Speaking the Nations Mind

Buhari’s Five Years In Office By Jideofor Adibe


May 29, 2020, marked Buhari’s five years in office – or the end of the first year of his second term in office.How has Buhari fared so far? And what is likely to be his legacy?Answering either of the above questions may not be as straightforward as it seems. There are several issues that will predicate the answers:One, Buhari’s greatest strengths are also his Achilles heels: One of these was his first coming asmilitary Head of State (December 31 1983 – August 27 1985). Some of his core admirers nurse anostalgia of an unsmiling 41-year old Major-General who introduced the War AgainstIndiscipline, resisted pressures from the Bretton Woods institutions to devalue the Naira andherded most members of the political class and other ‘untouchables’ in the society into long jailterms for corruption and sundry offences, (some, for as long as 250 years). Though he stayed inoffice for only 20 months, he amassed a constituency of support from people who loathed thepolitical class or saw them as their social class enemies. For this constituency of Buhari’ssupport base, the Daura Genera would have succeeded in righting many of the wrongs of theNigerian society if only his government was not truncated by the Babangida coup of August1985. Two, just as Buhari amassed a constituency of support from his first coming, the seeds of manyof the negative togas he wore today were also sown during his first coming. There are two broadcategories of critics who oppose Buhari on account of how he governed as a military dictator: thefirst category are those who saw his regime as extremely brutal and repressive and based on thathave continued to question his democratic credentials, and consequently view every move of hiswith suspicion. For this category of critics, since a tiger cannot easily change its spots, it will bedangerous not to perpetually see Buhari as a threat to our democracy and consequently bevigilant with every move he makes. This constituency of opposition will not buy the notion thatBuhari is now a democrat. The second category of critics that derived from his time as a military Head of State are thosewho judged his mode of governance from that era on the basis of ‘ethnic and religious balance’and concluded that he was a religious bigot or Northern irredentist. There are numerous instancesmembers of this group often give to buttress their argument such as that Buhari constituted alopsided Supreme Military Council which was overwhelmingly dominated by NorthernMuslims; that he was insensitive to the country’s diversity by choosing as his Deputy BrigadierTunde Idiagbon, a fellow Northern Muslim as his second in Command; and that in herding many

members of the political class to prison, he favoured the Northern Muslim political class. In factby the time Buhari was overthrown, he had become effectively de-legitimized in most parts ofthe South such that nearly all the politicians he jailed from the Southern part of the country cameout of prison as heroes when his government was overthrown. This probably explains whythroughout his four-time run for the presidency of the country (2003-2015), it was only in 2015,and largely through alliance with some regional political groups led by Bola Tinubu’s ActionCongress of Nigeria, that he was able to secure 25 per cent of the votes in any state in thesouthern part of the country. Essentially, the allegation that Buhari is a “northern irredentist” or“Muslim fanatic” started from that era but has hardened by continuing allegations that he stillfavours the Northern Muslims in strategic appointments, including in leadership of the country’ssecurity architecture. The government denies the charge, arguing that its data on politicalappointments paints a different picture.Three, another of Buhari’s strengths, which ironically also works against him, is that he isgenerally seen as a regional hero in many parts of the Muslim north. In fact in all his five runsfor the presidency of the country, he consistently polled over ten million votes from thatdemographic. This was one of the reasons he was favoured to be the Presidential candidate of theAll Progressives Congress in the 2015 election because the new party’s political strategistsreckoned that with him as the party’s flag bearer, at least ten million votes would be in the kittygoing into the election. However being a regional hero in a low trust society like Nigeria (whereyour name alone makes you a suspect) means that non-members of that in-group view him withheightened suspicion. This contrasts with Olusegun Obasano, whose non-acceptance by hisYoruba ethnic group paradoxically helped to burnish his nationalist credentials and acceptance.Four, following from the above, it is possible to categorize Buhari’s supporters into two broadcategories – those who admire him from his days as military Head of State and those whosupport him from his core Northern Muslim constituency. Within this latter category, it ispossible to have further sub-divisions – those who see him as an anti-thesis of the Northernpolitical elite with his self-discipline and austere life style; those who believe he is the one torestore the assumed lost glory of the North (presumably lost under the Obasanjo and Jonathanregimes), and those who do not particularly care about him but will support him anyway as aNortherner – because in Nigeria’s peculiar mode of allocating privileges, the South holds theeconomic power so the North needs to perpetually hold political power as a lever. AmongBuhari’s constituencies of support, the most fanatical group appears to be members of the groupwho see him as the one to restore the assumed lost glory of the North while his most stridentcritics appear to be those who feel he is a Northern irredentist or Muslim fanatic. Five, an important metric to be taken into consideration in any discussion of Buhari’s five yearsin office is that his victory in the 2015 presidential election led to fundamental re-alignmentpolitical forces along ethno-regional lines. For instance, while under Jonathan, the governmentwas an alliance of the dominant factions of the South-South, South-East and Benue and Plateaupolitical elite, under Buhari, the extant pattern of alliance was supplanted and the government

became an alliance of the dominant factions of the Muslim North and the South-west. In essencewhen some describe Buhari as a ‘polarizing figure, it has to be seen in the context of the natureof the support and opposition constituencies he attracts, including the politics flowing from there-alignment of political forces after May 2015. Six, is Buhari interested in changing the pattern of the constituencies of his support? While heseems to have made some inroads into previously hostile constituencies, there are also suspicionsthat he may not really be interested in changing the sources of his support base as seen in theroutine accusations that he pays little regards to the optics of governance. According to this view,each time Buhari is accused of clannishness or Northern bias in appointments it only valorises asub-constituency of his support base – those who see him as the person to restore the assumedlost glory of the North, a constituency Buhari probably holds very dear to his heart. Some peopleinfer that since all politics is local, Buhari probably believes that after his presidency, whatmatters most to him will be what certain constituencies think of him, and not necessarily whatmost Nigerians think of his tenure. Seven, so how will we assess his performance in office? Given the hard-line approach of both hissupport base and opposition constituency, the answer to this question will largely depend on whowill be doing the assessment. A Buharist will recount the numerous ‘achievements’ of thegovernment including in the provision of infrastructure, support for agriculture and even fightingBoko Haram. A critic could focus on the increasing insecurity in the land, the fact that Nigeriahas become the poverty capital of the world, Buhari’s alleged clannishness and Northern Muslimbias in strategic appointments and of course his kid-gloves approach to the Fulani herdsmen. Inthis sense truth is relative and whether Buhari has done well or not will depend on who isanswering the question. Eight, what will be Buhari’s legacy? Unfortunately the same contestations over whether theBuhari government has ‘delivered’ on its campaign promises or not will follow any attempt topeep into the nature of his legacy. Perhaps, for a leader like Buhari, where most people havevery strong views of about him – either in support or in opposition – it may be better to talkabout his ‘legacies’. This is because in a typical constructivist manner, what constitutesBuhari’s legacy will depend on whether the author comes from his support base, (and in factwhich of the support bases) or whether he comes from the constituency of those who viscerallyoppose him and his politics. .________________Email: pcjadibe@yahoo.comTwitter: @JideoforAdibe.