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General Muhammadu Buhari, president elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, under the banner of the All Progressives Conference (APC) is an enigma. Not many of his country men and women who witnessed his firm and principled leadership as head of military junta that ousted a democratic government and ruled over Nigeria between December 31, 1983 and August 25, 1985, would imagine that he would have anything to do with party politics. He was even deemed an in-electable candidate in any democratic election. But all these changed on April 1, 2015, after he was declared the winner of the March 28, 2015 presidential election. He did not only win the election, he also became the first Nigerian to defeat an incumbent president. This feat, and how it was achieved, could be described as Buhari’s metamorphosis.
His metamorphosis was borne out of his conviction and determination that his country needs him and that he has something — a principled, focused and disciplined leadership — to offer his countrymen at this moment in their national history.He demonstrated this by seeking to be elected into the office of the president of the republic on four consecutive times since 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 without giving up until he clinched the post this time around. Like the proverbial tortoise in Chinua Achebe’s literature, The Drum,Buhari is a man who does not leave a battle half way. No other Nigerian has demonstrated this commitment in vying for the presidency.
The regularity at which Buhari subjected himself to electoral process and going to court to challenge the outcome of his previous electoral defeats and abiding by the decisions of the court as the final arbiter endeared him to his fellow countrymen as someone who has imbibed democratic ideals. This, more than any other thing else, laundered his image and removed every stain of military dictatorship from him. Buhari told his audience at the Chatham House in London during the course of his presidential campaign that “I have heard and read references to me as a former dictator in many respected British newspapers including the well regarded The Economist. Let me say without sounding defensive that dictatorship goes with military rule, though some might be less dictatorial than others. I take responsibility for whatever happened under my watch.
“I cannot change the past. But I can change the present and the future. So, before you is a former military ruler and a converted democrat who is ready to operate under democratic norms and is subjecting himself to the rigours of democratic elections for the fourth time,” he added.
But it took events of international magnitude to convert Buhari to democratic ideals. Those events were the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) in 1991. They were, like St. Paul, his Damascus experience. “On a personal note, the phased end of the USSR was a turning point for me. It convinced me that change can be brought about without firing a single shot,” he said.
Buhari was able to show this level of commitment in seeking Nigeria’s highest office because of his personal integrity, a rare commodity among the country’s political, social and economic elites. He cultivated this over a long span of years he spent in public service as a military officer, and later as a military governor, minister of petroleum resources, head of state and much later as chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF).Like the biblical Meshach, Shadrach and Abed-Nego who were thrown into the fiery furnace and came out without any smell on them, Buhari held these lucrative posts without any trace or suspicion of ill-gotten wealth, corruption and nepotism.Buhari is, perhaps, the only public leader in Nigeria whose honesty, integrity and qualities are needed to confront Nigeria’s most vicious enemy — corruption. “I will, if elected, lead the way, with the force of personal example,” Buhari said.
Unalloyed integrity, which is his strength of character, became Buhari’ssource of courage that enabled him to wade through the hail of mud thrown at him by his political opponents during his long walk to the country’s presidential office. He bore the prosecutorial abuses meant to tarnish his name and rubbish his presidential ambition with equanimity. He also forgave the architect of these malicious mudslinging. “But despite the rancour of the elections, I extend the hand of friendship and conciliation to President Jonathan and his team. I hereby wish to state that I harbour no ill will against anyone,” Buhari said.
Buhari, the man of the moment, has arrived. He has the mandate to pilot the affairs of Nigeria in the next four years beginning from May 29, this year. He is expected to use his personal disciplined life to curb the pervasive lawlessness in the country by infusing the laws of the land with the power of sanctions. Above all, Nigerians and the international community expect him to fix Nigeria by religiously implementing his campaign promises.
By Dike Onwuamaeze