A General's Journey to the Presidency

THISDAY Newspaper- Ojo M. Maduekwe

The President-Elect, General Muhammadu Buhari has definitely come the long way in his ambition to become Nigeria’s president, after first being a dictator. The effort which eventually clinched the presidency was his fourth attempt after three failures in 2003, 2007 and 2011.

Before becoming president in 2015, he was a military ruler between 1984 and 1985. The years following his stint as head of state, he was involved in the 1975 military coup that ousted Yakubu Gowon as a military ruler.
After series of appointments, including the position of a federal commissioner for petroleum resources by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who at the time had become the military head of state when Gowon’s successor, Murtala Mohammed, was assassinated in 1976, Buhari in 1977 became the secretary of the Supreme Military Council.

The General now turned democrat was chosen to be the new head of state after the successful military coup of December 31, 1983 that ousted the civilian government of President Shehu Shagari. What led to the coup? Dissatisfaction with the country’s economic performance, made worse by what the military then perceived as acts of corruption by politicians.

Hundreds of politicians, government officials and businessmen were imprisoned during his government as military ruler. This imprisonment included critics of his regime, including the late Fela Kuti. As military head of state, Buhari passed laws allowing indefinite detention without trial and imposed a decree to restrict press freedom, under which two journalists were jailed. His execution of three young men for drug trafficking, and through a retroactive decree, led to an international outcry.
As military ruler, his efforts to root out corruption, along with his second-in-command, the late Tunde Idiagbon, has been campaign points during the times he’s had to contest for the presidency under a democracy.

When in 2014, the All Progressives Congress (APC) nominated him as its candidate in the 2015 presidential election, it was his reputation for being incorruptible and his military background that made him an attractive choice.
Before winning in 2015 against the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, he had contested in 2003 and was defeated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Again in 2007, he ran but was this time defeated by the late Yar’Adua. His first face-off with President Jonathan was in 2011, and he lost, in an election adjudged as transparent, free and fair.
Refusing to give up, he made a fourth attempt at the presidency this year and won, defeating President Jonathan. Where his party tried to play up his past records as both military governor and head of state as necessary credentials needed to salvage Nigeria, the PDP tried to use same to discourage the electorate from voting for him.

A columnist and member of THISDAY editorial board was sometime quoted by a foreign medium as saying that “Nobody seems to know what Buhari has up his sleeve. He can spring a surprise like taking Nigeria under sharia law. I think once a dictator, always a dictator. He’s tried to be a born-again democrat but we have not seen that in his utterances. Many people are afraid that if he wins, they will go to prison.”

To douse the accusations bordering on his past, Buhari had once declared that he was a converted democrat. Speaking at Chatham House, London, he said: “I cannot change the past. But I can change the present and the future. So, before you is a former military ruler and a converted democrat, who is ready to operate under democratic norms and is subjecting himself to the rigours of democratic elections for the fourth time.”
And as providence would have it, Buhari was Tuesday elected the President of Nigeria, defeating the incumbent. It’s been a tiring trajectory but in the final analysis, it has paid off.

How the Nigerian People Won
Two thousand and fifteen seems like a replay of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, except without its annulment, incarceration and protests. First it is likened to 1993 because the people’s will has again prevailed, and a clear message passed from the masses to the political class to never again be taken for granted or risk being ridiculed at the poll. Yes, the 2015 presidential election may have been won by the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Buhari, but in the true sense of it, the real winner are the people, who against several glitches, trooped out, some in the rain, to cast their votes for Buhari.
Even in states where it was expected that the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP), President Goodluck Jonathan will get a comfortable lead above Buhari, saw the president fighting to get a strong footing. States in the South and with a majority of Christian population, voted for Buhari.

The significance of the above is that where the PDP had made the issue of Islamising Nigeria as one of their campaign subjects, and had sought to use this to discredit Buhari and discourage the electorate from voting for him, the massive votes cast for him, showed clearly this did not work.

One of the most hotly contested elections in Nigeria’s contemporary political history, 2015, like in 1993, saw many Nigerians move pass the fault lines of religion and ethnic divisions that have for long divided North from South, and which was played up again during campaigns this year.

There was something that the PDP did not recognise for a long time: that President Jonathan was not contesting against Buhari, but against the electorate. Many analysts have described the 2015 presidential election as a referendum by the people on the president’s first tenure. This, the PDP only realised too late into the election.

Weeks leading to the initial February 14 scheduled date, the PDP was everywhere showcasing its achievements and the president was seen commissioning projects. All along, rather than do this, time was spent trying to discredit the candidature of Buhari or outright disqualification. If the president had earlier focused on selling his achievements, probably the tide could have turned further than the degree it did when he realised his mistakes.

The truth remains that even with his failure in addressing Nigeria’s pressing security challenges, and the relative failure to be seen to fighting corruption, President Jonathan had to his credit some achievements that if managed well by his image makers, could have helped him win a re-election.

Some of his achievements can be seen in the following sectors: education, agriculture, transportation, and power. His administration established 14 new universities, constructed 150 schools for the almajiri’s in the North, increased power generation from 2,800MW in 2011 to about 4,517MW at the end of 2014, and rehabilitated the railway system.

His failure, and the area which majority of voters used in judging him, was his handling of the security issue. Not many have forgotten the over 200 school girls abducted in Chibok, and the manner in which President Jonathan, his wife, and the PDP government handled the affair. His government was criticised by not just the local media, but foreign media as well.

Following the announcement of Buhari as the winner of the 2015 presidential election, a majority of the masses have duly registered their grievances against the president. A wakeup call for the entire political class, Nigerians have shown that they are the real kingmakers. And more upsets will be recorded in the governorship bout.

After their showing in this election, any politician that fails to perform afterwards would most definitely receive same treatment given to President Jonathan, Buhari inclusive. This is the clear message that has been sent across the political class by the Nigerian people – the real winners of the election.


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