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Assessment of Buhari as a potential great leader: why I supported him

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“What has happened is that I had thought that Buhari would be an A-grade leader, but he turned out to be a C-grade… The dramatic impact, though, is that Jonathan has not surprised me since the past 3 years, while Buhari surprised me in the past few months.”

One question I have been asked quite often is why I supported General Buhari and campaigned for him. It was alarming the number of enemies I made while supporting General Buhari. The first set of enemies I made were my friends in the Jonathan administration. They were alarmed at the fierce criticism I mounted against Jonathan. 

The second set of enemies I made were my friends on Facebook, who were very upset with me. And then, my fellow members of DPA who began to leave DPA in protest against my support for Buhari. Then, painfully, I had to block my niece on DPA because she got so impatient with me for supporting Buhari and she went as far as expressing her disappointment publicly on Facebook. I considered that rude, given the relationship between us and the huge age-gap. (I still haven’t unblocked her, even though she has apologized. Not that I am still upset with her. Rather I have been too busy to do that).

There were also those who attacked me viciously over the matter. Some Jonathan’s supporters “googled” me and they discovered all the money I “stole” and they attacked me as viciously as Lauretta Onochie and Keyamo are attacking me now. (Yes, that has been my cross: whenever anybody gets upset with me and doesn’t know what to do to hurt me, the person will accuse me of stealing money. (Like one girl, I was giving money though there was absolutely no relationship – just helping her. I refused to give me money the last two times she asked for money. She called me a thief). I accept that cross and I bear it with understanding. So, Jonathan’s people called me a thief, just as Buhari’s people now call me a thief. But at any given time, the other group would call me a hero. That is how fickle the human nature is.

Today, that I criticize Buhari’s government, I can see even my colleague like Asekome Farouk Mohammad, who was my staunch ally during the campaign for Buhari, now directs his snide and hostile remarks against my person, just because I no longer support Buhari. At the same time, some of the former Jonathanians still try to ridicule me for supporting Buhari in the past. Some even openly call for me to apologize. But that shows how shallow their minds are. The fact that I criticize Buhari today does not mean that I would have ever endorsed Jonathan. Even today, I will not choose Jonathan over Buhari. My mind is too complex for that.

What has happened is that I had thought that Buhari would be an A-grade leader, but he turned out to be a C-grade. On the other hand, I had known Jonathan to be a C-grade. The question today is simply which of them has a stronger C-grade. And that is not Jonathan. I don’t really care what you think about me for my views. That never really mattered to me. The dramatic impact, though, is that Jonathan has not surprised me since the past 3 years, while Buhari surprised me in the past few months.

Despite that, I know that my assessment of Buhari was logical, even though it turned out to be incorrect. And if you wish, I could explain how I assessed Buhari. First and foremost, irrespective of the drama out there, I found Buhari to have been better exposed educationally than Jonathan. Jonathan had a first degree in zoology, a Master’s degree in fisheries, and registered for, but never completed, his doctorate degree with focus on fisheries. I have read Jonathan’s Master’s degree dissertation, which was co-written with another student. The focus of that thesis was on the eggs of certain species of shrimps local to the creek in the delta. It was not a remarkable work at all. In any events, all Jonathan’s education was done locally and without any exposure to the larger world. (Jonathan probably never left Nigeria until he joined politics). So, Jonathan’s best was the best from the Niger Delta. It had absolutely no international flavor to it.

Comparatively, even if we placed him in the bottom of his class all the time, Buhari attended military academies in India, England and United States. I am most familiar with the institution in the United States. I know that institution trains military officers for the US (majority) and from other parts of the world. I know that the institution is designed to operate as a Master’s degree awarding institution. I am familiar with the course of training that senior military officers receive all over the world. It includes training in subjects such as strategy, history, logistics, diplomacy and politics, weaponry and general security studies. These are better subjects to prepare a person for national leadership as a commander in chief, more than the course in zoology and fisheries.

