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Saturday, 12 January 2019

Finally, the Buhari effect By Louis Odion, FNGE


There are variations in the tale of plots that eventuated in his dethronement some thirty-four years ago.
But one account has never been in dispute - the introverted king had fore-knowledge of the dark conspiracy against him by his estranged military comrades.


Others would have reacted savagely.
On the summer night of August 1985 they finally came for him, the commander-in-chief chose to keep the posture of imperturbability till the very end, only offering to play martyr for something else - fidelity to service etiquette. According to multiple autobiographical accounts, not until the mutineering junior officers offered him full military salute as their superior did General Muhammadu Buhari eventually agree to surrender at Dodan Barracks.

More than three decades later, faced with another stiff challenge to his power, it is an indifferent Buhari we see all over again.

In the realm of psychology, there is surely a stark difference between being carefree and careless. The former describes a nobility of spirit that stultifies desperation; the latter hints of the negative instinct likely to result in self-destruction.

Given the circumstances of his rise and fall in his first incarnation as military law-giver, it is safe to categorize Buhari’s affliction then as being “carefree” in power, other than the possibility of a fatalism fueled by faith.
For a man often bad-mouthed by political opponents as too wooden and lacking spontaneity, how remarkable then that PMB finally managed to improvise a battle sign in a difficult moment and in an unlikely territory recently.

While the opposition forces booed and heckled him at the National Assembly during the presentation of the draft budget, the old infantry general, exuding self-confidence even under fire, flashed his now famous eight-finger salute with a flourish that could only be meant to taunt traducers present.

It was left for the political palmists to interpret that to the rest of us as a short-hand for eight years (term terms of office). And regardless of spirited attempts by opponent to draw a parallel between that sign and the symbol of a discredited extremist Islamic sect in Egypt, the Buhari people are not ashamed to show this off as their new mobilization tool. Overall, if truly Buhari is desperate about retaining power this time, we are yet to see the symptoms, even less than five weeks to the presidential election. One of the ready means of gauging the desperation of an incumbent seeking tenure-renewal is the willingness to throw cash around, even long before the race is declared open.

While it is true that the hangover from the economic recession will ordinarily predispose politicians to keep an eye on the wallet, even more compelling is what is now generally acknowledged as Buhari’s proclivity for austere taste. This has obviously redounded not only in the character of his government and the options opened to his party but also the larger inter-party contest.

When they say a lot depends on the presiding administration in an election season, it is partly because the power of incumbency enables it determine the shape of the battle and dictate the rules.

In a recent article, Femi Ojudu, one of Nigerian journalism’s best currently making a difference in national politics, declared the forthcoming general elections as potentially the cheapest in the nation’s history. I cannot agree more.

By deliberately keeping the campaign budget low, Buhari has, perhaps unwittingly, helped reduce the financial pressure on his opponents, thereby availing them a fighting chance.
On a jovial note, the side talk in town today is, therefore, the epidemic of a “strange thirst” or “dry campaign” - euphemism for electioneering with very little or no provision of the customary freebies. No one has seen free dollars yet. But the freeloaders are unwilling to give up yet. Those who had anticipated such “rain” early, salivating lustfully, are now forced to scale down their expectation to, maybe, the last days of the campaign.

Indeed, what Nigerians were used to on election eve is the culture of bazaar and feasting. Incumbency simply meant the license to open the public treasury to oil the electioneering wheels of the ruling party.

Perhaps, the APC people have learnt from what befell PDP.  Same hour four years ago, the then ruling party took the nation on an infernal path in what would later be known as Dasukigate. Defence budgets set aside to fight Boko Haram rampaging at the door were instead heaped on the buffet table at the PDP caucus and the party barons casually took turn to make a kill.

Well, maybe the trouble was semantics. One, the books expressly indicated the money was for arms. Perhaps, the PDP leaders’ only undoing was applying some creativity by simply settling for liquid arms instead to prosecute what they considered more nagging - the pending elections.

But with the hostile takeover of Aso Rock on May 29, 2015, it was inevitable the prodigals would be made to vomit what they had gobbled. Many are still answering charges today. Everything considered, this development is surely good for our democracy. It is a good step to begin the demonetization of electoral contest in Nigeria.



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