitutional settlement is a legacy Buhari must seek to leave behind; otherwise, he would be remembered as someone who wanted power so badly but did nothing with it. A bad legacy indeed!