Following the successful execution of the 1983 coup, it was merely a necessity, by military tradition, for the new regime under Major General Muhammadu Buhari, to make a public announcement that it had ousted the previous government and come into power. This task was done by the then Brigadier-General Sani Abacha, who addressed Nigerians, announcing the take-over of power and suspension of the 1979 Constitution.
In announcing the new government, Abacha decried the state of affairs in the country, pointing out that the nation’s economic, health and education sectors needed to be salvaged from further degeneration, while unemployment, non-payment of workers’ salaries in some states, corruption and indiscipline were unchecked. Lamentably, most of the problems, which Buhari intervened to solve about 31 years ago, are still there as he settles in at Aso Rock in 2015.
As it was in 1983, Nigerians today “are all living witnesses to the great economic predicament and uncertainty, which an inept and corrupt leadership has imposed on our beloved nation for the past four years. I am referring to the harsh, intolerable conditions under which we are now living. Our economy has been hopelessly mismanaged; we have become a debtor and beggar nation. There is inadequacy of food at reasonable prices for our people who are now fed up with endless announcements of importation of foodstuff; health services are in shambles as our hospitals are reduced to mere consulting clinics without drugs, water and equipment.
“Our educational system is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Unemployment figures, including the undergraduates, have reached embarrassing and unacceptable proportions. In some states, workers are being owed salary arrears of eight to twelve months and in others, there are threats of salary cuts. Yet our leaders revel in squander mania, corruption and indiscipline, and continue to proliferate public appointments in complete disregard of our stark economic realities.”
Notably but painfully, Nigeria has not ceased being a debtor-nation, nor have various governments ceased owing workers several months’ salaries. This makes Buhari’s second coming more tasking, especially as Nigerians are full of expectation that he has come to bring ‘change’, even to their dining tables.
Buhari To the Rescue I (1983)
The “further announcements”, spoken of by Abacha in his first speech, came in the morning of January 1 1984 as a New Year message from the new head of state to Nigerians. In his maiden speech, Buhari accepted, with a high sense of responsibility, to steer the ship of the nation’s leadership in a new, desired direction.
In the beginning of his speech, Buhari said, “In pursuance of the primary objective of saving our great nation from total collapse, I, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari of the Nigerian Army have, after due consultation amongst the services of the armed forces, been formally invested with the authority of the Head of the Federal Military Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is with humility and a deep sense of responsibility that I accept this challenge and call to national duty.”
Further on in his speech, Buhari, inter alia, lamented that “political contestants regarded victory at elections as a matter of life and death struggle and were determined to capture or retain power by all means.” That’s not all. The speech also frowned at legislative negligence of responsibilities and wanton misappropriation of public funds in the name of salaries and benefits for lawmakers. On this, he bemoaned, “The situation could have been avoided if the legislators were alive to their constitutional responsibilities; instead, the legislators were preoccupied with determining their salary scales, fringe benefits and unnecessary foreign travels et al, which took no account of the state of the economy and the welfare of the people they represented.” This has continued unabated even as Buhari takes over today.
Buhari’s Military Administration (1984-1985)
Buhari meant his words to fight corruption to a standstill and restore health in the nation’s bleeding economy. The general then did not waste time in instituting military sanctions against perceived corrupt public officers in the ousted government and reeling out policies and programmes aimed at resuscitating and reforming the Nigerian economy.
Going by the seriousness seen on the part of Buhari and his military team in their quest to tackle corruption without sparing any “sacred cow”, many began to imagine a new Nigeria, where acts of corruption and indiscipline would have no place. But another military coup occurred and cut short the Buhari government on August 27 1985, which brought General Ibrahim Gbadamasi Babangida (popularly known as IBB) on board as the next military leader. Some of Buhari’s major achievements in the anti-corruption crusade are captured in this segment.
The term “Buharinomics” was used to refer to General Buhari’s economic programme marshalled out to salvage the nation in 1984. He summarised the objective of his economic policy (as articulated in the 1984 budget) as follows: “To arrest the decline in the economy, to put the economy on a proper course of recovery and solvency, and to chart a future course for economic stability and prosperity.”
