Sunday, June 9, 2013

If Buhari becomes president


For a long time now, the voice of General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) has been a constant buzz on the Nigerian political scene. Actually, for a while — after the election of 2007 — the erstwhile autocratic military head of state rescued himself from the political scene, complaining bitterly and implausibly that he had been cheated out of presidential election victory.
Then, propelled by his unfulfilled appetite for power, he re-emerged soon after. It is entirely understandable that he couldn’t stay away for long.
Any observer of the Nigerian political scene in 1984 has to know that Buhari is a man with an imperial bent and an oversized ego. During his short-lived tenure as Nigeria’s military head of state, he imposed his will as no other had done before or after.
His War Against Indiscipline (or WAI) permeated every aspect of Nigerian life, for better and for worse. He brooked no dissent. His Decree No. 4 was as draconian a law as Nigeria has ever witnessed. Under the decree, many a journalist was imprisoned for questioning Buhari’s policies or even inveighing against military rule.
Some pundits have claimed that many of the dictatorial excesses of Buhari’s tenure were actually attributable to his second in command, the late General Tunde Idiagbon. I am more inclined to believe that Buhari was the ideologue behind the policies and Idiagbon was his strategist.
Not that it matters that much. Buhari was the head of state, and whatever happened under his watch should duly be credited to (or blamed on) him.
The important point now is that Buhari’s tenure was too short to quench his appetite for power. And that’s why, even after publicly shedding tears in 2007 and vowing to leave politics, he came back with more doggedness than ever before.
While Buhari was the flag bearer of the All Nigeria People’s Party, he had little chance of being elected president. His political fortunes improved somewhat when he bolted from the ANPP to form the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in 2010, but it was not enough to hoist the presidential banner.
That’s why Buhari’s claim of being cheated out of the presidency in 2007 and 2011raised serious questions about his political astuteness.
Then Buhari started to push harder for the merger of parties that could challenge the PDP. He must have realised at last that his losses in previous contests had little to do with being rigged out and much to do with his narrow electoral base.
Now with the merger of the CPC and the Action Congress of Nigeria and two other parties to form the All Progressives Congress, Buhari has overcome the problem of a narrow base. And for the first time since his overthrow in 1985, he has a better-than-realistic chance of becoming Nigeria’s president.
Problem is that while Buhari has solved the problem of his narrow electoral base in terms of party formation, he has not shed his narrow political ideology. Rather than truly reaching out and positioning himself as a healing force in Nigerian politics, he is demonstrating ever so convincingly that he is too provincial to be president.
If the APC nominates Buhari for the presidency in 2015, it would be opting for someone who is anything but progressive. And the party is likely to lose the very advantage of its prospective size by the fact that Buhari continues to be divisive and alienating.
There is no better evidence of this than his interview last Sunday in Kaduna with Liberty FM’s Hausa Service Programme, ‘Guest of the Week.’
In the interview reported in the Punch, 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.
Perhaps, Buhari is not aware that the Joint Task Force that was deployed in the Niger Delta to combat the militancy there used jets, naval gunboats, and armoured vehicles. Perhaps, he has not heard of the razing in 1999 of Odi village in Bayelsa State by the Nigerian military and many more such communities since then.
Buhari rightly points out in the interview that the arming of Niger Delta youth by politicians who were running for office played a major role in the militarisation of the region. What he doesn’t explain is how that gave rise to the ethno-religious campaign being waged by Boko Haram.
The Niger Delta militancy arose in support of a negotiable demand for a more equitable sharing of revenue from the region. And so the militants focused their military campaign against the oil industry and infrastructure. They did not target Muslims or Northerners.
In contrast, Boko Haram is demanding the un-negotiable: the Islamisation of all of Nigeria. And they are bombing churches and killing Christians to advance that cause. How do such demands and atrocities compare with the activities of the Niger Delta militancy?
From his current and previous utterances, it seems certain that Buhari will be a disaster for Nigeria if he becomes president. His apparent disregard for the need for equitable redress of the Niger Delta’s grievances will certainly precipitate a titanic clash in the region.
Significantly, it was during the presidency of fellow Northerner, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, that an amnesty agreement was reached with the Niger Delta militants, resulting in the beginning of a draw down in their insurgency. If Buhari becomes president, the opposite will happen: he would stoke the militancy by words and action.
Buhari’s evident sympathy for Boko Haram also suggests that he would use his power to push Nigeria ever closer to a theocratic state (in the Muslim mould) than a secular one.
Yet, as is evident in the uprisings in Egypt and Turkey against theocracy-leaning regimes in those countries, Nigerians, including Northerners, will revolt en masse against theocratic encroachments on civil liberties. And so a Buhari presidency is certain to unleash a level of civil unrest that Nigeria has not witnessed in a long time.
In external relations, a Buhari presidency is also certain to damage Nigeria’s relations with the Western world, especially the United States. In fact, it is not an overreach to speculate that Nigeria could become listed as a terrorist state.
The US recently announced a $7 million bounty on Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau. If Nigeria elects a president who cuddles the group, the bounty would in effect be on the country.
In the interview with Liberty FM radio, Buhari said that he didn’t join the APC because he wants to be president.
“If APC fails to give me the ticket, I will remain in partisan politics and in the party,” he said. “Anyone the party picks as its candidate, I will support him because I will remain in the APC.”
Buhari is, of course, being coy about his presidential ambitions, and it is hard to take him seriously. What with his early and intense campaigning — with posters all over Abuja, I understand. Buhari does indeed belong in partisan politics, but not in the presidency.

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