No, Aisha. Leave Buhari Alone after 4-19
By Dr. Aliyu Tilde
In the aftermath 4-19 (read four nineteen, not four-one-nine!) came an article written by the leading female writer from the North, Aisha Umar Yusuf, in the Weekly Trust of May 10, 2003. It was a letter to General Muhammadu Buhari, advising him to “accept whatever the courts decide in the end.” Apparently unhopeful that anything tangible in his favour would come out from the court, Aisha went further to say, “if the court failed to overturn Obasanjo’s victory, as many fear it would, please do not repeat your call for mass action nor should you quit the political scene disgruntled. No, see it as a challenge to remain and constitute a credible opposition.”
Aisha was quick to support her advice with reason: “A decent, sincere, people-oriented opposition is what this country lacks since the beginning of this Fourth Republic. Wasn’t it amazing that when the Federal Government arm-twisted not so-independent INEC into refusing to register new parties, it was left to Gani Fawehinmi to single-handedly fight for the registration of new parties? Would this have been the case if we had a sincere and truly democratic opposition to fight the government?”
Then she went ahead to assure Buhari that he has “what it takes to lead the opposition...” by listing the personal attributes that makes him different from many Nigerians in opposition.
This essay is a reply to Aisha. In it, I have tried to question the possibility of a credible opposition to the style of governance in Nigeria and whether Buhari is the right person to burden with its leadership.
Advice and Criticism
Beyond the often-repeated point that there is no space for opposition in the presidential system of government, Buhari as opposition leader is not likely to accomplish anything beyond advice which in some form the establishment will prefer to denigrate as criticism. Nigerian leaders from local government councils up to the presidency regard such public comments as an irritation that should be ignored while “business” goes on as usual.
Otherwise, the public would have changed a lot during the Fourth Republic. But not even the ‘organized’ labour could do it. The NLC tried it a year ago and failed. Today, one cannot fail to see that the labour leader is competing with the Minister of Information, Professor Jerry Gana, in expressing his support for anything Obasanjo does. ASUU has been on strike for five months now. After Obasanjo has ignored the lecturers this long, even our leading columnists are today asking them to call off the strike and allow the government go ahead with the commercialisation of the universities. There is nothing you can do, such commentators are telling ASUU, literally.
Any comment from Buhari will be treated with the same evasion until when the public is made to believe that he is nothing better than a trouble maker, “a bad loser”, as Soyinka called him a week ago, or “a frustrated person”, as INEC Chairman described him after 4-19.
If Obasanjo had a listening ear, he would have achieved a lot beyond licensing GSM, the only thing Bola Ajibola could recently count in his defence of the President (Punch, May 11, 2003). He would have selected a fine cabinet from the vibrant and honest, not from the dead stock of the old brigade or their boys. He wouldn’t have crippled the legislature through sponsoring impeachments and circulating ‘Ghana must go’. He would have accomplished projects beyond plagiarising the ones executed by state governments, only to later on confess that he did not actually execute the projects. He would have used the ICPC to check the widespread corruption in his government, from what transpired in the privatisation of parastatals to the billions that disappeared in NNPC or in roads rehabilitation that never took place. His son, Gbenga, would not be sitting on the notorious “First Son” seat that Ibrahim Abacha once occupied.
On the above and many others, Nigerians have written and spoken a lot in the past four years. But nothing has changed. Obasanjo remains stark deaf and dumb. And there is the preponderant likelihood that, with the demystification of the electorate during the past election, mal-administration under Obasanjo will only worsen in the next four years. He will continue to ignore criticisms because he believes, as he said last week before a group called Ohaneze-Ndigbo Youth Forum, criticisms are borne out of ignorance that should be ignored, or mischief that should countered, or quest for wealth and popularity.
Among which of the three groups will Obasanjo and his government categorize ‘Buhari, the critic’? Certainly in the second because he can neither accuse Buhari of ignorance of what is government, nor of seeking material gain or popularity. Criticism, in my view, should rather be left to people like us, who are “ignorant”, or “mischievous”, or “material and popularity” seekers. Buhari should not compete with us in our domain.
