I recently had a phone conversation with a dear compatriot who just shared with me a desire to support Muhammadu Buhari for president, come 2015 elections. The conversation we had convinced me to put down these thoughts that have been with me for quite some time now.
Let me start by saying that it is a sign of how much military rule destroyed our sense of what is right and our relationship to history that dictators like Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida are still respected figures in our public life. But that is a topic for another day.
Here are my reasons why no one who is exercised by Nigeria’s and, by extension, Africa’s future, as well as that of African-descended peoples everywhere, must actively campaign against the likes of Buhari and, while we are at it, Abubakar Atiku, when it comes to our future.
Buhari is an unrepentant, unapologetic, unreconstructed dictator in whom I am yet to see the requisite democratic temperament beyond persistently presenting himself for elections. In case Nigerians need any reminder—that we do is itself a scandal—this was the man who, with Tunde Idiagbon, presided over a military regime that dehumanized Nigerians in the name of some spurious “War Against Indiscipline”. It was a regime under whose jackboots the dignity of many Nigerian women was assaulted at airports and other points of entry with humiliating body cavity searches in the name of some crazy war on drug trafficking. It is interesting that while the country that manufactured the original war on drugs is beating itself up on its stupidity, we are about to honour the man who led a regime that perpetrated indignities on Nigerians in the name of that same war! Is it any wonder that we don’t get any respect from the rest of the world?
As if the indignities were not enough by themselves, this was a man who signed execution warrants for three young Nigerians convicted of drug trafficking under a law that also recognized their right to appeal their conviction to a higher court. They were executed while their appeal had not, repeat not concluded. I do not recall that under military rule, the suspension of the constitution included the suspension of the doctrine of the presumption of innocence of the accused until such a person is convicted. Might I add that that conviction is not final until all appeals have been concluded. In other words, Buhari and the goons he led murdered three young Nigerians who were still presumed innocent according to our legal system, even under military rule. In a decent society—and ours is not a decent society—Buhari will be in the dock answering charges for his shameful and illegal behavior. But we are such amnesiacs; we think he could and should be president.
Meanwhile, his so-called war on corruption for which everyone pretends to celebrate him was not a model of consistency. Neither was the ethnicity-inflected justice that his tribunals meted out to erring politicians. For me, the matter of the emir’s suitcases pales into insignificance against the ethnically-modulated pattern of (in)justice in the trials of so-called corrupt public officials of the Second Republic. I am sure that not many Nigerians now recall the first public office-holder jailed for corruption by the Buhari\Idiagbon regime. That would be Olabisi Onabanjo, the first civilian governor of Ogun State. I recall telling people then that there was something wrong with that picture; I still think there is. It probably was one reason why Fela wondered why Shehu Shagari was not put on trial but governors and other office-holders were. In his inimitable parlance: “Driver get accident; na conductor you charge to court”. The Niger State governor who was found with six million naira overseas did not quickly come up for trial; neither did the Kano State governor for whom there was no trouble with banking government money in government house. Their trials would all come later.
More noteworthy was the fact that no, repeat, no Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) governor, not Ambrose Alli, not Bola Ige, not Onabanjo, was convicted of personal enrichment; they were guilty of using government funds to enrich their parties. Yet, they were the first to be sent to jail! The irony is completely lost on Buhari’s apologists when they proclaim his personal incorruptibility; a similar claim could be made of the UPN governors he was eager to imprison for presiding over a corrupt system.
Please don’t tell me about his stewardship of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). First, anyone who was associated with the Abacha regime does not deserve any place in Nigeria’s public life and, definitely, in Nigeria’s future. In the second place, PTF, EFCC, ICPC, and the innumerable extra-judicial organs that litter the Nigerian political landscape are relics of failure rather than icons of administrative genius.
Saudi Arabia, Mexico, the Gulf States did not need a PTF to put their oil windfall into proper financial institutions to ensure that their oil was turned from income into wealth. Does PTF have such a record? When did it become a sign of good economic management that you sit on accumulated money while your economy contracts? So, if part of what recommends Buhari for president is his stewardship of the PTF as an organ of development, it must be that amnesia is even less a problem than economic illiteracy that borders on collective idiocy.
Beyond his military service, I do not see any evidence that Buhari is interested in the project called Nigeria beyond the insistence of the dominant elite in the northern part of the country that their sons must be at Nigeria’s helm. I do not say this lightly and I say it in spite of the risk of being labelled. I am not worried about being labelled. He has never publicly opposed Sharia and that is one of the most toxic features of contemporary Nigerian polity and politics. No politician who is ambivalent about Sharia can be part of a salubrious future for a country like Nigeria. Incidentally, he could borrow a leaf from Mahathir Mohammed on this score. But Nigerian Islam and contemporary Christianity are not about Reason or ideas. His Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) definitely did not acquit itself well after the last presidential elections and his ominous wait to condemn the violence still rankles. Where is the evidence of any change on his part on this score?
Finally, it is a matter for great pity that the All Progressive Congress (APC) has proven itself to be more interested in power than in making a country that we all can be proud of. No thanks to its unthinking addiction to winning power and its even greater thoughtlessness in believing that it can do so by gathering the rejects of the ruling party, the APC can only deepen the cynicism and apathy of the electorate. It is a disgrace that the best the party that styles itself ‘progressive’ can do is to tout two retreads as its change agents when what the country needs are spanking new treads! If the permutation is to win in the north, I wish them luck. But it is the surest path to giving Goodluck Jonathan a second-term he does not deserve but will get because the other party has not shown itself to be any different from the PDP. Jonathan did not win the north that last time around; neither does he need it this time. APC can still withdraw from this path to self-destruction. Buhari is part of a past well let alone. Only the future should matter and nothing about him speaks to this future.
Professor Olúfémi Táíwò teaches Africana Studies at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, U.S.A. He is also a member of the Editorial Board of Premium Times.