Friday Discourse (123)
Buhari in Politics
A fortnight ago, former Head of State Maj. General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd) joined politics by registering in the All Peoples Party (APP) in Daura. This is an interesting development. As he raised his hands and shouted at the peak of his voice, saying, APP, APP, APP, I told a journalist next to me in the crowd that we were witnessing history in the making. The political developments that followed that event have so far proved my assertion. Since that day, Buhari has dominated political discourse in the country. I have no doubt that he will continue to do so until the next presidential election and perhaps beyond.
When people like me, as it happened, join politics no one cares to know. But when Buhari did so, it generated interest and triggered a chain of fascinating political developments. From the reactions his debut in politics received, I feel it will delight my readers if we pause to consider the implications of his decision on his person, on politics, and on governance in Nigeria.
I am sure that Buhari has by now realized that he will henceforth have no monopoly over his time, his privacy and even his personal property. Some of this might not be new to him because he was a former head of state. What he has to come to terms with is the claim of propriety over these possessions by other Nigerians. Many comments for example will be genuine; but some people will choose to be provocative in public, especially on the radio. Unfortunately, among his kinsmen, for the high level of their self-inflicted poverty and illiteracy, there are many soliciting for that dirty job. It must not deter him since no one can cover the sun with his hands once it has risen. As our past and possibly future head of state, we expect him to be calm. He must practice the four qualities of piety as enumerated in the Qu’ran as basic qualifications to prosperity in the Hereafter, i.e. ignoring provocation, forgiving people, kindness and self-censorship through admission of mistakes and correcting them or asking for forgiveness. It said: “those who bridle anger, and forgiving of people, God likes those that are kind. And those who if they act a scandal or cheated themselves, they recall God and suddenly seek the forgiveness for their sins…” This must be the yardstick of his personal conduct with or without politics.
Whatever would be the sacrifices he is personally required to make, one of his great assets in politics will be the retention of his natural posture which he exhibited as a private citizen since his retirement from the army. Within the limit of what his personal security will permit, he should carry on with his modest life and permit, as ever, easy accessibility to all Nigerians. Viewed from the angle of privacy, politics in Nigeria is inevitably cumbersome. Once in it, he has to shoulder it.
The next target which his debut in politics would hit is his party, the APP. It is true that it has made a big catch. Buhari has many of the qualities that are needed to make the party a force to reckon with in the next presidential elections. However, it must understand that no favor comes without a price. The party, therefore, need to organize itself better in realization of the great potential it now possess. It must stand as an equal – possibly taller – to other parties, including the incumbent PDP. In other words, it has to assert its identity and stop being manipulated by forces extraneous to its domain. Fortunately, the next convention of the party is just by the corner and it is our hope that people of credibility and conscience will be elected to lead it.
To cite an example, I am particularly not happy with the present move to merge the party with UNDP. The mistake of the PDP must not be repeated again. PDP is a building constructed in 1988 from blocks of different sizes, shapes, and strengths that are bound together by a weak mortar which immediately gave way under the pressure of governance and the lures of power. What the APP should do is to preserve its identity. Where cooperation by other parties becomes necessary, the farthest point it should reach in the path of alliance must be electoral.
I therefore find it intriguing for a registered party that has already on ground nine governors, dozens of legislators in the National Assembly, over a hundred local government chairmen and thousands of councilors would ever contemplate, as the APP is doing now, of merging with UNDP that is still only an association without even a single local government councilor. The leaders should realize that it is too late to sell out the party to anyone. The person purchasing it must be crazy because the party already belongs to the people. They will rise to retrieve it from any custody. The leadership should learn from Waziri the consequences of doing so. If I would ask – just as a digression: is Senator Mahmud Waziri ready to disembark on the sinking titanic of Obasanjo and return to the party?
On the other hand, I will rather prefer the UNDP to fight for a registration on its own and go for elections. That will enable it assist in unseating many of the present PDP chairmen and some few governors with whom people are wearied of. At the presidential election, it can go into alliance with the APP which will in turn reciprocate with cabinet appointments and support in future presidential ambitions of the UNDP. Its independence is what will enable it contribute positively to governance when APP is in power. It can withdraw from the alliance, unlike the present position of the PDM in PDP, without incurring any liability. The problem in Nigeria is that greed prevents our politicians from putting strategy and prestige before power.
There is also a need for the APP to become more organized. Otherwise, Buhari, who is a former military officer and a person trained and known to be particular on procedures, will have a lot of difficulty living under its umbrella. To him, I foresee, the shade of the party’s umbrella would be adherence to its rules by all its members including himself in whatever present or future capacity he might be. Disregard to party regulations makes it vulnerable to hijacking by home or foreign ‘terrorists’ occupying executive seats.
Buhari has already started preaching obedience to the party. In his registration speech in Daura, he enjoined people to join the party and channel their support to him through it. This raises the hope that if he wins we will have a president who, unlike Obasanjo, will not struggle to dominate his party; a president whose behavior will be predicated by procedures enshrined in the constitution; and a president who will respect the rule of law.
It is important therefore that, on the one hand, the party recognize this potential for its future influence in governance, while, on the other, appreciating that such opportunity does not come without a pride for identity, conscience, the feeling of equality amidst peers and earning respect through adherence to party rules.