Followers and Resources
‘Buhari, the opposition leader’ must also contend with the orientation of many Nigerian politicians in the “Sahara of opposition” and the lack of resources required to keep it alive. It is an opinion I have always expressed that, generally, Nigerian civilians have proved themselves to be like a herd of sheep. I am sorry if this generalization sounds a bit harsh. But reason with me, Aisha. Unlike the military who work with orders, civilians work with commandments, which, like the Ten Commandments, they selectively obey. For example Buhari’s “protect your votes” advice was not faithfully complied with in many areas.
Worst of all, if a wolf would decide to attack the shepherd, the sheep would run away or at best remain aloof. We have seen it in Awolowo’s case in the 1960s. We have also seen it in the case of Abiola when most of his elite supporters, including his running mate, rushed to take ministerial positions in the military government that jailed him after denying him his mandate.
That is why Nigerians always look helpless before the might of their government. They look on to the military to save them. All the politicians at the receiving end of the electoral malpractice in 1965 and 1983 looked on to the military, though today they are against its return because 4-19 serves the parochial goals of their ethno-chauvinism. Right now the begrudged electorate are leaving matters to God, as did many columnists and laureates in the aftermath of August 6, 1983.
So the matrix of opposition – the people – is not ideologically knit enough to vault away injustice or prevent its circulation in Nigeria. I doubt if Buhari as an opposition leader will make any difference in this case.
We do not need to elaborate on the lack of resources. The average Nigerian politician would like to be paid for attending every meeting or carrying out any assignment. This is partly as a result of an ideologically neutral state of our politics since the late eighties, partly due the involvement of a late retired general, and partly due to government funding of parties during the SDP/NRC era. Today, the average politician is bereft of ideas; his political ingenuity is reserved for generating money. Buhari has never laid any claim to the wealth that can trigger this kind of ingenuity. Also, the recent history of some newly formed parties enjoying the support of billionaire ex-generals has clearly shown that financing politics in Nigeria is beyond what even the most generous hand in the country can afford.
Finally, let us briefly discuss the framework. A platform is needed for any organized political opposition, which in politics of a secular country like ours is usually provided by the party or organization one belongs to.
After 4-19, the highest office Buhari will occupy in the ANPP is membership of its Board of Trustees, under the leadership of Augustus Aikhomu. He cannot speak on behalf of the party because he is not Don Etiebet, its Chairman.
More importantly, the ANPP as a party has its fundamental shortcomings. I doubt if its founders in 1998 stood on a higher moral ground than those of the PDP. During the Fourth Republic, its governors scored the same F-grade in terms of accountability and achievements as those of PDP.
There is little wonder also if some of them were quick in distancing themselves from him after they have ‘won’ their seats for the second time. They quickly went to Aso Rock to pay homage to Obasanjo and enjoy his victory cake even before their party could decide on what to do with the 419 it suffered from during the last elections. How could Buhari and these characters be partners in opposition? It would have been different if he were the President because of the authority that his office would command. But then he wouldn’t need to be an opposition leader!
These are some reasons why I do not share your idea that Buhari should lead any opposition in the country. But I may not be absolutely right.
“The North” Again?
In case the advice on leading an opposition against the government is not accepted by Buhari, or in addition to it, Aisha had the following suggestion: “If you lose your 4-19 contest and you still return home to make yourself useful before 2007, believe me you have enough clout to advise and be listened to. You might even set up a North Development (Special) Trust Fund (NDTF) and have all governors contributing. Knowing that you can always be trusted with our Naira and kobo you are the natural choice to head the NDTF.
