When news filtered into the political circles early 2003 that Muhammadu Buhari was considering joining politics, not a few Nigerians were skeptical. Reason: The former Nigerian military head of state, who was overthrown in a palace coup by his Chief of Army staff, Ibrahim Babangida, after 22 months in power, had vowed not to have anything to do with politics.
“I have said it several times, right from 1990, that I cannot participate in politics in Nigeria because it is fraudulent. The politics of nowadays is full of fraudulent people. I cannot go and join those who will go and loot the treasury,” he once told BBC Network Africa in an interview.
True, while in power, Buhari, who assumed power after sacking the Shehu Shagari administration on December 31, 1983, had jailed several politicians of the Second Republic for corruption.
But about five years after he granted the BBC interview, Mr. Buhari changed his mind.
As the second round of elections in the current democratic dispensation approached, the former military ruler joined the defunct All Peoples Party and soon became its presidential candidate to challenge the then incumbent, Olusegun Obasanjo, himself, a retired general and former military head of state.
Soon after, the retired army general began to flaunt his self-acclaimed democratic credentials.
“If I were not a democrat, I could not have joined a political party to seek election and be campaigning here and there and I would not have been calling for free and fair election,” Mr. Buhari said at a campaign rally.
Born December 17, 1942, Mr. Buhari, an indigene of Daura in northern Katsina State, was the 23rd child of his father, Adamu. He joined the military in 1961 and rose to the rank of a major general.
During his military career, he served as commander in several military formations and was a member of the Supreme Military Council, the highest decision-making body in the land in the military administrations of Murtala Muhammed and Olusegun Obasanjo.
Mr. Buhari was also military governor of the defunct North Eastern State, which today comprises Borno, Taraba, Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Yobe.
He was later appointed Federal Commissioner for Petroleum and Natural Resources in the military regime of Olusegun Obasanjo in March 1976. He was also the Chairman of the NNPC when it was established that year.
He became head of state following the success of the December 31, 1983 coup staged against the civilian administration of Shehu Shagari. He ran the country until August 28, 1985 when he was toppled by Mr. Babangida.
After his ouster, Mr. Buhari was incarcerated in Benin City for five years. He returned to public life when the late head of state, Sani Abacha, appointed him the Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund.
After the death of Mr. Abacha, Mr. Buhari retreated into private life until his foray into politics in 2003. He joined the All Peoples Party and ran for president on the party’s platform but lost to the incumbent, Olusegun Obasanjo, who was then seeking a second term on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Among those who wanted Mr. Obasanjo’s job, apart from Mr. Buhari that year, were the late Chukuwemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu of APGA, Muhammad Yusuf of Movement for Democracy and Justice; Gani Fewehinmi of NCP, Tunji Braithwaite of NAP, Ike Nwachukwu of NDP, Sarah Jubril of Progressive Action Congress, Balarabe Musa of PRP and Jim Nwobodo of United Nigeria Peoples Party.
In that election however, Mr. Buhari came second having polled 12,710,022 votes to Obasanjo’s 24,456,140. He ran to the court but the judgment was not in his favour.
In 2007, he ran again on the platform of the same party which had now been renamed All Nigeria Peoples Party, against Umaru Yar’Adua, the outgoing governor of his home state, Katsina. Mr. Yar’Adua was flying the PDP flag. Again, Mr. Buhari lost as he polled a distant 6,605,299 to Mr. Yar’Adua’s 26,638,063 votes. Again, he went to court but didn’t obtain a favourable judgement.
He tested his popularity yet again in the 2011 presidential election, this time on the ticket of the Congress for Progressive Change, which he and some of his supporters in the ANPP floated. The story was the same. He lost to the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP by 12,214,853 votes to 22,495,187 polled by the president.
Before the 2011 contest, Mr. Buhari had made it clear that he would not challenge the outcome in court if he lost.
“The common feeling was that the judiciary was not acting independently,” he said. “Even though we disagreed with the rulings, we accepted them as decision of the highest court of the land so that people do not lose faith in the overall democratic system. This time we are not going to court. Once bitten….but in our case twice bitten.”
At the grand finale of his campaign in Abuja a few months later, apparently frustrated by his loss on three occasions, Mr. Buhari said he would not offer himself again for the presidential position.
“This campaign is the third and last one for me. I will not offer myself again for election into the office of the president,” he said.
Although he did not personally challenge his defeat in court, his party did. Both the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal and the Supreme Court, in their separate judgements rejected CPC’s claim that the April 16 election was marred by irregularities. They upheld Mr. Jonathan’s victory.
However, when preparations for the 2015 elections began, the former military ruler found himself on the march again. His party, CPC and some opposition parties, namely Action Congress of Nigeria, All Nigeria Peoples Party and a section of All Progressives Grand Alliance had successfully fused into a formidable opposition coalition, the All Progressives Congress in 2013.
Mr. Buhari was soon to renege on his promise to stay out of presidential contest. On September 30, 2014, he declared interest to occupy the highest political office in the land.
“With your support, I intend to offer myself for the position of the president of the republic on the platform of our great party. I intend to make a formal declaration announcement soon and I hope to count on you support and sacrifice,” he told his supporters under the aegis of Buhari Support Groups at a press conference in Abuja.
The retired general subsequently explained what informed the change of mind. In a letter to some prominent Nigerians, Mr. Buhari said he changed his mind because of his concern about Nigeria’s deteriorating economy and security situation. He added that he came under pressure from individuals and groups asking him to reconsider his decision.
