Why Buhari will not agree to a Debate with Jonathan, By Femi Aribisala
In all my years of studying elections, I have never seen a campaign as bogus as that of Muhammadu Buhari. It is amazing that, for a man who is running for election as president for a marathon fourth time, Buhari is so bereft of ideas as to how he would do anything if he were to become president. Campaigning in 35 states, Buhari has spoken for a total of less than 60 minutes in all. Surely, he wants to be president; but he clearly has no presidential agenda.
Buhari’s blueprint for the presidency is similar to his Cambridge/WASC certificate; it is yet to be discovered. It is an article of faith of things hoped for by his admirers, the evidence of things neither seen nor articulated. No man becomes president of Nigeria on the basis of vain platitudes. No man becomes president as a result of social media blogs and soundbites. No man becomes president by giving two-minute speeches in craftily-packaged rallies, one minute of which is spent introducing his entourage.
What would Buhari do differently to fight Boko Haram? He would study the situation and restore morale to the military. What would he do to restore the economy? He would increase the international price of oil single-hahnded. What would he do to create jobs? He would build interstate highways in the middle of a drastic slump in Nigeria’s income in order to energise motor-mechanics and bukaterias.
Buhari says: “I will revive and reactivate our minimally performing refineries to optimum capacity.” How does he propose to do this? “I will provide one meal a day for children in public primary schools.” Where is the money to do this? “I will generate, transmit and distribute electricity on a 24/7 basis whilst simultaneously ensuring the development of sustainable/renewable energy by 2019.” Is he now going to nationalize the GENCOS and the DISCOS?
“I will make direct cash transfer of 5,000 naira to the 25 million poorest and most vulnerable citizens, if they immunize children and enrol them in school.” My o my! Did Buhari do the maths before coming out with this pie in the sky? This amounts to a 125 billion naira handout; nearly equal to the entire annual income of Edo State.
Style without substance
Goodluck Jonathan’s APC opponents like to denigrate him as “clueless.” But what shall we say of Muhammadu Buhari, a general who did not know the name of his running-mate; calling him Yemi Osunbade instead of Yemi Osinbajo. Buhari referred to Imo State as Ibo State. In an interview on CNN, he called INEC the Independent Nigerian Electoral Commission. He also called his party the All Progressives Confidence. No wonder President Jonathan observed that Buhari cannot remember his own phone-number.
Let’s face it: General Buhari has become an embarrassment to the APC. He should not be allowed to become a Nigerian embarrassment. An absent-minded old man is not the kind of person we need as president. Electing Buhari amounts to jumping from the frying-pan into the fire.
Buhari’s campaign elevates make-believe over reality. It asserts the primacy of propaganda over commonsense. It proclaims the superiority of fiction over facts. Buhari and the APC need to be told some home-truths. You don’t build roads by attacking Goodluck Jonathan. You don’t create jobs by attacking the PDP. You don’t destroy the Boko Haram by undermining the authority of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. You don’t proclaim a mantra of anti-corruption slogans, while being surrounded and funded by corrupt politicians.
Shouting change changes nothing. Change is championed by the young, and not by a 72 year-old retired soldier receiving cheers from a coterie of dyed-in-the-wool political dinosaurs. How can Buhari represent change from the PDP, when a large chunk of his change-sloganising APC members are poached PDP turncoats? How does Buhari’s endorsement by Obasanjo, a former PDP president, commend him as an agent of change from the PDP?
Instead of change, Buhari’s agenda is the “same old same old” of the mundane and the sub-standard. I challenge APC supporters to point out one; just one, single original idea that has emanated from him. The truth is that it does not exist. Buhari is the master of the fluff and the bluster. He will fight corruption, but he cannot say how. He will revive the economy, but cannot say how. He will end the Boko Haram insurgency in no time at all, but he cannot say how.
In effect, Buhari is asking Nigerians to elect him on the basis of some voodoo that he will only concoct after the election. Nigerians should not fall for this ploy. Buhari is an old has-been: banking on the forgetfulness of Nigerians and on our disregard for history. The APC has spent far more time strategizing on how to manipulate public opinion than on policy-formulation. Its manifesto is shallow and phony; a very poor cousin to Goodluck Jonathan’s well-articulated and unfolding transformation agenda.
