WHEN Muhammadu Buhari overthrew a democratically-elected government in a coup d”etat in 1983, Sani Abacha declared in his infamous radio broadcast: “(Our) health services are in shambles as our hospitals are reduced to mere consulting clinics without drugs, water and equipment.”
However, Buhari did not address the shambolic Nigerian health system in his two years in power. In a Vanguard article of 7th February, 2015, Ambassador Ignatius Olisemeka said of Buhari: “He entrusted to me the care and welfare of his family- he sent his wife and two children to me in Washington D.C. for medical treatment. His family were with me in Washington D.C. when the General was overthrown in a coup d’état.”
Thus, while Buhari was grandstanding as Mr. Fix-It, he sought medical care surreptitiously for his family in the United States, instead of fixing the Nigerian health system. This typifies the hypocrisy and insincerity of Buhari as an agent of change. It is all smoke and mirrors. It is the same duplicity whereby he claimed to be the apostle of anti-corruption even while being complicit in the smuggling in of 53 suitcases at Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos in the middle of a currency change.
Buhari’s grandstanding must not be allowed to go unchallenged today, now that he is seeking election under the same kind of democratic system he truncated and trashed in the past. We must not allow Buhari to sweep his ignominious past under the carpet of a bogus mantra of “change.” Indeed, there is something anomalous about presenting a 72 year-old former military dictator as a change candidate. What kind of change can be represented by an old has-been?
In his first coming, the “changes” Buhari brought were to Nigeria’s detriment. Under him, the Nigerian economy went from bad to worse. Our national debt rose from $14 billion to $18 billion in less than two years; with the result that Nigeria was no longer able to meet its financial obligations to global bankers. We had to queue for essential commodities, such as bread and milk, which were hard to find. Raw materials and spare parts needed to keep factories running were scarce. Rather than create jobs, tens of thousands of workers lost their jobs. Inflation rose to the astronomical level of 40%; while it is now 7.9% under Jonathan.
When Buhari seized power in 1983, Nigeria’s GDP was $444.45. When he was overthrown in 1985, Nigeria’s GDP had dropped dramatically to $344.14. That is not the kind of change we want. When Goodluck Jonathan became president in 2010, Nigeria’s GDP was $369. By 2014, it had grown dramatically to $510.
Buhari is going around complaining about the recent devaluation of the naira. However, when he took over in 1983, one dollar exchanged for 0.724 naira. But by the time he was overthrown in 1985, one dollar exchanged for 0.894 naira. That is 23% devaluation in barely two years. However, when Jonathan took over in 2010, one dollar exchanged for $167 naira. Five years later, it is now $202.55. That is a devaluation of 21% in five years.
It is not surprising, therefore that, when Buhari was overthrown in 1985, there was wild jubilation throughout the length and breadth of the country.
Unleashing the dogs and the baboons
One of the first things Buhari did when he seized power in 1984 was to gag the press. Decree 4 was promulgated making even the publishing of the truth a criminal offence. Under it, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson were jailed maliciously in a manner designed primarily to intimidate the press.
Under Buhari, the SSS came looking for me because I published an article in National Concord entitled: “Counter-trading Nigeria’s Future;” criticizing the government’s return to the stone age economic policy of trade by barter which resulted in even greater fraud than import licensing. Buhari is now angling to return to power under a democratic setting. But has this leopard changed its skin? In spite of his carefully crafted makeover by his American handlers, has Buhari changed from his anti-democratic ways?
All the evidence suggests he has not. Buhari is not even president and he is already fighting the press. Recently, he threatened to back out of the Abuja Peace Accord concluded with Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP because he was upset about the insults and attacks he was receiving. He warned that no one should regard his “patriotic commitment to maintaining national peace” for weakness.
Buhari’s handlers declared: “We cannot continue to guarantee the tolerance limit of our teeming supporters nationwide who are daily being inundated with death wish commentaries on the person of General Muhammadu Buhari.” What exactly does this mean? Is Buhari now going to unleash his infamous dogs and baboons on Nigerians? This is why it would be foolhardy to mortgage the freedoms we have come to enjoy under the democratic dispensation by handing power back to a man who is intolerant of criticism.
