Friday Discourse (92)
The seven sins of Buhari
Recently, our dailies have become sensationally preoccupied with General Muhammadu Buhari. The last article I read before writing this piece is the contribution of Muhammad Haruna titled The Press versus Buhari in the Daily Trust. Buhari could only be the first from the bottom on the list of Haruna’s heroes. The first is obvious. The little defence Buhari got from Haruna against the recent controversial publication by ThisDay was simply because he was a Muslim, otherwise everything in the article was written blatantly to hang rather than save. Haruna has earlier written an article in which he attempted to crucify the General for not forgiving Babangida. I will be referring to the details of Haruna’s recent article in the course of our discussion.
Last Monday, I read another article written by another senior journalist and Minister of Information during the Babangida era, Mr. Tony Momoh, that went as far as denying Buhari the right to associate himself with his people and their religion or to express his conviction “even secretly.” I may not refer to his article here because it has failed to live above the pathological hate the southern press has for the retired General. Finally, as I submit this page yesterday in Abuja, I learnt that Rev. Mathew Kukah has also written strongly against Buhari. But I believe that whatever are his accusations, my article will not reveal anything new from the Christian perspective. Should in case there is anything new, we shall reply if necessary.
Why couldn’t Buhari get a fair trial in both the courts of Muhammed Haruna and of Tony Momoh? Why is he not in the good books of governments since the Babangida coup of 1985, except for the five-year tenure of Abacha? Why are some people hurt whenever he speaks in public? Why are they finding it difficult to tolerate his opinion at a time when any rubbish is tolerated? These are the issues which, in my view, should concern us when reacting to publications regarding Buhari or to the attempt by some people inside and outside government to tarnish his image.
I have concluded that anybody with the record of Buhari will never be in the good books of the press nor on the favour list of corrupt governments because his sins are too numerous and major to be forgiven. Below is a mention of the few I can remember. There may be many others which only the General and God would know.
The first sin of Buhari is his birth; he is a northerner. It has become clear, now and ever before, that the North will never produce a leader who will be appreciated by the Southern elite. If Tafawa Balewa could fail their test, I see no way any other person could pass it. Both Shagari who is accused of condoning corruption, and Buhari who toppled him and fought against it will ever remain condemnable to the south and its leaders. Their sin is their northern blood; otherwise, they have not committed a crime that has not been committed by a southerner in their position.
If Buhari stands condemned because he was harsh to the press, Babangida could not earn its love for being soft and ‘cooperating’. The game is power and you do not get it by commending a rival. To bring him down, magnify his shortcomings where they exist; and where they do not, fabricate many and fill the dailies with them. But never mention anything commendable. Insist on this continuously, and believe me, before long, your enemy will be disliked even by his friends and admirers.
This objective has been achieved in against the North in general and against Buhari in particular. I have not seen a region that hates its own like it, no thanks to southern media propaganda. Buhari cannot be forgiven for being ‘a son of the caliphate.’ Unfortunately, birth is something he cannot help in determining. So he cannot stop committing this sin.
The second sin that Buhari committed is to earn the credibility of an honest and transparent leader in an environment that is corrupt ridden. It appears that after the sin of being born as a northerner, all other sins flowed naturally from the spring of his character. Leaders are generally uncomfortable with anyone that does not tread their path. The reason is clearly stated by al-Motanabbi when he said, “things are clear with the presence of their contrasts.”
The presence of Buhari and his philosophy of transparency would naturally upset people that do not share the same style of governance because it offers Nigerians the opportunity of comparison. If someone will argue that it is impossible to practice prudence today, then another could refer him to a leader or a regime that tried its best in that regard. In this case, Buhari stands as a witness against others. This is not a place to prove his integrity. He has done that already. Rather, we are simply stating, whether correctly or wrongly, that many Nigerians still look back at the Buhari regime with nostalgia. They can clearly recall how sincere he was in fighting corruption, how he succeeded in his effort to make available essential commodities, and reinvent discipline, law and order.
As a result of that experience and the earlier effort of General Murtala, Nigerians are able to see the shortcomings of successive regimes that survived or are surviving on the deceit, corruption and servitude to Americans, factors that combined to precipitate the present state of government ineptitude and scarcity of common commodities like fuel. Since power presents the most blatant form of struggle for survival, it is expected that Buhari will not be in the good books of such governments.
I believe that this is another sin about which there is nothing Buhari can do. He cannot erase history or begin to ‘deregulate’ his philosophy of governance at this age. He is not Tilde.
Following his brief performance as a head of state, Buhari has earned the hearts of many Nigerians to astonishing levels in fact. I once walked into a Bank in Jos in 1999 with a copy of Source magazine that carried the allegation of his corrupt practices at the PTF. I was surprised how clerks and customers in the bank started saying, Shegu makaryata (bastards, liars) immediately they caught a glimpse of the cover. Buhari was not there to defend himself and neither did I utter a word. The reaction was spontaneous.
