Column Opinion

President Buhari: How Not To End Badly

By Zainab Suleiman Okino

History is replete with leaders who came to power in a blaze of glory and ended in ignominy. As good as it is to start a race well, it is not as important as ending excellently. That is why in a foursome relay race, a good runner starts the race, and the best sprinter ends it. Only those who end well are celebrated anyway.

For president Muhammadu Buhari, the next few weeks are key to determining whether his eight-year-old government will end gloriously or gravely. Luckily for him, the power to make his tenure a memorable one is right in his hands.

Starting from his party, APC, which in 2013 could be described as a patchwork of disgruntled elements among politicians, his roles, as the biggest beneficiary, has been less than sterling, especially in conflict management. But because he is revered, respected and honoured-everyone calls him Baba—even the most aggrieved hardly speak I’ll of him; he has been a larger than life figure in APC.

 To be fair, staying out of party crisis as president, not as a member is the ideal; so it was in the past when party supremacy was so strong, political party leaders could summon the president. That did happen in the Second Republic when the Adisa Akinloye leadership of the NPN would summon President Shehu Shagari and he would honour their invitation even as an executive president.

That was then. However, since the Olusegun Obasanjo era, himself a powerful president with grit as former military head of state, party supremacy took the back seat. Hence, the president is treated as the leader of the party, while at the state level, governors are leaders of the party in their respective states. But for President Buhari, it is difficult to say whether he acts as leader of the party (APC) or party supremacy is at play. In most cases, the President keeps mute while his party boils, and only intervenes when the crisis threatens his high office or when (APC) governors are fully pacified.

Before the APC convention was scheduled for the 26th of February, 2020, the party was already tensed over the extension of the tenure of Mai Mala Buni, who in June 2020 emerged as a child of necessity to head the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) for a period of six months. That committee has not been able to nip the various crises in APC in the bud—Zamfara and Osun are still raging and more frontiers of wars are opening up, although the Buni committee was able to get some high profile politicians, including three PDP governors to decamp to APC. Just yesterday, the APC finally decided to stage its national convention on March 26, 2020 after a series of horse-trading by governors who are clearly calling the shot in all affairs of the party. 

It does appear that what matters to President Buhari was to showcase the new members (especially PDP governors) brought to the party than reconciling aggrieved existing members as each of those members were given red-carpet treatment and presidential handshake at the Villa. For these ‘achievements’, Buni’s six-month term is already getting close to two years. And to think that, after much dithering, even the February 26 date for the convention had to be moved to March 26  is to take loyal members of the party for granted.

And this is where the president’s intervention is direly needed; a time he needs to show leadership and call recalcitrant members to order; Instead, the president first jetted out to Belgium for AU-EU summit without meeting with relevant stakeholders and without any form of communication to that effect until his return to a hurriedly choreographed meeting with the APC Governors Forum. Even after the president’s return, the CECPC only got the president’s blessing to postpone the convention to March 26.

 Let us not forget that the main objectives of the Buni committee, as embedded in its name was to organise a convention, resolve conflicts and unite members for a common purpose. Almost two years after, there is neither peace, reconciliation nor unity in the party. Instead, the man has become a governor-general of sort who struts the political scene with grace, so much power and influence.

Another major assignment the president is reluctant to act upon is the electoral amendment bill. Having been passed and sent to him for assent since January 31, 2022, the president has kept the populace guessing and speculating about what his intentions are. In his almost seven years in office, the president has refused assent to the electoral bill amendments five times. The previous National Assembly headed by Dr Bukola Saraki had a running battle with the president because of the manner of his(Saraki’s) emergence; in fact there was no love lost between the executive and legislature, and this sour relation affected almost all the bills passed by that Senate, so electoral bills passed were politicized and tainted. With so many controversies around those bills, the president rejected all of them.

However, with Ahmed Lawan Senate said to be hands in gloves with the president, no one expected the delay and reluctance of the president to assent to their bills. Alas, the situation has not changed. The last electoral amendment bill passed provided for only direct primary by political parties for the election of candidates; the president wanted a more liberal approach citing insecurity, cost, and infringement on the rights of Nigerians and returned it to the National Assembly. A reworked Bill providing for different options— direct, indirect or consensus was finally sent to the president.

The question now is why the president is delaying or reluctant to act swiftly. This has got tongues wagging, citing the personal interest of a few close allies; some names, among which is the AGF Malami and some APC governors who do not feel secure with a part of the bill, mostly about a clause which talks about officials resigning from office before vying for election. That will put paid to governors’ habit of rolling from office to the Senate or vice-versa.

Why would the president listen to these governors at all? Why would he undermine himself and rubbish his legacy just to please others? Can’t he see that he is losing the moral battle? Why allow the National Assembly, with whom he has enjoyed a good relationship to pass a bill only for him to disagree with some parts? Why would the president not discuss with them on all the grey areas before going public with their resolutions?

President Buhari has come a long way. He commands respect even from non-APC members. He is held in awe and revered for his principles. But people are now wondering why these qualities have gone with the wind. Why does he allow himself to be manipulated by aides who have their own personal agenda in government? Are these aides doing the president’s bidding or have his (President Buhari’s) full consent?

 The president should understand that once out of power and his legacies are open to scrutiny, only his name will come up and not those who used him for their personal aggrandisement. He should worry about his reputation and reflect on the lives of those who have travelled this road. I also hope the president is not giving the impression that APC has served its purpose in the fulfilment of his personal ambition of becoming a civilian president and can now be dispensed with.

Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan was thrown to the dogs and vilified all through his tenure, but one good deed (of handing over peacefully) which conformed with his earlier statement that “his ambition is not worth the blood of Nigerians”, endeared him to Nigerians and the international community. Today, he is a toast on every occasion and the beautiful bride everyone wants to associate with, including the people that upstaged out of power, the APC power brokers. Because General Olusegun Obasanjo kept to his principal’s (General Murtala Muhammed’s) promise to hand over to civilians in 1979, he had a triumphant return in 1999, 20 years after, and has remained relevant till today whether you like him or hate him. Same with General Abubakar Abdulsalami who did not waste much time to hand over due to the circumstance of his emergence after the controversial death of General Sani Abacha and MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the annulled 1993 election.

Unfortunately, the reverse is the case with General Babangida, who is still vilified up till today despite his amiability, aura and achievements in office, his only offence being the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election. Leaders should learn from the past, balance fragile arrangements of the polity; remain above the fray and think about posterity. President Buhari has limited moments to write his name in glorious era or black book of history because only a thin line exists between the two.

Contact the writer: zainabokino@gmail.com

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