(Published a few years ago. I hope this helps explain some salient points about the idea of a Buhari presidency.)
General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd), the flag-bearer of All Nigeria Peoples Party, is a man whose name, personality and life mean different things to different people. However, passion is one of the common denominators shared by those that feel positively about him and those that hold otherwise. In my experience, any time his name was mentioned, most listeners would have no choice but to betray their emotions for or against this powerful personality; there is no sitting on the fence. And it is for this reason that I wish to locate and explore the Buhari Idea in nature and space for a better understanding of the man and his place in Nigeria’s political environment.
The multifaceted nature of the Buhari Idea is such that it spans the spheres of economics, social justice, security, religion and politics. In the matter of economics, I owe a great debt to Sanusi L. Sanusi for his wonderful article in 2002 where he discussed Buhari’s economic policy and captured its essence (for laymen in economics) and made us appreciate the man’s patriotism and stoicism in his effort to build a better nation.
According to Sanusi, Buhari was convinced that devaluation of our currency was not the solution to solving our problems of balance of payment (as he found it) despite pressures from the Western world (represented by the World Bank and IMF) that stood to benefit unjustly from such fiscal policy to the detriment of the economy and the people of Nigeria. There was no potential for the devaluation to affect the naira positively as our exports were (and still are) denominated in dollars and OPEC would not allow us to alter our oil quota arbitrarily. Moreover, ‘[our] manufacturing base depended on imported raw materials… The demand for imports was therefore inelastic. We would end up spending more of our national income to import less, in the process fuelling inflation, creating excess capacity and unemployment, wiping out the production base of the real sector and causing hardship to the consumer through the erosion of real disposable incomes.’
Sanusi opined that, ‘Given the structural dislocations in income distribution in Nigeria the only groups who would benefit from devaluation were the rich parasites who had enough liquidity to continue with their conspicuous consumption, the large multi-national corporations with an unlimited access to loanable funds and the foreign “investor” who can now purchase our grossly cheapened and undervalued domestic assets. In one stroke we would wipe out the middle class, destroy indigenous manufacturing, undervalue the national wealth and create inflation and unemployment. This is standard economic theory and it is exactly what happened to Nigeria after it went through the hands of our IMF economists under IBB.’
Buharism, as Sanusi termed the style of economics, introduced salient demand management measures to countermand the pressure of foreign reserves, mounting foreign debt and balance of payment. ‘The basic principle was that we did not really need all that we imported and if we could ensure that our scarce foreign exchange was only allocated to what we really needed we would be able to pay our debts and lay the foundations for economic stability.’
In a democratic setting, the problem with this Idea would be its susceptibility to misrepresentation and demonisation by the opposition and the fatal attraction to ‘…the incentive of the premium to be earned through circumvention of the due process.’ As such for it to succeed, it would be necessary to have a massive public enlightenment programme, a patriotic National Assembly and an upstanding judiciary.
Warren Bennis, in the book Beyond Leadership, said, ‘Economic activity should not only be efficient in its use of resources but should also be socially just…’ Buhari’s puritanical stand on social justice is legendary; in fact, it is arguably the reason for most of the support he enjoys amongst the downtrodden of Nigerian populace. People have not forgotten how the high and mighty and the untouchables of the Second Republic became mere mortals when they flouted the law. Buhari’s government did not spare anybody because he was somebody, or somebody’s relation or in-law. It was a government that used the same standard to judge one and all for the benefit of one all. Here, it is instructive to remember that to underscore its resolve in pursuance of its economic policy, the government in which the No.1 and No.2 were all Muslims restricted the number of pilgrims in order to conserve foreign exchange.
