General Muhammadu Buhari is a polarizing figure. You either love him or hate him. But that’s okay. Most statesmen are polarizing, anyway. In so many ways, he reminds me of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo: tough, uncompromising, visionary, tenacious, honest, and loyal. His mantra is simple: performance and accountability. Regrettably these attributes have not been welcomed in the Nigeria of the last three decades. And I would posit that it is because Nigeria was unappreciative of men like Buhari, Idiagbon and Awolowo that we’ve found ourselves in the current social-economic and political cesspit.
Since his forced departure from office, lesser men have been at the helm of our national affairs. Any wonder then that we mistake mediocrity for excellence, stupidity for intelligence, and cowardice for bravery? It is a national tragedy to have shunned men like Buhari who is a patriot, a nationalist, and an embodiment of political and personal morality. At the time General Buhari and his lieutenants came to power, Nigeria was already swimming in a cesspool of economic and social corruption, laziness, dirtiness and political decadence. The country was in the hands of the inept and was being run aground in an ocean of uncertainty. But and his partners right most of the wrongs.
We had lost faith in our country, in our neighbors, in our leaders and in our humanity. It was a grim, desperate and depressing time; and a cloud of hopelessness and dejection was gradually enveloping the country. Folks, it was a sad and hopeless era! It was, until Buhari and his able partner, General Tunde Idiagbon, rode into town to assure us that we can do better! And we were until General Ibrahim Babangida and his posse threw a wrench in our national affairs.
Buhari was not a perfect head of state. He was not a perfect General. He was human, and he had his flaws. But that’s okay. He loved his family. He loved his country. He loved his people. He was unlike any president – military or civilian – Nigeria has ever had. Though a military dictator, he had his ways. There was a method to his style of governance. What mattered was Nigeria and Nigerians. His actions and pronouncements revealed a man who cared about the soul of our nation. He cared about our collective destiny. He cared about history and posterity. He delivered what he promised. These, all these, you cannot say about others.
I vividly remember the Buhari days as though it was yesterday. It was an era when people were afraid to demand and or to take bribes; it was era when you thought twice before you litter the streets; it was an era when you took turns to enter the bus; it was an era when you sold drugs, engage in prostitutions and other reprehensible activities at your own peril; it was an era when the Western world paid attention to us; it was an era when it was chic to be a Nigerian again. Most of all, it was an era when we knew Nigeria was going to turn the corner from decadence to righteousness, from economic stagnation to economic growth, and from decay to prosperity. Buhari restored our hope.
But of course, not everybody was happy for us and for our country and so Buhari was betrayed, arrested and forced from office by those with evil machinations. Truth be told, ordinary Nigerians betrayed Buhari too! We were unappreciative of all he did in the very short period he was in office. We betrayed him by not standing by him then; and we betrayed him again during the last elections by not voting and electing him into office. Just as we disappointed the sage (Awolowo) on three occasions, we disappointed Buhari on two occasions.
It is my hope therefore that Nigerians will right the wrongs of the past, restore my hope in the goodness and sensibility of Nigerians, and also make it up to a great man and a great Nigerian who deserve to be the next executive president of Nigeria. Buhari is my man. He should be your man. He should be our man come 2007.
(Note: The longer version of this essay was first published in July 2004)