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2019: Goodluck, Buhari

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Muhammadu Buhari didn’t have to be superlatively wealthy, in a worldly sense, for him to discern the inherent vanity of sheer materialism. He didn’t need the wisdom of the ancient Jewish king to know that all materialism winds up in absolute nothingness. Apparently, the ascetic army general had arrived at this not-so-common knowledge, intuitively. The man overtly abhors materialism; and, by logical reasoning, he loathes all those who wouldn’t scruple to sacrifice their reputation on the altar of materialism – consider the undiminished passion with which he pursues Nigeria’s treasury looters. We have been told that the Nigerian president is constitutionally more powerful than the president of the United States of America. If this reality is juxtaposed with the material wealth which the Nigerian president is at liberty to appropriate or dispense of, Buhari could well pass as a virtuous man; a good man, if you please. There is a consensus on this. The African Union (AU) just-concluded conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which unanimously recognised Buhari as a credible anti-graft reference point is an affirmation of that consensus.

But beyond Buhari’s loathing for material wealth nothing much could be said about his other qualities as a serial aspirant of high political office. Thus, with an eye on his tenures as federal commissioner (minister) of petroleum resources, head-of-state, and executive chairman of the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) respectively, I had contributed a two-piece article on these pages (Choosing between APC and PDP) in the weeks leading up to the 2015 presidential election. My article predicted that an All Progressives Congress party-led Federal Government would as likely not change Nigeria’s economic status quo, notwithstanding then-leading opposition APC much vaunted “change” mantra. Candidate Buhari’s uninspiring precedents had suggested to me that he would be just as lacking in the courage of his convictions, much in the manner that the incumbent was said to be spineless in discharging the most powerful office in the land.

It’s therefore little wonder that my 2015 prediction has been as right as rain. Nigerians are beginning to discover that it takes much more than “a good sheriff locking up the bad guys” to positively change the fortunes of a failing nation. In fact, it has been said that no country has ever been saved by a good man; ask historians. It has also been repeatedly stressed that what the Nigerian state desperately needs at this juncture is a visionary leader. Such leaders are clearheadedly steadfast pursuant to their visions. Buhari is decidedly the diametric opposite of such leaders. His expressed opinions on national issues change like the weathercock, largely because his expressed opinions are formed by his “owners”; (see Buhari belongs to some persons in this newspaper). For example, some keen observers would recall that telling episode in 2003 when then-Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. M. Iwu presented the proposed novel electronic collation of election results to former Nigerian leaders in the presidential Villa. After the professorial presentation, incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo called for comments. General Y. Gowon conditionally acclaimed the innovation, emphasizing that “the taste of the pudding is in the eating…” In his turn, the Daura-born general issued unbridled approval to the new proposal with his trademark toothy smile. A media-conscious Obasanjo had been effusive in his appreciation. But few days following, and much to his shock, Buhari unequivocally questioned the integrity of self-same INEC proposed innovation!!!

In 2015, Candidate Buhari had repeatedly promised Nigerians he would not devalue the naira exchange rate, if voted into office. But mere months following his inauguration, the naira exchange rate would nosedive from 196:$ to over 400:$!!! In a similar manner, Buhari had vowed he wouldn’t intensify the sufferings of his fellow compatriots with any increase in the prices of petroleum products. Barely a year following Buhari’s assumption of power, the prices of petroleum products increased by over 40%, even as queues loom large at fuel stations across the country!!! Need more be said to make the point that Aisha Buhari and Senator Bukola Saraki have respectively made: the commander-in-chief is under a supreme-commanding-court. (It speaks volumes of the Nigerian State that the aforesaid troubling suggestion has not been aggressively interrogated – Our mumu don do?!)

The ongoing spate of nation-wide reactions/protests to Buhari’s unimpressive three years in office are just as poorly thought-through as Buhari’s performance. Those protests should unwaveringly zero-in on the cult of retired generals who continue to undermine Nigeria’s democratic evolution. The convenient letter-writing by Obasanjo and General Babangida is a gamble to seize the initiative to coordinate (read exploit) the increasing disaffection against the sitting federal government. I imagine that the ever scheming generals have only come across the phrase “diminishing returns” in Economics textbooks; else the duo would have thought better of their present clumsy gamble. The “Maradonic” general has yet to categorically align his weight with a particular version of the IBB’s letters making the rounds. The entire drama reeks of anti-climaxes of the opportunistic careers of three ex-heads of state. Three? Yes; Obasanjo, Babangida and Abdulsalami. The trio had supported Buhari in 2015; that was stating it mildly. The trio had skillfully navigated Buhari to the Abuja residence each of them knows like the hind of their hands. Abdulsalami, who had taken on the role of the de facto presidential election umpire at the time, was reported to have sat next to President Goodluck Jonathan as the election results were being announced. The incumbent had to yield the seals of office – “Not the Will of the first South-south president”, a prolific ex-military author would pen in the years ahead.

It is crucial not to forget that two of the trio, Obasanjo and Babangida have little respect for Buhari’s leadership qualities. Babangida overthrew him in 1985; while Obasanjo sacked him in 1999 as PTF chairman. Abdulsalami is understandably taciturn about his opinion of the flagpole tall general. But two-thirds suffice to make the point; yet the trio solidly put their weight behind Buhari at Nigeria’s expense. One is then left to wonder whether the generals were actuated by nationalistic or selfish motives. It is plausible that the undiscerning masses might be swayed by the argument that the generals acted in the best interest of the nation by making sure the more popular of the two electable candidates was installed in 2015. And here lay the most fundamental drawback in Nigeria’s electioneering tradition. Buhari and Jonathan were among the least qualified for the 2015 presidential candidacy. The duo so emerged simply because Nigeria’s existing power-manipulators (the cult of retired generals) schemed it into being. Obasanjo, Babangida and Abdulsalami’s hush-hush meeting in Minna when Buhari’s health challenges were feared to have taken a turn for the worst, help to make the point that the trio acts in self interest.

Therefore, it is safe to infer that Obasanjo and Babangida’s open letters to Buhari merely divulged the resolutions of the Minna secret meeting: “Buhari’s health does not stand him in good stead for 2019… Substitute him with…” Even a discerning 12-year old could tell Obasanjo lied to Nigerians when he said on national television, “I do not have a candidate for the office of president in 2019…” Indeed, it is as much patronizing as it is unpatriotic for Obasanjo to openly suggest that he is indifferent to the presidential candidacy of a country that has given, and continues to give him much more than scores of his fellow country men could ever dream of in many a life time.

Tellingly, Abdulsalami was reported to have visited Aso Rock on the heels of the curious letters; perhaps to press the Minna resolutions. But the cogent question is: why not let the Nigerian electorate decide who becomes president in 2019? Let the electorate decide Buhari’s fate. He should be allowed to seek a re-election, if he so pleases, but the electoral processes must be transparently free and fair to all aspirants. That way, Nigerians would be able to determine how much the electorate has changed since 2015, if any; and by extrapolation, reveal how Nigeria’s democracy has matured. I dare say that the cult of retired generals’ Minna resolutions for 2019 is ill-fated.
Goodluck, Buhari.

Afam Nkemdiche, a consulting engineer, wrote from Abuja.

Source: Guardian Newspaper

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