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Yawning gaps in Buhari’s uninterrogated leadership, By Simon Imobo-Tswam

By News Express on 27/02/2017

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 •President Buhari.
•President Buhari.

The name Muhammadu Buhari is not an ordinary name. It is a brand. And the man bearing it is not ordinary, either. Since his advent on the national consciousness in 1975, when he emerged as military administrator of former North-Eastern State (now Borno and Yobe), he has continued to engage our attention as minister, coup-plotter, commander-in-chief, high-profile detainee, religious puritan, politician, and now elected President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, as well as Nigeria's chief medical tourist.

And, in the corresponding period too, he has acquired the traits of an ascetic, and the reputation of: a man of truth, known in Hausa language as: mai-gaskiya. In the Nigerian society, where greed and gluttony are the commonest attributes in the public space; and where honesty and truth have almost gone on permanent exile, being an ascetic and mai-gaskiya are unique selling points, indeed.

Today, Mai-Gaskiya has become his title. When you mention Mai-Gaskiya, no one asks: who is that? It is automatically known to be Buhari. This is a great endorsement from the public. This greatness is better appreciated when juxtaposed against the backdrop of other names that the Hausas call former Nigerian leaders: barai, mai-giya, etc.

But something important must be pointed out: the sobering truth is that when people call President Muhammadu Buhari mai-gaskiya, it is because, compared to the average Nigerian leader, they reason that he is relatively more honest, not that he doesn't lie.

So, Mai-Gaskiya is a really a mob-title, a garland of popular endorsement from the masses of Nigerians, especially the northern hordes, the talakawa.

So, what does this mean? It means the title is really without serious scrutiny or interrogation. This is because if we interrogate this title, we may realise that it applies more in the department of financial integrity - and no more. And if this un-interrogated public perception is the main basis of a Buhari resurgence; if this is the sole basis for a Buhari presidency, it means his leadership accent has been un-interrogated.

As I write this, there is no better reference than the account of Buhari's defining exchanges with then president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari and the Second Republic governor of old Plateau State, Chief Solomon Lar. The account is preserved for us by the chief publicist of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Chief Ebenezer Babatope, in his book.

We are informed of how a brave military officer with the 3rd Mechanised Division of the Nigeria Army had, sometime in 1983, confided in Lar, that Buhari, then the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the division, was leading out his men on coup-warm-ups in the small hours before daybreak. Lar dutifully reported the matter to president Shagari who, at the time, happened to be in Plateau on a state visit. The normal thing was for Shagari to order the security agencies to handle it. But the president chose to handle it his own way - the way he handled everything: economy, governance, security, etc.

And, on his return to Lagos, the president summoned Buhari and asked him. The GOC naturally disavowed knowledge of any coup, even reportedly swearing his innocence on the Qur'an, and offering to resign his commission, that is, from the Army. And Shagari believed him. But which devout Muslim wouldn't believe a man like that?

And Shagari, ever naïve (I beg your pardon me), believed that what he wouldn't do - another wouldn't too - accepted Buhari's explanation and stopped him from prematurely disengaging from the Army. If Shagari had been presidential, if he were commanding like a commander-in-chief, the political history of Nigeria would have been different. But he did not. And, although, he didn't have to, the president further revealed to Buhari that the allegation of his crime against the state came from Governor Lar. Buhari returned to Jos to rudely and angrily confront Lar. A shocked Lar handled it as best as he could, and the matter died a natural death. Or so it seemed.

As it were, President Shagari did not relieve Buhari of his command of the division; and neither did he even transfer him out of Jos. But what made the matter worse was that the report didn't even reach then Nigerian Security Organisation (NSO), the ancestor of the present State Security Service (SSS), for follow-up.

Yet, this was same Buhari that had - without authorisation from either his commander-in-chief or Chief of Army Staff - invaded Chad in 1982 or thereabout to, as he is often quoted, "teach the Chadian soldiers a bitter lesson."

Shagari had not shown leadership in the way he handled the issue. Under a different commander-in-chief, that would have been the end of Buhari's military career, and whatever promises it held. And by betraying the confidence Lar reposed in him on such a sensitive issue too, Shagari did not show leadership.

In retrospect, it would seem these leadership omissions or presidential weaknesses formed the basis upon which then Brig Sani Abacha would accuse Shagari, in his first coup-speech, of "ineptitude."

President Shagari wanted a second term, and his focus was on the UPN, and its organisational wizard, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He forgot that there were really only two political parties then: the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the Army. But, in his naivety, he focused on the opposition party, the UPN, which had neither guns nor gunpowder.

 Well, a few months later, Abacha made his infamous announcement, toppling the re-elected government of Shagari. And, who became the head of state? The ‘innocent’ Buhari. Naturally, Buhari's Fulani mind remembered (recall Nasir el Rufa'i and his theory?). The new military head of state kept the mild-mannered ousted president under comfortable ‘house arrest’, but made sure that Solomon Lar received special attention of a different kind (but then, who wouldn't?).

It is interesting to note that nature is not blind, and what goes round, as they say, comes round. And so, by and by, it was pay-back time. Abacha was close to Buhari, but even much closer was Gen Ibrahim Babangida, popularly known as IBB - the dashing and daring Ogbomosho Armoured Corps officer, who had adopted Niger as his state, and became a northerner, in consequence.

Security reports also indicated that IBB was plotting a coup against him; and Buhari too asked Ibrahim about it. But the wily IBB denied it. Who confesses? Ask Gen Madiebo, Col Ifeajuna, Col Banjo, Gen Diya.... It was the classic case of a cunny man pitched against another cunny man.

