Muhammadu Buhari: Another Myth Destroyed
It must be tiring to always have to defend yourself against all sorts of false accusations, but when you are running for office and answering those questions can get you a few extra votes, or arm those already on your side to respond to questions and convince others, then you do it.
This was the aim of Muhammadu Buhari’s interaction with his volunteers on Tuesday, the 24th of December at Protea Hotel, Awolowo Road, Lagos, Nigeria Before he took the stage, Rotimi Amaechi, the DG of the Buhari Campaign, answered a few questions from Tolu Ogunlesi, the moderator for the evening, about his life before politics, and how he went from going into public service for himself, to focusing on what dividends he could deliver to the people. He also countered rumours about being the ‘moneybag’ behind the Buhari campaign, saying that sharply reduced federal allocations over the last year or so would have put paid to that.
Three volunteers also came out to talk about why they are supporting Buhari. Two of them, Gbenga Sesan and Akin Oyebode, talked about making personal sacrifices to bring about the needed change in government at the ballot box, and both made reference to making a better future for the next generation. One of the men has been a father for just under 2 years, while the other will soon become one. “We give you our vote, in exchange for a new Nigeria. Please do not disappoint us”, Gbenga said. I am sure the message was received loud and clear.
All this was just the prelude to the main event. Buhari arrived with Nasir El-Rufai, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, Governors Babatunde Fashola and Rotimi Amaechi, as well as Senator Sirika Hadi (Katsina North), in tow. On the question of his being a fundamentalist, Buhari remarked that he would never have made it far in the army, which he believes is at least 80% Christian, if he were one. Whether or not the Nigerian Army was 80% Christian in his time is another matter entirely, but you can see his point. If any of those he worked with in the army suspected he was a fundamentalist, it would have been hard for him to become a general.
One part of Buhari’s time in the military that has to be spoken about a lot more, is his decisiveness in dealing with enemies of the Nigerian state. He recounted an episode when Chadian troops killed Nigerian soldiers, during the regime of Hissene Habré. This was the despite the fact that Nigeria was giving petroleum products to Chad. “Unfortunately for him, [Habré] those soldiers were under me”, Buhari said, to laughter from the audience. It was one example of his dry humour that would come to the surface a few more times.
As for Maitatsine, he describes a problem that kept recurring after the leader of the group was first exiled by the Emir of Kano, then returned and was killed by the police. “I flew into Adamawa as head of state, and that was the last you heard of Maitatsine”, he said.
Buhari goes on to explain his role in events like Nigeria’s ‘observer’ status in the OIC, the so-called $2.8 billion ‘missing’ funds during his time at the NNPC, his time at the PTF, the famous 53 suitcases (which was apparently just luggage), and so on.
The Petroleum Trust Fund was much like today’s SURE-P. Pump prices were going to be raised, but the Abacha government needed someone the public could trust to manage subsidy savings. Buhari recounted how the first N2 billion of the N53 billion spent by the PTF was in Lagos, on projects like the Iju Waterworks. According to him, 12,000 kilometres of roads were done by the PTF.
As a former military ruler, some are concerned with what Buhari might get up to if he becomes President, and whether his military instincts will take over. He describes his moment of conversion to democracy as when the Soviet Union collapsed without a shot being fired. For someone whose military career went on against the backdrop of 5 coups, one of which he was on the receiving end of, it must have been a Damascene moment for him.
In all, Buhari’s performance seemed very much at ease and in control, and much better than I remember. The prospect of seeing him and Jonathan in a debate filled me with dread, but I may have spoken too soon. Below is a link to the audio I recorded, so you can make up your own mind. The organisers should put up a video soon as well.
After the event ended, Buhari ended up at a showing of ‘Saro 2’. We were told that a woman spontaneously ran to hug ‘The People’s General’, but was predictably screened off by security. If that account is correct, that is a photo-op missed.
Listen to the audio recording of the event here