What Buhari Must Do If He Must Win The Presidency In 2015 By Moses Ochonu
On the enduring problems of Muhammadu Buhari’s perennial candidacy for Nigeria’s presidency:
Then there is the dissonance between the past and the present. Certain myths have become associated with both the Buhari of 1985 and the Buhari of today. In a sense, many of his supporters think that the Buhari of 2014 will, should he become president, govern like the Buhari of 1985, forgetting that as civilian president he would not have the instruments of administrative fiat that were available to him as military head of state.
His supporters have, moreover, not pondered the question of what Buhari of today would do when he realizes that he cannot rule by decree, when he cannot decree a thing and expect it to be done. The General’s supporters have proffered scanty, unsatisfactory answers to this question.
And that, precisely, is the problem with the growing personality cult of Buhari.
His supporters cannot understand why some of us even have the audacity to pose these questions to their man. They cannot understand why Buhari’s personal integrity, in a cesspool of political corruption that is Nigeria, is not enough, and why we are asking for plans, manifestoes, and evidence of a civil, democratic temperament in Buhari. When we point to Shehu Shagari as an incorruptible civilian president who presided over one of the most corrupt regimes in Nigerian history, and who was surrounded by loyal but corrupt allies, against whom he was impotent, Buhari’s supporters resent the comparison without offering anything reassuring about their principal’s departure from the Shagari model.
When we tell them that, like Shagari, Buhari’s most pronounced weakness is that he is a sucker for loyalty, and that, just like Shagari who valued loyalty and allowed it to blind him to the corruption of his closest allies, a president Buhari, for whom loyalty and an unquestioning adulation means everything, may be ruined by the actions of his rapacious aides and political allies, his supporters simply say, as a retort, that their man will not be captive to corrupt but loyal allies.
When, as my friend, Pius Adesanmi, did in a recent essay, we raise the uncomfortable question of Buhari’s association with and reliance on the financial largesse of corrupt characters to conduct his political campaigns and surmise, reasonably, that these investors would populate and insidiously hijack a Buhari presidency to recoup their investments from the government of a beholden, impotent, Shagariesque president, his supporters say this scenario is farfetched and that their man is impervious to quid-pro-quo arrangements.
We are basically supposed to just take their word about Buhari and hope that the man will do the right thing. We are supposed to get on board on account of this blind faith. They want us to simply trust Buhari to do right by us if or when he gets into Aso Rock. In other words, they want everyone to emotionally connect with Buhari as a messianic figure and to stop asking questions and demanding substantive programmatic items.
The affliction of the typical Buhari supporter is the same, whether he is a Northerner desirous of “power shift” to the north, a Muslim enamored of Buhari’s early and consistent support for Sharia, or a Southern or Middle Belt Christian longing for the discipline and vigorous anti-corruption regime of Buhari’s military regime. The typical Buhari supporter is paranoid about people being out to get their man and is hardly receptive to anything resembling criticism directed against the General.
Most of us who have no direct personal stake in Nigeria’s political game clearly see the problem with Buhari and we will continue to say it even if his supporters resent us for doing so or do not want to hear it. Given the desperate need for an alternative to the current PDP oligarchy, it would be a crime not to scrutinize, and in doing so, better position the opposition candidates that are emerging to challenge President Jonathan.
So, in that spirit of refining and challenging the opposition to be better than the status quo, here, below, are my itemized contentions on how Buhari’s political career, since his entry into elective politics in 2003, has been largely mismanaged. Implicit in this analysis is what he needs to do differently to improve his standing with Nigerians.
Buhari has been poorly managed and has not been well served by his aides and handlers. I’ll give an example. When the General came on the political scene he and his team made a foundational political error right out of the gate. He was reported by a newspaper to have remarked at a small political rally somewhere in Sokoto State that Muslims should vote for Muslims. His supporters and handlers completely denied the story and alternately accused the reporter who covered the event of lying and of not understanding Hausa, the language in which Buhari had spoken.
Unknown to them, the reporter had the tape and spoke Hausa with almost mother tongue proficiency. In fact Buhari’s people had a point about the distortion of what Buhari had said because the newspaper story made it seem as though Buhari had asked Muslims to vote for only Muslims and not to vote for Christians. He had not.
What Buhari had said in fact was that as Muslims (he was addressing Hausa/Fulani Muslims) they should vote for people who would uphold and defend their values — the values that they held dear. The newspaper put its own spin on it. Had the Buhari folks simply gotten ahead of the story and explained what the General meant, that incident, from which his undeserved reputation as an Islamic bigot arguably emanated, would not have done the damage that it did.
What the General said and meant was actually fairly mainstream and progressive — that his audience should vote their conscience and that they should vote for people who embodied and would uphold their values — values such as probity, fairness, justice, consultation, etc. These are not just Muslim values but also Christian, traditional African, and humanistic values. A more experienced messaging team would have seized a wonderful opportunity to spin this as a compelling values argument, which it was, and not allowed the General’s traducers to interpret it as a religious one.
It was an opportunity missed.
Moses E. Ochonu Daily Trust
Associate Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, USA
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