The third to be affected by Buhari’s walk into politics would be the PDP. We have earlier predicted in Buhari Please Join Politics Now that his political debut in the APP will throw the incumbent party into confusion. This is what has exactly happened. The PDP was not a good listener. We have advised it, times without number, against becoming a victim of servitude, greed, corruption and decadence engendered by the mere opportunity of incumbency. I have recognized that once someone wins a presidential election, most of our political elite, due to either poverty or greed, are ready to mortgage their pride and freedom for gaining the spoils of office. They will abandon their parties and start singing the praises of the incumbent. Members of his party will turn him, even if he is reluctant, into the de facto party chairman. Thus his opinion becomes a law.
Thus, the PDP has let the President to become too powerful to be sanctioned either by law or by protest. But self-esteem in politics is an asset that once mortgaged can hardly be reclaimed. Not so easily when the blood from the wounds inflicted by the President on many groups and the nation is still dripping. It is too late to re-package Obasanjo and sell him to Nigerians under another brand of promise. No way.
Unfortunately, the PDP was blinded from the reality by the glitters of Aso Rock, the enormous strength of state power and their elaborate plans to rig elections. They never believed that there will be any person capable of unseating Obasanjo. Thus chaps like Kashim Imam and Mukhtar Shagari were willing to assault the conscience of Nigerians by saying that there is no alternative to Obasanjo among the 120 million citizens. Governors like Makarfi were ready to publicly renege on their initial understanding and agreement that Obasanjo is a failure. Elders like Solomon Lar were ready to tell a lie before the President that their zone is 100% behind him. Even Balarabe Musa, either for the hope that the President will register his party or as a gratitude to a small favor or the bitterness of his impeachment by the Northern Establishment has subscribed to the tazarce idea.
Since the debut of Buhari in politics these lies have ceased as the liars went quiet. They have now concluded that there is a formidable threat to Obasanjo. They are afraid to repeat their previous utterances. They can only sponsor some nonentities to make provocative statements.
An important development that has come too late is that Obasanjo has now realized that they were lying to him. All dignitaries contacted in the North to chair his declaration for re-election shied away. Who else could do the dirty job apart from Lar? The force of Buhari’s debut has suddenly made him to contemplate dropping Atiku and go on shopping for someone who is worse. Whichever way he goes, he is in danger. Will he drop Atiku and risk the likelihood of loosing even the primaries or will he retain him and contend with his (Atiku’s) excess luggage that will court him defeat in the elections? That is the price of betrayal.
The North has come out to declare war on the incumbent for reasons of incompetence expressed in partiality, corruption and non-performance. The image it carved out over the years as the prime factor in Nigerian politics is at risk. If it is able to unseat Obasanjo it will further entrench that belief into the psyche of the nation. If it fails, it will be demystified.
It has promised to present a unified candidate in order to maximize its mobilization for the offensive against Obasanjo. If that pledge will be redeemed, events of the past one week must have already indicated that Buhari is most likely to be that consensus candidate. The conclusion is almost inevitable.
It is therefore imperative for the North to cement the present cracks in their political construction. It has one or two assets it can mortgage to purchase the tools, equipment and material it needs to construct across the country all the bridges that are necessary to win decisively.
The region has conveniently found in Buhari a person who will restore its prestige in governance based on the principle of fairness, performance and transparency. We must admit for most part of the last twenty-two years that its image has been seriously tarnished to the extent that a northerner was at many time regarded synonymous with corruption and inefficiency. The only relief the North found was in the incompetence of Obasanjo. The corruption taking place under him and his glaring level of incompetence has denied the North the monopoly over such inadequacies.
Finally, Buhari in politics is a challenge to the Nigerian nation. Will it hide behind the destructive evils of tribalism, negative use of religion and self-interest to prefer the most corrupt regime in our history over an honest and performing alternative? It is naturally expected that political opponents from all divides will try to discredit Buhari. They will ask questions regarding his personality and his record in the various offices he held since he became an officer in the army. Fortunately, the questions are known and very few. The curious thing is that almost all of them, if carefully studied, could serve both as assets and liabilities depending on how one looks at them and what he intends to achieve by raising them. After all, the convenient excuse and reality is there, that we are all human beings, with our shortcomings, little and big. Buhari will be no exception. Otherwise, could anyone bring an angel down to contest the presidency?
Another serious implication of Buhari in politics is the effect his victory will have on Obasanjo. Will Obasanjo be the good sportsman that will concede defeat quietly or would he attempt to subvert democracy through creating a crisis situation that will persuade the military to return? I am not talking only about the person of Obasanjo but of the danger which those individuals and groups that have reaped the best out of his Presidency would traditionally pose to our democratic future. As individuals we have some of his cabinet members and cronies who might have connived with contractors to drain the economy mercilessly. I doubt if they will be ready to face the reality when they see it approaching that the dinner is over or dispense with the fear that Nigerians will push the long arm of law to reach them. As groups I mean the political elite among his kinsmen whom he tried to favor as atonement for his past ‘sins’ to them. They have already declared that they will support him this time. Unfortunately for him, my quarrel with that support is that it is coming from the bad quarters. They have never voted for someone who has ever occupied the coveted seat of the presidency. I also doubt if they will accept without protest the fact that their man is sinking or when he is finally defeated that they will not return to their tradition of subverting democracy.
Whatever are their plans, we have a solution to it: Power belongs to God; He gives it to whoever He wishes and snatches it from whoever He wishes… and that He has power over all things. We rest our affairs in Him.