On the flight to Nigeria yesterday, a Nigerian passenger tried to convince me to vote for General Muhammadu Buhari, candidate of the All Progressives Congress in the forthcoming presidential elections. I gave him reasons why I would not. It is pertinent to share the reasons here.
Fashola of Lagos, a leading APC governor, has already made this case against their candidate. He said that Agbaje at 60 is too old to succeed him as governor of Lagos. If a 60-year-old is too old to rule Lagos, one of the 36 states in Nigeria, why is a 72-year-old man not too old to rule Nigeria? No sane man appoints a man in his 70s as chief executive of a company. Anybody of that age is in retirement. I therefore cannot understand the position of those who see nothing wrong in handing over Nigeria with all its problems to a 72 year old to run. Some people have argued that we need a tested hand. My question is what would happen to Nigeria in 10 year's time when all the tested hands: Buhari, Obasanjo, Babangida, Shagari and Shonekan would no longer be capable of being called to lead Nigeria? Others have argued that Sirleaf Johnson of Liberia is old. Check out how she contained (or failed to contain Ebola) and it would be clear that Liberians made a mistake in electing her. Some have argued that Osibanjo, Buhari's running mate is young and would make up for the age of his principal. Nothing can be more deceptive. Experience has shown that in Nigeria, the vice president is a spare tyre. He is relevant to the extent the president wants him to be. Atiku was very powerful when Obasanjo gave him the leeway. He became totally irrelevant when Obasanjo decided to do otherwise. Assuming it was possible for Osibanjo to cover up for Buhari and become the de facto president, then this will be a big fraud on Nigerians. We would be using Buhari to get Osibanjo into office as Nigeria's president. Osibanjo is not the candidate in this election; he is a running mate. He is not under scrutiny as the man we want to surrender our collective destiny to for the next four years.
Besides, the older a man gets, the more set he is his ways. Buhari would not be open to new ideas. I stand to be corrected. Due to the way the speed of change today, countries are electing ever younger leaders. The prime minister of Greek elected few days ago is only 40.
My experience as a journalist covering Africa is that when a leader is very old (like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe), a cabal forms around him, takes over the government and runs it in his name. In this case, Buhari's government would be run by a cabal. In other words, a group of unelected Nigerians would take over our government through the back door. I tremble at the thought of those who will make that cabal: Tinubu, Amaechi, etc.
Talking about the cabal, my other reservation with the Buhari candidacy is the company he shares. Buhari has been sold as Mr Clean but as Lamido pointed out, he is surrounded by not so clean men. No one is ever greater than the mafia that brings him to power. How would Buhari deal with those in his company? Tinubu has been successful in appropriating Lagos to himself. His company collects 15 per cent or N3 billion monthly out of the internally generated revenue in Lagos State for providing (support) services in tax collection. That is more than the monthly revenue of Abia State. For comparison sake, the Federal Inland Revenue Service gets four per cent for doing the same job in respect of the Federation. How would Buhari contain a man with such appetite for wealth acquisition? How would he stop Tinubu from getting such a deal at the federal level? I leave it to Nigerians to work out 15 per cent of Nigeria's revenue.
I find Buhari's character flawed, thanks to the certificate scandal. The issue is not whether Buhari has a school certificate or not. The issue is that he either lied or had chosen to treat Nigerians with contempt. The matter is this simple: Buhari says he had a certificate and it was with the army. The army says he never submitted one but joined the force with a recommendation letter from his principal. He lied about this. To get around it, he has come out with a statement of result issued by his former school. That has stirred more controversy. What the general needs to do is ask the Cambridge to provide a copy of his certificate. If indeed he had a certificate but has failed to ask Cambridge for a copy, he is simply treating Nigerians with contempt, the same way he did when he refused to appear before the panel on human rights. In the absence of that certificate, it is fair to assume that he does not have one. In that case, we would become the laughing stock of the world because the people in Cambridge would be privy to the fact that he had none. Can you imagine a Nigerian president who is the butt of jokes for lying about his educational qualifications?
At the end of the 2011 elections, he said he would not run again but here he is. What else is he telling us he would not do when he is elected but would do?
During the campaign by Obama for the American presidency, it turned out that he sat under the sermon of one Rev Jeremy Wright who preached hate message. That incident almost sunk the Obama campaign. He had to go to extraordinary length to distance himself from the man's views. In Nigeria the man who said his ambition is to implement sharia throughout Nigeria is running to be the president of a secular state like Nigeria. My question is: at what point did Buhari purge himself of this conviction? As El Rufai once put it: 'His (Buhari's) insensitivity to Nigeria's diversity and his parochial focus are already well-known'. As a military leader, he was autocratic, when did he become a democrat. If he was a democrat, why did he say the blood of baboons would flow if he loses the 2011 election leading to the post election violence that cost many lives? What democrat cannot stand losing an election?
My last problem with Buhari is leadership style. When he first came to power, I was 16 then and remember that Idiagbon was the face I saw every day on TV doing this or doing that so much that the government was known as Buhari/Idiagbon administration. In the history of Nigeria, there has been no such government. There was no Babangida/Aikhomu government. Even Gowon who was very young did not have a Gowon/Awo government. In PTF, he literally handed over the agency to Afro Projects Consortium (APC) to run. When scandals emerged, he remained Mr Clean and the corruption was laid at the feet of APC. His inability to assume and take full responsibility for his mandates worries me. Does it mean that he would surrender the government to some other person to run: Osibanjo or the cabal?
I believe that the challenge of 2015 means we need an effective, strong and capable government. Unfortunately, those asking for change have not presented a candidate that fits the bill. I would rather not vote for Buhari. I cannot see the change and how much it would be.
* Ekoriko, an international, awards winning journalist, sent this from London