Buhari: From dictator to democrat

KAYODE FALADE examines the transition of President Muhammadu Buhari from a military dictator to a democratic president


As the country celebrates another anniversary of its return to democracy, one cannot but look at the captain of the nation’s ship, President Muhammadu Buhari, a one-time military Head of State.


The 73-year-old former soldier is having a second stint at driving the Nigeria’s ship of state. For his first watch, Buhari clinched the baton of leadership through a coup d’état which ousted the democratically elected government of Shehu Shagari, and bringing to an end the Third Republic. It was on  December 31, 1983.



In 2003, 18 years after he too was booted out of office in another coup d’état, General Buhari, signified his intention to run for the highest office of the land. This time around, it was through the ballot box.


In 2003, he made a stab at the office as the candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party. He lost to the then incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo.


In 2007, he made another trial but again lost. This time, he lost to the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate, Umaru Yar’Adua.


He repeated his bid in 2011 but now under the banner of the Congress for Progressive Change, a party that he helped found. He lost to the PDP’s candidate, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.


Finally, in 2015, on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, and the second time against Jonathan of the PDP, Buhari won. A feat, which analysts unequivocally concluded, was unprecedented in the annals of the country’s history.


 Many Nigerians, nay the world over, were not a little awed by the determination of the former maximum ruler to lead his people again in civil rule.


 But a year after his emergence as a civilian ruler and a confessed democrat, not a few Nigerians, are having a second thought on his being reborn as a true democrat.


In a speech he delivered as a candidate of the APC at an interactive session with the Nigerian Press Organisation, in Abuja on March 17, 2015, Buhari had said, “I have said elsewhere that I cannot change the past. But I can change the present and the future. Dictatorship goes with military rule. However, I am a former–former, note the emphasis on the word ‘former’–military ruler and now a converted democrat, who is ready to operate under democratic norms.


“I am not only subjecting myself to the rigours of democratic elections for the fourth time, but even after being elected, I will continue to promote the consolidation of democracy in our great country, Nigeria, by guaranteeing that the media’s freedom is not compromised in any way.”


Some Nigerians have been quick to point at a number of issues under his watch which they claim he has handled or he’s still handling like a major-general.


Some of these according to the presidential candidate of KOWA in the 2015 general elections, Prof. Remi Sonaiya, are his seeming preference for wanting to do things his own way, working with those he has worked with before, slowness in appointing ministers and constituting the Federal Executive Council and his not-too-keen attitude at engaging the citizenry on his programmes and government policies.


Sonaiya said, “He (Buhari) is struggling to be a democrat but maybe old habits die hard especially when one has reached a certain age. You know his training was military and indeed he was once a military dictator in Nigeria. I don’t know whether to say it should be expected that he would have some challenges in running a democratic system. But one has to point to specific instances.


“I think for instance his slowness in appointing his ministers is an indication. Also, there may be a little too much of ‘this is the way I work or this is the way I want to do things’ which is not fitting for a democratic setup. Democracy is founded on certain principles and I don’t think he is supposed to give so much room to the manifestation of individual principles in circumstances where you know this is the laid down principle and you should go ahead and just do it.


“I also expect in a democracy a lot more engagement and dialogue with the people. Democracy is by the people, for the people; so the standard definition says. Then there must be the consciousness that you are constantly accountable to them. That is probably another issue that pricks the people. We often see him talk more outside the country than he does to us who are in the country and those who voted for him.


 “I think that sense of ‘I am accountable to the people, I must explain to them where I am leading them, what are my thoughts and ideas on particular aspects of our collective life and so on’ is a bit lacking.


“And why is there so much hesitation on his part to come out and say no to some issues like abduction of girls and forcefully converting them to a religion? Herdsmen are killing and raping people and looting farmlands all over and he is silent.”


Some political analysts also said the continuous holding of individuals like the former National Security Adviser to ex-President Jonathan, Lt. Col Sambo Dasuki (rtd) and the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu and some PDP chieftains despite court rulings were undemocratic.


Prof Onyebuchi Ezeani, of the Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsuka, however, insisted that the President is a democrat despite some apparent shortcomings on the part of his administration.


“He doesn’t have any option but to operate within the rules of democracy. Nigeria has progressed democratically. Despite the shortcomings of some of our institutions, we have made some progress. For instance, the judiciary is working and for the press there is a certain level of autonomy. Under the situation he finds himself, he cannot do otherwise.  I will say so far, despite some certain reservations, he has been abiding by the principles of democracy,” Ezeani said.


The political scientist dismissed arguments of disobedience of court orders by the current administration, saying, “If you listen to the explanation of the security operatives as to why they have not released the detainees, I don’t think I will lay the blame on the president. In the case of Dasuki, the security operatives are hinging his continued detention on security. So far, despite the reservations, they have tried to operate within the confines and principles of democracy. The issue is neither here nor there. I am not saying that he is perfect in terms of the principles of democracy but so far, I give him a pass mark.”


 Ezeani’s view, however, contrasted with that of Niger-Delta activist and environmentalist, Ankio Briggs, who said the attitude of the former General Officer Commanding, 3rd Armed Division Nigerian Army, did not portray that of a democrat.


According to Briggs, rather than rate an individual, the system as a whole should be evaluated.


She stated, “As far as I am concerned the attitude of President Buhari has not really shown him as a democrat as he claims.


“Democracy is a process and a system. Is this how it is practised? It is good to fight corruption. And I am one of the greatest supporters of the anti-corruption war. But how can you be saying you are fighting corruption when you are only probing the source of the campaign fund of a particular political party (the PDP)? What about the APC? Why are they not investigating the campaign funds of the APC? How could you refuse to obey court orders that were granted to people standing trial and when they have fulfilled all the bail conditions? How is it that it is a group of people from some particular regions or who had held offices in a particular time that would be under probe?”


But Second Republic member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, said Buhari had dumped the toga of dictatorship and adorned himself in the robes of a democrat. He maintained that in transmuting from one to the other, the President had “moved fast and remarkably.”


He said, “Yes, Buhari was the head of a military dictatorship. There is no denying the fact that you have to call him a dictator in that incarnation. But you cannot also deny the fact that he has moved on. And he’s moved fast and remarkably so in becoming a born-again democrat. As far as I am concerned, I think rather than shy away from the adjectives, Buhari himself and those around him should be able to accept both statements and accept them as price as it is not easy to transmute from a dictator to a born-again democrat. For him to have done so successfully, he should be applauded.


“As far as I am concerned, I am not aware of anything Buhari did that is outside the realm of the rule of law. And democracy cannot be unless there is rule of law. He has been diligent observing the constitution. I believe there are areas that Buhari did not use his democratic powers as the democratic leader of the country because there is a lot that can be taken for granted when you are a man that has won the overwhelming mandate of the people. And he did win an overwhelming mandate. In fact, he has done too well for the good of his party and for the good of his government.”


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