As the political day of reckoning – a time to give account of stewardship and seek revalidation – comes galloping at frenetic pace, the politician in Muhammadu Buhari is showing up with considerable zest each passing day. Officially, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has not yet asked contestants for 2019 general elections to get into the ring. But for all practical purposes, the potential office seekers including President Buhari have engaged in some spirited nocturnal meetings for strategy and calculations.
Some of them, apparently for the love of country, but, in most cases, in furtherance of their political interests, have stepped up their junketing across the country and across the globe. For now, and until the opposition parties put their act together to give the voting public an idea of who is in the race and who is not, the political field is widely open to President Buhari. Barring any last minute development, he remains the only candidate to beat, as his party- his die-hard followers inclusive – has virtually anointed him.
Today’s exercise is not an assessment of President Buhari or anybody else’s chances. It is too early in the day to do justice to that because all the variables are yet unknown – the jury, as they say, is still out. But it is interesting to take note of the political brinkmanship of this man who had tried valiantly three times and valiantly did he fail three times to stage a come-back to the presidency which he lost in the 1985 palace coup as a military head of state and who, for the whole of about 33 years since then, had been learning the art of politics – democratic as opposed to the military genre of politics.
Political scientists, I guess, have their job clearly cut out as they now have enough materials to do a critical interrogation of what retired generals in our clime have contributed to politics and the growth and development of democracy, considering the fact that, having been brought up in the command and control military environment, they now proclaim themselves to be converted democrats. The country can now boast of the examples of two illustrious citizens who have had the opportunity of serving the country in both settings.
Olusegun Obasanjo, now with a doctor of philosophy in theology, set the ball rolling in 1999, when in a dramatic transformation, the combination of fate and destiny had ram-rolled him through the portals of politics into the presidency to kick start the Fourth Republic. He held sway for eight years as president elected on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party PDP.
President Buhari now enjoys the distinction of being the second Nigeria’s former military leader who, almost equally dramatically, transformed from military dictatorship to a civilian democratic president, and who is never shy of proclaiming himself a converted democrat.
How well he has performed in office wearing his new garb will be manifested in the presidential election in February next year during which he will seek for second term in office. He has vowed to ensure that the election is free and absolutely fair. Which is not saying too much considering that his own presidency, as he has admitted, is a product of a free and fair election and the man he beat, President Goodluck Jonathan who graciously conceded defeat, if he had wanted to plunge the country into crisis, would have refused to accept defeat. He would have, in a typical African fashion, stayed put in office using all the apparatus of power available to him.
The last three and a half years have been a great learning experience for President Buhari. Age and the unconditional imperatives of democracy, not to mention his health, have considerably mellowed him down. His patience and level of tolerance, it must also be admitted, have so far proven to be at superlative level to the extent that he is seen generally to be indecisive. Where he should be seen to be quick-footed and responsive, brutal if need be, he is plagued by procrastination which he mistakenly believes to be a virtue.
The other day he thought he was being his normal blunt general when he cheerfully proclaimed that he was never in a hurry to do anything. In a way, he was right. Some rash decisions, taken in the heat and passion generated by emotion, are irreversible. In his impatience with society’s numerous ills, he did a number of things during his first coming as a military head of state which, on reflection, he would think more than twice to even contemplate today.
Still the general in him comes to the fore once in a while. In 1984, in his first interview with any newspaper, he spoke to the trio of Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu and Yakubu Mohammed of Concord newspapers. When he was asked about his relationship with the media, he snapped his fingers and said for the world to take note: “I shall tamper with the press.” And he did it by promulgating Decree Number 4 which punished journalists even if they published the truth so long as it was capable of embarrassing any public officer.
On his return from his latest vacation in London only a few weeks ago, he mistook the mood of the people and told them what he thought they wanted to hear by proclaiming that he would jail more corrupt Nigerians – obviously the import was not to take over the job of the judiciary. But that was what came out in his attempt to assure the nation that the war on corruption was going to be stepped up.
At the time the nation is bracing for an election in which he is a major contestant, President Buhari showed scant regard for political correctness by again displaying his impatience with those he deems to be enemies of the society. Goaded on by bad advice, the president got himself embroiled in an unnecessary controversy about the supremacy of the public interest or national interest over the rule of law. As if taking the battle to the enemy territory, he chose the Nigeria Bar Association convention as the venue for igniting the controversy.
All these draw-backs, inevitable some of the times, may not necessarily count so gravely against any leader that is focused and genuinely determined to put the nation above self. The good thing is for the leader to know when he’s made a mistake and to take appropriate steps to correct the mistake.
Some inappropriate utterances, for sure, are hard to take back, except through pragmatic steps. One such politically incorrect statement by the president, worse than the dry joke about the other room, was made in USA a few months on coming to office. He said, apparently without much thought, that the constituents that gave him 97 per cent of the votes could not in all honesty be treated with constituencies that gave him 5 per cent. He said this to the consternation of his international audience and, especially, the chagrin of even his own ardent supporters back home.
But today his political brinkmanship is taking care of such politically incorrect and inappropriate acts and utterances. For instance, the concentration of unprecedented efforts in the South-South and South East zones in terms of the so-called juicy appointments and federal government projects, since he came to office, is clear evidence of a contrite, if not penitent, president who is determined to repair age-long damage to bring a deprived region into the mainstream of Nigerian nationhood.
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