“A meaningful quarterly contribution to the fund by all governors (and local government chairmen),” she added, “could provide enough money to address the key concerns of Northern Nigeria. We decry the rot in the education sector, in health services, in provision of social amenities, as well as the neglect of our economic mainstay – agriculture. If the NDTF can address all this through judicious use of the money contributed, you dear General would have served Nigeria in the best possible way. And who knows, may be by 2007 you will not need to campaign at all; your sterling record at the NDTF, added to all the others could grant you a smooth sail to the Presidency.”
My first reaction to this suggestion is that it has shortened the vision of Buhari and confined his role to the North. In fact, the region – in political terms – actually does not exist today, as it did before 1966, with abundant respect to the efforts made by various bodies like the ACF to sustain its concept. I doubt very much if Buhari has joined politics to save the North alone, but the nation as a whole. I have never heard him speak of the North exclusive of other parts of Nigeria. He thinks, like how most soldiers do, in the context of post-civil war Nigeria. So I doubt if, after losing the 4-19 ‘war’, the General would, in the regional context, go beyond membership of Board of Trustees of the ACF, in congregation of past heads of states from the region.
More importantly, however, is the absence of political and constitutional allowance that will enable him play the suggested NDTF role. I do not know of any Northern governor at present who will surrender a dime to Buhari to use in solving any problem in the region. They are a bunch that is even opposed to ACF, believing that the body was formed to usurp political leadership of the region from them. Most Northern governors are yet to redeem N15m pledge they made over two years ago on School of Basic and Remedial Studies, Funtua – something they initiated and agreed upon in one of their meetings – when on the average each of them receives a billion monthly from the federation account!
Let us remember that for the past four years, each of the 19 Northern governors has been receiving more than the annual budget of Northern Nigeria, which was only £29million in 1963 – “a pound per head”, as the slogan then was.
The geographical North is still a region whose leadership is deeply entrenched in retrogression, reaction and corruption of unprecedented dimension. All the ills of underdevelopment are here. To compound the matter, an elaborate syndicate of inept political elite have decided to back only candidates of questionable origins, backgrounds and aptitude for leadership roles. Once in office, like their counterparts in other regions, they portray their unassailable brilliance and insatiable appetite for self-aggrandizement, not for service to the people they so much despise and who are in dire need of basic things like water, health care and primary education.
Therefore, the governors can only tolerate Buhari as long as he lives quietly among their masses, not when he is ready to break their monopoly over the treasury, or lead them to the path of probity. They would rather make do with chaps who will help them launder their stolen billions in purchasing mansions and hotels overseas, or run their petroleum smuggling business to Niger, or worst of all, help them commit all sorts of electoral malpractices.
Finally, as for Buhari Presidency come 2007, his admirers will not then be at a better state of hope than they are now. After all, who believes that there will be a vacancy in Aso Rock then? And if there will be any, it will certainly not be for the Northerner. The Igbo, as Obasanjo has started hinting, will then justifiably be entitled to it. I concur, and Atiku must be told this, right now.
Whatever is the situation by 2007, we are bound to witness worse electoral malpractice then. I doubt if a one-party dominated state would not emerge then in the country, with PDP sweeping everywhere, scoring 99.99% with a 99% turnout, like 4-19, like that of Saddam Hussein.
So, Aisha, let us leave Buhari alone to decide how he intends to spend his post 4-19 days. If, on the one hand, he believes that, in spite of the fear that the wolf may attack the shepherd, the sheep should not be left alone and, therefore, wishes to spend the days in opposition together with younger generations, then it will be commendable, though daunting as we have seen above. If, on the other, he decides to go back to his retirement, I believe he has done a enough even within the last one year in politics to warrant a rest.
The next four years will definitely be rough and challenging, as is the common practice of any government that has inherited itself by subverting the will of the people in a developing country like ours. Coercion becomes its only source of legitimacy. The ball of opposition is in the court of public commentators like you. A pen that remains consistent in supporting the truth and collective good is mightier than the sharpest sword that any civilian dictator could afford in the next four years. And the greatest struggle, we are told long ago, is to speak the truth in the face of injustice.