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OPINION: Buhari’s presidency at Nigeria’s expense [1]

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OPINION: Buhari’s presidency at Nigeria’s expense [1]

For Nigeria, for a long time, it used to be said that the country’s quest to develop had been arrested by a succession of reluctant leaders, heads of state and presidents. And there could be justification for this. Let’s go back in time. At independence in 1960, indeed shortly before it, the coalition parties of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons [NCNC] and the Northern Peoples Congress [NPC] political parties agreed to form the government at the centre after a hotly contested general elections. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Owelle of Onitsha, was the leader of the NCNC while the NPC was led by Sir, Ahmadu Bello, the Sadauna of Sokoto. It was reportedly agreed that the NPC would produce the Prime Minister who would be the head of government, while the NCNC would fill the office of the President. It was a parliamentary system of government so the presidency was a ceremonial office.

For the office of the Prime Minister, it was expected by convention and practice given what obtained in other climes that practiced the same system of government that Sir, Ahmadu Bello,  as the leader of the NPC, would step forward to assume the office. No. That did not happen. Instead Bello put forward Sir, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa for the office and he, Bello, opted to be the Premier of the Northern Region, one of the three regions at Nigeria’s independence. The others being the Eastern and the Western Regions. That invariably was the beginning of the succession of reluctant rulers. To be sure, Sir, Balewa was reported to be self-effacing and of extraordinary humility. But he was a stooge and a puppet of the larger- than- life NPC leader Ahmadu Bello. Bello, enconsced in Kaduna, the capital of the now defunct Northern Region, called the shots. Given the rather poor state of telephony and telecommunications in general, the Prime Minister who was resident in Lagos which was the federal capital, was reported to be frequently shuttling to Kaduna for consultations with Bello. That arrangement and that government lasted for about six years before the Armed Forces struck and sacked it. Sadly the reportedly easy going Prime Minister was among government leaders killed in the putsch. The events of 1966 are still haunting Nigeria, and the Class of its partisan politicians and military politicians are just now losing their stranglehold on the country.

Major- General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi- Ironsi who was the most senior Nigerian army officer in 1966 took over power from the middle level officers who staged the very bloody coup in January of that year. But barely seven months later he was himself ousted in another even bloodier revenge coup. The so-called revenge coup which was executed by northern  elements of the army threw up Lt  Col Yakubu Gowon, one of their own, as head of state. Though he was not known to have coveted the office nor to be political, that did not stymie the hot contestations and controversies that broke out in the wake of his coronation. Gowon’s elevation was treated as an assault to the tradition of seniority in the military. So a reluctant and a supposedly apolitical military officer turned head of state became mired in grave issues that culminated in a civil war. After the Biafra- Nigeria Civil War in 1970, military politicians took turns in overthrowing themselves until 1979 when a reportedly frightened and obviously reluctant military head of state, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo handed over power to a reluctant civilian President.

Ahead of the 1979 general elections, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a throw up from the First Republic [1960-1966] had indicated interest in contesting election into the Senate. He was dissuaded and compelled to vie for the presidency on the ticket of the National Party of Nigeria [NPN]. He won a controversial election to the office he never originally aspired to nor prepared for. Four years later, the military struck again, seized power and dismantled the structures and symbols of civil rule and democracy. Fast forward to 1999. The military again handed over power to civilians. Again, power was handed over to a reluctant president. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo was in jail for alleged coup plot against the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha. Obasanjo was pardoned by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar who had succeeded Abacha who died mysteriously in office. When Obasanjo was freed from prison and was approached to contest for the presidency on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP], he was said to have asked the emissaries ‘how many presidents do you want to make out of me?’ , apparently referring to having been a military head of state. Never mind that he accepted the offer, ran for the office, won, served two terms of four years each as stipulated by Nigeria’s Constitution, and attempted to become life president after savouring the powers, paraphenelia and appurtenances of that office. Though Obasanjo has denied he wanted to become a life president but his henchman, the late Senator Ibrahim Mantu confirmed the scheme.

Read also: OPINION: The Christianisation of Nigeria by Buhari

On the heels of Obasanjo came another reluctant president, Umar Musa Yar’Adua. He was a two term governor of Katsina state who wanted to return to his love as a chemistry lecturer in the university. The power elite made up of one man, Obasanjo, would not hear of that. He was coerced and corralled into the presidency in 2007. Yar’Adua was a sick man, terminally sick. He died in office barely three years after. Yar’Adua’s deputy, Goodluck Jonathan who was erstwhile deputy governor and governor when his principal was impeached in Bayelsa state, became president. He was unprepared. In office he looked lost, intimidated, out of sorts and uncertain. His job was not made any easier by powerful and entrenched elements in the political North who saw him as an usurper and who felt that the remainder of Yar’Adua’s tenure should have been completed by a northerner to be chosen by them. They were not bothered that what they were canvassing was contrary to the stipulation of the Constitution. The opposition which included those in his own political party, the PDP, fought and undermined Jonathan all the way. It’s however to Jonathan’s credit that he survived and indeed went ahead to win the 2011 presidential election in his own right.

If we can make excuses for Nigeria’s reluctant presidents and rulers and heads of state and their non performance or modest performance in office, what do we say for President Muhammadu Buhari? Here is a man who longed for and coveted the office of the president for decades. In his quest for the office he became a serial loser. And a wailer. He lost the presidential election in 2003. He lost yet again in 2007. And again in 2011 after which he wept publicly and vowed never again to seek the office. He suggested in his public lamentations that Nigerians would be the losers for not allowing him to be their president. A former military head of state, whose performance was not sterling by the way, gave the impression that he would have been the messiah Nigerians had been looking for. Many Nigerians were not persuaded. But a few power brokers thought otherwise including those who had branded Buhari a regional and sectarian bigot who was unelectable on the national platform. They cobbled a coalition together, begged Buhari to throw his hat into the ring one more time in 2015. He did. And he won. But at whose expense?

*To be continued next week.

AUTHOR: Ugo Onuoha…


Articles published in our Graffiti section are strictly the opinion of the writers and do not represent the views of Ripples Nigeria or its editorial stand.

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