The popularity of Buhari would justifiably upset most leaders and it is the third reason for his travails. Leaders would envy anyone that would pull a crowd, even if he were their camp. Such a person, strictly speaking according to the rules of power, must be eliminated quickly. Leaders under civilian rule are more sensitive to rising profiles for their potential of stealing influence or seizing power through elections.
We are approaching 2003 and some people have started muting the idea of a Buhari candidature. While he has never made any public declaration to that effect, he cannot deny people the right of expressing their views, though he knows very well that such views would undoubtedly earn him the suspicion of other potential contestants and the wrath of those in government. His popularity is therefore his third sin. Unfortunately, he cannot repent for this sin also because he is in no position to determine who would steal the heart of the masses. If he needs to be hated by Nigerians of conscience, he needs to return to leadership and play the game of the Western world, the IMF and the World Bank: he needs to devalue the naira, rule through appeasement and ‘Ghana must go’, and run other programs that would exacerbate poverty and the suffering of the Nigerian people.
I will be brief on the fourth reason which I reluctantly call the Babangida factor. I do not believe that Babangida is the architect of the negative propaganda waged on Buhari by his disciples like Mohammed Haruna and Tony Momoh. If what Haruna published before is anything to go by, how could someone seeking forgiveness be offensive at the same time. I believe, I may be naïve, that the campaign is done in a survival effort to prove allegiance to Babangida and it is a wrong approach just as it is destructive to his political future.
An intelligent politician should court Buhari’s support in 2003, not dispense with it. Buhari may have only few admirers among politicians; he might not have stocked the money required to win a presidential election; still, many among the masses would listen to him though they may be denied the opportunity to vote for him since the conspiracy and behaviour of the political class will not offer him the opportunity it offered other generals. In a nutshell, people like Haruna should play down and write less about the ‘differences’ between Babangida and Buhari. We have done our best in this area. But if they return we shall return also. They must know that wherever there is shago, there will be a Dan Anace to sing for him. If the intention is to block his chances to stand in 2003, they should better take a sound sleep because he has no intention of doing so. The animosity is therefore unnecessary. But since an allegiance must be proved as a condition to belonging to a power circle and enjoying its benefits, the differences have to be mentioned repeatedly as much as the proof is desired. They must be counted as a sin.
From the Babangida factor we move to the Abacha factor, the fifths sin. His decision to serve the country under Abacha was an abomination in the eyes of many. It is interesting to see the reason that Mohammed Haruna gave here. He said that he chose “to serve Abacha’s regime…apparently to spite Babangida.” So the construction of roads and provision of drugs to hospitals and so on were not a service to the nation but, in the logic of Haruna, a “service to Abacha’s regime” done to spite someone. Whom did he spite then when he served the country in 1984/85? What a judgement!
Haruna is not the only person apparently incensed with the performance of Buhari at the PTF. As he correctly pointed out, it has also resulted in the “animosity” between the current President and Buhari, which subsequently led to the former scrapping the PTF.
What Buhari would have done, impliedly from the judgement of Mohammed Haruna and of some others, was to turn down the request to serve as PTF chairman, perhaps until when Babangida or Obasanjo returns to power, without any care to the fate of Nigerians. Now that he has served, Nigerians, in the judgment of the senior journalist, should forget about the achievements and crucify him for the crimes of Abacha.
Thanks to Haruna’s revelation, we now know that had Buhari interceded before Abacha for the release of Obasanjo, he would have had no problem with the present regime. PTF would not have been scrapped but left to continue like many other ‘unconstitutional’ structures of the Abacha regime. But how could Buhari intercede in a coup matter that testimonies now show that it was not “trumped up charges of attempting to overthrow Abacha” as Haruna would call it.
In any case, Abacha is dead and Obasanjo is released, so Buhari can neither intercede nor could he erase his record as PTF chairman. He has sinned again. Hang him.
Then comes his sin against the press – Decree No. 4. On the surface, the decree may appear “harsh” on the Nigerian press. But candidly speaking, every one knows that it was necessary to de-sensationalize the press at that time and stop it from distracting the attention of government from its rehabilitation programs. Let us remember that none of the media houses could tender an evidence to support their allegations of corruption against Shagari and his ministers. From documents published by the Buhari regime, it was abundantly clear that the press was playing the political game of the UPN which was bent on bringing down the Second Republic simply because it could not swallow defeat twice.
I remember vividly when Buhari as a head of state charged that Nigerians are good at allegations, but when challenged to put forward evidences to back them, they simply shy away. This was not frivolous, but a description of the conduct of the press during second republic.
