Editor's note: Devaan Mom, a journalist and politician who is currently the director public affairs of the Jime/Ode campaign organization in Benue, writes on the forthcoming February 16 presidential elections. She writes from Utange in Ushongo local government of the state.
As the countdown to the February 16 general presidential and National Assembly elections begin in earnest, the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, President Muhammadu Buhari has naturally found himself the cynosure of all eyes. An extremely divisive figure, the man Buhari is as passionately loved by many as he is despised by others. This is not a situation peculiar to President Buhari as many eminent figures through the course of global history have found themselves in similarly paradoxical situations.
A retired Major General who hails from Daura in Katsina state, President Buhari once served Nigeria as governor of the North Eastern state which today comprises, Yobe, Borno, Adamawa, Taraba, Bauchi and Gombe states. They must still have fond memories of his tenure as evidenced by his enormous popularity in the axis. Muhammadu Buhari then went on to serve as the federal commissioner for petroleum resources, easily the most salacious industry to be affiliated to in Nigeria and still left that office untainted by ill-amassed wealth. President Buhari is acknowledged as one of the few top elites who is not known to own off-shore real estate or bank accounts nor any oil blocs in the country.
Known to live a minimalist lifestyle, he owns only a handful of properties in Nigeria and is also a farmer. The various appointments he held were during military regimes and he took a back seat when power was returned to the civilians in 1979 only to intervene in 1983 when it seemed the then President Shehu Shagari led administration seemed to be groping its way in the dark. Though a short-lived tenure, the December 31, 1983 coup which saw him installed as Nigeria’s head of state, remains one of the few blights on his person but there are Nigerians who still don’t see it that way viewing it instead as a much-needed intervention to set Nigeria back on the right path.
Thus, began a rather stringent process of reform, which led to the incarceration of about 500 politicians, officials and businessmen for corruption. They were only released if cleared of charges or after returning illegally acquired funds to the state and agreeing to certain conditions. This naturally earned him several powerful enemies. But no account of Buhari’s first tenure as Head of State would be complete without mentioning the rather comical but botched bid to have Alhaji Umaru Dikko forcibly returned to Nigeria from the United Kingdom to face charges of graft. Alhaji Dikko was the then minister for transport and an in-law to President Shehu Shagari.
It was a watershed moment in Buhari’s personal history consolidating the west’s perception of him as a dictator and tyrant. It’s a reputation he has been unable to shake off till date. Ironically, to many Nigerians, that singular act turned him into the incorruptible hero of the masses, also a reputation he has managed to retain till date. A disciplinarian, Buhari’s term earned him enemies but also yielded benefits like public discipline (the War Against Indiscipline reintroduced the queue culture in Nigeria and helped curb tardiness in public officials who risked losing their jobs for showing up to work late), curbed corruption, lowered inflation, enhanced the workforce and improved productivity.
Nigerians were gradually developing a grudging admiration for the man when his 1 year, 239-day stint was suddenly truncated. General Ibrahim Babangida took over and the people’s hero also got a feel of jail as he was confined for almost 3 years. Muhammadu Buhari regained public relevance with the coming to power of General Sani Abacha, in 1993. A mutual acquaintance of Babangida and Buhari and unarguably Babangida’s long-term right-hand man, General Abacha made Maj.Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, an organization established by his administration to utilize the increase in funds accruing from the petroleum sector to institute developmental projects nationwide.
It was a task Buhari executed exceptionally, though this time, in close consonance with an administration thought to itself be stained by corruption. Abacha’s death in 1998 ushered in civil rule and gave the retired Major-General another shot at his much-desired aim to lead the country again. But it turned out to be an uphill challenge as he found himself contesting and losing at the polls and in the courts 3 times before finally edging out an incumbent in the 2015 elections.
Hate him or love him, the septuagenarian has proven himself a patriot, a man of discipline, a man known to live within his means, a man of unbending will and tenacity, and a man determined to change the lot of the extremely poor. This is self-evident in his 4-year tenure. Working through an economic slump occasioned by a dramatic fall in crude oil prices while dealing with flashes of insurgency across the country.
He stands firm supported by an equally resilient vice president, rather obscure till he became second in command. A legal luminary, one-time Attorney General of Lagos state and considered one of the main driving forces of the Buhari administration, Professor Yemi Osinbajo shares an unmistakable bond with is principal. Together this pair has weathered most of the storms presented by governance and again present themselves to Nigerians with a plea for another 4-year term to consolidate on gains made so far.
Will it be a resounding “yes,” a reluctant “ok” or a definite “no” from Nigerians come February 16? Only time will tell.
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