Buhari: Bad times, good times
We need no ghost to come from yonder to tell us, before we realise, that these indeed are bad times for our president.
President Muhammadu Buhari, it now seems, is fated to preside over the affairs of this country at the most difficult of times. And which time is more difficult than when his country is plagued by a ravaging economic recession, terrorism of the Boko Haram and another variant of it in the Niger Delta? Add to all these the current threat to the foundation of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the political house that has provided the roof over his head, and what you get is confusion much compounded.
But these are times that test the capacity and the ability of a leader imbued with passion and political sagacity to pull his country from the brink and take his rightful place in history of men and women that had stood up to be counted when it mattered most. And history, as the legendary Winston Churchill said in his days as the war time British prime minister, would be faithful to him because he would write it himself. This is an opportunity for Buhari to write the history himself.
As a general in the Armed Forces of Nigeria, fate decreed him in December 1983 to govern Nigeria as a military head of state. He came to power through the coup that toppled the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari, the government which was accused of a soulless mismanagement of the nation’s economy through a fatal combination of corruption, ineptitude and gross indiscipline. To put the country back on the path of rectitude, Buhari’s Armed Forces Ruling Council took it upon themselves the task of reviving the country’s near comatose economy, purge the country of corruption and impose a near Barrack like discipline via the famous War Against Indiscipline, WAI, programme. It was a very difficult time in this country and the citizens were faced with severe economic hardship.
From January 15, 1966 when the military first tasted power after the first bloody coup and the counter-coup of July 29 that year up to October 1, 1979, the country had witnessed an unbroken military rule for 13 years. The last man at the end of the relay race was General Olusegun Obasanjo who completed the Murtala Muhammed/Obasanjo administration and handed the baton of leadership to Shehu Shagari, the first elected civilian president. October 1, 1979 was like October 1, 1960 when Nigeria became an independent country with the lowering of the Union Jack and the hoisting of Nigeria’s green-white-green national flag. Nigerians, men and women alike, were in festive mood. Democracy, with all its concomitants of freedom of expression, of association, of choice, of political affiliation and of worship, had replaced military dictatorship. It also ushered in an era of life more abundant free from the austerity measures clamped on the country by the out-going military regime.
The Murtala/Obasanjo administration had introduced strict economic measures to shore up the country’s foreign reserves which had nearly been depleted by uncontrolled importation with an attendant rising external debt. The military administration had placed a ban on many luxury items like Champaign and other goods that could easily be manufactured in the country. Nigerians began to look inwards. Instead of custom made suits and shoes from Italy and Britain, made in Nigeria equivalents became common place in the super markets. Local fabrics became more fashionable and were even exported to neighbouring West African countries.
But all these efforts were to waste soon after. With the return to civil rule, the thinking in political circles, it appeared, was that some of these measures were antithetical to the fundamental human rights of the people, rights that were freely guaranteed in a democratic culture. Don’t forget also that various political parties had made flowery promises of an El Dorado for the people, if voted to power. Every party had promised life more abundant, a guarantee of the best things in life that money could buy. Plus a good space under the sun.
After the election, the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, the party that brought Shagari to power, proved to be as good as its words. It was determined to fulfil all of its electoral promises. It embarked on massive social infrastructures, roads, schools, hospitals and low cost houses. The parties, in their respective states of influence, were engaged in keen competition for the soul of the people. Sundry business men and party faithful got import licences to bring goods that added no value to the lives of the people but which were veritable drains on the economy.
The ruling party was in a virtual state of inebriation to the extent that it was deaf to all exhortations to be a little prudent. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, on return from a spiritual retreat abroad, raised the alarm that the country, like the Titanic, was heading for a huge iceberg with fatal consequences. If government, did not apply the break, the country would be in economic shambles.
By the time the Shagari administration decided to heed this warning, it was late in the day to have any salutary effect on the economy. The foreign reserves had been depleted and external debts had mounted. In fact, the party was over. Shagari decided to re-impose austerity measures. But because there was no attempt to produce goods locally, Shagari’s austerity measures triggered shortages of all essential items among them, rice, milk and the king of them, all rice. Rice became such an important political staple food, it required a task force of its own headed by Shagari’s man Friday, the powerful transport minister, Umaru Dikko to make it available in all nooks and crannies of the country. The economy went into a tailspin but this was not enough to temper the arrogance of men of power with a little dose of humility and modesty.
As if it was determined to serve merely as a civilian interregnum, the Shagari administration did the best it could to woo back the military into power. And they struck on December 31, 1983. The lot fell on Buhari to lead his men to clean the Augean stable: cure the country of corruption, fix the broken economy and impose discipline. He was at this task when his colleagues forced a change of baton and sent him into a political wilderness.
But like Charles de Gaulle of France, who was recalled back to duty when his country needed him most, Buhari bided his time patiently for a whole of 30 years to reclaim the crown as a converted democrat and an elected civilian president. But like in his previous life, he came to office again at the most difficult of times.
He is now required to marshal all his forces – economic, political and what is most important, his personal political acumen and innate experience – to pilot the country away from disaster and catastrophe. This is the time for him to reassess strategy, weigh all options and expand his vision and horizon to embrace more ideas and succeed unreservedly to be able to craft the history by himself and nobody else.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Nigeria is at a cross road – politically, socially and economically. And the times are bad, to put it mildly. But the lot is on Buhari to drive that change from bad times to good times.