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Max Siollun: What Would Nigeria Be Like Under A President Buhari?



Politicians face a credibility problem in that they campaign on, and their careers live or die by; promise of unperformed intentions. They also face a wary public that is skeptical about whether they can, or intend to keep, their pre-election promises. Will vested interests and the need to appease godfathers and financiers lead them to reverse pre-electoral promises? Will power corrupt them? …and so on and so forth.

The All Progressive Congress presidential candidate Major-General Muhammadu Buhari has an advantage in this regard. With him, everyone knows what they are going to get. Buhari has a “previous record” since he has been head of state before. Buhari does not have to rely on promises of future conduct alone. He can point to his previous record as head of state.

However given that over half of Nigeria’s population had not been born at the time Buhari was head of state, most Nigerians are not familiar with his previous record. So what can one expect if Buhari is elected president? (if his previous record is a guide to future conduct) If Buhari led government behaves as it did last tine, Nigeria should expect four things: queues, a war on corruption, an increase in the prison population, and international kidnap incidents.

It has been almost exactly 31 years since Buhari became Nigeria’s head of state. On the last day of 1983, the army overthrew President Shehu Shagari in order to “save this nation from imminent collapse”. Buhari succeeded Shagari as Nigeria’s head of state.


Only three months after coming to power Buhari’s regime launched a campaign called “War Against Indiscipline” (WAI). WAI was the predecessor that motivated subsequent initiatives such as General Abacha’s War Against Indiscipline and Corruption (WAIC) and Governor Bola Tinubu’s Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI). WAI was aimed at introducing Nigerians to concepts such as queuing for buses, not littering, and to the fact that public streets are not lavatories. WAI also gave birth to “Sanitation Saturday” which lasted into the 21st century.

A monthly prize was given to the state with the best environmental sanitation. WAI also introduced barracks discipline into Nigerian civilian life. Civil servants who arrived late to work were often forced to complete frog jumps as a punishment.


A university professor once told me that if Buhari came to power in Nigeria again, things would get “messy” as far as corruption goes. The unforgiving intensity of Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign in 1980s Nigeria made Nuhu Ribadu’s effort as EFCC chairman look like pacifism. Buhari spearheaded the most severe anti-corruption crackdown in Nigeria’s history.

President Shagari’s government was dogged by corruptions of massive corruption (massive by the standards of those days, but tame by today’s standards of private jet purchases, solid gold mobile phones, and houses stacked full of cash). One of the first acts of the Buhari regime was to close all borders, and to change the design of Nigeria’s currency. The effect was two-fold: it trapped government ministers inside the country, and transformed corruptly acquired cash into suspicious contraband overnight.

Several ministers were arrested, tried by military tribunals, convicted of corrupt enrichment, and were given lengthy jail sentences. Some of those jailed included familiar names such as Sam Mbakwe, Anthony Enahoro, Bola Ige, Solomon Lar Jim Nwobodo, Aper Aku, and Ambrose Alli. Sending rich, comfortable, middle-aged politicians with luxury lifestyles to a Nigerian prison for even a few years is almost as bad as a life sentence (or a death sentence in some cases). However the tribunals wanted to make sure (in case any of the politicians decided to live a long life) and gave some of them prison sentences of over 100 years. The Nigerian Bar Association was so appalled by the trials that it boycotted them (the defendants had no right of appeal to civilian courts, and curiously, rather than being innocent until proven guilty; had to prove their innocence).

A lot of working class Nigerians took pleasure in seeing corrupt rich Big Men being sent to prison, and reading newspaper accounts about them sharing prison cells in the notorious Kirikiri maximum security prison in Lagos. Kirikiri became a social club for Nigeria’s high and mighty.

Buhari’s government was so determined to bring corrupt politicians to book that even President Shagari’s brother-in-law was not spared. Being abroad was no excuse. The former Minister of Transport was hunted and chased all the way to London, and an attempt was made to abduct him and bring him back to Nigeria to face trial in a plot involving kidnap in broad daylight on a posh London street, military intelligence officers a diamond dealer, Israelis, a doctor, and syringes.

On social media and in newspapers Nigerians are fond of saying that things have never been as bad as they presently are under President Jonathan. The freedom to make such statements should not be taken for granted. Most countries have laws against sedition (inciting rebellion against the government). However the Buhari government’s own take on the concept was somewhat unique. Decree 4 (Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation) made it a criminal offence to publish any article that brought the government or any public official into disrepute (even if the content of the article was true). Some journalists were imprisoned for publishing statements which embarrassed the government; even though they were true. If one wants to discover the origin of some of the intense press hostility to Buhari, Decree 4 may be a good starting point.

Buhari’s previous record is a blessing and a curse. He will inherit the same enemies and friends he had last time he was in government. Depending on which side of the fence one is standing on, Buhari is either an honest anti-corruption enforcer, or he is a violator of human rights. The vast majority of the electorate do not know what it is like to live under Buhari’s leadership. His challenge will be to convince them whether he stands for the same principles he did in 1984, or whether Buhari (version 72.0) is a very different man.
Article written by Max Siollun and he tweets from @maxsiollun.. Originally published on


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