I was reluctant to write about General Muhammadu Buhari’s renewed bid for the presidency because his close confidant Malam Adamu Adamu told me two weeks ago that I do not like the General.
His cited a statement that I made when both of us were working in the defunct Sentinel Magazine. That was in 1995. Pray, how can you hold me up to a comment that I made nearly 20 years ago? In fact, the scathing comment I made was in relation to the Buhari-Idiagbon military regime. No one knew in 1995 that Nigeria will ever return to civilian rule or that Buhari will ever become a politician. Today, it is inevitable for a columnist who mostly discusses political issues to discuss Buhari’s renewed bid for the presidency. Therefore, the first of the nine issues listed for discussion is to dispel Malam Adamu’s notion that I do not like him.
The second issue is that Buhari is running for the presidency for a fourth time. It reminds me of Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate in the 1952 US presidential election. Soon after he lost the election to General Dwight Eisenhower, a reporter asked Stevenson if he will contest again in 1956. Stevenson pointed at him and said, “That man needs to have his head examined.” He did contest again in 1956 and he again lost to Eisenhower. Now, no Nigerian newspaper reporter was smart enough to ask General Buhari soon after the 2003 election whether he will run again in 2007. To run for the same office four times risks sending different signals to different people. While diehard supporters will see it as continuing sacrifice and desire to offer service, others will see it as desperation for power. Still other Nigerians, especially ruralites, will think that look, if you couldn’t get it after three tries, it is better to rest and let other people try their luck.
An indication of why General Buhari is running so many times could be gleaned from a statement he made at an APC northern stakeholders’ forum in Kaduna on Saturday. Buhari does not believe that he ever lost the election; he believes that it was denied to him on all three previous occasions. It is possible to hold this belief due to the imperfect nature of Nigerian elections and the controversy that always trails the results. I was however thinking of the practical implications of this belief. Since the General believes that he was denied victory on three occasions, it is either he has got an assurance this time that he will not be denied victory [I don’t know where one can get such an assurance from] or he has put in place some measures to ensure that he cannot be denied victory again [I would like to know what those measures are].
The problem here is not only that General Buhari is running for the fourth time but he actually promised just before the 2011 elections that it was to be his last run. He said so tearfully. When that event happened, his ardent supporters said he was shedding tears because of his sympathy for the plight of the ordinary Nigerian while his opponents said he was shedding tears because he knew that he was going to lose the election.
Since 2012 at least, it has been clear to political watchers that Buhari would go back on that pledge and run again for the presidency. Ordinarily this is a character minus, to make a firm pledge and then go back on it. However, it is equally clear that millions of Buhari followers all over the North, in particular, were not happy that he made such a pledge and they wanted him to go back on it. There is an interesting Hausa adage that says “magana biyu ce dattijo.” That is, a wise elder stands by two [conflicting] words. Ordinarily, it is honourable for a person to stand by a pledge he makes but if a person makes a pledge and all the people around him ask him to reverse it, the bigger mark of honour is to go back on his pledge. That is what the controversial adage means.
It is not difficult to see why Buhari’s supporters want him to run again. They cannot find a suitable replacement. Where can you find another Army General, a former state governor, former federal minister and former Head of State who, on top of that, has a reputation for firmness and incorruptibility? It will take several generations to breed one. General Buhari himself does not seem to know anyone who can replace him in politics. In the 11 years since he plunged into politics he has not ordained any successor. The huge Buhari support movement has no Khalifah, which is a dangerous arrangement.
Then there is the age question. Commentators that raise the age factor should be pardoned because the General himself raised it in 2011 when he made the pledge not to contest again. He attributed his decision to the age factor. He actually indicated that even if he won the election that year, he would not seek re-election in 2015 on age grounds. Thinking aloud, General Buhari was probably lucky that he did not win in 2011 because if his supporters could persuade him to run again this time as a challenger, one wonders what would happened if he had been an incumbent. The latter would have been more challenging to personal credibility.
Personally, I do not think that a man in his early 70s is too old to be president if he is healthy, vigorous and mentally alert. At this stage all the signs are that General Buhari is healthy thanks to his ramrod stiff physique and to years of military rigour. Those Nigerians clamouring for a “young” leader ought to know that there is greater correlation between age and wisdom than there is between youth and wisdom. Personally, I will place wisdom above vigour on a scale of Nigeria’s leadership needs. I was looking at the defence of the Buhari age factor recently mounted by his former minister and firm supporter Prof Tam David-West. It was not a good defence. Tam listed several African leaders who were elected presidents at an advanced age. His list included many rulers that it is better to distance his candidate from.
Now, given General Buhari’s pivotal role in the formation of APC, one would have thought that there was a prior understanding to concede the party’s presidential ticket to him. The only other person without whom APC could not have been formed, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is not running for the presidency for certain reasons. Right now however, three other candidates are contesting against Buhari for APC’s ticket. Two things will favour him to win the party’s primary. One is if it is a direct primary; pundits assume that most APC members in the North are Buhari supporters. The other factor that will guarantee victory is if he gets the support of Bola Tinubu and of APC’s state governors.
Which brings us to the eighth issue, that of defeating President Goodluck Jonathan in the main election. When these two men were matched up in 2011, Jonathan won 24 states and Buhari won 12 states. The biggest change in electoral calculations since then is the possibility that the Western states and Edo will switch sides. This is the only factor that is making APC competitive in the elections. The main argument of the men who are contesting against Buhari in the APC primary is that given the negative label of a communal champion pinned on Buhari by PDP propaganda since 2002, Yoruba voters could desert APC and again vote for Jonathan. On the other hand, without Buhari as candidate, millions of Northern voters could desert the APC ticket. It is a cruel dilemma; I will reject an offer from any quarters to become APC’s official election strategist.
Then comes the ninth issue. What are the chances that if he wins the election, Buhari will successfully run a government as civilian president? We will cross that bridge if and when we get to it.
Source: Daily Dailytrust