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Revisiting General Muhammadu Buhari’s 1998 Thesis On Religion, Media And Leadership By Samuel Aruwan

December 9, 2014

I consider revisiting the Buhari’s thesis as important because the personality of General Buhari has recently largely been misrepresented and quoted out of context as it is with Nigeria’s politics of manipulation and scoring political points. My main aim is to ascertain Buhari’s take on religion, media and leadership before dabbling into partisan politics in 2002.

Recently I started researching political communication with more interest on political content in the media ahead of 2015 elections. It was in such bid that I stumbled on a journal presented by former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari in Arewa House, Kaduna on the 15th of May, 1998.


It was at the fourth annual Sir Ahmadu Bello lecture titled: ‘Leadership and Accountability in Period of Moral Crisis’ held under the auspices of Arewa House which is an extension of Ahmadu Bello University’s Department of History and officially referred to as Center Historical Research and Documentation.

I consider revisiting the Buhari’s thesis as important because the personality of General Buhari has recently largely been misrepresented and quoted out of context as it is with Nigeria’s politics of manipulation and scoring political points. My main aim is to ascertain Buhari’s take on religion, media and leadership before dabbling into partisan politics in 2002.

Although I am familiar with the story of late Ahmed Oyerinde of THISDAY who in June 2002 wrongly reported Buhari as urging Muslims to vote for only Muslim candidates in 2003 elections, there are reasons to state that: Oyerinde’s report could not have been accurate on the ground that he was not present at the event. And when the tapes were re-played there was no single audio or visual that had Buhari urging Muslims to vote for only Muslims as reported. Prior to that confusion there was another one by Isa Maru who on 21st January, 2001allegedly reported Buhari calling for a presidential candidate that would defend and uphold the tenets of Islam, this too turned out to be another controversy.                 

It would be recalled that Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah in 2002 wrote extensively deciphering the controversy created by Oyerinde’s report which does not need replication here except for the sake of reference: the point is the report turned out to be inaccurate, same with subsequent statements attributed to Buhari after his inroad into Nigeria’s cunning political terrain.

The misuse of religion in our politics is still gradually becoming the order of the day which should not be so especially in this jet age. In this regard, one comes across several fabrications against President Goodluck Jonathan alleging implementation of a Christian Agenda and these are without proofs. These and many similar accusations are making waves and should be viewed as part of Nigeria’s power struggle but that is a subject for another day thus I return to my submission.

In cross-examining Buhari’s thesis, what I found out was his criticism of Muslim and Christian clerics whom he alleged contribute towards breakdown of morality and values as could be found on pages 24 and 25 of the study in question where he states that:

“Religion is the anchor in the lives of the majority of our people. Besides giving meaning and direction to us, it serves as a means of succour and support against the turbulence and vicissitudes of life. It gives people a value system that inculcates a sense of right and wrong and which ultimately becomes a more effective anti-crime saviour of society than any armed police force.

Somehow, unfortunately, despite the attachment of our people to the letter of their faith and their readiness to defend it with all their strength. there is no corresponding concern with its spirit; and, consequently, this has not translated into Nigerians becoming their brothers’ keepers.

“And nowhere is this failure so glaring as in the way and manner officials treat matters entrusted to them by virtue of their public office. Yet they are not shunned by our religious leaders. Our Ulama and priests will pray for and bless every charlatan, bless every accursed occasion or deed so long as there is someone to foot their bill- Our society must reject this and quickly put these miscreants and pseudo- scholars out of business.”                                                                                                         

Buhari who in the same lecture kicked against manipulation of religion argues further that:

“More importantly, we must also forcefully resist those who wish to set out society on the path of religious conflict. The recent past was unfortunate, the present is Not Good Enough; and it is our duty to create a future that should become a model for all multi-religious societies. We must get together or we shall all get it together. Our two principal religions share a heritage that ought to be used to forge links between our Muslims and Christians. Both arc revealed, monotheistic faiths that teaches tolerance and peaceful co-existence.

“Christianity preaches love and is founded upon love and belief in the one true God as the life of Jesus Christ (AS) symbolizes. Islam means peace and submission to the will of the same one true God. The life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW), who, during his life time, interacted, received and discussed issues of theology with Christian priests right inside Masjid an-Nabawi, his mosque and the second holiest sanctuary in Islam, should be sufficient as an indication to the type of brotherhood and tolerance that Islam teaches, demands and practices. If nowadays this type of interaction doesn’t exist, Muslims must search their souls, and ask themselves if they indeed copy the example of the Holy Prophet in their dealings with the People of the Book, as Christians are called in Islam.”


Buhari also insisted, that those peddling division must be punished and this is found on page 26 of the submission saying:

“Whosoever therefore in the name of either religion preaches intolerance is clearly an adherent of neither, and our society must evolve a way of unmasking the hidden agenda at work. We must understand provocation while it is being planned and stop it before it happens. We must educate our zealot to learn that his rights end where those of his neighbor begin. Everyone must be made to accet that we are all one vast family under the lordship of God; and it is He alone who can pass judgment over His bondsmen.”