In the run-off to 2003 Elections, the masses of Nigeria came out en masse and voted Buhari despite the malicious smear campaigns going on about his feelings about his Faith. But the masses knew better. In a recent article, Dr. Wunmi Akintide concluded that, ‘I would rather deal with a man who is not afraid to identify with his faith than a man who wants to be all things to all men.’ He staunchly believed that, ‘With General Buhari, what you see is what you get. If he promises you anything he delivers on it, come rain or shine. He is a man of honor and impeccable integrity. He is the kind of man Nigeria needs at this time to lead the War against Corruption and to do so with honesty, integrity and fairness.’
So the Buhari Idea is that of an opportunity for Nigeria to be rescued from the abyss of underdevelopment and penury by a man solidly primed to lead its metamorphosis into a prosperous, corrupt-free and secure environment.
In the matter of security, even the so-called elites that are averse to the Idea believe that a Buhari government would not leave any stone unturned in the serious business of protecting lives and property. After all, his government was never a condoner of disorder, lawlessness, laziness and complacency. In 1985, I remember how the ‘Yan daba in our neighborhood in Kano miraculously went underground and resurfaced better men as most of them joined the War Against Indiscipline crusade. Buhari’s agents did not only chase them and dismantle their strongholds, but they also offered them jobs as cleaners, civil defence volunteers, etc. One remarkable story is that of one such ‘Dan daba that joined the nearest adult literacy class that is now a lecturer in one of the higher institutions in Kano!
So the Idea that the Nigerian citizens nurse is the re-enactment of those times of near absolute security which most of them believed Buhari epitomizes. The snag here is that, as we all know, security is everybody’s business. One can only leave everything to the government at his/her own peril. As a military man, Buhari could introduce arbitrary decrees to create the necessary atmosphere that would entrench discipline and security. But in a democracy, he needs a National Assembly that will empathize with him to make it possible. Any arbitrary action may lead to impeachment where the baby will be thrown away with the bathwater. That is the way of the Nigerian politician.
Following closely is the Idea of having an ideal politician at the helms of affairs. General Buhari is a different kind of politician, one who believes seriously in the political process beyond the imagination of even those that felt strongly and worked assiduously to draw him into the fray. Buhari is a worshipper of due process. (You may wish to find out from people that worked with him in his chequered military career.) And for those who know him, nothing has changed. When Buhari said he had joined politics to contribute his quota either in elective post or not, he did just that. His yatch has been sailing in the waters of ANPP politics for five years now. He has weathered storms after storms to the admiration of even his staunchest detractors in the ANPP. The recently concluded convention was a study in political dexterity and subliminal persuasion.
Buhari diligently, patiently and faithfully followed our obviously flawed judicial process in his quest for justice concerning the results of 2003 Elections. Buhari and the ANPP continued to spend their scarce resources up to the Supreme Court due to their allegiance to the rule of law and their faith in the democratic process. We recalled that Buhari had earlier rejected Obasanjo’s position as elected president, and even stopped attending the Council of State meetings. However, having lost at the Supreme Court, Buhari technically accepted the judgement and even recommenced attending the meetings. As far as democratic and political credentials are concerned, he has paid his dues.
The Idea is therefore of a politician who will not circumvent the law to get his way; someone who will rely on the strength of his arguments to get things done in a manner that will strengthen the economy, sanitize the political atmosphere and uphold the rule of law; and most importantly, someone who will not subscribe to the magical supremacy of Ghana-Must-Go.
And herein lies another snag – the concept and definition of lobby in a democratic setting. Buhari must have superb representatives or liaisons that would ensure the existence of cordial relationship and impeccable understanding of his policies and directives. His intentions and actions must be so transparent that the not-so-straight legislators and the sceptical sections of the media will have nothing untoward to feed the unwary. That way, he is likely to survive the murky waters of Nigerian politics and lead the nation to enviable heights.
It becomes clear therefore that the Buhari Idea envisages the re-emergence of a strong and upright leader, someone who has already demonstrated unwavering commitment to discipline, rule of law, someone who even as a military officer demonstrated a fervently patriotic economic policy, for the emancipation of the Nigerian people from the shackles of poverty, illiteracy and ‘mental slavery’.