Last week, a certain Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulaziz, who claims to be second in command of Boko Haram, held a radio conference with journalists in Maiduguri in which he declared his sect’s readiness for a conditional ceasefire. He went ahead to name those they preferred or trusted to facilitate a proposed dialogue with the federal government. On his list of preferred facilitators were General Muhammadu Buhari, Shettima Ali Monguno, Gaji Galtimari and Bukar Abba Ibrahim. Only Buhari is not of the Borno/Yobe axis. But only the name of Buhari has generated passionate interest from both admirers and detractors.
Predictably, Buhari’s foes have jumped on this piece of news and are celebrating their pet fantasy: that Buhari must have been a sponsor of Boko Haram. Why should they pick him if they do not share common beliefs, someone declared in a newspaper yesterday. A certain Bitrus Kaze, who claims to be a lawmaker representing Jos South/Jos East federal constituency in Plateau State, and who, I am certain, has never met Buhari, asserted quite “authoritatively” via a press statement that the nomination of Buhari as a facilitator by Boko Haram can be:
“likened to the proverbial birds of the same feather (sic) that flock together”. Continuing, he said, “anyone who has been following the internecine violence perpetrated especially in northern Nigeria by those merchants of death should understand their choice of General Buhari. Eventually, the men behind the masks are being unveiled. In my view, Buhari, like Boko Haram, is a religious extremist who cannot be trusted to negotiate for sustainable peace in Nigeria. In the build-up to the 2003 presidential election, Buhari was reported to have asked Muslims across the country to vote only for the presidential candidate that would defend and uphold Islam.”
Hon. Kaze also spoke of the Sheikh Lemu report in a way that showed clearly that he didn’t read the report and didn’t listen to all the statements and explanations of Sheikh Ahmed Lemu.
The social media and the internet have also been worked into a frenzy on this issue of Buhari’s nomination by Boko Haram. Most who berate the former head of state on the internet are clearly ignorant of the man they comment so authoritatively about. But the one I find more exasperating is the mischief of those around government who, though not making public statements, are rejoicing over this development. It’s like Boko Haram has given them exactly what they have always craved free of charge. One of them jokingly said, “Why should we be surprised? We have always known that Buhari is the chairman of Boko Haram.” Of course, they did not want to be quoted.
The people around President Jonathan have, for long, been insinuating the nonsense about a link between some northern leaders and statesmen who have served this country in the past meritoriously and Boko Haram. Because they were the sponsors of the Niger Delta insurgency, they believe that everyone must be like them. Only a few like Pa Edwin Clark have been courageous enough to actually name General Buhari, General Ibrahim Babangida and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the sponsors of Boko Haram. I once told some of them to take Clark to court on the matter, but they all told me they would not dignify the man.
Only very few people would claim to be closer to General Buhari than I. And even among those close to him, very few can claim to know him like I do. Buhari is one of the most outstanding human beings I know, with all his faults. He is certainly not a perfect man. It is not for nothing that I have supported and voted for him in all the three attempts he has made to be president of this country. Buhari may not be a perfect person or your ideal politician, but I am yet to meet a sane person who would disagree with me that Nigeria would have been a totally different place if he had been sworn in as president in 2003 or 2007 or 2011. At the very least, nobody would have attempted to steal N2.6 trillion under his presidency and if any thief were bold enough to try it, there would be very harsh consequences – exactly the kind of leadership that any country that cherishes progress would need. He would have given a damn about declaring his assets and there would have been a very clear response to the Niger Delta militancy and oil thefts that took a life of their own during the Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan presidencies. And Boko Haram would not have overpowered the government as we see today. Remember when he was head of state and Maitatsine insurgents struck in Kano? That was the last time the world heard anything about Maitatsine. In fact, for those who remember very well, Maitatsine started during the Shehu Shagari era and it was when Buhari took over and the sect struck in Kano killing many people that he put a decisive end to the insurgency. Buhari had said at the time that Maitatsine would never happen again and it never did. Boko Haram is a mutation of Maitatsine.
Anyone that is close enough to former presidents and heads of state would know that one thing that binds them together – and which they all agree on, no matter their differences – is the obsessive belief in the oneness and stability of Nigeria. And I am close enough to almost all living former heads of state (with the exception of Obasanjo, of course) to authoritatively speak on this.
Buhari, of course, is one man that is generally misunderstood. I remember, a few years ago, when a pastor friend of mine said that Buhari didn’t laugh at all and would always be unfriendly. I found a way to lure my friend into Buhari’s home one evening. Immediately we came before the former head of state, I announced to Buhari in the presence of everyone, “Sir, this my pastor friend said you don’t laugh at all.” Buhari burst into a hearty laughter and immediately started a very funny conversation with my pastor friend. By the time we left, my friend was both in stitches and delighted. This has been a subject of his discussions since.
