Writing from Ilorin, Legit.ng's guest author Emmanuel A. Akinkunmi carries out a thorough historical analysis and comes to the conclusion that Muhammadu Buhari might just be the right person to bring Nigeria forward.
I am not a politician but I take silent interest in what happens around me. I am one of the "silent majority" (if I may borrow these words from President Richard Nixon), whose voices are never heard, but who silently bear the brunt of bad governance and for whose well being all politicians pretend to work.
I am one of the concerned older generation of Nigerians who were living witnesses to the 1984/85 regime of Gen. Mohammed Buhari (GMB). I am writing in the hope that it might assist our younger ones to place in proper perspective his actions and inactions during his 20 months as head of state, and what he might do if he is voted into office.
Here's a bit of history.
In 1975, Gen. Murtala Mohammed and company overthrew Gen. Yakubu Gowon, mainly because Gen. Gowon had become so immersed in power that he did not see the need to return power to civilians five years after the war ended. His excuse was, in his words, "our politicians have learnt nothing."
The military government of Gen. Murtala/Obasanjo drew up a four-year program of action that was to end, and indeed so ended, in handing over to a government democratically elected in 1979. That Murtala/Obasanjo government made Nigerians proud, stood up to America and United Kingdom in foreign affairs, especially African affairs. Those were the days when one could raise one's head anywhere in the world and say with pride "I am a Nigerian". Nigeria's influence in African affairs was rising.
Gen. Buhari was part of that regime as Petroleum Minister, Chairman of NNPC, member of the Supreme Military Council, etc. Under his watch, our refineries and oil depots were built all over the country, and pipelines were laid to pump crude oil to the refineries and refined products to those depots directly from the refineries. Fuel prices became uniform throughout the country. No long queues for fuel, and fuel was cheaper than Coca-Cola.
The state of the nation handed over to the civilian government of Shehu Shagari in 1979 was healthy. Steel mills had been built all over the country. Trains moved. Nigerian airways flew. In short, Nigeria worked. You could sleep outside with your two eyes closed. There was security. There was peace of mind.
Within four years of that civilian government, things had changed. The civilian government of Shagari squandered economic resources and goodwill of Nigerians by myopic economic management, placing most essential commodities (essenco, as we called it then), like rice, soap, etc., under import license. Such licences were issued only on party or narrow parochial cleavages. Long-established and respected businesses were denied licences. Those who couldn't buy licenses at exorbitant prices from middle men or compromise their ethical business standards closed down or relocated to other countries.
Essenco like rice, flour, detergent, milk, soap, toiletries, etc., disappeared from the open market. Local production dropped for lack of raw materials. Businessmen resorted to hoarding. Prices skyrocketed. Smuggling thrived. Rationing of essenco became the order of the day. You worked hard for your money but you spent much more time queuing for one essenco or the other. The queue was often longer than the type you see nowadays at filling stations in times of fuel scarcity. In the far North, where I lived then, hunger loomed as drought further compounded the situation.
I experienced the hardship of those days. Virtually everything, including rice, became political instruments. Prosperity circulated within a small circle while :the silent majority" - the masses - were helplessly suffocating. It was "a tale of two nations". You need to experience it to understand the pains, the frustrations, the despair of that time.
Yet, we waited patiently for the 1983 elections to effect a change... but that was not to be. The ruling party at the federal level "conjured" landslide "victories" even in the traditional strongholds of the opposition. The members of the National Party of Nigeria, exemplified by Alhaji Umaru Dikko, carried themselves about with the arrogance of the "victor" in an overbearing manner. The spontaneous reaction was violence, arsons, murders, general disillusionment. The nation was surely vexed and longed for intervention.
Therefore, when the military struck again on 31st December, 1983, there was jubilation all over the country, even before Buhari was named as the Head of State. It was the fourth and most popular coup. It was more popular than the overthrow of Abacha. The only people who did not like it were corrupt politicians.
It was a necessary coup to salvage Nigeria. It was well-received. It was a coup for the masses. Those who make peaceful change impossible beckon to forced, even bloody, change. Besides, military coups were common and acceptable internationally in those days, unlike now.
I recently heard Buhari saying, "People have asked me why I am seeking office again, and I ask them, 'What has changed since then?'" Indeed, nothing has changed, only the gladiators. We have turned full circle. 1983 has returned. Frustration is back. Despair has returned. Corruption is high. Security has taken flight. As it was then so it is now. We earnestly yearn for change in our circumstances and once again we put our hope in the elections.
But who will bring this change, GEJ or GMB? Is it by some uncommon coincidence or some divine arrangement that Buhari is again the man being positioned to rescue Nigeria from the brink? Or is there some business divinely earmarked for Buhari which was truncated by his ouster by IBB in 1985, but which he is now being returned democratically to complete?
Talking about age, Nigeria has not derived any special benefit from our young leaders. It was our young inexperienced leaders that led us to civil war.
Ronald Reagan was the oldest American president but one of the most effective and strong ones. He defeated Jimmy Carter who was younger. Ironically, when Carter first sought election, he was relatively unknown, like our own GEJ. He was young, new on the scene - his gentle Christian mien appealed to many. He was "not one of the pack". He was one of the masses, a farmer. So they voted for him. But in four short years, all the goodwill had evaporated and he was defeated by older Reagan. His failure to rescue American hostages (like our Chibok girls) held in Iran took a heavy toll on his presidency. Reagan was strong and decisive. Old age did not deter him from connecting very well with the American spirit. The dismantling of the USSR and, consequently, ending the Cold War started in his time. American pride and influence returned.
Nigerians, just as Americans, like them a strong and decisive leader who is able to provide security and pride anywhere, anytime. Is the Reagan/Carter scenario about to play out in our country? If it is, will it make Nigeria better? Can it make future governments more responsive? I believe so.
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