General Muhammadu Buhari, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, is now getting a lot of negative publicity due to his past deeds as military head of state during which a lot of Nigerians suffered untold hardships
| By Olu Ojewale | Mar. 2, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
THE ghost of his past as Nigeria’s head of state appears to be haunting General Muhammadu Buhari, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC. Despite the peace deal and its attendant promises not play dirty, the main forces against Buhari appear bent to use his record as military leader to discredit him. Hence, in the past few weeks, the media campaigns have been inundated with information on some sordid atrocities allegedly committed by the retired general when he took over as head of state when the civilian regime headed by former President Shehu Shagari was ousted in a military putsch in December 1983. From all the documentary programmes on radio, television and newspaper advertisement, one would be able to deduce that the APC presidential flag bearer was a maximum ruler.
Indeed, the former head of state ruffled not a few feathers in his heydays as military leader. Apart from the suspension of the nation’s constitution, the military administration of Buhari, which has been described as, perhaps, the most draconic, was noted for clamping into prisons all politicians of note when it came to power. He ordered the harassment and searches of houses of some prominent politicians including the late elder statesman Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of the Yoruba; former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme; Pa Adekunle Ajasin, an elder statesman and former governor of Ondo State; Bisi Onabanjo, former governor of Ogun State and Ambrose Alli, a professor of morbid pathology and former governor of old Bendel State, among others from the South West. The likes of Ajasin, Onabanjo and Alli were said to have died from effects of humiliation and infections that assailed them during their time in jail.
At a function recently, Olukoye Ijaduoye, a chieftain of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, recalled the desecration of the foremost Yoruba leader, Awolowo’s home and the brutalisation of other sons of the state by the APC presidential candidate, actions which would make him fail to get votes from South West. Ijaduoye pointed out, “The APC presidential candidate, who had contested the same election three times before and failed, manifested his hatred for the Yoruba people and Ogun State in particular with the unlawful detention of a former governor of the state, the late Bisi Onabanjo, whose claim to fame was his popular column in the Nigerian Tribune, Aiyekooto. Buhari insisted Onabanjo remained in detention even when the courts did not find anything against him, ditto for other South-West leaders he ensured he humiliated and tortured for serving well their people, whereas those from his own region who were arrested were given preferential treatment.”
The politician said Buhari had never apologised for his actions as a military head which made a lot of people to suffer including dismissed civil servants, businessmen and women who found themselves on the wrong side of laws.
“Pa Adekule Ajasin was never the same after his eventual release and remained sickly for the rest of his life. When he died, he never had any property anywhere in the world except the one he had built from his sweat as a long standing teacher and school principal in Owo Township,” he said.
A story was similarly told of Buhari’s ethnic bias when he allegedly placed former President Shagari under house arrest inside a palatial mansion in Ikoyi, while he locked up former Vice-President Ekwueme in Kirikiri Prison. “Shagari is Hausa/Fulani like him while Alex Ekwueme is an Igboman,” he said. Perhaps, to lend credence to this, Ekwueme revealed that the 1983 coup was actually targeted at him. “Well, I’m sorry, I’m an affected person. So, it is awkward for me to be the one talking about it. But I know that after General Buhari’s coup of December 31, 1983, Umaru Dikko, (minister of transport in the Shagari administration) gave a press conference. And he said at that press conference that the plotting of the coup was to prevent me from becoming president in 1987. That, that was the reason they had the coup. So, all this talk about corruption and all that, was neither here nor there.”
Apart from his blows on the politicians removed from office, the Buhari regime’s retroactive law led to the execution of three young Nigerians found guilty of drug trafficking and jailing of a woman who had a deformed child. One of the young men killed was Bartholomew, 26, an elder brother of Nkem Owoh, a popular Nollywood actor. Others killed by firing squad were Lawal Ojuolape, 30, and Bernard Ogedengbe, 29. The widely condemned killing of the trio in 1985 was criticised because the crime was committed before Buhari came to power and the decree stipulating death sentence for drug trafficking offenders was backdated. Buhari changed the law just to kill the three young men. According to sources, Owoh and the rest of his family are yet to come to terms with the public execution of Bartholomew since then. “Nkem Owoh and his family are so distraught with Buhari for killing their brother at the young age of 26. Every time he sees Buhari on TV, he weeps bitterly over his brother. He can’t even believe that Buhari has the nerve to seek re-election as president,” a newspaper quoted a family source as saying.
As if that was not bad enough, civil servants across the country are cautioning Nigerians to refrain from voting for Buhari because they do not want a repeat of the gale of retrenchments that trailed his first sojourn as head of state between 1984 and 1985. Their fears are based on Buhari’s antecedents in relieving government workers of their jobs without compensation. Civil servants are not allowed by law to speak openly on matters of politics but a random sampling of opinion among civil servants across 10 states showed that sad memories of the sacking of the more than 200,000 civil servants without compensation by Buhari in 1985 remain ever fresh in the civil service.