In the very edition of the Daily Trust carrying Haruna’s article, the cover was captioned “IBB killed Dele Giwa” according to the testimony of Abubakar Tsav who was an Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of General Investigation Department, Force CID, Ikoyi, Lagos when the incidence took place. I do not know who was harsher on the press between Buhari who only promulgated a decree and later heads of states who controlled the press with the carrot of brown envelopes and the stick of parcel bombs.
The sin of Buhari here was to stop the press from serving whoever could pay them to tarnish the image of public servants as they did during the Shagari era and for not using the brown envelope strategy, something that would have earned him forgiveness even if he were to kill their colleagues. Unknown to Buhari as he disclosed long time ago, they had a “fifth columnist” who was ready to replace the UPN.
Then comes the Muslim identity of Buhari. His sin is to identify with Islam and its teachings – like Shariah – and the protection of its values that form the foundations of his culture. He should be a secular person, as Mohammed Haruna correctly captured in his article, though the same restriction cannot be imposed on other leaders, like, say, Obasanjo. What happens when Buhari writes a book tomorrow and begins it with a sentence like this: “The axis and the fulcrum of this book is Allah, the true and living God and its anchor is Muhammad.” Secular Buhari would have been stoned. But this is exactly the sentence with which Obasanjo opened his book The Animal Called Man substituting God for Allah and Christ for Muhammad. In fact, Obasanjo quickly added, saying, “I have no apology for that.” Yet we have not heard any cry against it.
The southern press has a phobia for Islam and it habitually denigrates it and its values. They think that Nigeria is a Christian state following British colonization and any return to the values of Muslims should be resisted even though Christianity may be propagating the same. Any Muslim public figure making a statement about Islam is branded “fanatic”, “zealot”, and so on. Unless the Muslim gives up his freedom of expression, there will be no peace, according to the southern press.
We have seen this clearly in the Shariah controversy. The press and the government expected Buhari and Shagari to keep quiet before a fabrication made by government to the effect that the National Council of State – of which both are members – has agreed on a return to status quo ante on shariah; the two must remain quiet regardless of the political damage it will cause them or the unrest that will follow. As soon as they came out to deny the authenticity of the claim (as in the case of Buhari) or its constitutionality (as in the case of Shagari), hell was let lose on them by the Nigerian press. For Buhari in particular, he was seen by the southern press as attempting to hide behind shariah to cover his “malpractices” at the PTF.
Unfortunately, our Christian brothers accept this propaganda without questioning. If Muslims were not after justice, Obasanjo would not have been elected. We are surprised that none of his brothers in faith called him to order on the abuse of our political patronage; rather, he was seen as a messiah who came to deliver them from the oppression of Muslims. It is sad.
Well, Buhari does not need to bother about his Muslim identity. Haruna himself has scored him low here because Buhari has crated Dikko and “more significantly, the late Sheikh Abubakar Gumi’s house was searched, presumably for seditious publications, his passport seized and his salary stopped as consulting Grand Kadi for northern states, when he seemed to have become too critical of what he regarded as the Head of State’s highhandedness in jailing politicians.” Haruna, for obvious reasons, does not want to believe Buhari’s revelation that he has never ordered anyone to search the house of Gumi and other things; that it was the work of the “fifth columnist” who wanted to takeover power from him. But as I said earlier, the truth is sacrificed in propaganda for the objective of bringing down someone.
And whether what Buhari said could be construed to exactly mean that Muslims should vote only for Muslim candidates as the southern press believed, the sin has already been committed. Buhari is already a Muslim. I doubt if he will accept the advise of Tony Momoh that he should not express his mind on sensitive political issues “even secretly” or to play “politics with religion” as Mohammed Haruna would grant, or even go a step further by changing his religion to appease the Christians that believe in the secularity of his personality.
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Briefly, these are some of the sins that Buhari committed and for which he is too arrogant to repent. If he could change his habits and become deceitful and corrupt, he cannot change his birth, his history or his faith. After all, he is not a politician, so he does not need our votes.
In conclusion, as Nigerians, I advise that we should learn how to tolerate him until when he dies and gets punished in the Hereafter for these sins. At his burial and thereafter, we can shed crocodile tears and sing his praises because, in the assumption of men, the dead no longer presents a threat to the living. So many important people would be at the funeral prayer that people like Tilde would hardly make it in the first or second row. It is likely that the President will be there, his Vice President for sure as well as Babangida and many of his “boys.”
Deep inside our hearts however, we will be happy that the man that lived as witness over us is gone. We shall then feel free in our condolence messages to call him an honest man, a patriot, a deeply religious and egalitarian person, a disciplined officer, a saint and what have you. But since men are more given to haste than to patience we cannot wait for his death. Let us join forces to stone him, right now, because of the seven major sins he committed.
4 July 2001