By SHAKA MOMODU
It is not my desire to join issue with my colleagues or engage any of them in an open debate in the media. This article should therefore be seen as an exception. After reading Waziri Adio’s article on the back page of THISDAY, published December 15 titled, ‘Is This, Finally, The Buhari Moment?’ I came to the inescapable conclusion that there were obvious gaps that needed to be filled. For the record, Mr Adio was spot on and I largely agree with the analysis except for the phrase “contrived handicaps” which is suggestive of falsehood sold as the truth.
I therefore find the urge to correct some misrepresentations too strong to resist. It is particularly expedient to fill the missing years between 1984 (about 30 years ago) – when Buhari entered the consciousness of Nigerians with those immortal and awe-inspiring words which heralded Adio’s article, “This generation of Nigerians and indeed future generations have no country other than Nigeria, we shall remain here and salvage it together” and his 2014 speech preceding his nomination when he stated thus, “We seek a new Nigeria. It starts with us, it starts today…. Nigeria is our home. Let us now turn it into the great nation we know it can and should be.’’
In truth, that statement in 1984 captivated and galvanised Nigerians across the country into looking inwards and into believing that our situation was not beyond redemption. But the succeeding years have seen Buhari morphing into something of a caricature image far less noble than the vision encapsulated in that powerful summation of 1984.
These years have been very revealing of the Buhari persona. So much water has passed under the bridge such that it would be wrong to condense and analyse Buhari on just two inspiring quotes 30 years apart and attempt to sell his candidature as a viable alternative. I find this unhelpful for a society yearning for direction.
What about the intervening years that have thrown up a deeply partisan, sectional and religious irredentist that I am sure, many Nigerians would find different from the man who spoke those words 30 years ago? The truth here is that from when he spoke his first words to Nigerians and became a fixture of some sort in our psyche, Buhari has evolved severally; he has become a convoluted and conflicted brand. From an inspirational national leader, he withdrew into the conclave of an ethno-religious champion and a fanatical extremist who has sought without apologies to anyone – to undermine everything the Nigerian nation stands for.
We will be guilty of extreme naivety to wave off these tendencies that are so manifestly glaring in the APC presidential candidate as a figment of our imaginations or merely “contrived handicaps” by Buhari haters to undermine him like my Egbon Waziri Adio has done.
While Adio would have us believe that the well-deserved appellations are “contrived handicaps”, the facts and records of history speak to the contrary. As I said, Buhari has become deeply conflicted and I say it without mincing words and that contrary to Adio’s position, Buhari is an ethno-religious fundamentalist. The ark of history is on my side here. The fact that Buhari is being rebranded by the APC apparatchiks and has consequently toned down his extremist views about North/South and Muslims/Christians of the country, for political correctness does not make him any less a religious extremist. I even find the whole rebranding project pretentious, deceitful, and unflattering to the ironclad inscrutable image of the general. My admonition to those behind it is that you cannot change a man from who he is to who he is not.
The proof of Buhari’s ethno-religious leaning is stated here in his own words and recorded position on issues pertaining to Sharia and the interest of the North as against the overriding interest of Nigeria. If Adio so fervently believes that Buhari is not a fundamentalist, what does he make of Buhari’s statement, August 27, 2001:“I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria. God willing, we’ll not stop the agitation for the total implementation of Sharia in the country.’’
As if that weren’t enough, Buhari stated further, “Muslims should vote for fellow Muslims who can defend their faith.” If Waziri Adio so strongly believes that the fundamentalist toga was “contrived”, what does he make of the above?
Just a few weeks ago, Atiku Abubarkar called Buhari a religious bigot and warned that Nigeria doesn’t need a religious bigot as president. I believe Atiku played that up for his own political advantage because of the primary that was coming up where he alongside other contestants squared off against Buhari, but even at that, he was merely stating a self-evident fact.
Recall also that during Governor Lam Adesina’s reign as the governor of Oyo State, Buhari travelled all the way from Daura in Katsina to visit Governor Adesina in Ibadan. It was no ordinary visit, but a protest visit that Adesina’s people were killing his (Buhari’s) people. Still wondering what all that means? Well, you don’t have to wait for long. Here it is: It was all about the clashes between Hausa-Fulani herdsmen grazing with their cattle in indigenes’ farmland and destroying their crops. Buhari’s exact words were: “Your people are killing my people.” If this is not a sufficient proof of this man’s sectional-ethnic affinity and inclination then, someone will have to tell me what is. Governor Adesina was so disappointed in Buhari that he issued him a rebuke, urging him to play the statesman instead of the narrow-ethnic interest that chips away at his position as a former head of state.
Just last year, when the state of emergency was declared in parts of the North-east to tame the menace of the devilish and blood-thirsty Boko Haram which has severally broken its own worst records of human carnage, Buhari stated in an interview that he was against the state of emergency and military action against the sect, which he described as a grave injustice to the North. According to him in his lamentation, “Unlike the special treatment the federal government gave to the Niger Delta militants, the Boko Haram members were being killed and their houses demolished.”
