By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let me start today’s epistle by saying time flies indeed. Over a year ago, the dream of Major General Muhammadu Buhari to return to power, after being toppled in a military coup by Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and company, was eventually realised after a record fourth attempt. History would record this monumental feat as one of the biggest miracles of our time. It was a testimony to the power of resilience and tenacity.
Not many people would ever have a second chance in life. In fact, a second chance is usually a rare and divine opportunity to correct past mistakes, make amends, atone for sins of omission and commission; and move forward to greater glory. In recent time, only two former Generals have been so favoured. The first Nigerian to return to power in 1999 was General Olusegun Matthew Aremu Okikiolakan Obasanjo. Obasanjo had left power in 1979, in a most controversial manner, after handing over power hurriedly to the newly elected President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari. That election would remain one of the most controversial in Africa’s most populous nation but Obasanjo was determined to quit power and he got a standing ovation from the global community.
Obasanjo remained vocal and relevant in retirement. He attained the enviable status of a statesman for his dexterous understanding of foreign affairs as well as his uncommon courage at fighting for Africa wherever his avuncular intervention was required. He was voluble in his acerbic criticism of his successors, especially President Babangida who had metamorphosed from military to civilian President and instantly acquired the sobriquet of “evil genius.” There were rumours that Babangida did not want to quit power as attested to by his endless transition deadlines which eventually culminated in the ill-fated June 12, 1993 election debacle and its resultant conundrum. The refusal to hand over to the presumptuous winner of that election, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, the Yoruba generalissimo, would cost Nigeria some expensive and extensive repercussions.
President Babangida was left with no choice than to step aside after all his talismanic experiments failed. He handed over to a lame duck Interim National Government, headed by Chief Ernest Adegunle Shonekan, which crumbled in a jiffy when General Sani Abacha struck and sentenced Nigeria to years of servitude and excruciating dictatorship. Buhari was assigned a pivotal role under that dreaded government when he was asked to manage the Petroleum Trust Fund. Despite criticisms about his performance, many would attest to the fact that he applied the funds frugally and judiciously.
Abacha was a different kind of military ruler. Despite his well-known taciturnity, his actions were reverberatingly loud. Many of us dispersed and scattered in different directions. No one needed to tell us before we scampered into safety. It was during this eerie period that Olusegun Obasanjo and his former deputy, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, both retired army Generals simultaneously got into trouble when they were charged for treason. Abiola himself had been picked up from his home and kept in solitary confinement at God-knows-where. Abiola was a civilian warrior who fought ferociously for his inalienable right to be the President of Nigeria. Out of the three of them, only Obasanjo lived to tell the story. The other two died under mysterious circumstances yet to be unravelled till this day.
Obasanjo came out of prison looking gaunt and almost gone but God is awesome. The Bible-wielding leader effortlessly migrated from prison to the presidential villa in Abuja. It was a matter of destiny which no tribulation could stop or annihilate. The resurgence of Obasanjo was a done deal by the Nigerian Mafia. Chief Oluyemisi Falae, banker and economist, fought a spirited battle but failed to stop Obasanjo’s second coming.
Obasanjo, without doubt, knew Nigeria inside out and he had his game plan ready. He was able to hit the ground running from Day One. His style was blistering. He managed the economy well and was able to pay off Nigeria’s debts. He was fortunate that oil, Nigeria’s cash cow, sold at a premium. He reversed Nigeria’s pariah status in the comity of nations. He was personable and accommodating in his first term. But trouble came as he began to seek the second time. He wasted enough energy, time and resources fighting his Vice President and ancillary and imaginary enemies. His war against corruption became vengeful and ruthless. The crave for an unconstitutional third term was the height of it all. Whether he personally wanted it or was lured into it, this audacious move deemed and diminished the Obasanjo presidency. Despite the hoopla generated by the controversial plot, Obasanjo would be remembered as a leader who did so much for his country during his second coming.