Buhari’s favourite in LEADERSHIP is the Ghana-Must-Go pocket cartoon at the back page. He would call several times laughing and laughing and laughing. By the way, this Ghana-Must-Go fetish is also shared by General IBB, General Abdulsalami, General Danjuma, the late President Yar’Adua, former Vice President Atiku and sundry political leaders of disparate tendencies across the country.
Buhari always enjoys a good joke even if it is one poked at him. And he is one of the wittiest persons I know. Recently, some pretty-looking ladies went to visit him at home to seek his support and blessing for their NGO. They asked for a photograph with him which was later published in several newspapers. On sighting the photograph, I called him to say that he should have proceeded to pick one of them as a second wife. He was so amused that he told some people that “Sam ba ya da kirki”, meaning “Sam is a very unkind person.” He said I was unkind to have suggested such an unkind thing to him. Everyone laughed.
During a Council of State meeting just before the 2003 elections in which he was the presidential candidate of the opposition ANPP contesting against the PDP of which a sitting President Obasanjo was the candidate, there was a banter between him and Obasanjo which many people still remember. Buhari had a cold then and was coughing just before the meeting. It was also during the outbreak of some strange kind of flu in Asia. When Obasanjo noticed Buhari was coughing, he said, “Muhammadu, hope you have not contracted that strange disease”, or something to that effect. Buhari immediately responded and said, “I have not been globetrotting sir.” Everyone burst into loud laughter. That was the period Obasanjo was gallivanting all over the planet and hardly stayed at home to perform his presidential duties. What Buhari was telling Obasanjo then was that it was he (Obasanjo) who would more likely contract a foreign disease as a result of his famed globetrotting.
Hon. Kaze and many others who do not know Buhari call him a religious extremist – and Hon. Kaze particularly still quotes something he claims Buhari said a long time ago: advising Muslims to vote only for fellow Muslims. Well, I think people like him would need to read Bishop Matthew Kukah’s position on this, which he wrote in an article at the time. Bishop Kukah, who knows Buhari well and even spoke with him on the matter, spoke the truth at that time as he always does. Those who also know Buhari would tell you that there are only two Nigerians who can get him to do what he doesn’t want to do – General Gowon and General Danjuma, both Christians. I am sure Hon. Kaze and his like do not know Buhari enough to know this. Neither would they know that his personal driver of more than 10 years is a Christian. His cook is a Christian and so are many others on his domestic staff.
On December 31, 1983, just after the overthrow of Shehu Shagari, and the coup was still going on, Buhari left Kaduna to return to his base in Jos where he was the GOC. On his way, he sent a message to other “conspirators” that Major-General Domkat Bali, who was the most senior among the coupists, should be declared head of state. It was later in the day that Bali and others in Lagos dispatched an Air Force plane to Jos to bring him (Buhari) to Lagos in order to make him head of state. Muslim extremist Buhari choosing Bali, a Christian, to be head of state? Does this make sense? Buhari told me this story himself. The story was even the more corroborated by Dr Mahmud Tukur, the cerebral minister of commerce in his cabinet then and perhaps the closest to him. Dr Tukur actually went further to tell me that, on two occasions as head of state, Buhari almost walked away and simply wanted to hand over to Bali because he just didn’t like the way some of his colleagues were behaving. This is also another exclusive for people like Hon. Kaze.
You may not like Buhari and may actually hate his guts, but there are some facts about him that cannot be controverted. He actively detests corruption, he hates slothfulness and takes Nigeria and public service too seriously to be associated with any type of crime whatsoever. He has told me that Islam does not approve of taking innocent lives. Boko Haram people may be trying to latch onto his credibility, but the Buhari I know is unlikely to accept to be part of anything to do with Boko Haram. Don’t forget, this is the man who obliterated Maitatsine when he was in power.
If Buhari has any faults at all, it is that he is totally without guile and too naïve to stop election riggers from always taking advantage of him. I have had issues with him over the path to victory in the past elections. He has not been able to cobble together the kind of national alliance that is a desideratum for winning the presidency in a democracy and a strategy for stopping election riggers. When Obasanjo in 2003 and 2007 and Jonathan in 2011 declared that the elections would be free and fair, he believed them hook, line and sinker. You can accuse Buhari of too trusting but certainly not violence or religious bigotry or mischief. He is too much of a statesman and too much into the principles of law and order to be associated with the kind of crimes that Hon. Kaze and Jonathan’s cronies are trying to associate with him.
I am a Christian, a Bible-believing one and a very proud one for that matter. If Buhari were a tenth of what people like Kaze, who don’t know him but authoritatively say he is, would I still be one of his closest associates?
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