Dele Momodu: The Day I Met Buhari, The Politician

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Fellow Nigerians, I had another privilege of meeting President Muhammadu Buhari two nights ago in Abuja. I had accompanied the former President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama to the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, one of the most expansive and incredibly fortified State Houses on planet Earth. I had not seen the President one on one since I was invited to meet him about two years ago, after I sent him a desperate memo informing him about how his government was losing steam and velocity so early, in its infancy.

We had very high hopes, and expectations, in his ability to bring about quick-fire changes in our dear beloved country. Notwithstanding the fact that change has been sporadic, if not epileptic, I still have no doubt that he was the only option available to us then, if we were to be rid of the rot that had become a malignant cancer in our system. Of course, he will always remain one of the most decent leaders Nigeria has ever had. Our interaction at that 2015 meeting was convivial and I left reasonably assured that everything was going to be alright.

Unfortunately, the government started on a combative note, perhaps, because of its avowed promise to tackle, fight and exterminate corruption in our nation. The in-fighting within the ruling party was also a matter for serious concern. It appeared the giddiness of defeating an incumbent President in Africa affected the way the All Progressives Congress (APC) managed, or mismanaged its landmark victory. That was how the Party started frittering away its massive goodwill and monumental equity. What was worse, the devil is a liar, the President suddenly became afflicted and badly affected by ill-health whilst he had not even spent two years in office. Those he left behind during his long medical sojourns abroad were too careful not to be labelled disloyal and thus could not operate full throttle. It was a period of confusion and commotion. We tried to warn against starting on such note, but the falcon refused to hear the falconer.

Eventually, things appear to have returned to normal. Reality has set in as the President has returned back home and settled into government despite the wishes of his vilifiers. The President has survived remarkably well, and we are extremely glad he is back to his home and office. However, even though his desk must be overloaded with files seeking urgent attention, some of his staff are still busy bickering and tearing at each other’s throats. Similarly, his Party, APC, appears to be falling apart and things seem no longer at ease. Yet, his kitchen cabinet would want him to seek a second term. To do this and hope to succeed, he needs the services of some of the experienced politicians who brought him to power in 2015. Many of them seem to be rebelling. You can’t totally blame them. They think and feel they’ve been used, abused, dumped and left in the proverbial lurch.

From the swift moves made in the Presidential villa this week, it is obvious that the President has bought into the idea of running for a second term. It is his legitimate right if he so wishes. I advised against such move weeks back for several reasons. I believe at 76, by 2019, and 80, by 2023, when and if he completes his second term, age would no longer be on his side. He would have become a Robert Mugabe and Nigeria is too complex and complicated to be governed by a leader without maximum alertness and stamina. Two, I feel the President should kindly attend more to his health from now onwards. There’s much he can still achieve in the next 18 months or so. In seeking a second term, he would have to compromise on a lot of things. He can never win the election without the services of the ubiquitous “bad boys” of Nigerian politics.

The furious and spirited political activities this week suggest that the race for 2019 has begun in earnest and that President Buhari is a prime candidate, as he seeks a second term. He called and chaired a meeting of his Party caucus, apparently, the first of its kind since attaining power at the centre. Baba’s voice was sonorous and his choice of words soothing. The glow and glint he radiated on his face and eyes reflected his innermost joy and pleasure. He mingled freely. He was full of grace and gratitude to Party members. The effusive praise for the National Assembly was extraordinary. This was a radical departure from the brickbats thrown at them from time past. This was certainly a new budding romance and honeymoon. To cement what appears to be the President turning a new leaf, dinner was even hosted in their honour. Baba seems to have learnt his ropes and is now a quintessential politician.

The APC, itself, suddenly appears to have woken up from its deep slumber. A Party meeting was called and held which was well attended. To God be the glory. No one was fooled about its intents and purposes. Elections are fast approaching. The rains are coming. Judgment day is near. New promises must be made. Frayed nerves must be soothed, massaged or even cajoled. Among the promises, there would soon be a bazaar of appointments. Even some Ministers may be fired to give way and room to bring in some new ones for deft political purposes and moves. I pray, that in any reshuffle, the good ones would not be fired while the bad ones would be retained due to interventions from the godfathers. We are expecting a deluge of appointments into parastatals. The President in the spirit of jollification says since the economy has improved, he’s ready to declare some surplus. So, we are likely to be back to the good days of merriment. Why not? Politics is a game of interests and whosoever supplies the whiff of cash is likely to laugh last and longest.