He re-echoed similar words while receiving the visiting Sudanese president, Gaafar Nimeiri in March of the same year.
“The priority of this administration is for economic recovery, providing employment opportunities, improving people’s living conditions, consolidating internal security and ensuring foreign respect,” Buhari said.
In a nutshell, Buharinomics set out to arrest the decline in the economy and refocus it towards recovery.
Buhari started to rebuild the nation’s social-political and economic systems along the realities of Nigeria’s austere economic conditions.
The rebuilding included removing or cutting back the excesses in national expenditure, obliterating or removing completely corruption from the nation’s social ethics, shifting from mainly public sector employment to self-employment. Buhari also encouraged import substitution industrialisation based, to a great extent, on the use of local materials and he tightened importation.
However, Buhari’s bid to re-balance public finances by curbing imports led to many job losses and the closure of businesses.
Battle Against Currency Hoarding
The first test of Buharinomics was implemented to revive the comatose banking industry and arrest local currency hoarding. In April 1984, the government ordered a change in the colour of the Naira. This action was dubbed the “real coup” by unscrupulous businessmen and politicians who had almost eliminated the need for commercial banking in Nigeria by keeping their money under their mattresses, or by trafficking it into neighbouring West African countries.
This currency change, which forced all holders of naira notes to exchange them for the new naira notes at commercial banks, infused billions that had remained unaccounted for into the banking industry and eliminated counterfeited currencies, which had inflicted inflationary and other nefarious effects on the economy. This measure had an immediate revitalising effect in the banking industry and was an unqualified success. Banks close to collapse became vibrant again, to the extent that some of them began to hire hitherto unemployed Nigerians.
Severance of Ties with IMF
Buhari broke ties with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), when the fund asked the government to devalue the naira by 60%. However, the reforms that Buhari instigated on his own were as, if not more rigorous than those required by the IMF.
On May 7 1984, Buhari announced the country’s 1984 National Budget. The budget came with a series of complementary measures:
- A temporary ban on recruiting federal public sector workers
- Raising of interest rates
- Halting capital projects
- Prohibition of borrowing by state governments
- 15 per cent cut from Shagari’s 1983 Budget
- Realignment of import duties
- Reducing the balance of payment deficit by cutting imports
- Priority to the importation of raw materials and spare parts that were needed for agriculture and industry
Other economic measures by Buhari took the form of counter trade, price reduction of goods and services.
Tackling Corruption and Indiscipline
One of the most enduring legacies of the Buhari government is the War Against Indiscipline (WAI). Launched on March 20 1984, the policy tried to address the perceived lack of public morality and civic responsibility of the Nigerian society. Unruly Nigerians were ordered to form neat queues at bus stops, under the eyes of whip-wielding soldiers. Civil servants who failed to show up on time at work were humiliated and forced to do frog jumps. Even students over the age of 17 caught cheating in exams, counterfeiting and arson, etc. had grave consequences for those who dared, all in a bid to instil discipline in Nigerians, which paid off to some extent, especially among the city dwellers.
The Umaru Dikko affair was another defining moment of Buhari’s military government. Umaru Dikko, a former minister of transportation under the previous civilian administration of President Shagari, who fled the country shortly after the coup, was accused of embezzling $1billion in oil profits. With the help of the Mossad, the NSO traced him to London, where operatives from Nigeria and Israel drugged and kidnapped him.
They placed him in a plastic bag, which was subsequently hidden inside a crate labelled “Diplomatic Baggage”. The purpose of this secret operation was to ship Dikko off to Nigeria on an empty Nigerian Airways Boeing 707, to stand trial for embezzlement. The plot was foiled by British airport officers. That singular act proved that the military junta led by General Buhari was ready to go to the sky to fish out corrupt public officers, if they were discovered to be there.
Further proof that Buhari placed Nigeria’s national interest above personal interests was that through the instrumentality of his second-in-command, Brigadier Idiagbon, he mounted an offensive against entrenched selfish interests. In twenty months as head of state, politicians, officials and businessmen found to be involved in one act of corruption or the other were detained for questioning and those found guilty in the law court were jailed for corruption.