Although most of the people polled claimed they were not yet in the civil service at the time, they said the harrowing stories of frustration, hunger, suicides and suffering that the sacked civil servants faced after they were relieved of their jobs are still told in civil service circles, a situation that makes most of them wary of returning Buhari to power via their votes. “We do not want the sad situation of 1985 to visit us again,” one of them said. “The economy is in bad shape now and any President that has the tendency to sack civil servants will likely not get our votes. We are not in the best of working conditions and the little we are getting at the end of the month only manages to take care of our families and those of our relatives. But if we lose our jobs, you can imagine the millions of Nigerians that will suffer.”
Another one put her reasons thus: “Buhari’s retrenched over 200,000 civil servants in 1984. That equates to the sack of over 415,000 civil servants in present-day Nigeria. Buhari’s policy led to the loss of over 2 million private sector jobs as at 1984, which equates to over 4.2 million jobs today. History should be made a compulsory subject in secondary schools, so we do not make the same mistakes out of ignorance or laziness. This isn’t ‘Change’. This is slavery.”
Families of many journalists who went through the agony of the military harassment and incarceration may also be going through similar heartaches. Prominent among those who are not likely to forget the draconic Buhari regime in a hurry are Tunde Thompson and Ndukar Irabor of The Guardian newspaper who were jailed under the infamous Decree 4. The narration in the documentary to campaign against election of Buhari provided details of what transpired at the time. Although, Thompson said he had forgiven the retired general for what happened at the time, no similar gesture has been heard from Irabor. What made the law so baffling for journalists at the time was that even if the reporter had reported the truth as long as it embarrassed any government official at the time, the reporter could be picked up and taken before a military tribunal.
Also in the living memory to haunt Buhari is the controversial 53 suitcases brought in by the then Emir of Gwandu and Tahir Waziri, Buhari’s director of protocol in 1984. It was during the time the Buhari’s government had introduced new currency and ordered the closure of all border posts. He directed that every baggage coming into the country must be thoroughly screened to stop people from bringing in Naira notes old stacked outside Nigeria to exchange for the new currency notes. But when the 53 suitcases arrived at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja, Mustapha Jokolo, then a major and Aide-de-Camp, ADC, to Buhari, got the suitcases out without any security checks. By that incident, the Buhari regime was regarded as operating double standards.
In one of the publications, a reference was similarly made that during the Sharia Council meeting in Kaduna in 2000, the retired general allegedly instructed all imams and other Muslim clerics present that they must take the implementation of the Sharia throughout Nigeria as a divine mandate.
Apart from being a religious bigot, Buhari was said to have shown his ethic bias when he reportedly tried to wade into the conflict between the Fulani resident of Ibadan, Oyo State and indigenes over destruction of crops by Fulani herdsmen. Buhari was said to have travelled to Ibadan, and warned the then Governor Lam Adeshina against any attempt to intimidate or attack Fulani herdsmen in Yorubaland. He allegedly reminded Adeshina that as a Muslim himself, he should know that every land in Yorubaland belonged to the Sultan of Sokoto.
Buhari is also portrayed as a member of the infamous regime of the late General Sani Abacha. Nigerians are being reminded that he never for once criticised the Abacha regime. “There is no single record of his criticism of Sani Abacha during those dark days when Nigeria was on a precipice. It shows that he is a patriot of convenience and as such unfit to lead the country,” a critic said. Rather, the critic who wishes anonymity, said Buhari joyously served under Abacha as the chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF. “He has never been able to account to Nigerians what he did with the more than N20 billion of the Petroleum Trust Fund,” the critic charged.
Although, independent consultants were asked to check the PTF books, former President Olusegun Obasanjo who ordered the probe in 2000, recently said he found Buhari blameless. In his defence, Buhari said he was not aware of any fraud of that magnitude and besides, he had not benefited from it. Added to that, sighting of projects carried out by the PTF were said to have been influenced by ethnic bias of the former head of state.
But a recent publication by a group known as Citizens’ Security Concern Network, CISCON, has insisted that Buhari should come clean by providing facts and figures of the ratio of the PTF projects executed in the North to those executed in the South. The CISCON similarly reminded Nigerians, especially those living in Lagos State, that the metro-line project initiated with a proviso of huge financial penalty if contract was breached was unilaterally cancelled by Buhari. It, therefore, said: “Lagosians and, indeed, Nigerians want him to explain the reason for that revocation of the Metro-line contract, a project which could have lifted Lagos State to much higher level long ago, a fate which Nigerians are suffering today?”
