Buhari: ‘Statesman’ In Retreat? – By Lewis Chukwuma
Greatness of soul and practical wisdom commonly seen as key virtues of ‘statesmen’, appear to have taken flight from the ranks of Nigeria’s fractured political intelligentsia. This clearly portends danger for the stability and unity of state. The scenario pre-supposes these preeminent assets indispensable for visionary nation building were resident in Nigeria in some bye-gone era. It is conceivable some political historians could stick out their heads and affirm that indeed some aspects of the formation of the Nigerian state benefited from statesmen and statesmanship.
This legitimate, if debatable position would readily cite the contemporaneous quartet of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo and a handful others as icons and statesmen – of that era. Indeed, they may have their point.Statesmanship also conveys a quality of leadership that organically brings people together and of ‘eldership’, a spirit of caring for others and for the whole. This enlightened mindset of statesmen can actually go as far as considering certain victories as evil as former German ChancellorOtto Von Bismarck stated in one of his remarkable insights: “I consider even a victorious war as an evil, from which statesmanship must endeavor to spare nations.”
But as job descriptions go, ‘statesmanship’ is certainly not one, despite how much we wish it were. But using the term implies recognition that someone has the character and understanding to exercise certain virtues in political or state affairs. In the evolution of nation states and movement of time, especially as it affects the affairs of state, statesmanship is seen as a critical safety factor. These considerations may explain the new urgency on the home turf of turning the spotlight on personalities who general perception peg as statesmen but are seen as crossing the line.
On the spot currently is retired General Muhammadu Buhari, former head of state and currently leader of the opposition Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). He is also a key arrowhead of the proposed merger of the nation’s opposition political parties who plan to wrest power from the ruling PeoplesDemocratic Party (PDP). Currently, the key reason why Buhari attracts the spotlight is on account of his controversial public pronouncements on sensitive national issues. This focus is even sharper also on account of his track record as a disciplined, principled man of perpendicular integrity.
The high point of the controversy trailing Buhari’s recent public pronouncements is perhaps the call by the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Ayo Oritsejafor, that the ex-head of state be arrested on account of his alleged incendiary and inciting public comments. While Oritsejafor’s call may verge on the extreme, the stature of Buhari ought to have informed more circumspect public utterances by the lanky Fulani prince, especially at moments of national tension like this.
A good example of Buhari’s curious offensive could be gleaned from hisinterview recently in Kaduna with Liberty FM’sHausa ServiceProgramme,‘Guest of the Week.’ As reported in the Punch newspaper, Buhari blasted the ongoing military campaign against Boko Haram, claiming that they are getting harsher treatment than the Niger Delta militants. Moreover, he attributed the rise of Islamic militancy to the Niger Delta insurgency.
It would appear Buhari conveniently forgot that the Joint Task Force that was deployed in the Niger Delta to combat the militancy there included jets fighters, naval gunboats, and armoured vehicles. From an ex-soldiers perspective, Buhari correctly states in the interview under reference that arming of Niger Delta youth by politicians who were running for office played a major role in the militarisation of the region. But again, he he conveniently skips how that provoked the bloody ethno-religious campaign being waged by Boko Haram, a body which has gone as far as giving impossible pre-conditions to the state for peace.
The Niger Delta militancy focused their military campaign against the oil industry and infrastructure. They did not target Muslims or Northerners or Christians per se for that matter. Their demands, woven around the environmental insensitivity of the oil majors were logical and attracted international sympathy. In sharp contrast, Boko Haram is demanding the impossible: the Islamisation of all of Nigeria and bombing churches and killing Christians to advance that cause.
Is Buhari losing the mental acuity with which he built an impeccable career in the army and defined his hard-to-beat credentials of a passionate nationalist? Is this fine soldier crossing the line, becoming churlish and courting infamy? Perhaps a recourse to Aristotle’s Ethics, within the context of this write-up will aid proceedings. According to Aristotle, greatness of soul means judging rightly that you are capable of doing great things and worthy of the greatest responsibilities, which can only be the case if you have complete virtue. Practical wisdom requires having the virtues that enable you to desire the right end in every kind of decision and choice, in addition to the understanding of how best to attain those ends not only for yourself but for a community for which you exercise responsibilities.
Although our current politics and politicians are short on statesmanship, history nevertheless shows that the greatest statesmen arise in the moments of most evident crisis. A few historical examples will serve to highlight the point being made here – showing some of the more conspicuous examples of statesmen who have achieved the rare feat of combining the Aristotelian virtues. Fabius Maximus defended Rome from Hannibal, and made himself a model for men like Cato. Phocion judiciously steered a much-declined Athens through the troubling times of the growing power of Philip of Macedon. Then there is Britain’s Churchill. In America such figures as Washington, Adams, Madison and Lincoln fit the bill. Crises rallied the state around the necessary men.
Buhari clearly would need to introspect on Hubert Humphrey’s counsel to aspiring statesmen. “The essence of statesmanship is not a rigid adherence to the past, but a prudent and probing concern for the future.” He has a choice not to permit parochial regional bitterness to cloud his judgement. He must not be over-fixated with past failures and disappointments. He must look to the future with dignity, clarity of vision and deep concern for the orderly progression of society; virtues which served him well in the past!