What does Muhammadu Buhari owe a country which has embraced him tighter than a mother?
The simple answer: He must stand up.
And remain standing.
For four years.
That is the implication of the momentous events in Nigeria last week. Those who do not fully understand are congratulating General Buhari because he won an election.
That is a significant achievement, considering the circumstances. But what really happened is that Nigerians won the election, in terms of the right to determine who they are, and who they want to be.
In that sense, they won Buhari, not in the way you win a prize, but in terms of appointing him ‘The Sheriff of No Nonsense’.
They stood for hours in long lines in the sun to vote, and waited in hunger for the votes to be counted. They did that to recover their country, and to appoint a sheriff to serve their purpose, not his.
Of great significance is that many Nigerians were stepping forward to volunteer their time and money for the Buhari war effort, for it was a war. Nigerians who volunteered selflessly did not do so in order to select a party or an individual, but to salvage their country and yank it from the clutches of whatever monster had hold of it.
For that, they wanted a Sheriff of their own definition.
Four years earlier, when I publicly endorsed the General for the presidency, there were Nigerians who called me names. They wrote up long lists of accusations and allegations against him. To be sure, at no point did I suggest that some of those concerns were invalid. Some of them still are, but it is remarkable that in the past few months, those same people worked doggedly to make him The Sheriff.
Somebody was clearly hearing his message: “I don’t have money to give you…If I had I would not give you because the destiny of Nigeria is not negotiable,” or something like that.
Not simply someone, it is now clear, but many, because when you think back, he did win his party’s presidential primary rather comfortably.
That was in December, but following that event, his opponents and detractors seem to have retreated into the kitchen. There, they cooked up for him every conceivable obstacle known to politics.
Buhari turned to Nigerians: I just want to serve. I want to change things because the way Nigeria is going, Nigeria has no future.
Stepping out of the kitchen, they emptied the garbage heap over him. They questioned his health. His family. His education. His computer skills. His military record. His track record in every office he had ever held.
They quoted him, and then misquoted him.
Buhari: I want to serve Nigeria. I have never compromised Nigeria’s resources, and I will neither do it nor permit anyone to do it.
They altered their strategies and questioned the very notion of an election. They said it needed to be postponed because the nation was “at war”. They could not protect the country, they lamented, as though they had been accused of doing that. And in any event, they added, it was essential to postpone because, well, the electoral commission was not ready.
The electoral commission was using card readers and permanent Voters Cards, did anyone know that? How could they do that, who had ever heard of voting by permanent cards being read by a machine? And why had the commission not distributed all the cards?
Someone was watching; a lot of them.
They denied the activism and energy of Nigerians articulating a different Nigeria. Only a few people were on social media, they argued, and they were unimportant because they did not have a vote.
They discounted and denied every conceivable poll which showed Jonathan losing the election, preaching that Nigerians wanted continuity, not the change the opposition advocated. The people of Nigeria were portrayed as somehow loving their poverty and insecurity, their darkness and weakness, hopelessness and joblessness.
In an age in which stealing isn’t corruption, the propagandists also gave the impression you can simply preach probity, but not practice it. That is why they threw the federal treasury open, ferrying money by airplanes and busloads in search of pockets of greed into which to dump it to buy votes: churches, mosques, palaces, associations.
But they learned, to their horror that Nigeria was still out of reach. They misunderstood this phenomenon, mistaking it for Buhari rather than its real identify: Nigeria.
Then they found out, rather late, that the phenomenon was only real, but that it was angry and unchangeable. Nigerians willed change, and change they demanded. That mission: uprooting the untenable order and hiring a promising sheriff to bulldoze the soil and dismantle the soil of impunity that, for half a century, has mistaken politeness for weakness and indifference for complicity.
Has change come to Nigeria? Not yet, but Nigerians have changed. They have regained control. They have asserted that the country belongs to them, not to any ants that may have eaten their way into a few branches.
Let us therefore be clear about what time it is: Nigerians did not replace one set of ants for the pleasure of another. Their loyalty is to Nigeria, not to a replacement army of occupation. Happily, Buhari understands this. He says his will be the governing, not ruling, party.
In my endorsement of his candidature in 2011, I described him as “an opportunity”. Last weekend, Nigerians demonstrated agreement with this assessment. Not a magician, but a chance.
The Sheriff of No Nonsense. He has fought for this job for a long time, and I believe he is prepared. I am not preaching to him about what needs to be done because it is obvious, but Nigerians must rally behind their Sheriff. He can’t achieve anything if Nigerians choose to be spectators rather than members of the team.
All Buhari has to do is harness the massive groundswell of goodwill he has captured, and mobilize this energy as part of the team. He is not the team, just a member.
And he doesn’t have to reinvent everything, either. There are reports on the table that are excellent. He doesn’t have to reverse everything Jonathan or PDP, either. Some of their plans and ideas are good, as are some of his people. They just have had neither leadership nor guidance.
But the first order of business is to be categorical that nonsense—as platform, policy or practice—is no longer an option.
If Buhari needs any reminding, he will lead from a city in which he owns nothing and cannot afford a slice of land. That is because Abuja, like Nigeria for over 50 years, belongs to hostage-takers. Now is the time to set the homestead free so ownership and opportunity return to all, not a few.
This is the challenge before The Sherriff of No-Nonsense. Not only can he not afford to sleep, he must bring on the revolution the way they scheduled the Boko Haram war: in weeks, not months.