Fellow Nigerians, it is true that the mantle of leadership of the giant of Africa has once again fallen on a new shoulder, in due accordance to the will of the people. We must, however, reckon that something is peculiar about this new custodian of the Nigerian dignity. Muhammadu Buhari, whose inauguration as the president of Nigeria was heralded by pageantry and ecstasy, is not a newcomer. George Orwell, the author of that widely-acclaimed book titled ‘Animal Farm’, once said: “The most effective way to destroy a people is to deny and obliterate their understanding of their own history.” Luckily, Nigeria still has a handful of citizens who are conscious of the past, and these good students of history would do well to remind us that Buhari once sat over the affairs of this nation for twenty months, between the periods of December 1983 and August 1985.
If there is anything we are sure could influence the present, it is nothing other than the past. After all, it is our own celebrated nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, who, in an outburst of wisdom, wrote that records were not simply kept to assist the weakness of memory, but to operate as guides to the future. President Muhammadu Buhari has a history with the people of Nigeria. Odu ni, ki n se aimo foloko (He is like odu, the popular vegetable which the farmer cannot claim to be unaware of). Hence, whatever conception or expectation we have of him, advertently or not, would be anchored on this past, which every man is said to carry about like a shadow.
Of course, Buhari’s maligners would be quick to point to the manifold excesses of his administration during the military regime. Some human right violations perpetrated under his nose come to mind with striking sensation, such as how state security and chief of staff assumed power to detain citizens who proved to be threats to the government for as long as three months without charges. Strikes and popular demonstration, the only means by which hardworking civilians could express their grievances, were banned. There was also the alarming enactment of retroactive laws and the notorious hammering down of freedom of expression. Critics of the regime were thrown into jail, as was the case of Fela Kuti, who was arrested for the spurious charge of illegally exporting foreign currency. The fearless and renowned musician was subsequently sentenced to 5 years in prison. Fela would only be released after 18 months, after Buhari government had been toppled in a coup d’etat.
While all the above acts are despicable, it would be unfair- if not outrightly wrong- to consider them the yardstick by which this new Buhari administration should be measured. Matter-of-factly, the condition under which Buhari now presides over Nigeria is different. This is the dispensation of democracy, where we have justice, protocols and laws that check the overbearing propensities of those in power. Besides, it is exactly 30 years since Buhari was compelled to let go the reins of power in 1985- just enough time for the most incredible changes in the character of a man to occur. Therefore, Buhari returns as a more experienced, open-minded, objective and calm elder statesman. Little wonder why, prior to the March 28 general election, Buhari promised to follow the rule of law and to give respect to the fundamental human rights of Nigerians. An applaudable utterance from an erstwhile dictator, I would say.
One of the reasons why Nigerians trooped out en masse, defying the scorching sun and torrential downpours, to register, get accredited and cast their votes for ‘Sai Buhari’ in the recently concluded presidential election was simply the confidence reposed in him as a man of integrity and discipline, two virtues that Nigerians had figured were now requisite for whoever was ready to salvage the nation from the quagmire. Thus, the choice of Buhari was not a decision made by Nigerians out of the blue. Nigerians must have recollected that, in only 20 months as Head of State, Buhari jailed not less than 500 politicians, officials and businessmen for corruption. His lack of tolerance for corruption portends a good omen and great relief for Nigerians, considering that we just narrowly survived a government of impunity, reputed to be the most corrupt in the history of Nigerian democracy, and only dragging titles with Abacha’s for the most corrupt since independence.
As must have been observed, the most enduring legacy of Buhari’s military regime remains the War Against Indiscipline policy. This policy tried to address the perceived lack of morality, discipline and civic responsibility of Nigerian society and accomplished a great feat in that respect, even though the method of its implementation was not what one would refer to as palatable. Nevertheless, if the past is anything to go by, Buhari should be making more of this kind of society-changing policy, only that he must now be constrained to make them fit into the tenets of democracy and civic rights of the modern day.
In the early 1980s, Buhari rebuilt the nation’s socio-political and economic systems by removing and cutting back expenditures, obliterating corruption from the nation’s social ethics, and shifting from the mainly public sector employment to self-employment. If there was ever a time in the history of Nigeria when the replication of such a commendable revitalization of the nation’s economy became direly necessary, it is none other than now. I regret to admit that I was horrified when I read in the dailies that a dollar was now exchanging for two hundred and thirty naira last week. It is such a shame.
In recent years, Nigeria has become more polarised on ethnic and religious lines. Buhari would do well to avoid any act that could further deepen this growing gulf among the citizens. I was particularly impressed with his inauguration speech, wherein he claimed to belong to everybody and, as well, belong to nobody. Nigerians hope he would live up to this claim. Nigerians also hope he would estrange himself from the cabal of political vultures who are presently hovering around him. Most importantly, we hope he would set the ball rolling soon enough and lead Nigeria to the promised land of socio-economic prosperity that we so desire.
Really, Buhari needs to set the ball rolling soon enough. Nigerians do not have so much patience. Whatever is holding him back from setting up his cabinet, he should hasten it up and face his challenges head-on. That he has been silent over most of the problems presently bedevilling his government does not make them less real or less felt. He cannot wish them away. The news of the over 150 Muslims who were slaughtered by the barbaric insurgents in North-Eastern Borno while observing Maghrib prayer in mosque on Friday still makes my heart cringe in sorrow. The pot of mess that the National Assembly has almost become after its elections does not make me want to dance.
With tenacity and strongwill, Buhari chose this path himself. Now that Providence has crowned his efforts with success, let him rise up to the occasion. Let him prove to us that he is well cut out for this. Let him reassure Nigerians that they have not made a wrong choice, that he would not follow the footsteps of other leaders who have failed Nigeria. We want to know that the ‘Sai Buhari’ Nigerians voted for has not become ‘Baba Go Slow’. This is why we cannot sit back and watch him. This is why we must keep Buhari on his toes.
~~~ Omoya Yinka Simult