In a newspaper interview sometime ago, Buhari defended his record as military head of state, saying he never took any unilateral action in his decisions. According to him, “There was nothing like 53 suitcases. What happened was that there was my chief of protocol; he is now late. He had three wives, and I think about 12 children. He was in Saudi Arabia as Nigeria’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He was in Libya before, as ambassador and later, he was posted to Saudi Arabia. And then, I appointed him as my chief of protocol and he was coming back… And then, by some coincidence, the late Emir of Gwandu, the father of Jokolo, who was my ADC then, was coming back with the same flight…Atiku (Abubakar) then was the Commandant of Customs at the Murtala Muhammed Airport. And that day, we were playing squash. Jokolo, my ADC, and I. At some point, I said to him, ‘Mustapha, is your father not coming back today again?’ He said, ‘yes, sir, he is coming.’ I said, ‘what are you doing here? Why can’t you go and meet your father?’ He said yes, sir. He went to wash in order to go and meet his father. I am telling you, there were no 53 bags or suitcases. It was a bloody lie. It was a bloody mischief.”
On the issue of retroactive law which led to the killing of three drug barons caught for using the country as a transit point for cocaine trade, Buhari said he did not make the law alone. He said based on recommendations, the Supreme Military Council agreed to make a retroactive law to deal with the deadly issue at hand. “There was no dissenting voice in the sense that majority of the members agreed that this thing, this cocaine, this hard drug was earning Nigeria so much bad name in the international community because Nigeria was not producing it, but Nigerians that wanted to make money didn’t mind destroying Nigerians and other youths in other countries just to make money. So, we didn’t need them. We didn’t need them,” he said. Buhari said he did not listen to pleas by eminent Nigerians and international outcry over the decision to kill the drug offenders, because they had insisted that laws must be obeyed. He added: “Pleas, pleas; those that they destroyed did they listen to their pleas for them not to make hard drug available to destroy their children and their communities?” he asked.
The former head of state said that the infamous Decree 4 became necessary because the press was embarrassing civil servants in their publications. “What we did was that you must not embarrass those civil servants. If you have got evidence that somebody was corrupt, the courts were there. Take the evidence to the court; the court will not spare whoever it was. But you don’t just go and write articles that were embarrassing… Those who did it, the editors, the reporters, we jailed them. But we never closed a whole institution, as others did. We investigated and prosecuted according to the laws, because shutting down a newspaper, it is an institution and we lose thousands of jobs.” he said.
In all his actions during his military regime, Buhari expressed no regret, insisting that all the regime’s actions were based on the laws by the Supreme Military Council which he headed.
Buhari became the head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, after a successful military coup d’etat that overthrew the civilian administration of President Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983. Buhari, who was then head of the Third Armoured Division Nigeria Army, Jos, said he did not participate in the coup and never heard about it until it was carried out. The late Tunde Idiagbon, then a brigadier, was appointed chief of general staff, Supreme Headquarters and the de facto number two in the administration. His regime introduced War Against Indiscipline, WAI, which aimed at eliminating some social ills in the country. Some aspects of the WAI campaign included public humiliation of civil servants who arrived late for work, while military armed guards could whip people into line at bus stops to ensure orderliness.
The Buhari/Idiagbon administration, as the government was christened, was also infamous for trying to smuggle Umaru Dikko, former minister of transport in the Shagari regime, out of Britain in a crate marked for shipment to Nigeria in 1984. Through a tip-off to the British police, Dikko was found drugged in the crate at the airport. This caused a diplomatic row between Nigeria and Britain.
During his time as military leader, there was no mistaken the fact that Buhari hated politicians with passion .But whether the ghosts of what he had done or failed to do as head of state will stop haunting him is another story. The ruling party is no doubt doing a good job to ensure that the younger generation are aware of what the old general had done in past through all the media campaigns.
Perhaps, suspicious that more damages could be done through presidential debate, the APC presidential candidate refused to take part in presidential debate organised by the Nigerian Elections Debate Group, NEDG, in conjunction with the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON. He claimed bias in the media but was said to have accepted in principle to participate in a debate organised by the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria, NPAN, ARISE Television and Channels Television.
In a statement on Sunday, February 1, by Garba Shehu, the APC campaign spokesman, said its candidate would not shy away from explaining his policy plank on how to rebuild Nigeria, assuring the public that Buhari would make himself available for a debate and scrutiny like he had done in previous elections.
It added that Buhari would not hesitate to explore any opportunity to explain how he plans to rescue Nigeria from the abyss of insecurity, comatose economy, decaying infrastructure, massive unemployment and the poor public health situation into which the corrupt regime of the incumbent president has thrown it. “What is the hullabaloo about Buhari not attending a debate organised by elements that have shown an unhidden bias towards his person, family, career and political interest?” Shehu queried. “It is on record that the man (Buhari) had participated in previous presidential debates in 2007 and 2011, which PDP candidates did not attend. The APC and General Buhari have received several media invitations from different organisations and the party is still vetting the ones to attend due to time constraint and the motive of the organisers,” he said.
But whether the debate will be issue-based and not to unravel some of his past misdeeds is yet to be seen. In the meantime, some media organisations are smiling to the banks with revenue from advertorials of the sordid details of character flaws of the general who wants to rule the nation.