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Exploding Buhari’s messianic myth!

“Buhari was no great shakes at any point in time, whether as Governor, Federal Commissioner or Head of State. Indeed the only time he came to national limelight before being Head of State was when N2.8 billion got missing under his watch at the NNPC” – Ken Emetulu

But for a few inaccuracies here and there in the piece below, as exemplified in the excerpt above, Ken Emetulu’s piece would have been brilliant to the point of Award Wining.

A Brigadier Buhari was in the lime light in 1982, after he led troops to not only repel Chad’s unprovoked invasion of Nigerian territories, but also to recapture those territories while capturing Chadian ones, for which the Republic of Chad capitulated to Nigeria. I must add that Brigadier Buhari did inject war crimes-like methods (like the mass starvation of Chadians within the war plank and his exceeding the extent of the military action as given to him by his C-in-C ) in order to obtain his quick victory, and that he disobeyed his commander-in-chief’s directives against unorthodox war strategies, like blocking commerce and relief materials to those Chadian areas he unilaterally (against the directive of his C-in-C) captured.

Indeed, Emetulu is correct that it was a miracle that Buhari was not thrown out of the military by the time he became Head of State in 1984.  

Emetulu is exceeding correct because through his current presidency, the Muhammadu Buhari that most of us did not know has to come out without apologies. This Buhari is mostly what his critics have consistently said of him.

It was not his fault that we did not know him, it was ours because Buhari is not a pretentious man. He did not hide anything about himself, we just made excuses for him for our own delusions. Hopefully, he will complete his four-year tenure in peace and without permanently damaging Nigeria along ethnic and religious lines.

Also hopefully, I expect that if he accomplished one thing by the time he left office in 2019, it would be taking a deep bite into the culture of corruption in our land. Should he do that, his other sins will be forgiven and we will not remain permanently damned for not understanding him ahead of May 29, 2015.

It’s time we discarded the myth and dealt with the reality before our korokoro eyes.  

Nebukadineze Adiele 



Moses Ochonu’s thesis below is very strange.

Anybody who wants to judge Murtala Muhammed on the shortness of his tenure and, on that basis, make some stereotypical assumptions about military regimes would be dealing in crass cynicism. The man was killed for God’s sake! So, it’s only fair to judge him on what he did while alive, not what the overactive imagination of some misguided analyst assumes he would have done! Of course, you cannot compare Muhammed with Buhari.

Between the end of the Civil War and the time he took over as Head of State, Muhammed educated himself on the world around him. His friendship with Abiola and some members of the intellectual class opened his eyes to pan-Africanist ideas and in fact, it was Abiola that took him to his first meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus in the United States. His Afrocentric foreign policy pivots were no surprise to those who knew the new him then because he actually believed.

Buhari was just a young officer with a sense of ethnic entitlement. Sure, if not for Muhammed’s death, I doubt he would have been called to the centre from Borno as a Federal Commissioner. 

But who did not know that before Abacha, Buhari’s regime was the most hated in Nigeria? Even in the regime he led, Tunde Idiagbon occupied a larger profile in the minds of Nigerians than him.

In fact, the image most Nigerians have of Buhari was that of a tough-talking general who when it mattered was frogmarched out of office without much fuss by his subordinates. Indeed, many Nigerians somehow believed that if Idiagbon hadn’t been in Mecca, that coup would not have succeeded.

Honestly, Buhari was no great shakes at any point in time, whether as Governor, Federal Commissioner or Head of State. Indeed the only time he came to national limelight before being Head of State was when N2.8 billion got missing under his watch at the NNPC.

From then till his return as Head of State, it was one story or the other about the surreptitious attempts he and his cohorts were making to kill the story. When he returned under Abacha as head of the PTF, he never stood out, except in a very negative way, again over corruption and missing money.

Buhari was rejected three times by Nigerians and despite all the accusations of rigging and so on, it was inconceivable that he could have won any of those electoral contests. In fact, in the first two, his candidacy was considered a joke.