At the very best, this would guarantee another four-year term, but it would not last an eternity. A demystification may occur inadvertently or inevitably, if care is not taken and Baba loses the election. Electoral victories are never cast in stone. No one can predict the outcome of the 2019 elections no matter the enormous powers the President wields, ask President Goodluck Jonathan. Is it really worth the risk, wasting time, energy and resources on mere vain-glorification? If I were the President, I would spend a fruitful single term, like Nelson Mandela, quit when the ovation is loudest, and work hard to leave an enduring legacy. I know how tough it is to quit power, especially in a country like Nigeria where the President wields such humongous power of life and death. But the greatest achievement is never in doing and repeating what others have done before but in treading the roads less travelled by most people. It was, for me, a sort of poignant reminder, of what can happen, that I had gone to see Baba with a younger, hardworking charismatic leader, President John Dramani Mahama of Ghana, who had sought a second term in his country, but who had lost gallantly. The days are gone when the power of incumbency ensured that a sitting President won elections, almost effortlessly. Elections are also more difficult to manipulate these days. And an anti-corruption government, such as ours, should not even contemplate such fraudulent act.

For me, and despite my love for and enchantment with President Buhari, I believe that the way forward is for him to step aside after having ensured that he leaves the country in the hands of an astute, much younger leaders who will protect his anti-corruption, economic and security legacies. There are more than enough young, cosmopolitan, visionary, well-educated and very vibrant people who can still be groomed even now to take over power in whatever combination. Only a strong man like President Buhari can have the courage to change how we’ve been doing things repeatedly in the past. Fortunately, he has now had the time and opportunity to study most of his lieutenants. He is in a good position to provide full support to those he knows will valiantly carry the flag and assume the mantle that he will be relinquishing.

If the President fails, whether in his second term ambition or in leaving us with a worthwhile, creditable and veritable leadership, all hope would have evaporated. Baba can help us kill zoning and cronyism permanently by assembling a star-studded team of leaders. The world would applaud. Nigeria is so richly endowed with human and material resources. We are not able to harness this gift of God because Nigerian politics hardly throws up the best. More often than not, it throws up the worst. This must stop in order for Nigeria to make any meaningful progress. We all know what is wrong with us and also know the solution, but lack the willpower and pre-requisite sacrifices needed to turn our situation around.

Seeing the President two nights ago, I was extremely proud for the miracle God has performed in his life. He looked as handsome as ever. His handshake was firm. His sense of humour was on point. “Dele, have you added weight?” he thundered at me. We all bursted out laughing. There is always this childlike innocence about him that mesmerises and hypnotises those who come in contact with him. He is of course not the demon his detractors had tried to paint him to be. Former President Mahama never stopped admiring and appreciating him. There was a warmth they shared which I had noticed since the President visited Aburi, Ghana, in September 2015. Theirs is a relationship infused with great respect, a truly mutual admiration between the two! President Buhari is that likeable and admired. However, his taciturnity may be his biggest undoing. A man of few words is often misunderstood or misinterpreted. The Buhari you meet is clearly different from the one you see from afar, read about or watch on television. Such is the irony of life.

I’m not sure President Buhari needs to worry too much about how long he stays in power. He should worry more about what he will bequeath to humanity. I’m genuinely troubled about APC wasting this golden opportunity. I can see the way PDP is repackaging itself slowly but surely. Let no one underrate or write them off. If they decide to learn and borrow lessons from the misadventure and misfortune of their recent past, history may actually repeat itself. All they have to do is build a broad coalition like APC did and attract the most electable candidates from everywhere. APC must not make the mistake PDP made when it allowed some of its greatest assets to saunter away to another party. This may happen again from the look of things.

The President has so much to do if he truly wants to run again, despite the advice of well-meaning Nigerians, like me. We sincerely mean well and want him to succeed where others have failed. His biggest burden would be how to keep his Party intact and together. It would surely take more than a few meetings with Party members to smoothen and straighten things out. He would have to use all the persuasive powers in the world, and may even have to mortgage Nigeria in advance, so as to reassure some foxy and ruthless politicians that he would not run them out of town after winning the next election. Sometimes being mortally scared makes strange bedfellows. We have seen this in the recent past.

Whichever way the President chooses to turn, he has a herculean task ahead of him. It is a huge mission that must be achieved. Leaving Nigeria with a heritage of integrity, incorruptibility, good security and remarkable economy is not Mission Impossible! That should be President Buhari’s ultimate aim and agenda.

Dele Momodu is a Nigerian journalist, publisher, and former presidential aspirant. He tweets from @delemomodu. This article is culled from ThisDay.

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