‘’It’s not my problem.’’ – This was President Muhammadu Buhari’s immutable response to a question on his thoughts on the 2023 elections. Buhari has been coerced and blandished to assert himself like former President Olusegun Obasanjo who assumed the de facto office of godfather and technically installing the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as president in 2007. But the president has remained stolid to these sweet temptations.
Buhari has unremittingly warned members of his party – the All Progressives Congress – who are running for political office to desist from merchandising his name in their campaigns. At a meeting with party leaders in 2019, for instance, he said those running for office should work hard and convince the electorate to vote for them by dint of personal example. Using himself as a representative case, he said he ran for president multiple times but failed.
The president said he would not interfere or diddle with the electoral process to secure political advantage for anyone.
His words: “Well, what I want to promise Nigerians is that I will work very hard on ensuring free and fair elections. All those that are going to succeed the National Assembly and the presidency, they better work very hard because I will make sure I use the law enforcement agents to ensure that elections are free and fair (and that) nobody uses his office or his resources to force himself on his constituency.’’
He has again and again stated this position as regards the 2023 elections. Buhari is not the archetypal politician. He is placid and disinterested in ensconcing a political hegemony. He is empty of chicanery, and perhaps, full of childlike candour. He is politically guileless. His administration and whatever political edge that comes with it ends with him. I think this is the making of a democrat. A leader who will not want a puppet to succeed him and who will not try to maintain control of the government after him.
Buhari said he would return to Daura to tend his farm at the end of his tenure, and he appears to be working according to his word. The only way up from the presidency for Buhari is Daura. If the president stays on this path, then it will be a new precedent – sepulchring the old 2007 Obasanjo/Yar’Adua paradigm.
Buhari is very reluctant about becoming a political godfather – even when it seems political knights-errant need him to be one. During the APC leadership crisis involving Adams Oshiomhole, former national chairman, the president sequestered himself from the party and all the intrigues. He refused to be involved in the melee or take sides with any group. Some party insiders said he told them to ‘’behave themselves’’ and deal with the issues.
And during the national chairmanship tussle involving Mai Mala Buni, the president refused to move a hand. While there were plots and counterplots on the national convention, he totally unlooked. The party wobbled and tottered to purgatory, but the president was unfazed. He was even reluctant to name anyone as national chairman. The APC governors eventually had to impress it on Buhari why he should intervene and save the rocky boat.
At the meeting with the APC governors, the president was said to have nominated Abdullahi Adamu as national chairman. That was the only person he named for a position in the APC national working committee (NWC). But lists with names of certain persons for some offices purportedly endorsed by the president were already in circulation weeks to the national convention. Evidently, some acquisitive interests exploit Buhari’s name to pursue their own agenda within the party.
The president’s reason for being standoffish, according to those who know, is that he believes the party should be self-sustaining and self-governing; so that when he leaves office, the party can still function without his intervention. He just wants to go and rest in Daura after 2023.
In the build-up to the Edo State governorship election of 2020, when the APC gave Godwin Obaseki the heave-ho, the governor who joined the PDP to actualise his ambition, still found support in Buhari. A few hours after his defection to the PDP, the governor was seen at the Presidential Villa grinning from ear to ear with Buhari.
At the 2019 governorship campaign rally in Imo, the president told residents to vote for any candidate they liked regardless of the party – this is to the stupefaction of the APC candidate and other party leaders present. His words: “You can vote for whosoever you want. Do not allow intra or inter-party affairs stop you from voting for the candidates of your choice.’’
Buhari has shown rare political expansiveness. He does not interfere in or influence elections for anyone; he does not show exceptional preference for any candidate against another. But he gives the customary support to his party’s candidates no doubt. He meets, smiles and take photographs with every candidate – whether PDP, APC or PRP.
On political matters, Buhari has really lived up to his 2015 pledge: ‘’I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.’’
•Nwabufo is a writer and journalist.