Buhari was, however, highly criticised as being high-handed, especially by those in high places who were not spared by the anti-corruption searchlight of the government. But many applauded his regime on the grounds that the hardness of Nigerians and the depths to which corruption had penetrated in their minds required draconian measures, if the fight against corruption was to make any sense.
Buhari responded to criticism against him on human rights issues by saying that if elected in the general election of March 28 2015, he would follow the rule of law; there would be access to justice for all Nigerians and respect for the fundamental human rights of Nigerians.
Defending Territorial Integrity: The Chadian Military Affair
In 1983, when Chadian forces invaded Nigeria in Borno State, Buhari used the forces under his command to chase them out of the country, crossing into Chadian territory, in spite of an order given by President Shagari to withdraw. This 1983 Chadian military affair led to more than 100 victims and “prisoners of war”.
Like Lincoln, Like Buhari
A man who ran for the nation’s presidency more than anyone else has, Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, did not happen upon success; he learnt the ropes and eventually has become the nation’s Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln was defeated in his quest for the United States of America Senate in 1832. He lost another bid for Congress in 1843 and lost a re-nomination bid in 1848. His decision to step down for another candidate in the party’s interest cost him a high-profile appointment the following year. Again, Lincoln suffered a setback when he vied to be his party’s candidate in 1856. But eventually, he was elected America’s 16th president in 1860.
A somewhat similar strand streaks through Buhari’s peregrination in politics. Between 2002, when he threw his hat into the ring of politics and pitched tent with the All People’s Party (which corrected its name to All Nigeria People’s Party) and 2015, when he eventually became the nation’s president on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Buhari was at the grassroots, charting the way for what eventually gave him victory on March 28, 2015.
In 2003, Buhari contested the presidential election as the candidate of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and was defeated by the then incumbent, Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The PDP, being the ruling party had a field day at the polls, while Buhari, whose acceptance was unmatched in the country, was defeated by the incumbency factor.
On December 18 2006, Gen. Buhari was nominated as the consensus candidate of the ANPP and ran again in 2007, but was defeated by the PDP candidate, Umaru Yar’Adua, in an election that was strongly criticised by international observers as being marred by voting irregularities. These factors gave the ruling party an edge. While Buhari depended on the masses, whose love for him is legendary, Yar’Adua had the backing of government mercenaries.
Due to irreconcilable differences in principles and philosophy, General Buhari bid farewell to the ANPP and together with associates across the country formed the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). He said that he had supported the founding of the CPC “as a solution to the debilitating, ethical and ideological conflicts in my former party the ANPP.”
Buhari was the CPC presidential candidate in the April 16 2011 general election, running against incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Ibrahim Shekarau of ANPP. They were the major contenders among 20 contestants. He was running on an anti-corruption platform and pledged to remove the protection of immunity from government officials. He also gave support to the enforcement of Sharia law in Nigeria’s northern states, which had previously caused him political difficulties among Christian voters in the country’s south.
He also contested in the 2011 presidential election, which was praised for largely being transparent, free and fair, but he again lost to the PDP’s candidate, incumbent Goodluck Jonathan. This time, most people gave the PDP a chance, since they had someone who promised a “breath of fresh air”, someone who “had no shoes”, someone who came with great promises to make an impact. The pact between Jonathan and Tinubu cost Buhari the election.
After protracted but fruitful negotiations, in February 2013, Nigeria’s four biggest opposition parties merged to form the All Progressives Congress (APC). The APC, with its slogan of “Change”, changed the political equation in the country.
In the run-off to the 2015 Elections, the party’s strength and will to remain as a united front was put to the test at its Lagos presidential primary election. Yet by all accounts, the APC came out stronger with a free and transparent election that produced Buhari as a candidate for the fourth time in his political career.
So in 2014, the APC nominated Buhari to stand as its candidate in the 2015 presidential election. His reputation for being incorruptible and his military background made him an attractive candidate whom many Nigerians hoped might be able to more effectively handle the threat posed by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram, whose violent acts had terrorised parts of the country in recent years.
