To be honest, I don’t know whether to rejoice or sympathise with Gen. Muhammadu Buhari anytime I read all the sweet comments about him on social media — especially on Twitter. I don’t know any presidential candidate who has been so idolised in recent times — which is an excellent accolade any politician will gladly take. On the one hand, it is good for him. He will not be complaining at all. No politician will complain about such good fortune, especially with only a few weeks to an election. On the other hand, my God! The expectations are sky-high. Incredible. From what I am reading, Buhari is expected to perform nothing short of magic in Aso Rock if he wins the presidential election.
I’ve been there before — as a reckless enthusiast. I had similar expectations about President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. I voted for him based on his past. But I was totally disappointed less than six months after he came to power. I had thought Obasanjo was going to fight corruption as he had solemnly threatened, only for him to appoint Chief Tony Anenih as Minister of Works. I thought Obasanjo was going to build more refineries as he had promised while reminding us of his exploits in his previous life as head of state, but we continued importing fuel till he left office. I thought Obasanjo was going to address the electricity problem but we were producing megawatts of darkness throughout his tenure.
Buhari’s growing popularity, particularly on the social media, scares me at times. In an attempt to market him, some chaps have gone overboard, designing and spreading beautiful disinformation about him such that even the former head of state has had to come out to clarify one. For instance, there is a message being circulated that Buhari’s daughter is married to an Igboman. Those who invented the rumour had a good intention: they wanted to prove to the world that he is not a bigot. But Buhari, perhaps honest to a fault, has denied it. He said none of his children is married to an Igboman. Interestingly, the rumour was attributed to Obasanjo by one of the broadcasters!
Many quotes are invented and attributed to Obasanjo these days. One says: “I prefer that Buhari becomes president and sends me to jail than for Jonathan to be re-elected and then destroys Nigeria.” This is said to have been written by the former president in his trilogy, “My Watch” — which the originator of the rumour has probably not set his eyes on. How can Obasanjo want to go to jail again? Is it a nightclub? He was jailed for a phantom coup by Gen. Sani Abacha. And he was lucky to come out of Yola prison alive. He narrowly escaped death when a wall collapsed beside him while he was studying the Bible one morning. Why would he want to go to jail again?
There is even another social media rumour that Buhari does not collect his full pension. A Blackberry broadcast I got a while ago said while all former heads of state collect N27 million per month as pension, Buhari rejected the “bogus amount” and asked to be paid only 10% of it. The person who originated the rumour said he personally went to the Ministry of Finance to confirm the figure. But, in fact, the total pension package is N2,909,122.75 per quarter — as confirmed to me by a former head of state. The breakdown: pension, N878,676.20; upkeep, N1,050,000; salaries of personal staff, N845,446.50; telephone, N75,000; and postal services, N60,000. Buhari never rejected any part of it. For goodness sake, it is his legal right. Why would he not collect it?
Good enough, Buhari has not anchored his campaign on any of these phantom stories. He has based his campaign on two promises — to fight corruption and to tackle insecurity. These issues speak directly to the heart of the average Nigerian. Boko Haram has made our lives miserable. What we thought was a mere neighbourhood gathering of some religious zealots some years ago has developed into a massive bomb that is shattering the peace and eating away at our territorial integrity. Buhari, as a retired general, is expected to wipe out Boko Haram if he wins. Also, corruption is, to put it mildly, a pounding headache. As a celebrated man of integrity, Buhari is expected to finish off corruption with one blow to the head.
Unfortunately, many Nigerians could be very fickle. Imagine the nicknames young people would start calling Buhari on Twitter by this time next year if he has not performed some magic — assuming he wins the presidential election. They derided President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua even on his deathbed. President Goodluck Jonathan’s honeymoon lasted for barely six months. The guys that called him “breath of fresh air” started calling him “shoeless and clueless” as soon as he withdrew fuel subsidy in January 2012. I don’t think Jonathan ever recovered from the massive blow the subsidy issue dealt on him.
Buhari’s honeymoon, if he wins, would not last for six months, trust me. One of the confessions of Obasanjo in 1999 was that the world had changed remarkably since 1979 when he left power. As a military man, he could get things done by fiat. As a democrat, he needed to go through the National Assembly to get a simple budget passed. He needed to “lobby” them to make laws for the good of Nigeria. Judges were dragging their feet on corruption cases until he resorted to self-help through the EFCC. These are some of the realities Buhari would also face if he wins. The Nigeria he led in 1985 is not the same today. Getting things done in a democracy is a different ball game altogether.
God help Buhari if, assuming he wins, he is unable to stop Boko Haram’s suicide bombers. God help him if the terrorists continue to grab more villages under his watch. God help him if his government has not created 2.5 million jobs by May 2016 — as promised by his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). God help him if we are still unable to enjoy steady power supply two years into his tenure. God help him if the courts are yet to jail any corrupt politician three years into his tenure. God help him if crude oil prices skyrocket and he has to increase fuel price or pay N1trillion annually on subsidies. He won’t find it funny!
Unfortunately, the reality is that Nigeria will not change overnight. I’m no longer a reckless optimist. There are no shortcuts to solving some of the our deep-seated problems. The road ahead is very rough, particularly as crude oil — the livewire of our economy — continues to tumble, pricewise. Truth be told: no matter who wins the presidential election — whether it is Jonathan or Buhari — there are tough decisions ahead. Tough decisions about the oil industry. Tough decisions about electricity tariffs. Tough decisions about military action against Boko Haram which may come with collateral damage. Tough decisions about downsizing the civil service. Don’t let us deceive ourselves.
Buhari is more realistic than most of his supporters. In an interview with TheCable last year, he said: “Nigerians have to be prepared to suffer for at least five straight years before we can stabilise this country, security wise and economically.” In other words, there are no fertilizers to accelerate the development of Nigeria. I do not blame Nigerians for being impatient. The only thing a hungry man wants to hear is ‘food is ready’, not ‘food will be ready’. But a more realistic expectation is that no matter who is president, we need policy consistency, commitment and funding for at least 10 solid years before we can be anywhere near South Korea or Singapore. Rome was not built in a day. No one man will change or transform Nigeria overnight. Tough truth.