Permit me to join millions of Nigerians in saluting Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), GCFR, the man we fondly call GMB, as he clocks 72 years in a clime where the official life expectancy is more than two decades below his age.
And to top the celebration, he is healthy, agile and alert. This was vividly demonstrated penultimate week, when at the middle of the rally of our great party – All Progressives Congress (APC) at Eagle Square, his physical strength was tested.
We set out with GMB, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, Dr Ogbonniya Onu and host of other party leaders on mass action, a road walk which took us from Eagle Square – Ministry of Justice – Eagle Square – Nigeria Police Headquarters back to Eagle Square. While some of us were panting, he remained unnerved and when we were rushing for water, he refused to drink, until he got home.
One will not bother our dear readers with the genesis of this legend, as it is public knowledge that GMB was born on December 17, 1942, to a humble family in Daura, Katsina State and schooled at Katsina Government College, before enlisting into the Nigeria Army where he rose from the rank of second lieutenant to major general.
My brief narrative here is why we are celebrating GMB today, why he is a legend of our time and by so doing one will focus mostly on how GMB succeeded in constructing an uncommon celestial bond between him and the Nigerian masses and the middle class.
GMB caught public attention as Minister of Petroleum Resources, when he commissioned Warri and Kaduna refineries and when it was rumoured that N12 billion was siphoned out in raw cash, a story that turned out false.
This means that today he will rather construct new refineries than expend billions of Naira on importation of refined petroleum products. He will check drain pipe that killed our textile industries and impoverished our economy.
The second time he caught public attention was when as the General Officer Commanding (GOC) the 3rd Armoured Division based in Jos, he chased away the Matastine, an insurgent and extremist sect, similar to Boko Haram, beyond Chadian border. That was when incidentally I was doing my National Youths Service at the 2nd Mechanised Division Ibadan.
The news among the officer corps then is how come the GOC of 3rd Armoured Division moved troops without express approval by the C-in-C. It generated mixed reactions, but the solace then was that the insurgents were subdued.
I am one of those who sincerely believe that he has the political will to crush Boko Haram and overhaul our defence architecture.
When eventually the December 31, 1983 military coup took place and the masterminds invited GMB to head the government, his signs of being a man of the masses started staring us in the face with the War Against Indiscipline and the Andrew’s advert appeal to stem the mass exodus enveloping the country at the time.
To confirm his inclination to the down trodden and the middle class, news filtered out that he rejected the International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditionality’s for helping to revamp the Nigerian economy.
The conditionalities were meant to cajole his regime to devalue the Naira, to pay foreign debts, some of which were phantom, to stop Fuel Subsidy and open the borders for all manner of importation in the guise of export of non-existing produce.
He declined in the collective of interest of Nigerians, inspite of the harsh economic challenges and the survival of his regime. Shortly after his regime was over thrown and all the conditionalities were obeyed. The consequence is that the life expectancy of Nigerians declined, infrastructure collapsed and social services nose dived.
This was the beginning of the nebulous and inchoate economic policy of government has no business in business. An austere economic policy that erroneously assumes that you can construct a capitalist state without first publicly funding critical infrastructure; which stimulates an industrial society.
The policy was successful in advanced economy, but had serially failed in developing economies such as Nigeria.
GMB opposed the anti-people economic policy and still does. This is one of his political capitals and the celestial bond he has with the masses and the middle class. A power hungry regime could have adopted the policy hook line and sinker for its survival but he said no, knowing fully well that it would pauperize the people and wipe off the middle class.
In another singular feat, he wore Major General in rank when he became head of state and against all prodding, refused to promote himself to full General, arguing that he cannot promote himself.
It is pertinent to point out that all this while, the only time I met him face to face was sometimes in 1983, when I accompanied the then GOC of 2nd Mechanized Division, Major General Haladu Anthony Hananiya, (rtd) to Bonny Camp Lagos for a workshop.
There was no interaction between us until sometimes in 2002, when GMB joined partisan politics and was nominated as the presidential candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and he chose Rt.Hon. Chuba Okadigbo, the Oyi of Oyi, as his running mate.
Before then, one fateful evening Oyi invited 20 of us to his house, shortly after he was impeached as Senate President, and told us he was defecting from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the defunct ANPP.
He asked to know how many of you want to go with him and we asked his reasons. He said it was not because he was impeached but because the then president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, was constructing a one party system in a multi-party system, which he said was very dangerous. That only realignment of political forces could stop that and that it was going to be a marathon race.
Eleven of us elected to go with Oyi and that was the prelude for our current association with GMB. Initially, we were kind of skeptical of the man who promulgated Decree No. 4, an anti-freedom decree and other draconian laws. How on earth could he transform into a democrat? We wondered.
Our cynicism was allayed during the campaign for 2003 general elections. When we arrived at the palace of the Obi of Onitsha, Agbogidi, Igwe Alfred Achebe, the Onowu of the palace, Chief Chike Ofodile of blessed memory, in introduction, narrated how democratic GMB is. Chief Ofodile was Attorney General in GMB’s 20-month regime. He said he had a tradition of collating all shades of opinion before any major decision is reached and adhered strictly to any decision taken by the Supreme Military Council and never imposed his will on them.
To further summarize his knowledge of GMB, Chief Ofodile told us a story. He said when some friends went to complain that the late Major General Tunde Idiagbon was taken the shine out the head of state, GMB’s reply was: Is Idiagbon executing agreed programme of the regime? And the people said yes, but that he was taking the glory alone. He thanked them and said that all he needed from his lieutenants was collective actions and successes. He said it was not his style to compete for limelight.
This is the hallmark of GMB. He delegates power and supervises and never competes for limelight. This is one of the misconception a lot of people has of him, but those in close contact with him know better. He is an introvert and rarely interfere until one fails him.
In one of those relaxed sessions we usually have with him, I told him that the point his traducers have against him is that those under him steals, while he looks the other way and he asked for an example.
I said that often cited is the Afri-Project Consortium that worked with him under the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) and he answered that all their payments were within the ambit of the law, based on the approved federal government scale of fees. He explained that if he had done anything wrong, the three different investigation panels the Obasanjo government instituted to investigate him could have found him guilty.
He maintained that his principle is that if you take money from contractors or consultants you automatically lose the moral high ground to properly supervise or control them.
GMB stands out as the only Nigerian alive who ventures into presidential race without N10 million in his account, for the three times he was nominated as sole candidate and the fourth time he participated in a gruesome primary and prevailed over money politics.
This is the legend of the most simple man, a humble and public spirited statesman we call upon to come and fix a broken and divided country. This is the genesis of Buhari-Bandwagon-Vehicle for Salvation.