Also, if you looked at both men’s practical work experience before they became Presidents and after, Buhari was light years ahead of Jonathan. So, it was really not difficult for me to conclude that Buhari was better educated and better qualified as commander in chief than Jonathan. (I know that many of you think otherwise. That is fine. Stay with your thoughts).

Other factors I took into consideration were in connection to what happened to Buhari after he was removed as the military head of state. Basically, he suffered terribly. He was betrayed and humiliated by his contemporaries. Yet, he maintained his cool. He was in detention for 40 months. I know what that means because I was in detention for 5 months. I know how that changes a man inside out. It refines you better than any other experience. 

You come to appreciate the meaning of human dignity and liberty when you have been forced to lose yours. You also come to understand how the power of the state is used and abused. You come to value life, especially the life of others. And you come to learn the lesson of bravery. Buhari was, by that experience, better suited to lead a country than Jonathan who really never faced adversity since he was able to find some shoes to wear.

But also, I admired the way Buhari stayed focused, continuing to fight for 13 years after many failures. It matters to me that a man could persevere in a fight. His staying power was legendary, almost bizarre. As a lawyer for the Nigerian Government then, I was informed by the then Attorney General that Buhari actually won the election against Yaradua. I knew he was a victim of injustice in 2007 election results. It is always nice to see someone who has suffered injustice triumph in the end.

Finally, I constantly compared Buhari with his rival Babangida. I see something philosophical and mystic about the lives of the two. Babangida gained an early advantage and pressed Buhari down. In other words, Babangida held Buhari down in order to rise. After 8 years of absolute power and abundant wealth, Babangida submitted himself more than once to the people for their approval in democratic politics and the people rejected Babangida outright, forcing him to give up trying. Despite his power and wealth, Babangida never amounted to the kind of greatness he has always wanted. However, despite the fact that he was pressed down and he had not the type of money that Babangida had, Buhari was accepted by the people. That was awesome stroke of fate and a proof of incredible personal qualities.

Buhari did not have anything like the wealth of other men who had been where he was. The fact many forget was that if Buhari had wanted to accumulate wealth, he could have done that so easily. There was no President of Nigeria that would not have awarded Buhari’s company contracts that would run into billions. As former Head of State, Bihari always had the access to anybody in power and could have walked into the office of Obasanjo, without appointment, or even Jonathan to demand for contracts and they would be awarded to him. He could have sent somebody with a letter and they would please him. But he did not do that. That was for me a great factor of personality.

I had a few concerns about Buhari. I feared that his human right record would be poor. But surprisingly, PDP did not campaign against him on that. Instead, PDP made the mistake of campaigning against him on his educational qualifications, even though they would have known that majority of the voters, being uneducated would vote for someone said to be uneducated.

I thought that was very sad and poor judgment on the part of PDP campaign strategy. I realized that PDP would lose the elections. But I feared that the margin might be too narrow, leading to war and instability. I thus felt it was better to help Buhari widen the gap of his inevitable victory over Jonathan to ensure smooth and violence-free transition. That was what I did.

Because my move each time was guided by analytical processes, I do not have any reason to regret my decision. I would expect any objective and informed mind that went through the analytical process I went through to come out with the same conclusions.

The only mistake I made in my analysis was that I did not factor in how the history of ethnicity and cultural differences and the structures of Nigerian constitutional politics would dilute those other personal factors I considered important. In other words, I focused too much on Buhari as a man and too little on the metagame. 

Those factors I did not pay sufficient attention to have come to overshadow the personal qualities that I dwelt upon. But I knew very early after Buhari was sworn in that he would be a failure. The politics of his party is a setback for him. The politics of Northern tribalism would be a setback for him and he turned out to lack the force of personality I had thought he would use to check these extraneous factors.

So, please stop asking me to apologize for supporting Buhari during the past elections. I do not regret it. The fact that Buhari even became a force was a confirmation of the weakness of Jonathan. Otherwise, there should have been no way a 73 year old former dictator would threaten a 58 year old civilian leader.

Emeka Ugwuonye


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