On the basis of his performance in office, President Jonathan has done much better than any of his predecessors. His legacy is there for all to see in agriculture, aviation, road construction, education, health (especially Guinea Worm, Polio and Ebola eradication), railways, electricity and political reform through the National Conference. Those who are insisting he should not be given a second-term need to come up with cogent reasons why we need to change the stewardship of an economy recording one of the highest growth-rates in the world.
No wonder therefore that Buhari is running away from a presidential debate. His reticence confirms the view that he has nothing concrete to offer. Every excuse he and his handlers come up with only further exposes their vacuity. One thing is for sure; Buhari cannot agree to a debate because his campaign is all smoke and mirrors.
Indeed, nothing exemplifies the bankruptcy of the APC presidential campaign more than the decision of Buhari to deliver a vapid speech in London, rather than engage Jonathan in a presidential debate in Nigeria. I am still looking for someone to explain to me the relevance of Buhari’s London junket to a Nigerian presidential election. Britons don’t vote in Nigerian elections. Even Nigerians living abroad don’t vote. So what was the point of that charade?
Instead of giving a speech at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in Lagos, Buhari chose the Royal Institute of International Affairs, in far-away London. Nevertheless, nobody would mistake Buhari for a scholar. The APC presidential candidate has never written a book. He does not even have an article in a journal or newspaper to his name. We have yet to sort out the nagging issue of his missing school-leaving certificate. Indeed, his trip might have made more sense if it had involved a dash to Cambridge to secure a bona fide copy of his fictitious 1961 WASC results.
Buhari’s Chartham House speech was intellectually empty. It was full of bells and whistles signifying absolutely nothing. There was nothing newsworthy in it. It only made the news abroad because there was protest against him in the streets. From beginning to end, his speech was a flimsy rationalization of his dubious transition from dictator to democrat; and from coup-plotter against democracy, to presidential candidate in a democratic election.
Buhari is certainly not a Maitama Sule or a Barack Obama. By no stretch of the imagination can he be called an orator. His delivery was poor and labored. His heavily-accented diction mutilated the English language, as usual. It did not help that he read his prepared text word-for-word; scarsely looking up at his audience. It is too late now to advise his handlers that he should have been hidden behind tele-prompters.
Questions begging for answers
There were elephants in the room at Chartham House; nagging questions begging for answers. How would Buhari react as president if a military coup were to be undertaken against his government? Would he accept this in good faith, since he was also guilty of the same offence? The truth of the matter is that, as a former coup-plotter, Buhari does not have the moral right to seek election as president under a democratic dispensation.
How can he justify jailing Odumegwu Ojukwu in 1984, even though Ojukwu did not hold any political office? How can he justify jailing septuagenarian Pa Michael Ajasin, an honest and upright governor of Ondo State that did not steal any public funds? How can he justify seizing Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s passport, thereby preventing the old man from seeking medical attention abroad; while he sent his own wife and children for medical treatment in the United States?
How can he justify killing Nigerians for committing a crime that did not attract the death penalty when they committed it? How can he justify the jailing of journalists, even for writing truthful reports? Buhari is determined to avoid addressing such probing questions. But such questions are precisely what a political campaign is designed to answer. Frankly, Buhari’s past record is malicious and indefensible. He can keep running away from it, but he cannot hide from it.
One question was answered fulsomely at Chartham House: Buhari does not have the good health or stamina required for the job of president. After campaigning for barely one month, he needed a long rest in London. He literally disappeared for two weeks to recharge his batteries, bang in the middle of an election campaign. This is nothing short of bizarre. A man who cannot withstand the rigours of a one-month presidential campaign is not fit to be president of Nigeria.
Ekiti governor, Ayo Fayose, put it succinctly: “A man who campaigned for four weeks, speaking for less than one hour in all the rallies put together and needed to rest for 15 days should just stay at home and be playing with his grandchildren rather than struggling to take up a job that he does not have the required mental and physical strength to do.”
When Buhari finally returned back home, APC was foolish enough to organise a so-called One Million Man March (attended by barely one hundred thousand people) in Lagos; when it knew its presidential candidate was too old to march. Buhari was glaringly absent from the event. To use the local expression, “he was nowhere to be found.”