As President Muhammadu Buhari looks set to return for another four-year tenure, Vanessa Obioha warns Nigerians to get ready for another season with a president whose remarks often puts him in trouble in the public space
In 2014 when President Muhammadu Buhari declared his intention to contest for the third time, he was going against a promise he made without duress that he will run for the office again, having failed at previous attempts. But this time he was contesting on the platform of a coalition called the All Progressives Congress (APC). Not many believed that him or his party could overthrow the almighty ruling party (at the time) Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
His ambition to become the Number One citizen drew admiration as well as criticism. Buhari who once ruled the country in the 80s as a military ruler never fulfilled his term as he was overthrown by another military leader Ibrahim Babangida. Though his reign then was dotted with austere economic conditions, his foot soldiers lured supporters with his historic fight against corruption and indiscipline in that era.
His first attempt as a politician was in 2003 when he ran for the office of president of the country on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Former President Olusegun Obasanjo who was seeking a re-election won in that race. In 2007, Buhari ran again but failed to clinch the seat as he was beaten by the late Umaru Yar’Adua, his compatriot from Katsina State.
2011 saw the former military dictator running for president again, this time around with the newly formed Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). Buhari faced quite a number of contenders in this particular election including former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commissioner (EFCC) Nuhu Ribadu who was then running on the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) platform, and Ibrahim Shekarau of ANPP. This was the watershed election for Buhari. It was the election that brought him to the attention of political pundits, who noticed that on his own steam, he was able to garner over 12 million votes. This was a strong factor for the choice of Buhari when the merger of different political parties including his CPC metamorphosed into the APC. The reasoning was that if he could, on his own, get that number of votes, then with support from others in the merger, he could be lifted to victory.
However, the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP won that election. In the run up to the 2015 elections, Buhari emerged the presidential candidate of the APC which was formed from the alliance of CPC, ACN, factions of APGA and the PDP.
For the mantra of change publicised by his party and the strong belief in his incorruptible character, majority of Nigerians voted for the man from Daura in Katsina state in the 2015 elections.
It was a great taste of victory for Buhari who was almost denied the opportunity when the ruling President Goodluck asked for his disqualification. According to the former president, Buhari did not meet up with the secondary school level requirement to run for the office of president. In his defence, Buhari said he lost the original copies of his diplomas when his house was raided following his overthrow from power in 1985.
His known sentiment for Sharia law in Nigeria and his perceived favour for his ethnic and religious groups prevented some states from voting for him. In that 2015 election, his 15, 424, 921 votes was mostly from North-west, North-east, South-west and few states from the North-central.
Known for his strong sentiments against corruption, during his inaugural speech, Buhari declared to Nigerians that “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”. The quote was analysed by many pundits and the masses as well who tried to decipher the meaning.
Apart from his remarks, the president also pledged to fight corruption, insurgency and revive the economy. His paramount goal was to ensure that the country was free from corrupt politicians so it was no surprise that in 2016, Buhari’s administration introduced the whistle blowing policy with a 2.5-5% reward for anyone with information on theft, fraudulent acts and mismanagement of public funds and assets. However, his fight against corruption was not void of diatribes. To the masses and the opposition party, the anti-corruption fight was one-sided. In fact, critics say that it was a vengeful ploy by the president to punish those who opposed him or took part in the 1985 coup that ousted him from office. A notable example is the detention of the former National Security Adviser to Jonathan, Sambo Dasuki.
Also the imprisonment of the leader of tge Shiites El Zakzaky and his wife has also drawn wide criticism. Critics called for the president to also prosecute politicians in his party who are also not innocent.
During his campaign, Buhari also expressed his disgust over the insurgent group Boko Haram that terrorised the country during his predecessor’s reign. He pledged to put an end to their reign. The first step in achieving his objective was seen in 2016 when he negotiated with group to release 21 girls out of the 276 girls who were abducted in Chibok in 2014. The following year saw the release of another 82 girls. That victory was short-lived as the following year, Boko Haram kidnapped 110 school girls in Dapchi, Yobe state. The girls were later released except for Leah Sharibu whose whereabouts is still uncertain.
On many occasions, the Buhari administration celebrated feats of reclaiming regions formerly seized by Boko Haram but these also have been short-lived as the terrorist group still rain down mayhem and in some cases defeated the Nigerian army in many bloody skirmishes. Protests against the poor mobilization of the army had also been voiced by Nigerians.
In his four-year tenure, the Nigerian economy went through a nail-biting recession. The Naira depreciated in the black market leading to a gulf between the official exchange rate and the black-market rate. A resulting shortage in foreign exchange hit various businesses including petroleum marketers. However, the gulf between the official rates and the black market rates opened up the opportunity for well connected individuals to engage in arbitrage, making a mockery of the president’s anti-corruption image.
Another criticism of Buhari’s administration was his campaign promise to remove the fuel subsidy. But instead of a reduction in pump price, there was an increment which once again drew the ire of the masses.
On more than one occasion, the president’s remarks often land him in trouble. After his wife questioned his style of leadership in an interview with BBC, Buhari on a visit to Germany when asked about his wife’s party said “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to but she belongs to my kitchen, my living room and the other room.” The other room soon became a mockery for women and, of course, sparked public discourse on the president’s relegation of his wife.
Again, he was criticised for saying in an interview that Nigerian youths are lazy.
Nonetheless, the Buhari’s administration which has come under great criticism for the slow and hard economy often point to their detractors the infrastructure development and other projects they have achieved such as the railway project which the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi said will open the Western corridors. But the rail lines used are of poor quality and does not meet up with the standard enjoyed by other African countries.
Also, the N-Power project which the Federal Government introduced for job creation and empowerment initiatives has not been free from vitriols.
Despite the growing criticism against his government, Buhari recorded some victory in his re-election bid. For instance, states in the North-central that didn’t vote for him in the last election threw their weight behind him in the 2019 elections. Such states include Nasarawa where he won 289,903 votes. While he lost Ekiti state in the 2015 elections, 2019 saw the state giving him 219,231 votes. However, he lost Ondo and Oyo to his opponebt Atiku Abubakar.
In the North-east, he lost Adamawa to Atiku as well.
As he prepares for another four years, Nigerians are bracing up for another snail pace of his administration. However, some believe that he may make improvement and become a better politician this time around. Again, he is expected to work with a crop of more cooperating members of the National Assembly.