He said, “Just before the 2011 elections, which I contested, I said publicly, in a fit of pique, that that was my last outing as a presidential candidate. Days after that statement torrents of delegations, starting with one from Niger State led by Alhaji Umar Shi’aibu, then chairman of OPC, including a serving senator, three members of each House of Representatives and Niger State Assembly expressing strong opposition to my intentions.
“Another delegation led by General Abdulmalik Jibrin, consisting of delegates from most of the local governments in the state, came to express similar views. Since then, hardly a weak passes without a concerned group or individual visiting me and arguing that I was wrong to leave competitive politics.
“The stock answer I have always given is that we should first build a bigger party, a viable political platform before I could summon the courage to change my mind. In the meantime, all the indices of good government have deteriorated: insecurity, unemployment, power, failures, educational standards, health standards, the justice system etc. Wherever you turn, governance has taken a turn for the worse. Above all, corruption has taken a life of its own eating into every institution and every sector.”
He soon commissioned a study on his impending contest. The study done by one of his associates, Femi Olofunmilade, head of the department of international relations and strategic studies of the Igbinedion University, unearthed the strategies eight African opposition leaders adopted in defeating incumbents in the last two decades.
The opposition figures are Frederick Chiluba (Zambia, 1991); Abdoulaye Wade (Senegal, 2000); Mwai Kibaki (Kenya, 2002); Yayi Boni (Benin Republic, 2000); Ernest Bai Koroma (Sierra Leone, 2007); Alhassan Quattara (Cote d’Ivoire); and Peter Murharika (Malawi, 2014).
The paper titled, “Opposition Victories in Africa: How It Can Happen in Nigeria (A working paper for the APC),” identified coalition strategy, complementary candidatures, mass discontentment with the PDP and promoting international pressure as means of defeating the ruling party, come 2015.
Mr. Buhari formally declared his intention to vie for the office of the president in Abuja on October 16 during which he lamented the level of corruption in the country. He promised to ensure the protection of lives and property of all Nigerians if elected.
He went on to pick the APC ticket at the party’s convention in Lagos in December, defeating four other aspirants, namely a former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, governor of Kano State, Rabi’u Kwankwaso, his Imo counterpart, Rochas Okorocha and the proprietor of Leadership Newspaper, Sam Nda-Isaiah. Mr. Buhari polled 3,430 to Atiku’s 954, Kwankwaso’s 974, Okorocha,s 624 and Nda-Isaiah’s 10 votes
In the meantime, unlike the previous contests, Mr. Buhari appears closer to actualizing his presidential ambition this time. The road to do so has however been bumpy.
Apart from the criticisms that he is too old at 72 to rule Nigeria, he has been hit by allegations of certificate forgery and corrupt practices, apparently, to get him out of the race.
Indeed, no fewer than 10 suits were instituted against the participation of the former military strongman in the presidential election. The suits which were consolidated into one dragged on for about a month. Just four days to the election, precisely March 25, adjourned the matter till April 22, about a month after the election.
Many Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief when the ruling was delivered as analysts had speculated Mr. Buhari’s disqualification would have upset the country’s polity following the anxiety the institution of the suit had created across the land.
As Lai Mohammed, the spokesperson of the APC summarized Mr Buhari’s travails: “They say he does not have a secondary school certificate, even when the school he attended publicly released his result. They say he is suffering from a terminal disease, even when it was clear that the medical report they used to back that claim was forged.
“They say he won’t be the one to rule, they say he will approve same sex law, they say he will jail all Nigerians and they say he is religious bigot. Plus they commissioned and ran the most untruthful and irresponsible documentary ever made just to demonize him.
“When all the muckraking failed, woefully because the stock of our candidate rose in direct proportion to the mudslinging he was subjected to, they went and commissioned an American media man, Richard Grenell, whom they fraudulently called an ex-US Envoy to write an uninformed opinion piece that Gen. Buhari would Islamise Nigeria if he is elected.
During the electioneering campaigns leading to today’s poll, the former military strongman who is itching to dislodge Mr. Jonathan from office, made promises which he claimed would turn the country around.
For instance, Mr. Buhari to end insurgency in the country, make fight against corruption a major focus of his government, create job for the youth, diversify the nation’s economy to end over reliance on oil and gas, restructure the military and the police.
In February, Mr. Buhari, generally perceived to be incorruptible, internationalised his campaign when he delivered a lecture at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, London.
He assured his audience that the world would stop worrying about Nigeria if he wins.
“Let me assure you that if I am elected, the world will have no cause to worry about Nigeria as it has had to recently, that Nigeria will return to its stabilizing role in West Africa; and that no inch of Nigerian territory will ever be lost to the enemy because we will pay special attention to the welfare of our soldiers in and out of service, we will give them adequate and modern arms and ammunition to work with, we will improve intelligence gathering and border controls to choke Boko Haram’s financial and adequate channels, we will be tough on terrorism and tough on its root cause by initiating a comprehensive economic development plan promoting infrastructural development, job creation, agriculture and industry in the affected areas.
His chances received a boost recently when about 12 other opposition parties pledged to back his candidature. Some of the parties include PDM, APA, KOWA, SDP, ADC, HDP, Accord, ID, UPN and AA. Some of the parties have since denied pledging alliance to him.
But can Mr. Buhari upset the apple cart in his fourth bid to return to power 30 years after?