By Mohammed Haruna
They said he will never be elected president of this country and used every trick in and out of the book of politics to make sure. Three times he tried, beginning from 2003, and three times he failed. But the man simply refused to be deterred.
Part of his problem seemed to be where he came from – the northern part of Nigeria whose leaders, in mufti and in Khaki (including himself), had ruled the country for much of its existence as an independent country. Mr Femi Fani-Kayode, the director-general of President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign organisation, once alluded to this at the time he had pressed himself into the service of President Olusegun Obasanjo, the estranged benefactor of his current political master. This was back in 2002.
Because the North had ruled the country for so long, he said in an interview in Sunday Vanguard (July 21, 2002), “We also have to be able to rule for possibly close to 50 years.” By “We” he, of course, meant the South where Obasanjo and himself came from. But not only did the South deserve to rule for nearly half a century in compensation for the longevity of Northern rulership of the country, he also believed, he said, good governance was a preserve of Southerners.
“I also believed,” he said in the same interview, “that their people, their ordinary people, are actually better-off being ruled by people from the South. Because the benefit of good governance trickle down.” That year General Muhammadu Buhari ignored Fani-Kayode’s empty theory, ran against President Olusegun Obasanjo and lost.
Even without the benefit of any reliable opinion poll, it is obvious from the dismal lot of Nigerians since 1999 that the gentleman’s fanciful theory of good governance being a function of one’s geographical origin was exactly that – fanciful; in the last 16 years, a Northerner has ruled this country for barely two years, but no one in his right mind would say Nigerians have been better off all these years than they were in the First and Second Republic or even during the military interventions in between.
Certainly no one can say the last six years under Fani-Kayode’s new political master has been a happy one for Nigerians, with, of course, the exception of those in the president’s charmed little circle. Yet this did not stop the president’s friends and supporters from trying to make the geographical origin of the major contenders in last Saturday’s presidential election an issue.
General Buhari’s second problem stemmed from his faith. Not being someone who has a way with words, even his most innocent affirmation of his faith provided his enemies with weapons to paint him in the image of an Islamic extremist. It seemed to make little or no difference that, for example, his cabinet as military ruler between December 1983 and July 1985 had more Christians than Muslims or that he severely curtailed the number of Muslims that went on pilgrimage to Mecca in his time, to the great annoyance of Muslims in the country.
Three times the man ran for the country’s presidency and three times the authorities used his origin and faith to defeat him. A less determined person would have given up after the third attempt since there is nothing he could do about his origin and, at well over sixty by 2003, he was highly unlikely to change his faith.
Apparently the man was determined not to give up. So for the fourth time he entered the presidential fray last year. This time he grabbed the opportunity to forge a formidable opposition party with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu – one of the most astute and formidable politicians of this country since the Third Republic – a couple of some opposition parties and a disaffected rump of chieftains of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party – an opportunity he had turned his back on in the run-up to the 2011 election, much to the joy of the PDP. Thus emerged the All Progressives Congress last year as the main opposition party which has now proved the nemesis of the PDP, the ruling party that had boasted that it will remain in power for at least 60 years.
However, that Buhari has succeeded in his fourth attempt is due less to the organisation of his party than in the faith the ordinary Nigerian seems to have in the man’s personal integrity and credibility. For, if truth be told, the APC nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Saturday’s elections but for the fact that most Nigerians were simply fed up with the sheer incompetence, arrogance and impunity of the ruling party, plus also the fact that its campaign of undue personal denigration of the man seemed to have backfired and created more public sympathy for him than hatred.
Part of the problem with the party was not so much its choice of the director-general of Buhari’s campaign organisation but his conduct once he took over the organisation. No doubt Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, the River’s State Governor, came highly recommended as a formidable opponent of the president and his overweening wife, Patience, who is from his state. Rivers is also one of the wealthiest states in the country. But for some inexplicable reason, no sooner did he take over the Buhari campaign organization than he alienated Tinubu and several serving governors in the party, including Dr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Kano’s governor who came second in the APC presidential primaries.
Equally inexplicably, he also alienated several party chieftains from the South-South and the South-East like Mr Osita Okechukwu, Chief Ikechi Emenike and Temi Harriman who had helped in securing the general’s landslide victory in the party primaries and who would certainly have helped in narrowing the wide margins by which the president defeated the general in the two zones, wide margins which contributed in denying him the landslide victory he deserved in the elections as a candidate who eschewed hate language in all his campaigns in spite of all provocations but instead focussed, along with his running mate, Professor Femi Osinbajo, on issues.
Clearly APC’s apparent writing-off of South-South and South-East as too hopelessly loyal to the president was a mistake. This should be obvious from the fact that the president, though admittedly under greater pressure than Buhari in the contest, never gave up seeking for votes in Buhari’s North-West, North-East and South-West strongholds. The president was, of course, more endowed than Buhari but what mattered more was getting value for money not just throwing it at people as PDP did, apparently to not much avail.
In a back-page piece as a guest columnist of Thisday on Election Day, Chief Osita Chidoka, the youthful Minister of Aviation wrote about was he called “The death of the African Big Man.” Even among Nigeria’s military rulers, he said, Buhari ranked lowly because he had no plans to hand over to civilians, isolated Nigeria diplomatically and passed laws retroactively.
“The question We ask Nigerian watchers and voters,” he said, is “with a record of seizing power through force, of brutally oppressing the people, and of triggering economic turmoil – would you find him to be a suitable leader?”
Presumably Nigerians pondered over Chidoka’s query and the majority of them obviously decided to take their chance with a persistent but honest 73 year-old than with a 57-year-old who had made such a hash job of their country in the last six years.