By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, I don’t know about you but I’m truly worried that our dear beloved country may have fallen into the hands of those who do not see unity and nation-building as a priority. Before I go on, let me tell a true life story. In 2014, I was on a bus ride with the current Minister of Transport, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and a few others. We were on our way to view a suitable office for the Muhammadu Buhari Presidential Campaign office in Abuja. As always, discussions dovetailed from one topic to another. The one I will never forget was when the then Governor of Rivers State, Amaechi, suddenly turned to me and asked my opinion on whether Buhari should drop the title ‘General’ from his name. Amaechi did not say what was behind that thought, but I suspected that many people felt it could be an albatross being a sad reminder of his days as a military dictator. Some young folks in the bus had apparently suggested this to the Governor as brand consultants but I responded by disagreeing vehemently.
“Why would a man drop his greatest achievement in life?” I asked rhetorically, with a straight poker face. There was pin drop silence. I fired on “so what do you now want to call Buhari, Mister, Chief, Dr. or what? I think the title ‘General’ can even be funkified by us by referring to him as “the People’s General…” I humbly suggested. There was general excitement and consensus, thereafter. That day, it was clear that we were all very happy and delighted to be working for the victory of a man we believed had learnt his lessons after being unceremoniously sacked in a military coup 30 years earlier.
For the sake of those who do not know what happened between 1983 and 1985, let me summarise the history and story of that period. On December 31, 1983, a military coup was heralded by a certain Colonel Sani Abacha. I had never heard his name before then, and I’m sure not many Nigerians did. The coup brought an abrupt end to the President Shehu Shagari government and its reckless and profligate ruling party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). A general election held barely months to the coup had been heavily rigged by the NPN and such unheard of adjectives like “landslide and moonslide” were used to describe the outcome. Nigerians were shocked to their marrow, but the government of the day could not be bothered. Therefore, it was not a big surprise when the stern-faced Abacha made his announcement on the last day of 1983 and a Brigadier Muhammadu Buhari was soon declared as the new Military Head of State.
The Buhari regime immediately made a “war against corruption and indiscipline” its signature mantra. Draconian Decrees were promulgated. Military tribunals were set up and pronto, politicians, businessmen and journalists were thrown into detention, summarily prosecuted and convicted. Huge sentences were manufactured and handed out like popcorn or confetti. Many Nigerians initially welcomed this Messiah, Buhari, and his deputy, Angel Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon, who had come to rescue Nigeria from political demons and other prodigal children. Everyone screamed “crucify them…” It was such a sweet refrain, but the honeymoon period was soon over, and Nigerians started groaning under the yoke of repressive laws, squalid and degrading detention camps, atrocious sentences, unjustifiable double standards, myopic and visionless economic policies, beggarly supplies, rationing of essential commodities, a mindless clampdown on the Press, and so on. Buhari and his deputy, Idiagbon were on rampage, out of supposed righteous indignation at the way Nigerians and Nigeria had been defiled and desecrated by the political class and businessmen. They studiously ignored all entreaties to temper justice with mercy.
To cut a long story short, Nigerians groaned and moaned and cried for deliverance from this bitter, brash and brutish government. This was the opportunity Ibrahim Babangida and company needed to strike and they took full advantage, sacked the Buhari government almost effortlessly in a palace coup.
Upon learning of the cataclysmic fall of that government, Nigerians spilled into the streets in wild jubilation. History would record many reasons the government failed woefully. Let me briefly mention a few. The discipline it sought to instil was lopsided and discriminatory. In a country that is totally neurotic about ethnicity and religion, President Shagari was placed under house arrest, but his Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme, and many other Southern politicians were kept in prison under the most excruciating conditions, in a most bizarre act of man’s inhumanity to man. Many of the prisoners, like Governor Bisi Onabanjo of Ogun State, became human skeletons and walking corpses. Some, such as Governor Ambrose Alli of Bendel State, suffered irreparable or even fatal damages to their health. Laws were made in typical Orwellian fashion, in which all animals were supposed to be equal, but some were more equal than others. The Big Brother kept watch over the animals, but allowed some to enjoy unbelievable privileges, including, allegedly, the Emir of Gwandu, who contrived to bring in 53 suitcases into the country without being searched, contrary to Buhari’s law at the time, because his son was the Aide-de-Camp (ADC) to Buhari. Fela, the legendary musician was jailed under the flimsiest of pretexs. Two journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor were jailed as warning to other would be troublemakers. The list of atrocities was long and endless.
The government ran a voodoo economic misadventure and the economy nosedived and collapsed with debilitating consequences. It was a policy of “do as I say and not as I do…” Babangida crept in and dismantled the unfriendliness of that government. In fact, Babangida’s attraction was being the opposite of what Buhari represented. Babangida assembled the most cerebral Nigerians and ran a government of intellectuals who could challenge him, policy for policy. Even known critics were attracted to work for their countrt. Back to Buhari, the regime went into oblivion and a sad place in our history, or so it seemed.
Babangida’s government itself ended tragically by overstaying its welcome. Perhaps, had Babangida allowed the 1993 elections to hold in peace, and not in pieces, Nigeria won’t be in this mess today. Over-tinkering with the political process led to endless conflagration.