The only reason he had a look-in in 2011 was because of the newness of the candidacy of Goodluck Jonathan and the attempt at a merger between the CPC and ACN, which offered him some inroads in the South. But with about two or three credible candidates on the ballot, he was again soundly beaten by Jonathan.

The new Buhari that won the last election is a figment of the imagination of American spin doctors, Arab money and money stolen from all the APC states’ coffers, up to the Local Governments.

What you called speculative counterfactuals about him were more latter-day creations of the political propaganda machines that spent over a decade shaping that narrative unsuccessfully only to make it huge when it became the political orthodoxy to install him.

It wasn’t based on anything tangible and it would be ahistorical to say some people were pining for the glory days of his reign. That never happened. I mean, I cannot think of any large group of Southerners looking at him as some kind of Awolowo figure or as you put it, ‘the best president Nigeria never had’. If that happened, I missed it completely.

What happened was simple. The industrial-military complex, the eternal controllers of the political succession machine invested in a Buhari’s presidency, because it is the only thing that guarantees them the continued looting of our commonwealth, while credibly pretending to be fighting corruption.

Jonathan falling out with Obasanjo was a signal that the industrial-military complex was shopping for another man and once they were sure that Buhari would be sufficiently tamed as not to go outside the script, it became a coronation.

People like Tinubu only played the role of giving the whole thing democratic credibility. Indeed, Tinubu was a shield for Obasanjo in that arrangement, which was why he and Buhari led all the APC bigwigs to Obasanjo’s Abeokuta home to ask him to be ‘the navigator’. Jonathan knew what was up, which was why he did not challenge the obviously massively rigged result.

I mean, just look at that Kano presidential election result, for instance. He knew that he had no chance against the forces arrayed against him because they had decided on their man. Once Abdulsalami Abubakar walked into Aso Rock to tell him the score, he couldn’t wait to get away from there and back to his Otuoke abode.

Yes, to a great extent, for young people who have no idea who Buhari is, his craggy, stern looks and austere bearing and his military title make him look the part of a no-nonsense anti-corruption fighter, especially when oiled in dollops of fairytales about how he fought corruption to a standstill as Head of State before he was overthrown.

Indeed, if there was anything remotely messianic about Buhari, it was part of the propaganda sold to them up North for twelve years as Mai Gaskiya in an attempt to make him the Northern candidate.

Indeed, it was that false narrative about him being nationally acceptable that led to the violence that followed the 2011 election up North, because to his followers in the North, the whole nation wanted him and he was rigged out by Jonathan. But we know that’s not true. We know that outside June 12, that was the freest and fairest election our country had witnessed.

We knew he hardly campaigned in the South because he was focused on making himself the candidate of the North after the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua and the PDP zoning fiasco that saw bitter Northern elements plotting vengeance against Jonathan.

Buhari simply placed himself to be the beneficiary of the pro-Northern sentiments about the presidency being their turn and all that. However, to discerning Nigerians, he was just a Hausa-Fulani ethnic jingoist and an Islamic fundamentalist and later the political spokesperson for Boko Haram against the army and the government. The man did nothing at all for thirty years outside government, except come in and run PTF to the ground only to be saved by Obasanjo when it served the Owu fox’s agenda.

Let’s not sugarcoat it, Buhari was a certified failure all round as an administrator. As a soldier, he was recalcitrant and was notorious for disobeying his superiors. The only thing that saved him is his sacred cow stature as a plant of the Kaduna Mafia, otherwise, Shagari had enough to send him to where the sun does not shine! He’s totally overrated; nothing really to say about him than that he’s a sandwich short of a picnic.

Buhari is sitting there as president today because of his sense of entitlement and a conspiracy by the governing elite to keep the industrial-military complex in charge. Of course, it’s convenient to talk about the supposed corruption of the Jonathan era as the thing that pushed Nigerians to Buhari. But I’m too long in the tooth to be taken in by such false narratives.

We know the grandmasters of corruption in Nigeria and Jonathan is a baby where they are concerned. Only people suffering from selective amnesia will think Jonathan is the beginning and end all of corruption or think that Buhari is the squeaky clean anti-corruption fighter he is being painted to be.