In fact, IBB, after his avowals of innocence and pledges of eternal loyalty, took permission from Buhari, his commander-in-chief, to tour military formations across the country. And it was during these tours that IBB, ironically, put finishing touches to the coup.

So, the IBB coup was what some people may term opendential. Today, we can say it was the first coup-tour in our history, or the history of coup-making in the country. And after his ouster, Buhari swore that he "would never forgive Babangida." But Shagari, another fellow-Muslim, moved on after Buhari's lie and treachery, believing that ‘Allah permits everything.’

If Buhari made peace with IBB after 30 years, it is not because his Fulani heart suddenly became forgiving or it got larger; it is because political considerations made it imperative. And it paid off handsomely.

And after 2011, Buhari promised that he would never vie for the presidency again, but he did. And he neither alluded to the broken promise during the 2015 campaigns nor explained to the people the circumstances that necessitated his dramatic change of mind. But a broken promise is another name for a lie.

Today, Mai-Gaskiya is in the UK! Maybe, he is even England... where we are told he is holidaying. And we are further told that he is "hale and hearty," but he needs our prayers to recover. As if we can or we need to recover from good health.

And he is not in the hospital, but he is undergoing so serious medical tests that he dares not return home to his country and people and mandate.

There are breaking stories of how he routes his international flights through the United Kingdom so he can see his doctors there without arousing public  suspicions over one medical tests too many! Today, the biggest irony is that Mai-Gaskiya, Nigeria's paramount campaigner against medical tourism, has become the nation's  paramount medical tourist!

Politics or political incumbency has a way of demystifying human heroes, especially heroes that are derivatives of hasty, even emotional, mythographical construction. The overwhelming realities of political office make super-men become ordinary fellows; it turns demagogues or the desperadoes of yesterday into stammerers of excuses, and rabble-rousing  critics into just what they are: rabble-rousers! And, we may add, opportunists!

If Buhari didn't become president after his  lame-duck ouster by the ambi-dexterous coup-planner -IBB, he would have entered history in the golden fonts and heroic prints of Gen. Murtala Muhammed - that fiery general who took Nigeria by storm in 1975, but left too soon 200 days later in the wake of gunpowder; too soon for Nigeria to form an honest opinion; and whose ultimate intentions are now permanently entombed in the realm of speculation, if not romantic fantasy!

This is the Mai-Gaskiya, our Mai-Gaskiya!

I only hope that regular politics doesn't demystify him further. I write in terms of hope, because nothing has really changed in the Presidential Villa since the corrupt Jonathan left, and the clean Mai-Gaskiya took over. The budget is still being hopelessly padded, and grass-cutters have joined the Villa wildlife; N75 million goes for Aso Rock Rent; a Villa Gatehouse is costing N250 million. Food is still in excess of N1billion, the State House allocation of over N3 billion is bigger than the combined vote of all of the nation's Teaching Hospitals. And on top of these, refreshments and honoraria in the Villa are pegged at over N700 million.

One is tempted to ask: What is going on in the State House? Is the place one big banqueting hall of endless wining and dining?

The solemn truth is that Mai-Gaskiya's own leadership is an un-interrogated leadership - it was born of wild emotionalism. And the same untamed emotionalism sustains it.

There were issues on ground: the skewed stewardship at Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), where projects went to the south, especially the South-east, by administrative default or executive error; the provincial superintendence of pastoralists, and the ill-fated storming of Lam Adesina's Government House to protest the "maltreatment of my people," and the important trip to Zanfara, in a Field Marshall's uniform, to boost the morale of freshly mobilised troops to protect Fulani cattle against rustlers, while neglecting to visit scenes of gruesome Fulani terror against hapless and helpless farmers.

And there is the not-too-recent Zamfara Declaration by him that, “Muslims should vote for only Muslims.”

Although it must be conceded that in the case of the primordial religious appeal, Buhari is not the first culprit. The National Party of Nigeria’s candidate in the 1979 presidential election, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, had made the same appeal to the old Sokoto State electorate in 1978. And in both cases, the targets of these electoral versions of religious fanaticism were Southern Christian politicians, to wit: Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo (UPN) and Chief Matthew Okikiola Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo.

There is even the issue of the number of his cows, as he is reported to have consistently declared it: 150 since 2003. In 2003, he declared 150 cows. After four years, that is, 2007, the cows were still 150. In 2011, that is, another four years, their number was constant at 150. And still the same, that is, 150 in 2015. In the space of 12 years, the President's cows did not multiply. Yet, none died! What is more, Buhari did not kill any for meat or give any out as a gift. This constant number of his cows has prompted snide remarks about whether his cows are into birth control or barren. Till today, the correct figure of Mai-Gaskiya's cattle is a matter of conjecture.

If to the above cocktail of leadership minuses we add the lingering issue of his mysterious O'Level result - not to talk of his graduating from secondary school at age 11 at that time - the Buhari brand becomes very notorious, rather than famous, and, consequently, accumulates many negative points.

Notwithstanding, I still pray for Mr President, my dear President - the truth being that we did not elect an angel: we have never had angels on the ballot. But it is not too is never too late.

My prayer is that God will have mercy on Mai-Gaskiya; that God will bring him home safely so he can commence the salvage-mission: the redemption of his name, his reputation, his myth, his mystique, his person, his persona, his promises and the promises of his presidency.

We must halt this wholesale unravelling! By necessity, we must have something, someone, in our Hall of Heroes. As we say in the Tiv country, Kareagh doo ga!

•Imobo-Tswam, a media consultant and public affairs analyst, who writes from Abuja, can be reached at:

Source News Express

Posted 27/02/2017 1:55:40 PM


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