It is not known at what point Buhari started nursing his ambition to run back to power. He probably suffered from withdrawal syndrome like other Generals who at different times attempted to return to the hallowed corridors of power. For example, Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (died without realising his dream), General Olusegun Obasanjo (returned by the conspiracy of the military Mafiosi and almost bagged a third term, in the kitty), General Ibrahim Babangida (couldn’t muster enough support from Obasanjo, the capo di tutti capi, and others, so quickly beat a hasty retreat), Lt. General Aliyu Gusau (silent power house, highly regarded in intelligence circles). In the event, General Buhari contested a record four times and eventually won in 2015.
It is ironic that a man who was brusquely booted out of power 30 years earlier was brought back in a haze of glory. His triumphant re-entry into the Nigerian political sphere and space will remain one of the most mysterious miracles of this century. The best way to describe it would be that Nigerians were victims of mass hypnotism and “collective amnesia”. Please, let me succinctly explain, again. Today is a day for going down memory lane. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) handed power on a platter of gold to Buhari. Some of us had written all the English in the lexicon warning of the danger ahead if the ruling party did not reduce its profligacy and pugnacity. Just as the Party went on a binge and wasted resources, it also suffered another calamity by not keeping its house in order. Nigerians got increasingly frustrated and desperately wanted a terminal end to a ruling Party that boasted it would rule eternally. It was this desperation that catapulted Buhari back to power, warts and all.
I remember some of our deliberations after Amaechi and company stormed out of the PDP. That was the beginning of the end. PDP, in its state of cockiness did not envisage the catastrophe that awaited it in the near future. Amaechi and friends tactically aligned with a few other parties like ACN, ANPP and CPC to form APC. I will forever salute the total commitment of two people in particular, Amaechi and Dr Bukola Saraki, the current Senate President. The combination of both was lethal. I was honoured to participate in a few of their meetings. They were responsible for attracting a lot of the younger folk to Buhari. Many of the questions people asked about Buhari included: does he have intellectual capacity to run a modern government?; what business did he run in the last 30 years?; will he discriminate or seek revenge against supposed enemies?; has he purged himself of dictatorial tendencies?; will he be an ethnic bigot?; a religious fanatic coming to Islamise Nigeria?; etc,. We devised a general and standard response to the myriad of thought-provoking queries – “General Buhari is a born-again democrat…” – and we stuck to our guns, even if not totally assured or convinced about the true nature and status of the last saint standing. We were driven by our blind faith and the hope that Baba must have learnt useful lessons in 30 years and had had time to reflect on the things he did wrong in the past and what he plans to do right in the future.
The clincher for many of us was the invitation and inclusion of Professor Yemi Osinbajo, a renowned scholar, legal luminary, seasoned administrator and revered priest of the Christian faith. To every known or imagined defect in Buhari, we found a foil, an antithesis, and counter-solution in Osinbajo. We assumed their relationship was going to pan out like that of the symbiotic relationship of Buhari and Idiagbon, and that Osinbajo would be the guiding spirit and stabilising force of the government. No one reckoned with a hidden cabal while Amaechi, Tinubu, Saraki and others sweated profusely to make Buhari President. Not that we were not warned by those who should know because they were close to him, once upon a time.
Anyway, the rest is now history. Baba realised his ambition and we were all elated. But as in the proverbial death of the elephant, no sooner did Baba assume office than everyone, including strangers to the party, surfaced with knives and plates to cut their portions. I was stunned when, systematically, even Amaechi was being blocked by some of those who used to loiter in his corridor begging for mobilisation. A new power block suddenly emerged. On several occasions, I approached Amaechi and sympathised with his gradual and steady banishment from the inner caucus, but my man had, and still has, incurable faith in Buhari. The President is his hero who could do no wrong, so he ignored all the other distractions. The tragedy of APC was in alienating most of the powerful forces that brought it to fruition. Things fell apart too quickly. Ill-health also slowed Baba down and threw up some over-zealous and ambitious people who seized upon the lacuna to govern by proxy.
I also suspect the existence of a fifth columnist within government who programmed everything to fail. The many fractious and fracticidal wars that broke out were totally unnecessary. Again, the battle against corruption could have been fought differently. Before the election, there was a tacit understanding that the Change government was going to tackle the scourge of corruption differently, that it was not going to be selective and that the priority would be on recovering the loot across board, irrespective of party affiliations. Punitive measures were only going to be unleashed on those who refuse to give back a substantial chunk of their loot.
Baba was going to demonstrate his new avowed embrace of democratic and nationalistic credentials in order to dispel the fears of those who believe a leopard can never change its spots. It is strange and inexplicable how the massive goodwill was frittered away in no time. Today, the President and his Party are merely struggling to put up an appearance. Even his most fastidious supporters admit in private that only a miracle and unprecedented rigging can bring them back to power in 2019. The objective ones agree that those who did not vote for Buhari in 2015 will never vote for him in 2019, while many of those who did will no longer do so next year. The ruling Party has been shattered into smithereens. Not even PDP was this divided in its journey towards Golgotha. I don’t know, since I’m not God, what game plan APC has for the rest of its first-term, but these are perilous times for a Party that willy-nilly blew its humongous chances on the altar of intolerance, vengefulness, selfishness and disregard for the rule of Law, such that very few now seem to care about the giant strides and major achievements of the government.
Nigerians need nationalists, democrats and performers, not ethnic jingoists, vengeful autocrats and struggling performers. It is not impossible for this administration to draw back from the precipice and the Buhari administration still has a few months to woo Nigerians again. Those who can still pray should intercede on its behalf. As for me and my house, we shall offer The Lord’s Prayer…