It was during Obasanjo’s re-election contest in 2003 that Buhari threw his hat in the ring. No one knew how long he had nursed the ambition of returning to power. Buhari failed and cried foul. He headed to the courts but got no joy in return. In the twilight days of the Obasanjo government, Buhari tried his luck again but lost to Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, his fellow citizen from Katsina State. Again, Buhari cried wolf. In 2011, Buhari joined the presidential race again and was taunted as a serial candidate. He was soundly beaten by the incumbent President Dr Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, who had been catapulted to power after the death of his ailing boss, President Yar’Adua. Out of acute frustration, or something else, Buhari sang a nunc dimittis and literally said goodbye to presidential contests. It didn’t come as a surprise to many. At nearly 70 years old, the perennial campaigns must have taken its toll on the body if not the soul. Buhari had crisscrossed several political parties. He had been called unprintable names including religious bigot, ruthless dictator, certificate dodger and forger, terrorist, and so on. But man proposes and God disposes.
Somehow, Buhari suddenly announced he would run again. When God is ready for you, you will find succour in your enemies. Those who would ordinarily not support Buhari all lined up for him. Buhari was repackaged and rebranded as a born again democrat. The recklessness of the PDP government and the war of attrition which ravaged the ruling party made Buhari’s journey a lot sleeker this time. What was thought impossible in the past ignited and exploded at home and abroad. Buhari was funky-fied and he became a brand we all identified with proudly.
Thus the expectations were raised for a Buhari presidency and this would later put so much pressure on the fledgling government. Buhari won the election convincingly this time and President Goodluck Jonathan was magnificent in defeat. For the first time we saw an incumbent Nigerian President concede defeat and even calling his opponent to offer congratulations. What if Jonathan had refused to give up power and chose to set up the nation in flames? Innocent people would have been killed for the sake of political gladiators. The joy in the land was unlimited. It reverberated across the seas.
Buhari was sworn in one year less eight days today. And it has been quite a tough and rough journey. The first challenge was how to assemble a good, competent and efficacious team to run the nation with the President we all knew to be incorruptible. That exercise alone took several months. There is no question, that sluggishness dampened the fire of change that had engulfed everywhere. The rumbling started from that moment when it seemed the momentum had waned substantially. The screening exercise also turned into another melodrama. It dragged on a bit before the cabinet was eventually constituted.
The ruling party APC had started on a precarious note when it could not gently elect its national assembly leaders. Like a house divided against itself, APC leaders have been tearing at each other’s throats. The battle has taken a full year in germinating and no one knows when the harvest time would come and the yield it would bring to all parties concerned in the imbroglio.
The economy has suffered miserably. Oil revenue has gone down drastically. Exchange rates have hit the rooftops beyond the ceiling. Imports have decreased. Government is not able to meet its commitments to the people. There have been flip-flops in terms of dashed or miscommunicated campaign promises. The social media is now agog with all manner of caricatures dissing the Buhari government. A battle is raging between the Buhari supporters and those who feel Buhari’s government is failing and falling apart. Some have already written off the second coming of Buhari as an anti-climax. Are they right or wrong? The answer is neither here nor there.
President Buhari did not come back at the right time. The comatose economy caused by atrocious corruption and reckless years of profligacy has hit the country by the jugular. One area the government has shown total passion without compassion is in the area of fighting corruption. The battle has been fierce and relentless. There have been allegations that Buhari is on a witch-hunt to take his pound of flesh on his critics and perceived enemies. PDP has been under siege. The banks are not having it easy over campaign funds that were warehoused in their vaults. There is panic in the financial sector. The tension is red hot. Buhari and his team must have their strategy and many are praying and hoping everything is on course and we shall arrive our destination safe and sound.
President Buhari has travelled far and wide within this first year in office. He’s been accorded the status of a Rock star globally. He is well respected. How this would translate to concrete achievements remain to be seen. On a personal note, I believe despite the humongous challenges, it is too early to write off Buhari. This government has three years to show Nigerians its capabilities. In my next piece, I plan to elaborate on what I think President Buhari can and should do to redeem his government from the spiralling attacks. He should ignore the paranoia of those who are likely to find enemies where there are none.
It shall be well with our country…