• Thursday, July 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

Buhari and the presidency

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I like General Muhammadu Buhari as a person. When I was a Fellow of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) in my early twenties, he used to come and play snooker with us in Kuru. He was GOC of 3 Division of the Army at nearby Rukuba Barracks. A tall and lean man with intense, bespectacled eyes. He also had an endearing tooth-gapped smile, not of the treacherous Maradona genre. Warm and genuine is how I remember him – an officer and a gentleman in the best traditions of the Nigerian Army.
In December 1983, we were astonished that this man who used to play snooker with us was now head of state. General Muhammadu Buhari was never among the politically-minded officers who could plot the overthrow of any government. The coupists who brought him to power did so in the understanding that he was a safe pair of hands. Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon were genuine patriots – no one can take that away from them. They were incorruptible. They loved Nigeria and dreamt of a country that would be a fair and just society.
In 1983 I co-authored a study on Religion and Conflict with the geographer and planner Timothy Gyuse. The focus was on the Maitatsine cult and its devastating social and economic impact. We toured the northern states, gathering a large body of data. Gyuse used his knowledge of urban planning to explore the correlation between sprawling urban slums and the emergence of soteriological cults such as Maitatsine. We made strong policy recommendations on how the menace could be curbed.
In 1984, after I left for graduate work in Paris, the head of state read our recommendations verbatim as the official policy of his government on the matter. There is no greater gratification for a policy analyst than to be able to influence public policy at such a high level. Muhammadu Buhari surrounded himself with top advisers, most of them his fellow Fulani kinsmen. But he also showed himself as a leader willing to learn and willing to delegate. He could take your idea and run with it if he thought it was a good one.
I am persuaded that the current certificate saga regarding his candidacy is a red herring that has the sole aim to make him into the “ignorant jackboot” that he is not. The courses that army officers undergo to reach the command and general staff category surpass any general school certificate. It is the norm that once you have a high qualification, nobody needs to probe into your elementary and secondary school qualifications. I am persuaded that the same interpretation goes for the qualifications for the presidency as enshrined in our constitution.
As head of state, Buhari suffered from certain immanent contradictions which led to his fall. In December 1985 I came home on holidays from Paris. I was to travel from Heipang Airport in Jos to Lagos. In conversation with a fellow passenger, I innocently complained about the regimental ethos that was emerging. A soldier overheard us and approached me with a koboko, his mouth frothing with anger. If people had not pleaded and begged the soldier, I would have received the beating of my life.
Without intending it, Buhari and Idiagbon were creating a garrison state; imagining that they could solve our problems by turning our society into an army barrack. It was the Arab-African philosopher Ibn Khaldun who defined the state as that organisation that has the sole right to commit crime. It is a wise definition.
The issue is what sorts of crimes are permissible within la raison d’état. There are politicians who shouldn’t have been in Kiri-Kiri. In a travesty of jurisprudence, Buhari executed youths for drug offences that did not merit capital punishment under the law – expert in retroactive legal engineering. Buhari was probably right to kidnap Umaru Dikko, but wrong to have taken his daughter from boarding school and thrown her into jail because of the sins of her father. The saga of the 53 smuggled suitcases refuses to go away, giving the impression that if you were his Fulani kinsman you can get away with murder.
Lots of bagatelles have been bandied about regarding his role as head of the PTF under General Sani Abacha. Much of it is hogwash, of course. In all the high offices of state that he has held – from petroleum minister to head of state – Buhari has been unassailable in his stewardship. The same cannot be said of many of those who came after him.
Buhari is qualified to be president, but he lacks the moral fibre for the High Magistracy of our republic. He treated the Oputa Panel with contempt unworthy of a democrat, showing himself as one opposed to what French political philosopher Baron de Montesquieu described as The Spirit of the Laws. Those of them who refused to appear before the great Chukwudifu Oputa must have had skeletons in their closets. Buhari never condemned Boko Haram with conviction and was the first to cry wolf when the government decided to act tough on the insurgents. Indeed, the insurgents named him as the person they would trust to negotiate on their behalf. He has been a self-confessed advocate of political Sharia. It would be specious to insist that, in any case, there are constitutional checks to ensure he won’t make the wrong moves. No-one who believes Sharia ought to be the grundnorm of our republic can be worthy of our trust.
For the last couple of years, “Fulani” mercenaries imported from neighbouring countries have been killing and maiming thousands in the Middle Belt, raping women and terrorising entire communities. Buhari is the honorary chairman of Miyetti Allah, the umbrella organisation for Fulani pastoralists throughout Nigeria. We have never heard a word from him condemning these genocidal atrocities. The rapists and killers that he has tacitly endorsed by his silence may well rob him, once again, of the ultimate prize.
Obadiah Mailafia