The General who went philosophical about vanity of life and death opined that:

“We must always remember whether we believe in destiny or not, we will all die. Whether we believe in the hereafter or not, we will all go there. And whether we call ourselves secular or whatever, the truth is that ours is a very religious society, however short on example and however long on precept. And we should be proud of the fact that we are religious. We are not one bit impressed by the evolving legacy of this modem permissive godlessness which wishes to reject all kinds of authority. Freedom must limit itself or be limited by force when anarchy threatens to result. In obedience to God we recognize and must always uphold the necessity of the existence of the family unit, of the indispensability of organized society and leadership; and we accept the authority of parents, elders and those in constituted authority who promote justice.”

Buhari also talked extensively on Nigeria’s media and later events can be interpreted as vindictive of his view and advocacy for media reform in the said 1998 submission. The former Head of State who expressed concern over media practice as gleaned in the Arewa House submission stressed on page 23 that:

“Unless the press, for instance, is accountable, there is very little hope that other areas - especially of leadership - will behave if only out of idea of exposure. I have always been of the opinion that Nigeria’s press is among the freest in the world. This is no exaggeration. Around the world, this freedom is tempered with responsibility. Only in Nigeria is a journalist able to write what he wishes in spite of the facts and go scot-free. In other parts of the world, particularly in the United States and the UK, whose practices the Nigerian press wishes to copy, the journalist is generally a highly trained, conscientious, responsible professional who is guided by a code of personal ethics and a professional code of conduct. In Nigeria neither of these appears to be demonstrably manifest.”

“The Nigerian journalist is also lucky and perhaps professionally the worse for it - that Nigerian newsmakers exhibit a noticeable loathing for litigation such that victims of libel and slander prefer to silently curse their slanderers rather than sue and prolong their own agony. And as professional associations or forum for media professionals - the Nigerian Union of Journalists, the Nigerian Guild of Editors and the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria have really taken their time as far as enforcing any measure of professional decorum on the practice of journalism is concerned. Under their very eyes characters have been slandered while countless innocent citizens have been libeled.”

Concluding his postulation on the media, Buhari further opined:

“The practice of journalism in Nigeria - much like the general attitude of the average Nigerian to anything public and official - has been unable to shake off the adversary role that pioneer anti-colonial struggle gave it. To many a journalist, facts are not sacred because, to begin with, he doesn’t even know the facts. And even comments are not so free, because they are often paid for. It is clear that the press must do a lot more in order to redeem its image in the eyes of Nigerian public.

Today, this nation must find a way of making journalists behave responsibly without restricting the people’s right to know, and indeed without trampling on the rights of the journalists themselves. Without being able to do this, there is no hope that transparency and accountability will ever have a permanent place in the governance of this nation.”

If one carries out close content analyses of the said 1998 submission and Buhari’s stand from 2002 to date upon his dabbling into Nigeria’s politics, it would reveal his consistency that corruption is responsible for leadership failure and only competent leadership will take the country out of its mess as gleaned on page 30 contrary to insinuation against him.

Buhari argued: “As we have seen Nigeria has been blessed by God with the abundance of natural resources land area, mineral, animal, water and forest resources. Corruption and indiscipline and a lack of accountability are the hallmarks of our society today with the result that the country’s achievements have received little recognition. This observation remains true whether governance is in the hands of the military or the political class.”

Advocating for competent leadership, Buhari in page 31 and 32 further argues “The leader must be competent and sound in the art of managing people and resources; and must properly understand his mandate and the nature of leadership in the context of highly pluralistic society like Nigeria. He ought to be capable of bringing out a vision of what he wishes to achieve and have the requisite knowledge to solve the problems he is likely to encounter; or he in a position to rely on experts for this.

“Leadership attributes cannot be complete without a good sense of fairness and its ability to manage crises as and when they arise. But the most crucial attribute that the leader needs is that of personal example, and it is perhaps the most difficult quality of all. He should lead by example. In other words, the leader must have and at all times be able to demonstrate personal integrity and wholesome character which can inspire respect and loyalty, lie must be honest and trustworthy that his followers will always be sure they can trust him and will never have anything to fear from him. The leader must have nothing to fear from accountability by conducting himself in all situations in a manner that he can always defend and won’t mind being investigated. In other words he can render back trusts in his charge without failure or embarrassment. With all these the leader is reads’ to lead, and he must do this with faith in God, courage and resolution. And may God, in I us His infinite mercy, help us.”

Finally, like I argued from the beginning, my attempt is to deepen our conversation and insist that we cultivate habit of running sincere and honest intellectualism in the art of rebuilding a better Nigeria and understanding religious manipulations, because there are series of mischievous manipulations of religion for political goals presently tearing our country into pieces endangering our supposed evolving nationhood. And unless this kind of manipulative tendency of our religious divide is put in check, the dream for a “better Nigeria” may as well be dismissed as only wishful imagination.

Aruwan is editorial staff of Blueprint Newspapers Limited. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @samuelaruwan