General Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler and the presidential candidate of the CPC in the 2011 elections, is once again in the maelstrom of another disturbing controversy.
According to media reports, the General told members of the CPC from Niger State that paid him a courtesy call in Kaduna that “If what happened in 2011 should happen again in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.”
These are weighty and ominous words that shouldn’t have come from the mouth of someone who persistently and deservingly aspires to be Nigeria’s President. Any hint of letting slip the dogs of war because of the ambition of any politician in Nigeria is disturbing. Rabble-rousing is dangerous politics because it produces consequences beyond our control and which leave us embarrassed by its gravity. Appealing to a mob passion may be expedient but its inimical consequences are not worth it. Did General Buhari weigh the implications of these dangerous words, which can play into the hands of trouble makers? Did the General learn any lessons from his past indiscretions, which have left him with a stubborn baggage of perception problems, despite his integrity and good intentions? Is playing to the gallery and rabble-rousing going to change these politically deleterious perception problems?
Admittedly, even General Buhari’s opponents must acknowledge his integrity, at least privately. In a recent breathtaking revelations about the multi-billion dollar yielding oil blocks controlled by northern Generals and other elites of the region, the author of the article, Mr. Alabo George from Niger, was fair enough to admit that General is the only northern leader that didn’t use his position in power to amass wealth or allocate oil blocks to himself. George’s admission is a moral diadem for General Buhari.
Unfortunately, however, General Buhari’s indiscretions, despite his integrity and good intentions, may once again be his undoing if he decides to run again in 2015. In the wake of the post-election violence in 2011, General Buhari’s alleged veiled instigation of his supporters to defend their votes “by whatever means” was perceived as the trigger for the riots in Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi and elsewhere. Worse still, his initial reluctance to condemn the violence fed the suspicions of those blaming him for the violence. It took the intervention of his close friends and associates to elicit even the half-hearted condemnation of the violence that he eventually made.
Does Buhari realize the damage these controversies have caused him politically? Does he suffer the problems of heroes who find it hard to admit of their own frailties and indiscretions? In 2002, General Buhari was allegedly reported to have urged Muslims to vote for fellow Muslims! Despite appeals by his friends and associates to instantly deny ever making the statement at a book launch, written by the late Sokoto-based Islamic Scholar, Sheikh Sidi Attahiru Ibrahim, the dour General ignored their appeals, leaving many of his admirers disappointed.
It is, however, understandable why the General never felt a duty to forcefully deny the report. In 2002, he had no presidential ambition and, therefore, probably felt that he didn’t need to please anybody because he didn’t need their votes. Embarrassed by Buhari’s indifference to the report, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah (then a Rev. Father) personally took the initiative of meeting the General to get exactly what he said at the book launch in Sokoto. Bishop Kukah published his encounter with Buhari in many newspapers in which the General told him that he was quoted out of context by the then Punch newspaper correspondent in Sokoto, the late Ahmed Ayorinde. Unfortunately, Bishop Kukah’s intervention or damage control efforts came too late; it was like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted!
General Buhari didn’t realize the extent of damage the Sokoto comment had caused him until 2003 when he became the presidential candidate of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP). Ironically, the same Buhari who was indifferent to the idea of repudiating the Sokoto comment was going from church to church (north and south) to deny ever urging Muslims to vote for fellow Muslims. But it was too late! He thus, became a victim of his own indiscretion, which caused him perception problems among Christians of the north and south. This perception problem overshadowed his credentials of integrity and good intention. In fact, this perception problem haunted him again and again, including during the 2011 presidential campaign.
Repeated mistakes don’t help any politician seeking power, especially when he doesn’t even recognize those mistakes, let alone make himself amenable to corrections. Despite picking Pastor Tunde Bakare as his running mate in the 2011 presidential election, General Buhari’s perception problems among Christians of the north and south didn’t change for the better. He is not trusted outside his so-called Hausa/Fulani political stronghold, despite his integrity. But for this perception baggage, he could have given the PDP a good run for their money in 2003, 2007 and 2011.
The latest controversy by the Daura General is bound to dampen the morale of many Buhari diehards across the country. It would be self-deceit for anybody to dismiss the perception issue around Buhari as an insignificant obstacle. These controversies are harming him dangerously. In 2000, he disassociated himself from the position of fellow members of the National Council of States when they came up with a compromise proposal to douse the tension generated by the strict introduction of Islamic law (Sharia) by the then Governor Ahmed Yarima Sani of Zamfara State. General Buhari chose to play to the gallery instead of acting like a statesman when the country needed his wise counsel. A combination of these controversies behind a man wanting to be Nigeria’s President is not too good a sign for General Buhari’s deep-seated ambition to rule the country. Any politician of Buhari’s stature, who was once a military Head of State, must demonstrate a remarkable degree of circumspection in his public utterances. What is even shocking is the fact that the CPC national leadership has officially thrown their support behind Buhari’s “blood-for-blood” consequences in 2015. Despite the efforts of some newspapers to play down the latest incendiary comments attributed to Buhari, the perception problem of the CPC presidential candidate can only get worse.
If the mind is overwhelmed by stubborn pride, the eyes cannot see reason or the consequences of one’s actions. Gen. Buhari must be courageous enough to come to terms with the fact that his own actions are harming his ambition. Despite the fact that he had the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, Chief Ume Ume-Ezeoke and Pastor Tunde Bakare (all Christians) as running mates during his bids for president, his political appeal didn’t improve in the south. It means that his problems are more fundamental than the PDP’s alleged rigging. His indiscretion is adding more complications to his perception crisis.
Success in politics goes beyond good intentions; you must conduct yourself in a manner that can win you the trust of others outside your traditional stronghold. Anyone obsessed with a notion of moral perfection or infallibility is not bound to be corrected by those around him, however well-meaning they may be. Any leader that is not ready to be amenable to correction or flexible enough to be managed can make the efforts of those who want to help him hopeless. In fact, as one American Public Relations expert argues, trying to change a rigid and an unreconstructed figure is like putting a bandage on a cancer! Let us not deceive ourselves that northern votes alone can make Buhari a President of Nigeria. Did he do enough campaign in the south-south, southeast, southwest and some areas of the north-central political zone, mainly Plateau, Benue, Kogi and Kwara States? His handlers relied theoretically on the assumption that with the north controlling more than 60 percent of voter population of Nigeria, he could afford to ignore votes from other parts of the country. This was a strategic and tactical blunder.
Unfortunately, he took this assumption to the bargaining table during his alliance talks with Bola Tinubu’s ACN in 2011. He wanted concessions from others but he didn’t want to give anything in return. Is that realistic? Is a maximalist posture a pragmatic attitude at a negotiating table? Nobody is in doubt about Buhari’s integrity. But there is genuine concern about whether he has the right disposition of a statesman who wants to rule Nigeria. His perception as a divisive figure may continue to get worse when he continues to make indiscreet utterances that scare away voters from him, especially outside his northwest traditional stronghold. Utterances, laden with incendiary language, will harm the very ordinary people that you want to serve. At a time our hearts are still bleeding at the loss of innocent lives of the ordinary people during the post-election violence of 2011, the language of blood-for-blood is unbecoming of the status of General Buhari and can alienate even well-meaning admirers. By the way, there is no politician worth the blood of ordinary Nigerians. If they cannot send their own children to go and die in violent protests, why should they expect the children of poor parents to take to the streets and become the cannon fodder for their ambitions?
Na-Allah Mohammed Zagga
Nb: Zagga is a journalist based in Abuja