After absorbing so much since the advent of the Muhammadu Buhari administration in May 2015, it is amusing that Aso Rock is yet to develop such thick skin to ricochet especially mere political pranks. In a country where, literally, public discussions are virtually at a do-or-die level, such may hurt, be churlish or even discriminatory on grounds of religion, ethnicity or political interests. Still, the name of the game is pedestrian pettiness. Should those in power dignify such avoidable distraction with precious state time?
And was it necessarily hateful for anybody, group or establishment to insist on addressing Nigeria’s Head of State/Government as General Muhammadu Buhari? Certainly not and no law in the land compels such compliance not to be addressed as a military General, more of a mere wish. It might even be actionable if anybody challenges Buhari’s rank as a General, which will be akin to similar doubt on the professional worth of a medical doctor, a lawyer, an architect, etc, without proof. Indeed, it should be ignored if, in the case of Buhari, as long as nobody else, in the circumstance, is addressed as President of the Federal Republic. Celebrated critic Tai Solarin, in unceasing disagreement with the election of Shehu Shagari as Nigeria’s President in 1979 even after ratification by the Supreme Court, continued to refer to the tenure as “stolen presidency.” Shagari cared no hoot, as he discharged official obligations. What is more, Muhammadu Buhari’s military rank as General is merely prefixed by his critics with his official status as President (that is, The President, General Muhammadu Buhari, etc, etc). There is neither disrespect nor animosity. Rather, what is discernible is unconscious and unsolicited generousity.
By the way, as much as he was (and still is) entitled to his personal wish, Buhari should have reckoned with possible consequences when he opted to be addressed strictly as President and not his military rank of a General, with which he obtained his party’s ticket and won the presidential election in 2015. Nigerians knew they were electing a retired military officer. Spread all over Africa and the developing world are leaders without military background, and yet they are dictatorial and more repressive than Buhari. Retaining his military rank of an army General could not have tarnished Buhari’s reputation at home or abroad and now that he is being addressed as a General it will not detract an inch from his status.
Even, henceforth that he is being addressed solely, or in addition, as General Buhari, what disgrace does that confer on him? Nothing. Does addressing Muhammadu Buhari as a General inhibit him in any way from administering Nigeria? He remains the only recognised choice of Nigerians to govern the country. After particularly insisting on addressing him as a General, Muhammadu Buhari still occupies Aso Rock as the legitimately elected Head of State/Government. When officially addressed as General, did that stop Muhammadu Buhari from signing the 2020 budget bill into law? It is unusual that, so far, no Nigerian activist has headed to law courts to claim that General Buhari is not qualified to sign the budget bill. In short, in his reaction, President Buhari himself has conferred importance and public, if not world attention, on a sick joke.
Suppose Buhari had ignored that joke, what would he have lost? Nothing. Did the same Buhari not stop his handlers last time from responding to former President Obasanjo’s letters? Did Obasanjo’s letters stop Buhari from being re-elected? How many Nigerians bother themselves on how Buhari is officially addressed by critics? No matter how he is addressed officially, all Buhari has to do is to concentrate on flaunting his remarkable successes in infrastructur all over the country, highways from Lagos to the North, East, West and the South, rail lines from Lagos to north, east and the promise to the west, the substantial increase in foreign reserves, stability of the naira, food security instead of the erstwhile reliance on food imports, steady fuel supply, etc. If such successes had been recorded in only four years of the preceding 16 years of those before Buhari, Nigeria would have been better today. Impossible to be listed among such successes under Buhari are state of security and level of hardship in the country, which at best are not lower. That is the bitter truth.
President Buhari must chill, as the yuppies would put it, or Aso Rock landlord, down the line, might appear ungrateful to his critics, who, in reminding him that as a civilian elected leader, Buhari is a General. In asserting that view, critics only succeeded in putting Buhari in an exclusive club of reputable world statesmen of last century. Such men with formidable military backgound eventually served their respective countries as elected civilian leaders and yet retained and were identified as their military ranks. Conceivably, Buhari’s critics thought they were demonising him by officially addressing him as a General. Instead, Buhari should be grateful and proud as history shows that the critics are not malicious. Part of Buhari’s military career was the major role he played in Nigeria’s civil war or he would not have been in line for gradual promotion through the ranks to a Major-General.
In the same vein, Second World War’s history would be incomplete without the major role of General Charles De Gaule. While the rest of Europe were falling like autumn leaves before the forces of Adolf Hitler, the French strongman led the Resistance Movement and confronted Hitler’s forces occupying France, from exile in Britain, with the self-assurance that fellow patriots who believed in him should follow him into exile for the battle against Hitler. De Gaule succeeded, along with the allied forces, in defeating Hitler and, in victory, the French elected De Gaule as President of the republic. But remarkably, General Charles De Gaule, throughout his political career, retained his military rank along with the official title of President.
In 1956, during the crisis over independence for one of French overseas territories in Africa, Algeria, General De Gaule angrily resigned. Within two years, France had not less than 16 governments, a political instability which forced the French to persuade De Gaule to return to public office in 1958, as a father figure. For the next decade, General De Gaule as French president ensured overall stability, which was terminally punctured by the students’ riots. Defeat for De Gaule’s reform proposals in a referendum led to his resignation. He died in his village two years later. The distinction was that he flaunted his military rank as General De Gaule, an official status for which history and the world remember him till today.
What can we say of General Dwight Ike Eisenhower, commander of Allied Forces during the Second World War? At the end of hostilities, Eisenhower was honoured by his country with his election as President of the United States, from 1952 to 1960. Equally, it was remarkable that, throughout his political career, the great man stuck to his military rank as General Eisenhower, President of the United States. Today, he is more remembered as General Eisenhower even as President of the United States.
There had been more military officers in different parts of the world who stuck to their military ranks even as elected civilians. There was General Juan Peron of Argentina, once deposed in a palace coup and exiled abroad for years. He later returned from exile to be elected as a civilian president, but he retained his military rank as General Juan Peron, President of Argentina, until he died in office and was succeeded by his widow. Also remembered more for his military rank even as an elected civilian president.
Israel produced three Prime Ministers who, because they were retired military officers, retained their military ranks as Generals throughout their tenure as elected heads of government. They were General Moshe Dyan, General Ariel Sharon and General Barak.
Africa’s first military ruler Muhammed Naguib of Egypt retained the military rank of a General until he was deposed by Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser, who later contested elections and as an elected civilian retained his military rank of a Colonel until he died of heart attack in office in 1970.
All these were top men in history who stuck to their military ranks even as elected civilians throughout their political career and never lost a string of hair in the process. Muhammadu Buhari must, therefore, not bother himself about being addressed as General Buhari. It’s all mere political prank. In Ajegunle, such is dismissed contemptuously as yeye.
Once a General, always a General.