Will Buhari Lead Like Mandela?



Much proverbial water has passed under the bridge since the literary icon, Chinua Achebe, wrote the book entitled ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’. That was in the 80s when many Nigerians were rightly alarmed about how bad leaders were “squandering the nation’s riches”. According to Achebe, “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.” This observation is as valid as it was in the beginning it was made. The spectre of bad leadership still haunts Nigeria.

Very few countries parade such quantitative number of leaders, president, his ministers, governors and their commissioners, legislators at federal and state levels, judges, retired heads of state and hundreds of traditional rulers. Yet very few countries exhibit a disconnect between leaders and qualitative governance. Monday 18th July marked 2016 Mandela Day, a global Day, to remember Mandela’s achievements in working towards conflict resolution, democracy, human rights, peace, and reconciliation. Naturally observing Mandela’s birthday brings to the fore once again persistent crisis of leadership not just in Nigeria but Africa as a whole. Nelson Mandela died at 95 in December 2013.

The main objective of Mandela Day declared by United Nations in 2009 is to inspire individuals and organisations to take action to help change the world for the better. Born on 18 July 1918 in the tiny village of Mvezo on the banks of the Mbashe River in the province of Transkei, South Africa, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1942. For almost two decades, he was involved in a campaign of non-violent defiance against the South African government and its racist policies. He was arrested with others by the apartheid regime in 1962 and convicted of sabotage and other charges. He served 27 years in prison, many of these in the notorious Robben Island. Following his eventual release from prison on 11 February 1990 in the wake of global campaign, Mandela led his party in the negotiations, which led to the establishment of democracy in South Africa in 1994.

He became the first president of post-apartheid South Africa. In a record one term in office, he dramatically transformed adversity of apartheid era to unprecedented prosperity of a democratic non-racial South Africa. The relevance of Mandela Day for Nigeria cannot be overstated given his remarkable imprints on South African/African and indeed global governance, a significant part of which paradoxically was made possible by the then fantastically progressive/front-line activist Nigeria state of 60s and 70s, a subject of another future reflection. Coming from a totally different tradition of Mandela’s culture of resistance against racist oppression, comparing President Muhammadu Buhari with Mandela is like comparing like with unlike.

Yet it is a fact that President Buhari like Mandela became presidents on account of their respective earned moral authority rather than material accumulation, being the hallmark of modern day monetised politricks in Africa. Mandela, author of bestseller ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, and a political witty wag in his own right was quoted as saying “In my country we go to prison first and then become president”. Similarly President Buhari who came to power first as part of the fashionable Praetorian Guards of the 80s and democratically elected president in the present dispensation, was perceived as incorruptible and seen as an epitome of integrity amidst primitive grabbers of commonwealth. Since his election, President Buhari has commendably exposed and fought corruption. However there is still a lot for Buhari to meet the standard left behind by Mandela.

One remarkable legacy of Mandela was his statesmanship. His 1994 cabinet reflected both the political and partisan diversity of South Africa just coming from racially motivated conflicts. President FW de Klerk, whose political party, National Party (NP), jailed Mandela was one of the deputy presidents from 1994 until July 1996. The other was Thabo Mbeki from ANC. The most remarkable was the appointment of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi who came from the rival Inkatha political party whose record showed support for apartheid regime for as long as the hated regime lasted. Chief Buthelezi actually served as Minister of Home Affairs for two terms, many thanks to Mandela statesmanship.

In 1998, President Mandela was in Washington to receive a Congressional Order. Mbeki was also outside the country. Mandela stunned the nation and announced Buthelezi served as acting president. This was the man who opposed anti-apartheid sanctions just to please the apartheid regime. Mandela looked at the bigger picture to forgive even if not forgetting the atrocities of the past. Mandela has shown that there is “No Future Without Forgiveness”. Buhari must demonstrate the same statesmanship in his political appointments and allocation of the scarce national resources through all-inclusive governance that cuts across our ever-deepening fault lines of regions, class, faiths, gender and partisanships. South Africa just like Nigeria is a diverse country.

It was commendable the way Mandela gave practical effects to the spirit and content of the South African non-racial and non-sexist constitution. In his famous speech at the 1964 Livonia Trial he declared that: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.” For Mandela, the struggle against oppression is not divisible: white or black. Interestingly, President Buhari also said something to this effect at his inaugural speech last year when he said: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”.

Buhari is appreciated for the courage he has brought to the table to expose corruption in the security sector with the recent approval of the investigation of “Generals of easy fortune” who allegedly diverted monies meant for public arms procurement to silly private ventures. Buhari should be encouraged further not to make the war against corruption divisible and work his commendable talk of belonging “to everybody”. His administration must be mindful of the public demand for investigation of serving military officers linked with corrupt practices in the spirit of transparency, justice and fairness.

President Buhari just like Mandela inherits a lot of conflicts of diverse society. It is commendable that he has contained the insurgency in the North-east and tamed the menace of Boko Haram. However, there are still serial conflicts that are claiming hundreds of lives such as the so-called farmers/herdsmen clashes, the militants in the Niger Delta. I think Buhari can learn from Mandela’s approach to conflict resolutions. In most instances, Mandiba personally intervened and even addressed the nation to douse tensions and in the process restore eroded confidence.

I recall his role in saving South Africa’s fragile transition process when Chris Hani, the leader of the South African Communist Party and chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC was brutally assassinated on 10 April 1993. Promptly Mandela addressed the nation appealing for calm, in a speech regarded as most ‘presidential’ and statesmanlike in history. Buhari should emulate Mandela and address the nation on series of avoidable violence rampaging the nation in recent times. The interior minister must also be seen to promptly intervene in the scenes of criminality. The recent attempt to politicise the killing of a poor woman preacher in Abuja would have been avoided if promptly those paid to prevent and apprehend crimes had acted.

I commend the recent decision of Buhari administration to investigate the assassination of a former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Bola Ige, and ex-Deputy National Chairman, South-south of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Aminasoari Dikibo. However just as Mandela commendably brought to justice the killers of Chris Hani, the administration must fish out the perpetrators of high profile killings in Nigeria.

*Comrade Aremu is the Secretary General, Alumni Association of National Institute, Kuru Jos.