President-elect Muhammadu Buhari: A profile
He has also made history as the first opposition candidate in the nation’s political history to dislodge an incumbent president from power.
Before the last weekend’s election, Buhari had contested for the post of president in 2003, as candidate of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP); in 2007 as candidate of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP); and in 2011 as candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
Buhari is not a quitter. Defeated in the last three elections, he has returned to contest the highest office again, becoming victorious the fourth time, and bringing home the story of former United States president, Abraham Lincoln, who tasted several defeats at previous elections before becoming the president.
In 2003, Buhari lost to Olusegun Obasanjo in an election which EU observers reported was marked by widespread irregularities. He lost again to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in the 2007 election, which was widely condemned for rampant rigging, violence, theft of ballot boxes and intimidation.
After Yar’Adua’s death in 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rose from vice president to president and Buhari challenged him in the 2011 elections as a candidate of the CPC. Buhari had formed the party a year earlier, saying it was “a solution to the debilitating, ethical and ideological conflicts in my former party, the ANPP.”
After Jonathan’s victory in 2011, amid accusations of rigging, riots broke out in the North. Armed protesters took to the streets chanting Buhari’s name. More than 800 people were killed in the post-election violence. Buhari issued a statement describing reports of burning of places of worship a sad, unfortunate and totally unwarranted development. “I must say that this is a dastardly act (that) is not initiated by any of our supporters and therefore cannot be supported by our party,” said Buhari’s spokesman, Yinka Odumakin. “I must emphasize that this is purely a political matter, and it should not in any way be turned into an ethnic, religious or regional one.”
Ahead of this year’s election, Jonathan and Buhari signed a non-violence pact, known as Abuja Accord in January. On March 26, they renewed their pledge and reiterated their commitment to “free, fair and credible elections.”
Facing incumbent President Jonathan, who is from the southern minority Niger Delta region, for a record second time at the polls, it had been projected to be a close race once the All Progressives Congress (APC), formed last year after four opposition parties merged, settled for a Muslim northerner as its candidate.
Very popular among the poor in the north known as the Talakawas, Buhari was able to dislodge the PDP, which had dominated the political scene since the end of military rule in 1999, with the aid of heavyweight defectors from the PDP.
With his military background and disciplinarian credentials, the ‘Change’ campaign was able to warm up to many Nigerians, who felt he possesses just what the country needs to get to grips with the Islamist insurgency in the north.
A Muslim from Daura in Katsina State, who has given his support to Sharia in the north, Buhari has previously had to deny allegations that he has a radical Islamist agenda. This posed a problem for him in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 polls, when he failed to secure much support among Christians in the south. But having escaped an attack on his convoy in Kaduna in July 2014, which bore all the hallmarks of a Boko Haram assassination attempt, he has promised to end the insurgency within months, if elected.
In 1983, Major-General Buhari and Major-General Tunde Idiagbon were selected to lead the country by middle and high-ranking military officers after a successful military coup d’etat that overthrew civilian President Shehu Shagari on December 31.
In 1985, Buhari was himself overthrown in a coup led by Babangida on August 27th, and other members of the ruling Supreme Military Council (SMC) were sacked stensibly, because Buhari insisted on investigating allegations of fraudulent award of contracts in the Ministry of Defence.
His first sojourn in power was a period remembered for strict campaign against indiscipline and corruption, and also for its human rights abuses.
The verdict on the President-elect’s 20 months in office 30 years ago is mixed. About 500 politicians, officials and businessmen were jailed as part of a campaign against waste and corruption. Some saw this as the heavy-handed repression of military rule. But others remember it as a praiseworthy attempt to fight the endemic graft that prevented Nigeria’s development. He retains a rare reputation for honesty among Nigeria’s politicians, both military and civilian, largely because of this campaign.
As part of his ‘War Against Indiscipline’, he ordered Nigerians to form neat queues at bus stops, under the sharp eyes of whip-wielding soldiers. Civil servants who were late for work were publicly humiliated by being forced to do frog jumps. He also introduced a notorious decree to restrict press freedom, under which two journalists were jailed. However, his attempts to re-balance public finances by curbing imports led to many job losses and the closure of businesses.
As part of anti-corruption measures, he also ordered that the currency be replaced – the colour of the naira notes were changed – forcing all holders of old notes to exchange them at banks within a limited period.
The retired major general’s experience as a military ruler has been viewed as a plus by some and a minus by others in present-day Nigeria, where the government has been locked in a deadly battle with the militant group Boko Haram.
This year alone, the extremists have killed at least 1000 civilians, according to the Human Rights Watch. The ongoing violence in the Northeast has put security, along with corruption and the economy, at the top of the election agenda.
Ayo Johnson, a documentary filmmaker and analyst on African affairs, in a media interaction earlier this month, said that the elections would come down to who could make Nigeria feel safe. “Many Nigerians will not forget (Buhari) was a military leader, during a dictatorship,” Johnson said. “Or maybe they will feel that they need a military leader to address fundamental problems such as terrorism.”
Buhari has campaigned as a born-again democrat to allay fears about his strict military regime, while stressing that Nigeria’s security needs to be the next government’s focus. “It’s a question of security. Whether I was a former military officer or a politician through and through, when there is insecurity of this scale in the country, that takes the priority,” he said.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in February, Buhari blamed President Jonathan’s government for repeated setbacks in the fight against extremists. “The misappropriation of resources provided by the government for weapons means the Nigerian military is unable to beat Boko Haram.”
Asked by Amanpour about abuses allegedly committed during his own previous leadership, Buhari said there was “a degree of accuracy” in the claims. But he said he had ruled Nigeria as part of a military administration.
“When that military administration came under my leadership, we suspended, as a military then, part of that constitution that we felt would be difficult for us to operate and as also a consensus,” he said.
“I think I’m being judged harshly as an individual that what happened during a military administration can be extended under a multiparty democratic system.”
Buhari’s campaign was also fiercely anti-corruption. He ran under the slogan of “new broom,” the symbol of the AP as against the ruling party’s symbol of an umbrella.
According to is campaign website, Buhari is from Daura in Katsina State and is married with eight children. His military training began in 1963 and included stints in the United Kingdom, India and the United States. Buhari was the first chairman of the Nigerian Petroleum Corporation, the site says.
Elements of Buhari’s biography were questioned in the run-up to the March 28 election. After weeks of speculation and an ongoing legal battle over allegations that Buhari failed to complete his secondary school education, a court on March 25 cleared the way for him to run in the presidential race after adjourning the case till April 22.
As a Sunni Muslim from the North, Buhari appears to have moved to address any concerns that his election could be detrimental to non-Muslim Nigerians, with the campaign office repeatedly avowing that: “Buhari will never Islamise Nigeria.”