Opinion

Rinsola Abiola: Meet The APC Presidential Aspirants (4): Muhammadu Buhari

The previous article in the series was on Sam Nda Isaiah, a prominent businessman and the publisher of the Leadership Newspaper.

This article is on Muhammadu Buhari, no doubt one of the most famous – and misunderstood – personalities in Nigeria. Here are some of the things you need to know about him;

Introduction

Muhammadu Buhari is a retired Major General who served as Head of State from 31st Dcember 1983 to 27th August, 1985.

Born 17th December, 1942, Buhari – an indigene of Daura, Katsina – had most of his education in his home state and received military training in Nigeria and in foreign countries such as Britain and India.

Military Career and Offices Occupied

Buhari’s sojourn into the Nigerian military began in 1962. In 1975, he served as governor of the North-Eastern State (now Borno state) but it wasn’t until 1976 that he came to national prominence when he was appointed Federal Commissioner (Minister) for Petroleum and Natural Resources. Subsequently, he went on to become the very first Chairman of the newly created Nigerian National Petroleum Commission (NNPC) in 1977.

In (Rtd.) General Olusegun Obasanjo’s book ‘Not My Will’, he described Buhari thus: ‘…as a member of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) and as head of NNPC [Buhari] was by nature taciturn and introvert, but he took any work that was given to him very seriously. He is reliable as he is hardworking and honest.’

It should be noted that he became governor of the North-Eastern state during (late) General Murtala’s regime and went on to occupy the other offices after his assassination (during Obasanjo’s tenure as Head of State). It therefore goes without saying that no one else could possibly have had better insight into his qualities and be qualified to give a verdict on same.

In 1979, Obasanjo handed over to a democratically elected president, Sheu Shagari. In 1983, however, citing high instances of corruption, dissatisfied military officers overthrew his government and Buhari, then the head of the Third Armored Division in Jos, was chosen by leaders of the coup to steer the affairs of the country. Buhari became the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and Tunde Idiagbon was appointed Chief of Staff. Their tenure can be described as the source of most of the goodwill and public admiration that Buhari enjoys and also as the source of most of the criticism against him.

Eventually, in 1985, Buhari’s government was also overthrown in a coup led by Ibrahim Babangida; an act which critics say was prompted by Buhari’s high-handedness but which Buharists insist was motivated by personal reasons. He was subsequently detained in Benin until 1988.

During the Abacha regime, Buhari was appointed Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, which was created to fund developmental projects across Nigeria with excess income generated from the increase in crude oil revenue. Buhari is still highly applauded for the high level of fiscal responsibility which he exhibited as PTF Chairman.

Buhari – Advent into Politics

Buhari’s interest in leading Nigeria as a democratically-elected president was first signified in 2003 when he contested on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). He, however, lost to the incumbent (Olusegun Obasanjo) by a rather large margin in an election that was marred by inconsistencies. His defeat was contested in court and although these inconsistencies were proven and acknowledged, the court ruled that they were not substantial enough to result in a cancellation of the voting exercise.

In 2007, he tried again, this time running against Umar Musa Yar’adua. Once more, as in 2003, he lost at the polls.

In 2010, Buhari left the ANPP for the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), citing ethical and ideological differences with members of his former party. He emerged as the presidential candidate of the CPC in 2011, running against PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan (who was Yar’adua’s vice and became president after his death), ACN’s Nuhu Ribadu (the famed anti-corruption czar) and ANPP’s Ibrahim Shekarau (who had completed a decent run as governor of Kano state). Eventually, the PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan was said to have won the election.

Criticism – Arguments for and Against Buhari

While fierce critics insist that Buhari’s run as Head-of-State can only be described as an era marked with human rights abuses, business closures due to sudden import restrictions, preposterous prison sentences and heavy-handed clampdown on dissenting voices, Buharists – those who subscribe to his ideology – maintain that his approach was necessary due to the monumental decay in the system and highlight achievements such as keeping the country afloat despite rejecting an IMF loan and refusing to devalue the Naira.

Buharists also make reference to his success in reducing inflation and reducing oil theft (feats they hope he will achieve again if elected in 2015), and argue that the import restrictions were designed to serve the purpose of stimulating indigenous growth.

In recent times, Buhari has been depicted as a religious extremist and Islamic fundamentalist. However, in 1998, while delivering a paper on religion, media and leadership, he said: “…whosoever therefore in the name of either religion preaches intolerance is clearly an adherent of neither, and our society must evolve a way of unmasking the hidden agenda at work….We must educate our zealot to learn that his rights end where those of his neighbor begin…”

The (false) accusations of religious intolerance are further addressed here.

Conclusion

The large followership which Buhari enjoys is mostly due to his reputation as one who is honest and free of corruption – a problem which has plagued Nigeria for decades. Also, the raging insurgency in Nigeria’s North-East is reminiscent of the Maitatsine incursion which occurred during Buhari’s tenure as Head-of-State. This, he curbed quite effortlessly and his supporters believe that a Buhari presidency just might be what Nigeria needs at the moment to record a decisive victory in the fight against Boko Haram, a group which he described as ‘mindless bigots’.

With the recent devaluation of the Naira and impending unfavourable economic consequences, it is also believed that someone who once successfully reversed the inflation rate would be able to do so again.

We wait with bated breath and fingers crossed as the APC decides today.

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Rinsola Abiola, a card-carrying member of the APC, is an advocate for youth and women inclusion in politics. She can be reached on twitter via @Bint_Moshood.

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