Adio should tell Nigerians what Buhari meant by that statement. If it was not supportive of Boko Haram and at the same time playing the ethno-religious card, then half the world is not enough as a gift to me. Now, how can a former head of state even make such a statement? What was it meant to achieve? Any objective deductions from Buhari’s statements will inevitably come to the sane conclusion that many Nigerians have come to – a religious fundamentalist who wants to right the perceived “wrongs” done to the North.
Lest we forget, the same Buhari was once nominated by Boko Haram as their chief negotiator even though he reluctantly declined. But why did the murderous terror sect choose Buhari of all people, a former Head of State of Nigeria, as their negotiator from a motley crowd of qualified ethno-religious champions who believe that power belongs to the North or “northerners are born to rule”? I am unable to find an answer to this question except to think that perhaps, Boko Haram trusted him more to represent their interests. Was this also “contrived”?
It is easy to rebuke those who call Buhari a religious fundamentalist or an extremist, but Buhari’s character portrait and utterances over the years speak for themselves. I was once a big fan of Buhari in the ‘80s, and for the life of me, I agonised over many sleepless nights when my “hero” started to unravel before my very eyes. His war against indiscipline endeared him to me. It was good for society and it remains an enduring legacy in the country until today.
While this write-up is not an assessment of the failings of Buhari’s regime from 1984, I am of the belief that a man who executed three young Nigerians with a law retroactively implemented and has remained unrepentant, unremorseful and still believes in the rightness of that action, his sense of morality and righteousness must be deeply flawed. And for those who think Buhari’s views have matured over time, I say, I wish. We seem to have forgotten so soon how some innocent NYSC members serving in parts of the North were killed just because Buhari lost the 2011 presidential election. And I dare say the language of his campaign was largely responsible for those killings.
I am also not impressed with the narrative out there that Buhari believes in fighting corruption with total commitment. Even though he may not be personally corrupt and I dare say, he is not, he allows certain things under the table and in some cases, negligently aids and abets corrupt acts. Remember the 53 suit cases? What about his stewardship at PTF? It is not as flattering as some would want us to believe. And before I forget, in 2008, at the 10th anniversary of the death of Abacha, Buhari declared to the consternation of Nigerians that Abacha was neither corrupt nor a thief. “He did not steal Nigeria’s money,” he declared sternly with military fiat. This is despite the fact that several countries had returned hundreds of millions of dollars to Nigeria as part of Abacha’s recovered loot. I don’t know if this position was also “contrived” by the Buhari hate club. If not, I don’t know how much good this does to the general’s image as an anti-corruption leader that is being daily burnished in the media. Anyone who denies this fact of history that Abacha did not loot the treasury cannot be an honest person and for Buhari to do that buttresses powerfully the charge against him. It is an eloquent testimony that tells a lot about what his promoters would not want to talk about.
The harrowing traffic chaos that we all suffer and agonise over in Lagos is a direct result of Buhari’s narrow and parochial-minded view of economic affairs of this country. The cancellation of the Lagos Metro Line project after the commencement of work remains a sad reminder of Buhari’s lack of vision and foresight. Tragically, those who have borne the brunt of that unfortunate action are the very people packaging, marketing and promoting him to be president – partly with the resources of Lagos State. Thankfully, our memories are not like architecture that is often described as frozen music.
This is Professor Wole Soyinka’s takeaway on Buhari in 2007, it’s like he wrote it yesterday: “The grounds on which General Buhari is being promoted as the alternate choice are not only shaky, but pitifully naïve. History matters. Records are not kept simply to assist the weakness of memory, but to operate as guides to the future. Of course, we know that human beings change. What the claims of personality change or transformation impose on us is a rigorous inspection of the evidence, not wishful speculation or behind-the-scenes assurances. Public offence, crimes against a polity, must be answered in the public space, not caucuses of bargaining. In Buhari, we have been offered no evidence of the sheerest prospect of change. On the contrary, all evidence suggests that this is one individual who remains convinced that this is one ex-ruler that the nation cannot call to order. Need one remind anyone he was one of the Generals who treated a Commission of Enquiry, the Oputa Panel, with unconcealed disdain. Like Babaginda and Abdusalami, he refused to put in appearance even though complaints that were tabled against him involved a career of gross abuses of power and blatant assault on the fundamental human rights of the Nigerian citizenry. Prominent against these charges was an act that amounted to nothing less than judicial murder, the execution of a citizen under a retroactive decree. Does Decree 20 ring a bell? If not, then, perhaps the names of three youths – Lawal Ojuolape(30), Bernard Ogedengbe (29) and Bartholomew Owoh (26) do. To put it quite plainly, one of those three – Ogedengbe – was executed for a crime that did not carry capital forfeiture at the time it was committed. This was an unconscionable crime, carried out in defiance of the pleas and protests of nearly every sector of the Nigerian and international community, religious, civil rights, political, trade unions etc.”
It is a tragic irony that some of those rooting for and shouting “sai Buhari!” “sai Buhari!!” are members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm who suffered terribly under the general’s jackboot. Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor must be pinching themselves and wondering what has happened to society’s gatekeepers’ memories.