By Kayode Samuel
As the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) formally flags off its presidential campaign tomorrow, this seems an appropriate time to take another look at the party and its candidate, Major General Muhammadu Buhari. The reasons for paying close attention to the party and its flag-bearer are obvious enough. ANPP is ranked Number Two among the country’s thirty political parties. If it were to get its sums right, nothing stops it from becoming Number One. In terms of national spread, if for very little else, the party is the leading contender for the power now being held by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Concomitantly, the ANPP presidential candidate who, like the incumbent, is a former military head of state, is seen as the one most likely to give President Olusegun Obasanjo stiff competition at the April polls. Indeed, for the knowledgeable and the hoi polloi alike, the presidential race has already been narrowed down to an Obasanjo-Buhari square-off, with the other candidates featuring as no more than also-rans or comic relief – as the case may be.
Although the man has not done much yet by way of mounting the rostrum directly, the outlines of Buhari’s campaign manifesto are clear enough. It is becoming crystal clear what he intends to do with the power that he now seeks via the ANPP presidential ticket. The emerging temper of the Buhari campaign is a very churlish one indeed – not unlike the candidate himself. Its defining strategy is to deepen the country’s division as a ploy for winning power. Why this should be considered a viable strategy for winning the presidency can only become evident in the fullness of time. But it is becoming increasingly clear that General Buhari has plans for Nigeria that can only bring the country to grief.
The Yoruba have a saying that a man who is accused of being a thief should not be found dancing with a baby goat. The logic being that the man could be tempted to do a disappearing act with the baby goat and thus confirm people’s suspicions of him. Since he emerged as the ANPP candidate at the party’s abracadabra convention, General Buhari has done everything possible to confirm the worst fears of everyone who thought that his candidacy was bad news for the unity and progress of Nigeria. At every turn, he has raised the stakes in a way that presents him as being an agent of malevolent vested interests, who are desperate to visit chaos on the land by using his candidature as a major plank for starting another Civil War. Intimations of this malevolence have been legion, but the clearest indication yet has come via the interview General Buhari granted the Voice of America Hausa service last week.
In the interview, Buhari reportedly called on politicians from the northern part of the country to mobilize against the national identity card scheme since, according to him, the scheme is nothing but a ploy to put the north at a disadvantage. Buhari revealed that he decided to sabotage the scheme during his earlier tenure as military head of state because he saw it as a means of marginalizing the northern part of the country by presenting it as having a low population. In his thinking, the identity card scheme would not only depopulate the north, it would also deny millions of northerners in the rural areas of their citizenship since many rural dwellers in the north did not understand its importance. Buhari then warned that if northern politicians do not oppose the scheme, then they would have betrayed the confidence that their people reposed in them.
Three issues immediately arise from this thingly veiled attempt to blackmail northern politicians. First, that there is anxiety in the quarters that Buhari represents that the age-long phenomenon of inflated population figures in some parts of the country is about to be exposed by the identity card scheme. Second, that Buhari thinks that the progress of the country, which the identity card represents, must be subjected to the irrationality of perpetuating the myth that some parts of the country have more population than logic or acute observation can sustain. Third, that Buhari believes that the rural people of the north, whom he says are ignorant, do not deserve to be helped out of this ignorance through a policy that can only make their lives better.
It is noteworthy that the national identity card scheme was conceived twenty-four years ago with the primary aim of promoting development and security. People must be alarmed that a man like Buhari, who once ruled Nigeria, and who now wants to be president again, would take such a brazenly sectional stance by fostering divisions on a policy whose usefulness was so self-evident. But that is really quite in character with Buhari. And this must make us ponder the implications of a Buhari presidency for the country.
In the Hegelian dialectic of thesis and anti-thesis, a Buhari presidency can only be the anti-thesis of President Obasanjo’s reform agenda. We now have a presidential contest that pits a reform agenda against a revenge agenda. Northern hawks are quick to dress Buhari up in the toga of a northern avenger of the perceived insolence and temerity of a president from the south who has dared to attempt to create a level playing field for all Nigerians. In their view, this is an unpardonable crime as it runs against the grain of their conventional wisdom that other Nigerians are not and must not be equal to them.
The upshot of this mindset is that a Buhari presidency will seek to restore the status quo ante by promoting the re-enslavement of those historically oppressed people that the Obasanjo government has now given a voice – especially in the Middle Belt and the South-south zone. But such retrogression as Buhari seeks to foist can only invite its own nemesis, as it is bound to be resisted with such determination that leads the country into war and disintegration.
Buhari is an unreconstructed fascist who seeks to impose a hegemonic theocracy on a secular republic. He is a self-proclaimed puritan who nonetheless has a knack for being associated with missing public monies. With his recent statements, Buhari has shown that he will be a sectional leader in the Abacha mold, and would not mind playing the regional or sectional card to get power – even if it means taking the country to the precipice. The people he surrounds himself with these days already foster a sense of déjà vu about the Abacha era – Jerry Useni, Bashir Magashi, Don Etiebet, Sule Hamma, Ali Modu Sheriff, Victor Malu, Attahiru Bafarawa, to mention a few.
In appraising Buhari, the symbolism of the Oputa Commission should not be lost on us. Out of power, Buhari has elected to show such disdain for due process, considering it beneath him to appear before a duly constituted panel set up to promote national reconciliation. What will such a man do when he returns to power? In 1984, his revenge agenda was to jail people as a way of intimidating the country into quiescence about the NNPC’s money that went missing while he presided over that agency. Today, twenty years later, his revenge agenda could be to stop people from raising questions about what happened to 25 billion naira while he was in charge at the PTF!
*Vanguard, March 7, 2003
(Excerpted from my book, Political Transition in Nigeria, 1993-2003: Commentaries on selected themes, Lagos: Malthouse Press, 2007)