SOME Nigerians, including yours sincerely, were conflicted when in 2015 Gen. Muhammadu Buhari was declared the winner of Nigeria’s presidential election. Some of us feared that there was a danger in his win. Here was a man who had desired and seriously aspired to be so elected since the return democracy to the country in 1999. He contested in 2003 against the incumbent Olusegun Obasanjo and lost. In 2007 he ran again but this time against his own kinsman Umaru Yar’Adua. Again he lost and as in 2003 he headed to the courts and failed to upturn the result of that election. Buhari battled for the office of president yet again in 2011 against Goodluck Jonathan. He was declared the loser by voters and by the courts. In 2015 Buhari again threw his hat and heart into the electoral ring to stop the reelection of Jonathan for a second term. This time he won. He, indeed, did the unthinkable: He defeated an incumbent president, a rare occurrence in Africa and until then without precedent in Nigeria. In effect if you discount his first outing as an usurper military head of state between 1983 and 1985, Buhari had prepared or so it seemed to be president of Nigeria for at least 12 years before he acceded to the office.
Now the deal. Nigerians have been unfortunate to be governed for about 50 years by reluctant, hesitant and therefore unprepared presidents and a prime minister. At independence in 1960 it was reported and it has since been documented that Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was a surrogate prime minister. The story was that the leader of the party that won the pre-independence national election, the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Sauduana of Sokoto elected to remain the premier of the Northern region, and then proceeded to anoint Balewa as Nigeria’s first and thus far only prime minister. We will ignore the years eaten by the locust represented by military coup d’états and counter coups by opportunistic members of the Armed Forces who masqueraded as reformists, revolutionaries and nationalists. In 1979 Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Shagari was elected the first executive president on the ticket of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Again, a reluctant and obviously unprepared leader was foisted on the nation. Though Shagari had held political offices since the first republic, but he was emphatic that all he had aspired to be in his life was a school teacher. Shagari, now in his 90s, was a good man. But he was a bad president. It did not define the badness of his presidency but one image is still stuck in the collective consciousness of many adult Nigerians during that era. It was the image of Nigeria’s presidential jet overflying the burning NECOM House on the Marina in Lagos. Shagari was inside that jet on his way to India on a state visit. He was aware that that house was on fire even before he boarded the jet and took off. It was possible he looked out the window to see the burning house. For the avoidance of doubt NECOM House was not just another government building in Lagos. It was the command and control centre of both internal and external telecommunication activities in the country at that time. There was no GSM and there were no private telecommunication services providers. Nigeria External Telecommunication (NET and later NITEL) was the sole provider of telecommunication services and the owner of the then [perhaps up till now] the tallest building in Nigeria. Literarily, Shagari fiddled while Nigeria burned.
For Ernest Shonekan, the head of a contraption which was christened Interim National Government (ING) it is difficult to situate him. The Army which shooed him into government also shoved him out after barely months. They procured a court judgment that declared ING illegal. Shonekan was chairman of the conglomerate UACN and had no experience whatsoever in partisan politics. He obviously learnt the hard way the difference between corporate politics where he was adept and the murky and shark-infested waters of partisan/military politics. Shonekan was not equipped, neither was he prepared to lead a complex country like Nigeria. He is a former head of state in spite of the court ruling. Then came Obasanjo. He was in prison, convicted of plotting to overthrow the paranoid military dictatorship of maximum ruler Gen. Sani Abacha, in the run up to the 1999 general election. When Abacha died in office, Obasanjo was pardoned and freed with the intent to make him president. When he was approached to contest for president he was reported to have retorted: how many presidents do you Nigerians want to make out of me? He went on to be elected and to serve two terms. And then he angled for an illegitimate third term. When the plot collapsed, he denied coveting an extra-Constitutional tenure. So Obasanjo started off as a reluctant president but ended as a covetous one. He, also, had been an usurper as military head of state. After servicing two terms the governor of Katsina state, Unaru Yar’Adua had decided to return to the classroom as a chemistry teacher. No. That did not happen. He was railroaded into the presidency in spite of himself and his failing health. He never found his feet. He battled with ill-health from before the beginning. He died in office. But he had the courage and the statesmanship to curb the restiveness in the oil-bearing Niger Delta region through the amnesty programme. Vice President Goodluck Jonathan took over after the nation battled the so-called cabal in the presidency that was intent on hijacking the office and powers of the president. It was the era of the Doctrine of Necessity. Jonathan was a good man but he was not a typical Nigerian. He did not know how to use the enormous powers of the president of Nigeria thrust upon him. Probably, he was a tool in the hand of God for the good of our country. He lost his reelection bid last year and he conceded defeat even before the last ballot was tallied.
In essence Buhari might just be the only man who willed to be president and who nurtured and nourished the ambition for more than a decade. For a man such as this Nigerians would expect and indeed had expected a sure-footed administration right from the onset about 19 months ago. Thus far it has been nothing but disappointing. As we write President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC] party-led government are still in the campaign mode. They are still engrossed in promises of delivery instead of delivery of promises. They are still in the business of looking back and for who to blame instead of looking forward and raising hope. There is so much tentativeness bordering on uncertainty on the economic policy of the administration. Everything is ad hoc. And it is compounded by tardiness. It appears we are into governance by flying kites. And the kites do not get to fly. The kite on sale of national assets has been brought down and the kite on new price for petrol can’t even be launched. There is no evidence of consultations between and among the arms of government. In fact there is war: Executive versus Legislature, Legislature versus Executive. Executive versus Judiciary, Judiciary versus Executive. In all this the people suffer.