Let us juxtapose Buhari’s short fuse to the disposition of Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan must be the most wrongly vilified president in the history of Nigeria. He has been called all kinds of names by his traducers. He has been abused, reviled and condemned by APC stalwarts. His motorcade has been stoned. His campaign posters have been torn down. His campaign ground has been bombed. His wife has been maligned. How has he responded to all this?
Jonathan responded by signing the Freedom of Information bill. In effect, instead of gagging the press, in the tradition of malevolent dictators like Buhari, he has freed the press even more; allowing it to criticize his government without hindrance. In every way possible for the past five years, Jonathan has assured and reassured Nigerians that freedom of expression is our inalienable right.
The myth of Buhari’s northern popularity
One of the lies of the Buhari campaign is the pretense that he has cornered the Northern vote. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, in this election, Buhari is not the choice of the North. The Northern political elite don’t want Buhari to be president. The North did not vote for him in the APC presidential primaries. The Northern vote went instead to Rabiu Kwankwaso and Atiku Abubakar. Buhari was elected primarily with Southern ACN votes.
Let me ask some pertinent questions. How many Northern elites have we seen recently campaigning for Buhari? We have seen Tinubu following Buhari around. We have heard Obasanjo and Soyinka pitching their tents with him. But the Northern elite have largely kept mum. Governors Fashola, Oshiomole and Amaechi of the South have been busy singing choruses of praise about Buhari, but Northern governors are mute. Atiku and Kwankwaso have largely kept their distance from him.
Why are they not shouting on the rooftops for Buhari? The truth is that the Northern elite have never liked Buhari. Therefore, it is not in their interest for him to become president. Buhari’s grandstanding on anti-corruption resonates with the poor, but not with the Northern elite. Should Buhari become president, most of the current Northern presidential hopefuls can no longer be president in their lifetime. Eight years of Buhari presidency would swing the presidency back to the South for another eight years. But these Northern bigwigs don’t have 16 years to wait in the wilderness. Some of them would even have kicked the bucket by then.
It is better for them to wait for Jonathan to finish his second-term in 2019, at which time they would be able to contest for the presidency without having to deal with an incumbent president. What they need now is the assurance that it would then be the turn of the North. In that eventuality, South-South support for a Northern presidential candidate would be imperative. 2015 is not the time to jeopardize this.
The strategic partnership of the North and the South-South has been the enduring decimal of Nigerian elections. The South-South has supported the North in every election, except when its own son, Goodluck Jonathan, was on the ballot. The North must be careful not to betray that partnership, if for no other reason than that it will need it again in the near future. It must be careful not to betray that partnership because Jonathan has done far more for the North in his five years in power than he has for any other part of the country, including the South-South. In short, there is no excuse for Northern denial of support for Jonathan in 2015.
The federal government’s mid-term assessment of its development investment shows that the investment in the North-West and the North-Central zones alone amounted to 792 billion naira; nearly double those of the South-West, South-South and South-East put together, which amounted to 403 billion naira. If the North fails to support Jonathan in the coming presidential election, in spite of Jonathan’s obvious discrimination in favour of the North, it can bid farewell to South-South support in the future.
With all the noise about Buhari’s popularity with the talakawa in the North, we have not heard anything that he has ever done, or would do, for them. When he was head of state between 1984 and 1985, he did absolutely nothing for them. In the unlikely event that Jonathan becomes president, it would not take long before there would be rioting among the Northern poor out of dashed and betrayed hope.
The man who has transformed the life of the poor in the North has been Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan built 125 Almajiri Schools in 13 states in the North; something Northern rulers like Buhari failed to do. At the commissioning of the first Almajiri Model School in Gagi, Sokoto State, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Sa’ad III, observed that Jonathan’s action was unprecedented in the history of Northern Nigeria.
Jonathan also established ten new federal universities; seven of them in the North. Jonathan has made far more appointments of Northerners than he has of Southerners. His transformation of agriculture from subsistence to commercial farming has been of primary benefit to the agrarian North. Therefore, it will come as no surprise if Jonathan wins more votes in the North in 2015 than he did in 2011.
By Femi Aribisala