The March 28 presidential election had 14 candidates, although the real contest was seen as being between Buhari and Jonathan, who was again the PDP’s candidate. Following a successful campaign and in what was Nigeria’s most keenly fought election ever, Buhari garnered the most votes — some 2.5 million more than Jonathan, his closest competitor — clinched a historic victory in the rescheduled March 28 presidential election and was declared the winner.
His victory marked the first time an incumbent president would be defeated in Nigeria.
How Buhari Emerged
The emergence of Buhari as the presidential candidate of the APC effectively set the stage for the epic political battle that ensued between him and Goodluck Jonathan, the flag bearer of the PDP for the 2015 presidential polls.
The race began after the keenly contested APC presidential primary held at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos, where Buhari emerged the flag bearer of the party for the presidential election.
It was indeed a landslide victory for Buhari, as he polled 3430 votes, about 58 per cent of the 5932 valid votes cast, to pick the prized APC presidential ticket, beating Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, governor of Kano State, Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president, Rochas Okorocha, governor of Imo State and Sam Nda-Isaiah, chairman of LEADERSHIP Group.
Following the declaration of Buhari as the winner of the primary by Dr Kayode Fayemi, chairman of the convention’s organising committee, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, national chairman of APC commended all the aspirants for putting up a good fight and described all of them as winners, urging them to work as a team with the party’s candidate to guarantee victory for APC at the polls. He stated that following the successful presidential primary, APC had shown it was ready to drive change in Nigeria.
The other four aspirants exhibited a true spirit of sportsmanship by accepting the outcome of the primary and expressing their preparedness to give their unflinching support to Buhari to bring the change Nigerians had been yearning for. They said they were confident that Buhari would provide the needed leadership to turn the country around.
Although Buhari secured a landslide victory, it did not come on a platter of gold. The other contestants fought relentlessly by reaching out to the delegates, canvassing for votes. Unlike his previous attempts where he secured the presidential tickets of the defunct ANPP and the CPC without much hassle, Buhari faced four equally credible opponents in the APC primary. The contestants gave him a tough challenge by spending much of the last few months before the primary criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country, mobilising and selling their candidature to party faithful. The inability of the party top hierarchy to arrive at a consensus candidate meant that the five aspirants were determined to test their popularity and political might through the ballot box, and they did.
The build-up to the maiden APC presidential primary, witnessed frenzied political calculations and predictions. While most analysts viewed Buhari as the candidate to beat in the race, Atiku was equally tipped to as a major force. Pundits believed that with his enormous financial war chest and wide political network, the former vice president would give Buhari a tough battle. To these political pundits, Atiku, who first showed interest in the country’s top political office as far back as 1993 during the aborted ‘Third Republic’, was the most sophisticated player in the race.
Other contenders such as Nda-Isaiah, Kwankwaso and Okorocha were also viewed as strong contenders in the race to fly the party’s flag at the polls.
Signs that the pendulum of victory would, however, swing in the direction of Buhari began to emerge in the wee hours of the day of the primary elections, when 12 APC governors met and reportedly reached a deal to back the former military leader. The meeting, which was held in Victoria Island, Lagos at the instance of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the de facto APC leader, triggered speculation that some of the aspirants had stepped down for Buhari. Though the rumour was quickly dismissed with all the aspirants engaging in desperate last minute behind-the-scenes attempts to woo delegates, it soon became obvious that the battle would be won and lost at the ballot, not through a brokered deal.
It was gathered that one of the factors that worked in Buhari’s favour was that many leaders of the party across the country, who more than ever were determined to wrest power from Jonathan, had evaluated the political climate and observed that Buhari enjoyed massive support from the downtrodden in the North and would thus be easier to market to majority of Nigerians, who were yearning for a change from the many years of bad leadership in the country. He was, therefore, seen as a man of integrity who had not been tainted by the gale of corruption that had ravaged the polity. There were concerns also that Atiku may not be as attractive as Buhari in the North-West, which is one of APC’s strongholds and officially the most populous geo-political zone in the country.
The decision of 12 APC governors to rally behind Buhari was indeed a masterstroke in political brinksmanship, as it had the desired effect in influencing how the delegates voted, as was reflected in their voting pattern.
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