Sure they did a good job of that, but only the uninformed is falling for that.

~ Kennedy Emetulu



Yesterday, I hung out with my buddy from our BUK days, Aliyu Ma’aji. Our discussion inevitably touched on Buhari and the current wave of disappointment with his stewardship. We talked about how awful it must be for the president’s Southeast and South-South supporters to be taunted by their kinsmen under the current climate of near-total economic collapse, hunger, unprecedented inflation, and general hardship.

In explaining Buhari’s confused improvizations on the economy, we floated several hypotheses, but Aliyu introduced an angle that is not often included in the menu of explanations for our souring love affair with Buhari. He piggy-backed on a point made by Max Soilum about Murtala Mohammed. Soilum had noted that Murtala’s death is responsible for elevating the former military head of state to a near-mythical status in Nigeria’s political discourse, which is riddled with nostalgia for Murtala’s tough, anti-corruption regime. 

Murtala, Soilum, argued, did not rule/live long enough to manifest the inevitable errors of military men who try but often fail to manage a complex society like ours with a regimented military philosophy of command and control. Military people are rarely able to rise above their training, training being different from education and enlightened problem solving. 

Did Nigerians accord Buhari the same nostalgic, retrospctive messianism, leading them to overrate his capacity to govern effectively, Aliyu wondered. Like Murtala, Buhari ruled for a short time. He manifested some errors common with military folks, but he did not rule long enough for his overarching deficit of governing capacity and temperament to emerge in sharp relief. 

I concurred with the conjecture, quipping that in fact a whole myth grew around Buhari’s short military regime, a public narrative which papered over several of the General’s misdeeds and deficiencies and which expanded in correspondence to the governing disasters of the post-1984 period. Between 1999 and 2015, as the PDP systematically frittered away our resources and undermined whatever institutions of public restrain they encountered, a cottage industry grew around what one might call the Buhari counterfactual. 

Many Nigerians wondered aloud what Nigeria would be like if Buhari’s military regime had not been overthrown. Soon, people were filling in the blank, mostly with fantasies that had little correlation to what Buhari did or failed to do as military head of state. If Buhari had not been overthrown by the bad, evil Babangida, so the narrative went, we would today be another South Korea. 

If he had not been overthrown, corruption would today be a thing of the past. If he had been allowed to rule longer…bla bla bla. The speculative counterfactual proliferated infinitely. These counterfactual in turn led people to overstate Buhari’s governing acumen and to understate his governing deficits. They also activated Nigerians’ legendary capacity to forget the past, forgive its shortcomings, and engage in nostalgic myth-making. 

Until 2015, when it became plausible to imagine him as a civilian president, people were speaking of Buhari as some often speak of Awolowo: the best president Nigeria never had. But Jonathan’s misadventure in power magnified Buhari’s mythical competence, whitewashed his inadequacies, and enabled his victory in last year’s elections.

Which leads me to the point I made even in agreeing with Aliyu’s thesis: that Jonathan’s misrule made Nigerians desperate for any alternative and that desperation usually leads to the suspension of critical judgment, to cognitive dissonance. 

With Buhari floundering, improvising aimlessly in several zones of governance, and generally looking confused and ill-prepared for Nigeria’s many challenges, some of his supporters are now saying that it would have perhaps been better if he never won, if he remained the messiah that never got a chance to save the nation. That, they argue, would have preserved the myth of his competence. It would have maintained the illusory axiom that he is the best president Nigeria never had. 

I have personally heard this from a couple of people who claim that political exigencies, the intricacies of power, and elite manipulations have soiled Buhari’s reputation, exploded the myth of his messianic abilities, and exposed him as a prisoner of power and as just another politician. 

Some of these devotees never even wanted Buhari to run for the presidency in 2015, believing that power would dilute the purity of Buhari’s moral capital. They would have preferred for him to remain the philosopher and custodian of political morality in Nigeria, a transcendal figure unmoored to and above the messy contestations of politics and the complicated art of governance.

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