Everyone deserves a second and third chance in life. Every Nigerian should aspire to be a president. In 1984, General Muhammadu Buhari was the military president of Nigeria. Thirty years later, he aspires to be the president, after three failed attempts with the ANPP and CPC, but this time under the banner of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the 2015 presidential election.
Nigeria of today is not the Nigeria of 1984. The demographics and mentality of Nigerians have been altered positively and negatively. In the early 1984, when the military government terminated the country’s second chance at democracy and civilian rule, Nigerians jubilated. It was widely believed then that the termination was appropriate and justified as the civilian leadership was excessively corrupt and undemocratic.
At the helm in 1984 were Generals Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon. Because they gave no indication that they will return the country to a civilian rule, and because their administration was perceived as repressive, inflexible, and authoritarian, a style of rule never seen in Nigeria before, popular sentiment turned against them. Less than 20 months in office and after introducing all sorts of harsh domestic policies aimed at curtailing negative social behavior and correcting the trending malaise in the society, on August 27, 1985, their chief-of-staff and former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, organized a bloodless coup.
This was 30 years ago. General Buhari appeared to have matured and transformed both spiritually and intellectually. The nation too has evolved in 30 years. But the staggering misfortune of the nation over the past 30 years saw the mismanagement and underdevelopment of the nation in comparison to other nations with similar resource endowment.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has ruled Nigeria for 15 years of the 30 years with marginal if any progress and growth. PDP has failed to promote and sustain democratic tendencies and behavior. PDP has failed to put forth a new political and social culture and order. PDP has woefully failed to control or check the growth of corruption. PDP has failed to improve public education. PDP has failed to improve transparency and accountability. PDP has failed to mitigate ethnic, regional, and religious conflicts and cleavage. PDP has failed to capitalize on the gains in liberalization and the emerging global economy. Most obviously, PDP has failed to check the Boko Haram insurgency tearing the fabric and character of the nation.
Nigerians of today in positions of leadership are not the Nigerians of 1984 who had to deal with the issues emanating from the Nigerian civil war and military domination. In 1984, I had just graduated from a university in the United States and playing and traveling around the world as tennis professional. Politics was far from my consciousness, but nevertheless I was impacted by the truncating effects of the sudden change in government which brought in General Babangida and the new head of government, derailing the disciplining effects of the Buhari-led administration.
The period between 1999 and 2014 saw a broad loss of political legitimacy, unprecedented increase in corruption, poor or negative economic growth, electoral experiment and fraud, political violence, and rising tide of divides and conflicts along ethnic and regional lines. Nigerians began to look outside of themselves for the resolution of their problems instead of seeking collaboration and cooperation from within. The resultant effect, according to many political analysts and political observers, including human rights advocates, civil servants and foreign observers, is that a great nation like Nigeria should address the leadership problem head on.
Nigeria is divided into six distinct geo-political regions: South West, South East and South South; North West, North East, and North Central. As a result, in the past, because of the limited reach of the platform of CPC, many people in the other regions gave up on General Buhari and his vision for Nigeria, as electoral malpractices became a recurring decimal in Nigerian politics and have incrementally worsened since the return to democracy in 1999, making honest contest for office almost an impossible proposition.
In 2003, 2007, and 2011 General Buhari returned to national politics to continue the struggle for the welfare of the masses of the people where he stopped. The country was in shambles at these times in our history. The PDP has been in control of government for almost 20 years. Leadership and governance, the creation of opportunities for the youths, and increasing of opportunities for women in all facets of society were lacking or abysmal. Critical sectors such as agriculture, power and energy, education, health, transportation and the economy were stagnant or worse off with little or negative growth and development. The unifying sector, sports, has also been neglected. The country remained a country in total disarray and the populace in discontent.
One of the main criticisms of General Buhari is his disciplined commitment to his faith. Many people in the south believe that if he became the president he would Islamize the nation. The Islamization of Nigeria is not possible in today’s environment characterized by an educated class, religious diversity, and political inclusiveness. Other criticisms include his age (72) and his military training and dictatorial tendencies.
In fact, in other climes, such a disciplined commitment to values which shun greed, avarice and corruption would have been virtues sought after in leadership. But this is Nigeria, and as such there is need to let the masses of the people see through the propaganda that the only people who have anything to fear from General Buhari are the enemies of the masses of the people. It is only criminals and rogues, whether as politicians, civil servants or in uniform who have something to hide, who need to be afraid. General Buhari did not Islamize Nigeria as a Military dictator, he cannot do it as a Civilian President elected by the masses of the people.
General Buhari and the APC should identify a cadre of youth leaders similar to what President Obama is doing for Africa with his Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), launched in 2010 to support young African leaders to spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic good governance, and enhance peace and security in Africa. APC’s clearly stated political ideology and clear political manifesto or blueprint is the best thing to happen to Nigeria’s democracy to date. While some of us are aware of the antecedents of APC and the principles which guided its formation, APC has come out clearly to enunciate an inclusive vision for all Nigeria in its summit held on 6th March, 2014 in Abuja. General Buhari can address these gaps and balance the needs of the country with the needs of interest groups and the people. Persistent national issues, problems and ideas, if not harmonized, may weaken his presidency. For example, how he tackles the Boko Haram problem is critical. General Buhari should surround himself with good advisers. He should insist on the rule of law, due process, and governance by dialogue. He should uplift Nigerians from the shackles of PDP. This will be a departure from the old politics, giving way to a new Nigeria.